The overreaction mock draft is back! Last year's version hit on three picks - both of the Browns first-rounders and Mitch Trubisky to the Bears. You never know what outside-the-box thinking will end up being prophetic.
New York Giants: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA TRADE! Like the Bears last year, the Giants move up one spot to ensure they get the quarterback they want. It also helps that Josh Rosen doesn't want to play for the Browns, but Dave Gettleman starts the rebuilding of New York with a franchise quarterback.
In 2017, Rosen completed 63 percent of his passes for 3,717 yards with 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. The junior was up-and-down during 2017 with highs and lows, including at least one concussion. He had a legendary performance in UCLA's 2017 season opener versus Texas A&M, leading one of the greatest comeback wins in college football history, turning a 44-10 third-quarter deficit into a 45-44 win.
Of the top quarterback prospects for the 2018 NFL Draft, Rosen has the best mechanics and is the most natural pocket passer. He throws a tremendous ball and can really spin it with his powerful arm. Rosen's tight spiral helps him to get his passes through tight windows and beat good coverage. The 6-foot-4, 210-pounder has serious arm talent with field vision and pocket presence. Scouts who did advance work on the 2018 prospects told me that Rosen has questionable intangibles with how he gets along with his teammates and his leadership skills for the NFL. There also are durability concerns with Rosen after he missed seven contests over the past two seasons and was knocked out of a few games as well.
Rosen had an impressive debut as a freshman in 2015, completing 60 percent of his passes for 3,670 yards with 23 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. As a sophomore, he completed 59 percent of his passes for 1,915 yards with 10 touchdowns and six interceptions in six games before suffering a season-ending injury.
Cleveland Browns: Sam Darnold, QB, USC TRADE! Cleveland moves down one spot with the Giants.
The Browns improved their front office by bringing in John Dorsey to be their general manager. Dorsey doesn't have any ties to the DeShone Kizer selection, so he could easily look for a new franchise quarterback for Cleveland. At No. 1 overall, I think Dorsey will target a franchise quarterback. If Josh Rosen doesn't want to go to the Browns though, they could potentially move down a little and still get a good quarterback prospect like Darnold, Josh Allen or Lamar Jackson. It makes more sense for Cleveland to target a quarterback with excellent intangibles who would be willing to attack the challenge of turning the franchise around.
I'm going to keep Darnold in the 2018 mock for now, but soon, he likely will be moving to the 2019 version. Sources have been telling me that they're hearing Darnold wants to return to USC next year rather than enter the 2018 NFL Draft, but he is getting a lot of pressure to enter the draft. Walt has Darnold in his 2019 mock, so it makes sense to have one version with him declaring early.
In 2017, Darnold had issues with interceptions, fumbles and decision-making. He also admitted to having issues with confidence. Darnold is an accurate passer without an elite skill set, but he has developed good anticipation, feel and timing. Darnold is a rhythm thrower who would fit best in a West Coast system to maximize his ability to throw accurately in the short to intermediate part of the field. He also throws accurately on the run.
Darnold completed 63 percent of his passes in 2017 for 4,143 yards with 26 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. A general manager, who scouted Darnold in person this year, told me that they like the "it factor" that Darnold displays. That general manager thinks there's nothing wrong with Darnold's throwing motion or arm strength, and that Darnold has some similarities to Philip Rivers. Other scouts feel that Darnold is a good prospect with the ability to be a plus starter, but they don't think he's elite, and on tape, they say he is not better than Mitch Trubisky and Deshaun Watson were before the 2017 NFL Draft.
Darnold was very impressive as a redshirt freshman in 2016 and impressed evaluators even though he wasn't being graded yet. Along with a quality skill set, teams like his intangibles and moxie. Darnold completed 67 percent of his passes in 2016 for 3,086 yards with 31 touchdowns and nine interceptions. The 6-4, 225-pounder led USC on a nine-game winning streak to end that season.
