It’s getting harder and harder to scoff at the rumors linking Josh Allen to the Browns with the top pick. Well, we can still scoff—but there’s a growing list of reporters and analysts who seem convinced Cleveland’s interest in Allen is genuine: ESPN’s Mel Kiper has steadfastly put the Wyoming signal-caller in the top spot in every one of his mock drafts over the past few months; Peter King reported that his source close to Browns GM John Dorsey believes Cleveland will take Allen; Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer has heard Cleveland is still trying to decide between Allen and Sam Darnold; and both NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah and NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein have reported that the Allen-to-Cleveland rumors have some legs. It’s lying season, sure, and it may just be an elaborate smokescreen; but sometimes, all that smoke means there’s a fire.
After projecting Darnold at the top spot in my first three mocks, Allen occupies the no. 1 spot in the fourth. If Cleveland really does forego the chance to take Darnold with the top pick on April 26, it would have a major cascading effect on the rest of the first round, and a few teams could end up with the chance to draft a quarterback they didn’t expect would be on the board.
1. Cleveland Browns: QB Josh Allen, Wyoming
Allen’s underwhelming college production (he threw just 16 touchdowns in 11 games last year) and a major lack of accuracy are both huge red flags, but his upside is sky high. The Wyoming product is big, strong, and mobile, and while Dorsey has always been around plenty of rocket-armed passers—from Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay to Pat Mahomes in Kansas City—Allen might have more pure arm strength than any of them. Of course, there’s more to quarterbacking than simply throwing hard, and the 6-foot-5, 237-pound passer needs to refine his game before he’s ready to take the field—but with Tyrod Taylor under contract, Cleveland would have the chance to bring their new franchise passer along slowly.
2. New York Giants: QB Sam Darnold, USC
Cleveland’s decision to take Allen means that Darnold falls into the Giants’ lap, and they stick at the no. 2 spot and take the quarterback with the most complete skill set. Darnold has great size, a good arm, accuracy, and the ability to escape the pocket and make plays on the run. He may need a year or two to clean up some mechanical issues and improve his decision-making, but in New York, under QB whisperer Pat Shurmur, the 20-year-old former Trojan finds himself a perfect landing spot. Darnold could sit behind Eli Manning and learn to be a pro without having the pressure to play right away.
3. New York Jets (From Colts): QB Josh Rosen, UCLA
This pick comes down to two quarterbacks—Rosen or Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield—and New York opts to roll the dice on the former UCLA star. Rosen’s fundamentals are the most advanced of any of the draft-eligible passers in this class, and he showed accuracy and touch as a pocket passer over the past three years under center for the Bruins. While he should be given the chance to come in and compete for the starting job from the get-go, the Jets have positioned themselves for the opportunity to develop their new franchise passer behind the team’s two veteran quarterbacks, Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater.
4. Cleveland Browns (From Texans): DE Bradley Chubb, NC State
Pairing Chubb with Myles Garrett would give Cleveland one of the most exciting and potentially dominant defensive lines in the league. The former Wolfpack star is a tough and physical pass rusher and was excellent against the run, too, finishing second among all defenders last year in tackles for a loss (26.0).
5. TRADE: Buffalo Bills (From Broncos): QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
Denver has done its due diligence on this class of quarterbacks, but GM John Elway signed Case Keenum to a two-year, $36 million deal in March and reportedly still believes in Paxton Lynch. That leaves him open to a trade back here, and Buffalo makes its move, giving up the 12th- and 22nd-overall selections to jump up and grab Mayfield. The former Oklahoma star and Heisman winner is a dynamic talent with accuracy, poise, and excellent on-field leadership traits. He’d give the Bills a quarterback to build around for the long term and would come in and compete for the starting job with A.J. McCarron (whose two-year deal guarantees just $6 million) from day one.
6. Indianapolis Colts (From Jets): OG Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame
Whether it’s Andrew Luck or Jacoby Brissett under center for Indy in Week 1, Colts GM Chris Ballard needs to give his starting quarterback better support. Nelson is certainly a good start, as the Colts could solidify the left side of their line by dropping the former Notre Dame guard in between left tackle Anthony Castonzo and 2016 first-round center Ryan Kelly. Nelson’s nasty playing demeanor and physical style would give Indy an instant upgrade in both the passing attack and the run game.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State
The Buccaneers need help on defense, but it’d be too hard to pass on a playmaking talent like Barkley if he falls to this spot. The former Penn State star is an explosive home run hitter in the run game and a mismatch threat in the passing attack and could even feature on kick returns.
8. Chicago Bears: LB Roquan Smith, Georgia
The Bears add talent and depth to their linebacking corps. Smith is a sideline-to-sideline defender who can string out and stop runs to the outside and cover running backs and tight ends over the middle of the field.
