NFL Draft season is always an intriguing time of year. Some franchises are looking for that franchise quarterback, while others will be looking to rebuild in other areas, trade back, trade up, and all the other chaos that goes on. Some picks are predictable, while others are strange, and others are absolute steals. And in this particular draft, more than ever, there have been rumors about trading up for quarterbacks, as this draft is loaded with a class that may lead to greatness. So for my mock draft, I will structure it as what I believe should happen based on team needs, draft strategy, and team situation. I will combine that with a likelihood (percentage) of that actually happening based on rumors I have heard and players’ stocks rising and falling based on the combine and pro days. With that combination, here is my what should happen versus what will happen mock draft.
1. Cleveland Browns
Should take: Josh Rosen- UCLA QB
Should: I personally believe Rosen is the most NFL ready quarterback. As a Giants fan, I hope he is the guy the Giants pick if they stay at 2. But in this structure, I have to be fair to all teams. What I think the Browns should do is take Rosen, who has the best accuracy to all parts of the field, especially deep, and has the best decision making skills in this draft. He makes a better variety of throws, in terms of spots on the field and route combinations, than any other quarterback in this draft. Watching him at UCLA, there were some throws I was very much awed by him being able to make, especially in tight situations such as third down. So for a team that needs a quarterback badly and needs a sure thing to break the QB graveyard the new Browns have dealt with, Josh Rosen is the best sure-fire option.
Will take: Josh Allen- Wyoming QB
Would: Would it actually happen though? Probably not. I give it a 10% chance of it actually happening. I think it is more likely for them to select either Josh Allen or Sam Darnold #1. Josh Allen has been rumored since December to be loved by the Browns, and on about three different instances, has been rumored to be the #1 pick. But after Sam Darnold’s impressive pro day and Jimmy Haslam having a good relationship with Darnold’s family, that case is building up stronger as well. Either way, it doesn’t look good for what I think should happen for the Browns in Rosen. It’s not that I think Allen or Darnold will be bad, but I think Rosen has the best chance to be a superstar. I personally think it will be Allen despite the rumors about Darnold, based on the Browns liking him on several phases of the pre-draft process, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was Darnold either.
2: Buffalo Bills (from New York Giants)
Should take: Josh Allen- Wyoming QB
The Buffalo Bills absolutely love Josh Rosen, but in my scenarios of should, they will trade up with the Giants and still get a quarterback. From the Giants perspective, they had a 3-13 team last year, but I believe they still have the roster of an 8-8 team or possibly even better with some improvements. I think the Bills had the desire to trade with the Bengals so they could make this trade with the Giants, because I don’t think the Giants would’ve and should’ve taken 21 & 22, as they probably won’t get a star out of that spot in the draft the way it is structured. But at 12, there are more options, so the Giants go back there for now and make it work. The reasons Buffalo takes a quarterback should surprise no one, and I think Allen is the perfect pairing for Buffalo, a big armed QB to go along with deep threat Kelvin Benjamin and dynamic running back LeSean McCoy. He also is a tough guy to bring down with his size, which Sean McDermott had in Carolina with Cam Newton. Development and decision making will be key with him, and he might not start in year 1 with them bringing in A.J. McCarron, but with the Bills’ weaknesses (maybe besides safety) not being a high priority in this draft class in terms of the better overall players, they pull the trigger here on the quarterback.
Will take: Josh Rosen- UCLA QB
My shoulds and wills to start are just switched here. The likelihood of them taking Allen is still strong, I would say around 34%, if the Browns don’t take him at #1. But I still think they are more likely to take Rosen, and I don’t blame them for believing that. Rosen is a better decision maker and has better accuracy to all fields than Allen, and I think the Bills have been missing that kind of guy for a while now, going in a constant cycle of bad and average quarterbacks since their super bowl losing stretch in the 1990s. Regardless, since the trade with the Bengals, and since their weaknesses aren’t a lot of the best players in this first round, I think it seems inevitable Buffalo will pursue a quarterback that they believe can get their franchise out of the cycle of average.
3: New York Jets
Should and will take: Sam Darnold- USC QB
This is the first time that my wills and shoulds clash together here. With the Jets trading up to 3, there is no doubt that they will go after a quarterback. And if Darnold doesn’t go 1, the Jets will be enamored to grab him at 3. Darnold has been very good throughout his USC career at making a great variety of throws, and also is the best play extender among these Top 3 quarterbacks, having to make a lot of difficult throws on the run. He has decent all-around accuracy, and probably the best medium accuracy among the Top 3. His decision-making is something that will have to be improved, as he did struggle with that in his final year of college. That will make or break how good of an NFL quarterback he will be, because his attributes are definitely NFL ready. However, that will also come down to development and good coaching on the Jets side, something they haven’t had in a quarterback for the majority of their existence. However, Mike Maccagnan made the aggressive move to pursue that quarterback thinking this draft has the guy to transform this franchise. After failing with second and fourth round guys over the last 5 years, they go out and get more of a sure thing here.