Denver Broncos: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming TRADE! The Broncos trade up in the first round to get a franchise quarterback.
As I reported in the Hot Press, the Broncos are aggressively scouting the top quarterback prospects for the 2018 NFL Draft. Denver clearly doesn't believe in Paxton Lynch, while Trevor Siemian and Brock Osweiler have proven they are just backup-caliber quarterbacks. John Elway has been inclined to draft quarterbacks with big skill sets and Allen would fit that description.
WalterFootball.com was first to report that Allen would enter the 2018 NFL Draft, and he announced his declaration after Wyoming's bowl game. Allen has a great skill set, but is not a well-developed quarterback. He really struggled this season in games against Iowa, Oregon and Hawaii. Allen displayed his big skill set with size, toughness, athleticism, and a strong arm. There were plays where he looks like a young Ben Roethlisberger, but then there were other plays where he shows bad decision-making and inaccuracy. Allen is a definite work in progress who will need some developmental time. In 2017, Allen completed 56 percent of his passes for 1,812 yards with 16 touchdowns and six interceptions. He notched five rushing touchdowns as well.
Allen's completion percentage and interception total from 2016 provide evidence for the developmental assessment, too. He completed 56 percent of his passes for 3,203 yards with 28 touchdowns and 15 interceptions that season.
Allen (6-5, 222) became a discussed prospect late in the 2016 season, but he wisely decided to return to Wyoming. He has a special skill set, and some draft analysts were projecting him high in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, but one general manager told WalterFootball.com that he had Allen as a third-day prospect and thought Allen should improve before going pro. Other team sources that did advance work for National Scouting for the 2018 prospects really liked Allen and compared him to Ben Roethlisberger, so don't be surprised if he is a polarizing prospect. Still, Allen has a great skill set with tons of upside.
Cleveland Browns: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
Cleveland comes away with the best player in the 2018 NFL Draft and a steal with the fourth pick. A player like Barkley is going to help the Browns' new quarterback succeed.
Barkley is a tough runner with an amazing burst. The 5-foot-11, 223-pounder has devastating first-step quickness to hit the hole and accelerate downfield. Along with great speed, Barkley has tremendous balance, vision, cutting ability, elusiveness and power. He also is a receiving threat who presents mismatch problems for a defense in the passing attack. Barkley is an elite running back prospect in the same mold of Leonard Fournette and Todd Gurley, and better than Ezekiel Elliott. Unless Barkley has an injury or off-the-field issue, he's a lock to be a top-10 pick next April.
In 2017, Barkley averaged 5.9 yards per carry for 1,271 yards with 18 touchdowns. The junior had 54 receptions for 632 yards and three touchdowns as a receiver. Barkley averaged 5.5 yards per carry in 2016 for 1,496 yards and 18 touchdowns. He also made 28 catches for 402 yards and four touchdowns as a receiver. Barkley was very impressive as a freshman in 2015 when he averaged 5.9 yards per carry for 1,076 yards with seven touchdowns. He also caught 20 passes for 161 yards and a score. Barkley was very impressive, running for 194 yards on 26 carries against an Ohio State defense loaded with NFL talent.
Indianapolis Colts: Arden Key, DE/3-4OLB, LSU TRADE! The Colts moves down with the Broncos.
The Colts add a pass-rusher to build their front seven around.
Key is a fast edge rusher with a ton of upside to develop. Sources have told me that the 6-foot-6, 260-pounder loves football and is a hard-worker who strives to improve in the offseason. They said he has worked with pass-rushing-moves guru Chuck Smith, and that is impressive dedication for a collegiate player. Key missed the first two games of 2017 and was eased back into action in Week 3 against Mississippi State. He had three tackles and a half-sack against the Bulldogs. Key also made a game-clinching sack against Auburn. He played well taking on Alabama, having his way with both offensive tackles. For 2017, Key totaled 33 tackles with four sacks and a forced fumble.
