The dust from a bevy of blockbuster NFL trades and free-agent moves has finally settled, and that provides a little more clarity on each team’s biggest needs going into the draft. Except, of course, at the quarterback spot: Sure, Tyrod Taylor is a Brown, Kirk Cousins is a Viking, Case Keenum is a Bronco, Sam Bradford is a Cardinal, AJ McCarron is a Bill, and Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater are both Jets, but plenty of questions remain as to how that game of QB musical chairs will affect the draft. Does the Taylor trade mean the Browns will pass on taking a passer with the top pick? Will the Bills move up to get their quarterback of the future? Who did the Jets have in mind with their trade up to the third overall spot? Will the Broncos use the fifth overall pick on a rookie signal-caller? And are the Cardinals still in the first-round quarterback hunt?
The 2018 NFL draft will be defined by how the first-round quarterback dominoes fall, and it’s looking more and more likely that there will be an early run at that position come April. If that’s the case, more trades should be on the menu, so let’s take a look at how the first round could shake out if a team joins the Jets by moving up to take one of this year’s much-hyped signal-callers.
1. Cleveland Browns: QB Sam Darnold, USC
Taylor may not view himself as a bridge quarterback, but that’s exactly what he’ll be for the Browns this year. If Cleveland can stick to this plan (that’s a big “if,” of course), the former Bills passer should give his new team the chance to be more competitive in 2018―but more important, he’s good enough to hold off calls to start Darnold, allowing the team to give its rookie quarterback a year to develop. The 20-year old former Trojan has to rein in his habit of forcing throws into traffic and learn to play with more discipline, but he’s got a big arm, is accurate, has great mobility to avoid pressure and extend plays, and could change the direction of the franchise.
2. New York Giants: QB Josh Rosen, UCLA
The Giants could get a king’s ransom to trade out of this spot—or take Saquon Barkley or Quenton Nelson—but the chance to draft and develop a top-tier passer like Rosen as the heir to Eli Manning is too enticing. The UCLA product excels in the pocket and can attack all three levels of the field. He would give the team’s new front office and coaching staff the chance for a seamless transition away from the 37-year-old Manning, whether that happens in 2019 or 2020.
3. New York Jets (From Colts): QB Josh Allen, Wyoming
The Jets traded a trio of second-round picks to move up from no. 6 to no. 3 because they’re evidently happy to roll with one of the two or three quarterback options that will still be on the board. Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield is a possibility here, but the prevailing thought with just over a month to the draft is that New York’s top three passers are Darnold, Rosen, and Allen—so with the former two off the board, the Wyoming signal-caller is the pick. Allen’s inaccuracy is troubling (and draft Twitter and the Jets fans on the Ringer staff might riot if this is how it goes down), but his cannon for an arm, prototypical size, and top-tier athleticism give him the upside to develop into a star. To reach that potential, though, it may serve Allen well to sit early in his career so he can work through issues with accuracy, footwork, and decision-making. With McCown and Bridgewater under contract in 2018, he would have that chance.
4. Cleveland Browns (From Texans): DE Bradley Chubb, NC State
The Browns are sure to get plenty of calls about trading back out of this spot, and doing so would add to what’s already a war chest of picks in this year’s draft. But Cleveland needs to add blue-chip talent more than anything, so the Browns rebuff offers, stay at no. 4, and take Chubb. Paired with last year’s top pick, Myles Garrett, the Browns would be building one of the most fearsome young defensive lines in the NFL.
5. Denver Broncos: RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State
The Broncos could certainly take a quarterback at this spot, but after handing Keenum $25 million guaranteed, they look committed to him for at least two years. So GM John Elway grabs Barkley, a player who can provide a boost to Denver’s anemic run game while giving Keenum the type of support he needs, both on the ground and as an option in the passing attack. This would be an early-impact selection, giving Denver the chance to quickly fix its offense and get back into contention while Von Miller is still in the prime of his career.
6. Indianapolis Colts (From Jets): G Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame
This is a dream scenario for the Colts: Not only do they pick up a trio of second-round picks (two this year, one next year) to move down three spots, but they still grab the best offensive lineman in the draft. Nelson’s a day-one starter and looks like a future Pro Bowler; slot him in at left guard between veteran tackle Anthony Castonzo and 2016 first-round center Ryan Kelly, and Indianapolis would be giving Andrew Luck the type of protection he needs when (or if?) he returns to the field.
7: TRADE: Buffalo Bills (From Buccaneers): QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
A trade! With the Browns, Broncos, and Colts all standing pat to take three of the draft’s premium non-quarterback players, the Bills pounce on the chance to move ahead of Miami and avoid an Arizona leapfrog—sending Tampa Bay the 12th and 22nd picks in the draft in order to move up five spots to take Mayfield. (That’s an overpay, per Jimmy Johnson’s draft-trade value chart, but all bets are off when it comes to getting a quarterback). McCarron can function as the team’s bridge-to-the-future on a reported two-year deal that guarantees just $6 million—a cheap, short-term contract that gives the team a few options at the quarterback spot: If Mayfield wows early on and beats out the higher-paid veteran à la Russell Wilson/Matt Flynn, all the better. But if it takes a year for Mayfield to get up to speed, that’s fine too; he’d have the chance to sit and learn the pro game while the Bills look to add a stronger support system around him.