4: Cleveland Browns
Should and will take: Saquon Barkley- Penn State RB
If the combine didn’t prove Saquon Barkley was the best raw athlete and arguably the most skilled player in this draft, I don’t know what did. He is a back that is electric in every facet of the game you need to be a good pure runner, with great vision, elusiveness, and speed, and still power that isn’t bad either at 6’0″ and 233 pounds. The Browns, despite signing Carlos Hyde in the offseason, still could use that high quality running back to create a very dynamic and balanced offense. Isaiah Crowell, who they released and went to the Jets, has good power, while Hyde has decent speed and agility. However, Barkley has this great combination of both, and is something that should not be passed up, especially that I think Hyde has always been an overrated and streaky running back throughout this career. And with that being said, despite it not being the only possiblity for Cleveland in their non-QB pick (Minkah Fitzpatrick would be great in this spot too for a corner-needy Browns team) I do believe Barkley is the best option for sure and the most likely one as well being how much they’ve hyped him up as still possibly going #1.
5: Denver Broncos
Should take: Bradley Chubb, N.C. State DE
After the New York Giants, the Denver Broncos are the second biggest wild card in this draft. They could use a QB, but don’t need one necessarily after bringing in Case Keenum in free agency. I think if they were to get a quarterback, they would have traded up already. But between less urgency and resources than the Buffalo Bills and even some other teams such as the Arizona Cardinals, I don’t think they’ll be able to pull it off. So then they should go for the next best option, filling the second biggest need on their team, defensive line. If Saquon Barkley falls here to 5, I think Denver would take him in a heartbeat. But being he is most likely gone, Chubb is the next best option. The Broncos lost their best defensive end from their Super Bowl winning team in Malik Jackson. Since his departure, their run defense has not been the same, and their overall defense hasn’t been as elite as that team either. They have the outside rushers with Shane Ray and obviosuly the best in the game in Von Miller, and have good inside linebackers and corners as well. However, what they lack is defensive line. They drafted DeMarcus Walker last year in the second round which I think will develop into a good player, but Chubb has a chance to be a superstar. He is a versatile player who can play both 3-4 (which is Broncos’ base scheme) and 4-3. He’s got a nice combination of speed and power that will help him be able to rush the passer and stop the run in both ways. With Denver already having the speed rushers though, I think he will be asked to be a power guy more. Regardless, they need that kind of player to play alongside Walker and Derek Wolfe to help bolster that run defense, and I think Chubb is the perfect fit for that, and for a bonus, he is a very good pass rusher as well.
Will take: Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame G
It seems like this is a strong case for being one of the most predictable draft picks. Despite guards not being drafted very high normally, Nelson has such good footwork, speed, and technique that he almost plays like he is a tackle. Therefore, I think the intrigue for Nelson will be there for a lot of teams, with one of them being the Denver Broncos. It’s a move that makes sense for sure, and wouldn’t be bad if they did make it. Currently, their right guard is Max Garcia, who is OK but not anything special. However, being that they drafted Garrett Bolles last year, and have brought in Ronald Leary and Jared Veldheer in free agency, I don’t know if that unit is as big of a need as fixing running back or defensive line. Not to mention, they also have a good center in Matt Paradis who has a very similar skillset to Nelson, where he has the footwork and good speed for an interior lineman. Therefore, I don’t think it is the best option for them, but I see it being the most likely option. My percentages on them taking Bradley Chubb is about 30%, with Nelson being much higher and the more likely option for Denver at 5.
6: Indianapolis Colts
Should take: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama CB/S
I mentioned how I believe Fitzpatrick is the second best in terms of an overall skillset after Saquon Barkley. Him slipping this far down to the Colts should have them jumping up and down in their seats. I think no matter where he goes, Fitzpatrick is more likely to play corner, just because big corners have been more of the new wave of superstar corners in this league (Jalen Ramsey, Xavier Rhodes, Marcus Peters). I think Fitzpatrick will become the next of that crop of players, and I think the Colts would be enamored watching him fall. He has the potential to be a superstar #1 corner, and for the Colts to build up a great young secondary as well, with the draft picks of Malik Hooker and Quincy Wilson last year, adding Fitzpatrick could put that defense on the rise. This Colts team obviously has a lot of holes so they can go in any direction, but I believe at 6, this is the best player and option for their situation.
Will take: Bradley Chubb, N.C. State DE
I think the Colts, in terms of player selection, could go in any different direction. I think it is about a 20% chance they do what I recommend and take Minkah Fitzpatrick. However, I think the more likely scenario, at about 30%, is Bradley Chubb. Bradley Chubb fills the Colts biggest need at defensive end, and once again is scheme-versatile. It is yet to be determined which way Frank Reich will go, but either way Chubb will make an impact. The Colts run defensive has been terrible for years now. It improved slightly with Johnathan Hankins last year, but they surprisingly released him and are back to having not much up front. Chubb will also help as a pass rusher in both schemes, as he has a good speed and size combination. I think that, overall, it is inevitable that the Colts will go defense. Despite me believing Fitzpatrick is the better overall player, I think there is a better likelihood based on several reports that the Colts are very much eyeing Chubb in the first round.