In 2016, Key was one of the best players in college football. He recorded 56 tackles with 14.5 for a loss, 12 sacks, three forced fumbles and three passes broken up on the year. He flashed a ton of potential as a freshman for LSU, totaling 41 tackles with 6.5 for a loss, five sacks and one pass broken up. Key is a dangerous pass-rusher with excellent speed and the ability to bend around the corner.
New York Jets: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
Mike Maccagnan is a smart talent evaluator and team builder, so he will see that Lamar Jackson is being undervalued. One general manager of a team that has been very good at evaluating quarterbacks, and already has a franchise signal-caller, told me that Jackson is being undervalued, like Deshaun Watson was a year ago.
In 2017, Jackson completed 59 percent of his passes for 3,660 yards with 27 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He averaged 6.9 yards per carry on the ground on his way to 1,601 yards and 18 rushing touchdowns. Some team sources think that Jackson is worthy of being a top-10 pick and will rise in the leadup to the draft, similar to Pat Mahomes. One general manager told me they think Jackson could be deserving up going high in the first round because he's a taller and better version of Michael Vick.
Jackson has a great athletic skill set, including a powerful arm that can make all throws the NFL requires and some rare passes. While his tremendous running ability gets a lot of attention, Jackson is better passing from the pocket than he is given credit for. Jackson will take some shots and deliver good passes in the face of the rush. He also handles Bobby Petrino's scheme well. Jackson can be inconsistent with his accuracy, and he needs to add weight to his frame for the NFL. He also needs to develop maturity in his leadership skills as he can be of one of the guys too much.
Jackson (6-3, 205) set college football on fire in 2016 while winning the Heisman Trophy. He was a massive point-producer for the Cardinals. Jackson completed 56 percent of his passes for 3,543 yards with 30 touchdowns and nine interceptions on the year. He also ran for 21 touchdowns and 1,571 yards while averaging six yards per carry.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Bradley Chubb, DE, N.C. State
The Buccaneers could use more edge rush, and Chubb is a great fit for Tampa Bay. He could be a dynamic quarterback hunter next to Gerald McCoy.
Chubb totaled 73 tackles with 25 for a loss, 10 sacks, three forced fumbles and two passes batted in 2017. He was awesome against Florida State, making some huge plays to lead N.C. State to a road upset with two sacks, a forced fumble and seven tackles. Chubb dominated the competition in 2017 and played like a top-10 pick from start to finish with impressive consistency.
The 6-foot-4, 275-pound Chubb has scheme flexibility and is a tough defender for the Wolfpack. He has good quickness for a big defensive end and has shown the ability to get off blocks with his strength and hand usage. Chubb has developed some variety in pass-rushing moves and looks like an asset as a future three-down starter in the NFL. In 2016, he totaled 58 tackles with 22 tackles for a loss, 10.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and one pass batted. As a sophomore in 2015, Chubb collected 5.5 sacks.
Chicago Bears: Joshua Jackson, CB, Iowa
Chicago could use more receiving help for Mitch Trubisky, but the receiving prospects available would be a reach this early. The Bears could lose Kyle Fuller in free agency, and here's a potential No. 1 cover corner for Chicago.
Jackson (6-1, 192) enjoyed an excellent 2017 as a dangerous ballhawk for the Hawkeyes. He put an exclamation point on the year with a three-interception game against Ohio State. For the year, Jackson recorded 48 tackles with 18 passes broken up and eight interceptions. He has a good size for the NFL with length and athleticism, and his timed speed will be important.
The Iowa coaching staff wanted Jackson to turn more tips and batted passes into interceptions, and he responded by doing that against Ohio State with his three picks.
San Francisco 49ers: Derwin James, S, Florida State
The 49ers have Eric Reid entering free agency, and James could have real appeal to John Lynch as the difference-maker on the back end.