9. San Francisco 49ers: LB Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech
Regardless of whether Reuben Foster, who is facing felony charges of domestic violence, ever returns to the field for San Francisco, the 49ers need help at linebacker. Edmunds is a top-tier athlete with outstanding size (6-foot-5, 253 pounds), range, and versatility, and has potential as a plug-and-play contributor for defensive coordinator Robert Saleh at any of the three linebacker spots. At just 19 years old (he’ll be 20 by the time the season starts), the former Hokies star is still just scratching the surface of his potential.
10. Oakland Raiders: CB Denzel Ward, Ohio State
The one-year deals that Oakland gave to Rashaan Melvin and Shareece Wright in free agency help boost the team’s depth at cornerback in the short term, but Ward would give Jon Gruden and Co. a long-term answer at the position opposite 2017 first-rounder (and fellow Ohio State product) Gareon Conley. Ward is sticky in coverage, has good ball skills (two interceptions and 15 passes defensed last year), and can play either on the outside or in the slot.
11. Miami Dolphins: DB Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
The Dolphins ranked 29th in pass defense DVOA last year, per Football Outsiders—finishing 28th in coverage against tight ends and 18th against running backs—so a middle-of-the-field difference-maker like Fitzpatrick is just what the doctor ordered. The former Crimson Tide star would be an impact starter from the get-go, playing multiple roles for Matt Burke’s defense: covering the slot, jumping routes as a robber, or lining up as a de facto linebacker in nickel and dime looks.
12. TRADE: Denver Broncos (From Bills via Bengals): DE Harold Landry, Boston College
An elite pass rush was a major part of Denver’s championship formula in 2015, and with this pick, the Broncos would get a chance to re-create that dominance up front. Landry would not only bring a nice first-step burst and the ability to bend around the edge to the Broncos, but would help keep the team’s already-talented rotation (which features Von Miller, Shaquil Barrett, Shane Ray, Derek Wolfe, and DeMarcus Walker) fresh throughout each game and into the late part of the season.
13. Washington Redskins: CB Jaire Alexander, Louisville
The Redskins need more depth at cornerback opposite Josh Norman, and the recently signed Orlando Scandrick isn’t a long-term solution in the slot. Alexander could make an early impact: The former Louisville standout boasts elite speed and quickness, and with seven interceptions and 15 pass breakups in his college career, proved he has a nose for the ball, too.
14. Green Bay Packers: S Derwin James, Florida State
If James is still on the board at this spot, the Packers would have a tough decision to make: Take the best player available, or pick for a position of greater need? They go with the former and add a dynamic playmaker to the middle of their defense. James is an enforcer against the run and shows instincts in coverage, and Green Bay defensive coordinator Mike Pettine would have plenty of options for big nickel packages playing James alongside Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Josh Jones.
15. Arizona Cardinals: QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville
Let’s face it: Even after signing Sam Bradford, it behooves the Cardinals to find themselves an immediate backup plan to the oft-injured veteran passer. And they still need a long-term successor at the position. Jackson could satisfy both criteria: After cutting his teeth in Bobby Petrino’s pro-style passing scheme, the former Heisman winner is a good day-one backup option. And down the road, the aggressive downfield thrower and electric runner has franchise-quarterback potential.
16. Baltimore Ravens: WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama
Even after signing receivers Michael Crabtree and John Brown in free agency, the Ravens offense is in desperate need of more playmaking talent—and they need it now, while the defense is still among the league’s elite. Well, Ridley’s as game-ready as any receiver in this class: He’s got good hands, runs crisp routes, and can play outside or in the slot.
17. Los Angeles Chargers: DT Vita Vea, Washington
Vea would be a great fit on the interior of Gus Bradley’s defense, both at the nose tackle spot and rushing off-guard at the 3-technique. The mammoth former Washington star could eat up double-teams against the run and push the pocket against the pass, helping to create chaos on the interior while freeing up Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram on the outside.
18. Seattle Seahawks: DE Marcus Davenport, UTSA
With Michael Bennett traded to Philadelphia and Cliff Avril’s future still in doubt, Seattle will need help off the edge. Davenport is raw, but he’s big, fast, and physical—and could make an impact immediately by carving out a rotational pass-rushing role alongside Frank Clark, Marcus Smith, and Dion Jordan.
19. Dallas Cowboys: WR D.J. Moore, Maryland
With Dez Bryant no longer in the picture, the Cowboys need to add some playmaking receivers. Moore is just the type of tool that Dak Prescott could utilize: A standout on “layup throws” like quick slants, curls, digs, and screens, the former Maryland star has extraordinary elusiveness and speed after the catch, and is capable of taking a short pass and turning it into a big gain on any given snap.