8. Chicago Bears: LB Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech
Because of his rare size and speed (6-foot-5, 253 pounds with a 4.54 40-yard dash), Edmunds has drawn comparisons to former Bears great Brian Urlacher from more than one evaluator. The former Hokie would offer versatility in defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s scheme: He can play in the middle, line up on the outside opposite Leonard Floyd, and could even be deployed as a sub-package pass rusher.
9. San Francisco 49ers: LB Roquan Smith, Georgia
Smith’s got the speed and the versatility to play three downs at multiple spots in defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s 4-3 scheme. He could line up on the weak side next to Reuben Foster, assuming Foster gets back on the field in 2018—and if not, the team’s got a guy who can play in the middle as a run-and-chase playmaker like Bobby Wagner does in Seattle or Deion Jones does in Atlanta. In either case, he’s a sideline-to-sideline defender who could help change the complexion of the 49ers defense.
10. Oakland Raiders: DB Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
With an early run on quarterbacks, Fitzpatrick might fall, and Oakland’s got a head start on knowing how to deploy the versatile former Crimson Tide star via new defensive backs coach Derrick Ansley, who coached Fitzpatrick the past two years in Tuscaloosa. Fitzpatrick wouldn’t just be a T.J. Carrie replacement—he could play multiple roles in the Raiders defense, lining up over the slot and in a roving safety role like a bigger version of Tyrann Mathieu. He could even get a shot to play on the outside.
11. Miami Dolphins: DT Vita Vea, Washington
The Dolphins have a Ndamukong Suh–sized hole in the middle of their defensive front, and at 6-foot-4 and 347 pounds, Vea could help fill that need. The former Washington star is an immovable block-eater and run defender who offers upside as an interior rusher.
12. TRADE: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (From Bills via Bengals): S Derwin James, Florida State
James is a big-time playmaker who brings tenacity to the run game, the ability to cover tight ends and backs in the passing attack, and the quickness to be utilized as a situational blitzer. He’d add toughness and leadership to a Buccaneers defense that badly needs help.
13. Washington Redskins: CB Denzel Ward, Ohio State
After trading away Kendall Fuller and letting Bashaud Breeland test the free-agency waters, Washington needs to add playmakers to its secondary. Ward’s an elite athlete with ball skills (two picks and 24 passes defended the last two years for the Buckeyes), and whether he’s lined up opposite Josh Norman or playing inside in the slot, would provide a nice boost to the Redskins pass defense.
14. Green Bay Packers: CB Jaire Alexander, Louisville
After trading away Damarious Randall, Green Bay finds itself in the same boat as the Redskins: desperately needing to add talent to a depleted cornerback group—especially with the Vikings adding Kirk Cousins and the Bears adding wide receiver Allen Robinson. Alexander boosted his stock at the combine with an intriguing combination of speed and quickness (he posted a 6.71-second three-cone—13th among all players—and a 3.98-second short shuttle). Paired with the team’s top pick from last year, Kevin King, he would make an impact from day one.
15. Arizona Cardinals: CB Josh Jackson, Iowa
The Cardinals still need to find a reliable long-term starter to pair with Patrick Peterson, and Jackson could be the answer. The former Iowa star has prototypical size (6-foot-1, 192 pounds) and proved he has a nose for the ball when he picked off eight passes and deflected another 18 last year for the Hawkeyes.
16. Baltimore Ravens: WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama
The Ravens got off to a good start by signing a pair of free-agent pass catchers in John Brown and Michael Crabtree, but the team’s talent-deficient passing game still needs work. Ridley’s subpar performance in the vertical and broad jumps at the combine is a concern, but he’s an excellent route runner who can separate from defenders and pick up yards after the catch. That gives him a chance to contribute right away.
17. Los Angeles Chargers: LB Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State
There might not be a player who raised his stock at the combine more than Vander Esch, who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds, the three-cone in 6.88 seconds, and jumped 39.5 inches in the vertical—all at 6-foot-4 and 256 pounds. It wouldn’t be surprising if defensive coordinator Gus Bradley sees a little K.J. Wright in the linebacker’s game: rangy enough to play in the middle but big enough to set the edge on the outside. Vander Esch is long, instinctive, and offers three-down potential as both a run defender and coverage ’backer.
18. Seattle Seahawks: OL Connor Williams, Texas
The Seahawks still have question marks at the left guard, right guard, and right tackle spots. I’d drop Williams in between left tackle Duane Brown and center Justin Britt and let the former Texas standout stabilize a position group that was a major liability in 2017.