James totaled 72 tackles with 11 passes batted and two interceptions in 2017. While he didn't put together flawless performances against Alabama and N.C. State this season, they were impressive overall. James was healthy and able to display his great instincts and rare combination of great size, speed, physicality and versatility. He played dime linebacker, nickel corner, free safety and strong safety, basically doing everything a coach could ask of him. The one steady problem James displayed in 2017 was some painful missed tackles, and he could have some limitations deep downfield, but he still is a tremendous strong safety with versatility.
James totaled 11 tackles and an interception through two games in 2016 before sustaining a season-ending knee injury. He had been playing well for Florida State. Entering last season, there was a lot of hype that James was an elite player and perhaps the best defensive player in college football. As a freshman in 2015, he had a strong debut with 91 tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, four passes broken up and two forced fumbles, but zero interceptions.
The 6-foot-3, 211-pounder has a great athletic skill set with tremendous speed, instincts, and strength to hit. He shows the ability to do everything an NFL safety is needed to do. James is fast and long with coverage skills in the deep middle of the field. He also is strong enough to be the eighth man in the box and tackle.
Oakland Raiders: Vita Vea, DT/3-4DE/NT, Washington
The front seven was a weakness in 2016, but Reggie McKenzie addressed the secondary in the first and second round of the 2017 NFL Draft. I think taking Obi Melifonwu over Zach Cunningham was a big mistake. Along with linebacker help, the Raiders' defensive line could use an interior run-stuffer and an edge rusher to go across from Khalil Mack. Here's the former.
Vea recorded 44 tackles, 3.5 sacks and four passes batted in 2017. The 6-foot-5, 332-pounder was a load at the point of attack for Washington in 2016. He totaled 39 tackles with 6.5 tackles for a loss, five sacks, one force fumble and two passes batted on the season.
Vea has a serious combination of size, length, strength, and quickness at the point of attack. He is a heavy nose tackle who is a rock against the run and can occasionally collapse the pocket in the pass rush. For the NFL, Vea also has the height and length to play end in a 3-4 defense as well as nose tackle.
Baltimore Ravens: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama TRADE! Baltimore moves up with Miami.
The Ravens badly need a No. 1 receiver. Ozzie Newsome goes for a safe pick and loves his Alabama players.
Ridley has 55 catches for 896 yards and three touchdowns in 2017. He totaled 82 yards on seven receptions with a touchdown against Florida State and its NFL-level secondary. The 6-foot-1, 188-pounder Ridley is capable of producing a lot more, but Alabama's ground-based offense and running quarterback limit his opportunities. If Ridley were playing at a school like West Virginia, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, or pretty much any Big XII school, his production would be off the charts. Ridley has quality height, speed and upside for the NFL. He does have a thinner frame though, and will need to add weight.
In 2016, Ridley made 72 catches for 769 yards with seven touchdowns. He had a tremendous freshman season for the Crimson Tide as the replacement for Amari Cooper. Ridley was very effective in that role with 89 receptions for 1,045 yards with seven touchdowns. He finished the 2015 season with impressive performances against Florida and Michigan State to help push Alabama to the National Championship.
Cincinnati Bengals: Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
Cincinnati's offensive line was a real weakness in 2017, and the team really missed Kevin Zeitler and Andrew Whitworth. Here's a blocker to pave the way for Joe Mixon for many years to come and provide better interior pass protection.
Nelson has been exceptional throughout 2017, dominating opponents on a weekly basis. He has superb strength to blast open holes and is a true road-grader as a run blocker. As a pass protector, Nelson is very athletic with balance, agility, and quickness to shut down pass-rushers. Some league sources say that Nelson is the highest graded guard they've ever scouted, and that includes the likes of Logan Mankins and David DeCastro.
The 6-foot-5, 325-pound Nelson was dominant in 2016 as well, showing strength at the point of attack to open holes in the ground game and athleticism in pass protection. Last year, teams sources told me that Nelson was receiving first-round grades prior to him deciding to return for his senior year. One general manager told me this fall that they have Nelson as clearly the best guard prospect for the 2018 NFL Draft. They have Nelson as a top-five prospect at any position.