20. Detroit Lions: CB Josh Jackson, Iowa
There’s no such thing as having too many good corners, and that’s especially true when you play in the same division as Aaron Rodgers. The former Hawkeyes star racked up eight interceptions last year and deflected another 18 passes; he’s just the type of big, productive, and disruptive force that Detroit’s secondary could use.
21. Cincinnati Bengals (From Bills): OL Connor Williams, Texas
The Bengals upgraded their left tackle position by trading for Buffalo’s Cordy Glenn in March and could take another big step toward fixing their offensive line by taking Williams here. The former Longhorns tackle is tough, physical, and versatile—and could compete with Jake Fisher at right tackle or slot in as a starter at one of the guard spots.
22. TRADE: Denver Broncos (From Bills): CB Isaiah Oliver, Colorado
After trading Aqib Talib to the Rams, the Broncos need more depth at corner, and they get it here with the playmaker out of Colorado. Oliver is raw, but could be utilized early on in a rotational role in nickel coverage looks alongside Bradley Roby and Chris Harris. At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, Oliver has ideal size, and he’s an outstanding athlete who could make for a great addition to Denver’s vaunted “No Fly Zone” secondary.
23. New England Patriots (From Rams): OT Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame
There’s plenty of speculation that New England will package its two first-round picks to move up and select a quarterback, but in this scenario, the Pats utilize that draft capital to add some much-needed talent to their depleted offensive line. McGlinchey could be a depth option at either tackle spot as a rookie and has the long-term upside to turn into the team’s blindside protector down the line.
24. Carolina Panthers: OG Isaiah Wynn, Georgia
Wynn is just the type of versatile offensive lineman the Panthers could use after losing Andrew Norwell in free agency. The former Georgia Bulldog slots in as a starter at left guard, could play at left tackle in a pinch, and would provide depth at right guard, right tackle, and potentially even center.
25. Tennessee Titans: LB Lorenzo Carter, Georgia
Carter could rocket into the first round, because some team is going to look at his 6-foot-6, 250-pound frame and 4.5-second 40 time and think it can turn him into a productive player at the next level. Carter could play multiple roles in Tennessee’s defense, dropping back into coverage in some looks and rushing off the edge in others. He’s got sideline-to-sideline speed and the length that teams covet—he just needs someone to put that skill set to work. Titans head coach Mike Vrabel might be just the guy for the job.
26. Atlanta Falcons: DT Maurice Hurst, Michigan
After losing Dontari Poe in free agency, the Falcons could use another interior penetrator to pair with Grady Jarrett. Hurst has a quick first step and heavy hands to get off of blocks, and he utilized those two traits to rack up 49 quarterback pressures in 2017, per Pro Football Focus, the most among all draft-eligible interior linemen.
27. New Orleans Saints: DT Da’Ron Payne, Alabama
The Saints could go in just about any direction with this pick and fortify what looks like an up-and-coming defensive line (which features Cameron Jordan, Sheldon Rankins, Alex Okafor, David Onyemata, and Tyeler Davison). Payne is a typical Alabama trench player: tough, physical, and technically sound.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers: LB Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State
Ryan Shazier won’t be on the field in 2018, so the Steelers need to add some playmakers to their linebacker corps. Vander Esch fits the bill: He did a little bit of everything for Boise State, showcasing plenty of range to run in coverage while displaying sideline-to-sideline speed chasing runs to the outside.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars: DT Taven Bryan, Florida
There aren’t too many holes in Jacksonville’s defense, but down the line, it’s going to be tough for the team to hang onto all its high-priced linemen (Malik Jackson, Marcell Dareus, and Calais Campbell will count a combined $41 million against the cap in 2019). Bryan is raw, and he’s knocked off balance too often, but he does possess something you really can’t teach: elite, first-step explosiveness. With a little seasoning, the former Florida star could develop into a productive interior rusher and would give Jacksonville some options when tough cap decisions must be made.
30. Minnesota Vikings: C/G James Daniels, Iowa
With Joe Berger’s retirement, the Vikings need to add some depth to the interior offensive line, and Daniels is exactly the type of versatile, plug-and-play lineman they need. Daniels is likely best at center, but could play either guard spot, too.
31. New England Patriots: FS Justin Reid, Stanford
Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung will both be 31 when the season starts, so New England may look for an infusion of youth at safety. Reid fits the profile of a Patriots defender, having played all over the Stanford secondary, and he’s an elite athlete who tested out in the 96th percentile among NFL safeties at the combine, per Zach Whitman’s SPARQ metric.
32. Philadelphia Eagles: OT Kolton Miller, UCLA
At 36 years old, Jason Peters won’t keep playing forever, and he may never be the player he was after he returns from a torn ACL and MCL. The defending champs could use some depth at tackle, and Miller is an athletic developmental prospect who could be Peters’s long-term replacement.