19. Dallas Cowboys: DE Marcus Davenport, UTSA
Dallas still needs to add teeth to its defensive line, and Davenport, while raw, could do exactly that. Put him in a pass-rushing subpackage with Demarcus Lawrence, David Irving, and Taco Charlton, and the highly athletic pass rusher could make an impact in year one.
20. Detroit Lions: DT Maurice Hurst, Michigan
Assuming Hurst gets cleared to play after being diagnosed with a heart condition at the combine, he’ll be one of the top interior linemen in this class. With a lightning-quick first step and strong hands to disengage from blocks, Hurst is a disruptor against both the run and the pass. He’s the type of versatile, high-motor player Matt Patricia’s defense needs.
21. Cincinnati Bengals (From Bills): G/C James Daniels, Iowa
The Bengals already made one upgrade on their offensive line by trading for Buffalo’s Cordy Glenn, and add another nice piece to that unit with the best center in the draft, James Daniels. He could slide right into the middle of Cincy’s line but is versatile enough to play both guard positions.
22. TRADE: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (From Bills via Chiefs): OL Isaiah Wynn, Georgia
The Bucs got the top safety in the draft with their first pick and now address their subpar offensive line here. Wynn’s a tough, athletic lineman who could play at the left guard spot from day one—and he could even slide out to either tackle spot in a pinch.
23. Los Angeles Rams: DE Harold Landry, Boston College
The Rams made a bunch of big moves to improve their secondary this offseason, trading for Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters, tagging Lamarcus Joyner, and re-signing Nickell Robey-Coleman—but that group is still going to need support in the form of a consistent pass rush off the edge. Landry is coming off a down year in which he battled through an ankle injury, but when healthy in 2016, the former Boston College star was one of the top pass rushers in the nation. He’d get plenty of one-on-one opportunities lined up next to Aaron Donald.
24. Carolina Panthers: OG Will Hernandez, UTEP
After losing guard Andrew Norwell to the Jags in free agency, the Panthers need to address their interior offensive line. Hernandez is a big, physical mauler who fits Carolina’s smash-mouth style and identity like a glove.
25. Tennessee Titans: LB Rashaan Evans, Alabama
The Titans need to add talent at linebacker, and Evans would be a nice fit as a centerpiece under new defensive coordinator Dean Pees. The former Ravens coach fared well with another former Crimson Tide middle linebacker in C.J. Mosley the past few years and maintained close ties to Alabama coach Nick Saban. Evans is physical, tough, and fast—and could contribute immediately to Tennessee’s defense.
26. Atlanta Falcons: DT Da’Ron Payne, Alabama
The Falcons lost Dontari Poe and Adrian Clayborn in free agency, and Payne’s an excellent fit for what Dan Quinn wants to do: affect the quarterback. Payne is a strong run defender, too, and paired with Grady Jarrett in sub-package pass-rush situations, the Falcons could field a dominant interior defensive line.
27. New Orleans Saints: TE Mike Gesicki, Penn State
The Saints ended up missing out on Jimmy Graham in free agency, but in Gesicki, they grab another big, athletic tight end with potential to develop into a premiere red zone threat. The former basketball and volleyball star blew the doors off the combine when he jumped 41.5 inches in the vert and showed quickness with a 6.76-second three-cone time. The 6-foot-5, 247-pound Gesicki may need to learn to be more physical at the start of his routes, but Drew Brees could find a use for a guy with a catch radius the size of a Ferris wheel.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers: S Ronnie Harrison, Alabama
The Steelers need help at safety after moving on from Mike Mitchell, and the Alabama standout has the potential to make an impact early on. Harrison is rangy enough to play deep as the last line of defense, but at 6-foot-3 and 214 pounds, he’s got the size and physicality to play up in the box, too, defending against the run or dropping back in coverage on tight ends and backs.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville
The Jags have committed to Blake Bortles in the short term, but the upside that Jackson presents as the team’s future at the position is just too good to pass up. He’s a dynamic pocket passer who’s not afraid to throw the ball deep, and for a team that’s built its identity around running the football, his big-play athleticism on scrambles and designed runs could provide a whole new dimension to Jacksonville’s offense.
30. Minnesota Vikings: DT Taven Bryan, Florida
The Vikings already signed Sheldon Richardson to a one-year deal in free agency, but as we saw last year with the Eagles, there’s no such thing as having too many pass rushers. Bryan’s raw, but he’s an explosive athlete who could be special as a slicing interior penetrator.
31. New England Patriots: OT Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame
With Nate Solder signing with the Giants, the Patriots need help on their offensive line, and McGlinchey could step in from day one to play on either side. This pick could be a steal for a team that doesn’t yet appear to have a solid plan in place for protecting Tom Brady.
32. Philadelphia Eagles: RB Derrius Guice, LSU
The Eagles benefitted from a running back committee in 2017, but LeGarrette Blount’s gone, Jay Ajayi’s under contract for just one more year, and Corey Clement may not be a carry-the-load type of feature back. The defending Super Bowl champs could go in any number of directions here, but adding a tackle-breaking creator like Guice to an already talent-packed offense just feels unfair.