Washington Redskins: Minkah Fitzpatrick, S, Alabama
The Redskins' top needs are a quarterback - unless Kirk Cousins is willing to sign an extension, which is unlikely -, defensive front-seven talent, and a safety. Of those needs, adding a quarterback is the most critical issue to address, but all of the quarterbacks are gone. Thus, Washington grabs an upgrade to the back end with an excellent value pick similar to them landing Jonathan Allen last year.
Fitzpatrick has 52 tackles, one interception, seven passes broken up and a forced fumble in 2017. He has played really well, doing everything that could be asked of a safety. Fitzpatrick is a superb center fielder, covering receivers deep downfield. He is also fast in pursuit, tackles well in space at the second level, can come down into the box, and is able to play man coverage against tight ends and slot receivers, plus help out his cornerbacks. The 6-foot-1, 203-pounder has excellent size and some natural cover skills. Sources have said that Fitzpatrick is a prototypical free safety for the NFL. They say he has good size, speed, athletic ability and high football I.Q. in a play-maker.
In 2016, Fitzpatrick recorded 66 tackles with seven passes broken up and six interceptions. He was dominant at times for Alabama, splitting time between corner and safety. Fitzpatrick had a superb 2015 season for the Crimson Tide. The freshman totaled 45 tackles with two sacks, 11 passes broken up and two interceptions - both returned for a touchdowns.
Green Bay Packers: Clelin Ferrell, DE/3-4OLB, Clemson
The Packers could use more pass rush off the edge. Here's a true replacement for Julius Peppers.
Clemson has a defensive line that is comprised of future first-round picks, and some sources think that Ferrell creates some of the big plays for the other Clemson defensive linemen. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Ferrell has superb speed with athleticism and the ability to bend around the corner. On the season, he has 58 tackles with 16 tackles for a loss, 8.5 sacks, one pass batted and two forced fumbles. Fellow defensive end Austin Bryant is playing himself into an being early-rounder this year, but Bryant has done well cleaning up a lot of scrambling quarterbacks running away from Ferrell. Ferrell looks like a future first-round pick in the 2018 or 2019 draft.
Arizona Cardinals: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
The Cardinals miss out on the first-round quarterbacks, and this is too high for Baker Mayfield. Arizona could look to move down and take Mayfield, or the team could move up from its second-round pick.
Ward totaled 37 tackles with 15 passes broken up and two interceptions in 2017. In the season opener against Indiana, he notched an interception, four tackles and five passes broken up. Ward also was beaten for a touchdown and some other receptions by big Indiana receiver Simmie Cobbs Jr. While primarily a backup in 2016, Ward (5-10, 191) totaled 23 tackles with nice passes broken up.
While Ward has some hype suggesting he's as good as his former teammates Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley, he's significantly smaller than them and had issues with a big wideout in Cobbs. In the NFL, Ward might get placed as a nickelback.
Miami Dolphins: Billy Price, G/C, Ohio State TRADE! Miami moves down with Baltimore.
The Dolphins could use an upgrade at guard badly, and Price gives them a great option to move to center if Mike Pouncey were to suffer an injury.
Price (6-4, 315) impressed NFL evaluators, both with his work in fall training camp and in the games of the 2017 season. They say that Price plays within himself. They like his awareness and call him an above-average athlete. He isn't overly fast or twitchy like the Pouncey brothers, but Price has movement skills and is better than average in space. The sources also like that Price handles big nose tackles well, which can be difficult for centers and is a hard-to-find talent. As a result of his well-balanced play, Price is being viewed as a prospect who could go in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. One team source thought that if Josh Garnett and Laken Tomlinson were worthy of first-round picks, then Price could be as well because they feel Price is a better prospect than either Garnett or Tomlinson. Teams are projecting Price to be a starting center in the NFL, but he also has the flexibility to play guard.