7: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Should take: Derwin James, Florida State S
Tampa Bay should take Fitzpatrick if he is there, but being that I have him going to the Colts, the next best option is Derwin James. Personally, I think James is the third best player in this class, with a nice combination of coverage skills, tackling skills, and run stopping skills, with very good speed and awareness to go along with that. The Buccaneers could definitely use a player like that to help their defense, which allowed more big plays than 2016 and also struggled massively against the run. While I think a player like Ro’Quan Smith or Vita Vea will help their run defense more directly, Derwin James has a combination of skills that will help both sides of the defense tremendously, and will form a potentially good young secondary with Vernon Hargreaves and 2017 second round pick Justin Evans. And with this draft being deep at corners, they can even take another one in the second round, such as a Jaire Alexander or Isaiah Oliver. We’ve also seen Tampa Bay take a lot of collegiate Floridians in previous drafts, such as Vernon Hargreaves and Jameis Winston, which also boosts the case for Derwin James going to the Buccaneers. Overall, with the trade for Jason Pierre-Paul and Bradley Chubb likely being gone at 7, the Buccaneers have to continue drafting the most outstanding players in the draft. If Fitzpatrick is there, I’d take him, but Derwin James has some superstar potential as well.
Will take: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama CB/S
Despite me believing there is a 45% chance they take James, in my will take scenario, Fitzpatrick slides to this spot which is huge for the Buccaneers. Again, he’d likely play corner in this kind of team, either on the outside or in the slot. But being they still have Brent Grimes there, expect him to rotate in at safety on occasion too. So to summarize, he is the perfect player to help this kind of team with his versatility and skillset. They have a scheme oriented around zone defense that has, so far, a lot of speed-oriented DBs in it. Fitzpatrick, at 6’1″, 201 pounds, can help bring some size to this team as well. Not to mention, he is also a very good tackler at both positions as well. They can also add a man-to-man and press element to their defense with him there too, which is something that Brent Grimes doesn’t have, and something Vernon Hargreaves struggled with last year. Fitzpatrick has always been good with that style of play jamming receivers at the line and switching to either a man or zone coverage after that, and on many different routes. He can do so much, with his skillset, for this team to help bolster up that defense. And being that their front office bolstered up their front some more with Jason Pierre-Paul and Vinny Curry, expect them to now bolster the secondary with this pick.
8: Chicago Bears
Should take: Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame G
As much as I don’t like Mitch Trubisky as a quarterback, the Bears are doing everything they can skill wise to help out that offense. They brought in Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel from free agency to help out Trubisky who had very little to throw to last year. Not to mention, they might finally get a healthy Kevin White. What they need to do now is start improving their offensive line. They do need help in the secondary too, but with Derwin James gone in my “should take” portion, Nelson is the best option for them here. I mentioned above that Nelson is a guard with the technique of a tackle. I think that kind of skillset falls perfectly for the Bears, who are in desperate need of a tackle. Right now, their two starting tackles are Charles Leno Jr. and Bobby Massie, who are both most certainly below average. Not to mention, they could have him start at guard as well, with the departure of Josh Sitton. While I don’t think that would be recommended, that would be one of the best young group of interior linemen that would help Jordan Howard run up the middle with a lot of ease. Regardless, with James going to Tampa one pick above in this mock draft, Nelson is the best option for the Bears in this spot.
Will take: Ro’Quan Smith, Georgia MLB
This is my first will take that is determined by tendencies of teams. The Bears should take James in this spot if available, but I know they won’t because they hardly ever prioritize safeties in the first round. Likewise, we’ve seen them take linebackers over the years quite often, most recently with the pick of Leonard Floyd, which wasn’t really a team need. With Jerrell Freeman suspended 10 games and Christian Jones gone for the Detroit Lions, it would be a very Bears thing to do to take the best linebacker in this draft to help bolster that front 7, because that is what this organization has always been accustomed to doing. The Bears have always loved those great run-stopping linebackers, and Smith can cover as well, which is a bonus for a team that mostly has pass rushers and run stoppers. While I don’t think this is the best pick for the Bears, it seems like the most likely, at 33%, based on their tendencies. Likewise, Quenton Nelson is a 15% likelihood of being the guy for the Bears in this spot, and personally I still believe Nelson fills a much bigger hole.
9: San Francisco 49ers
Should take: Denzel Ward, Ohio State CB
The Niners partially filled their biggest need at the cornerback position bringing in Richard Sherman. However, with this draft being strong with corners, I don’t think they can settle on just him. Denzel Ward has very good speed and ball-hawking ability, and has the ability to cover in both man and zone coverages. He isn’t able to press as well as somebody like Minkah Fitzpatrick or even Josh Jackson, but he still can keep up with receivers and fight for the ball if he has to. Also, Ward is a nice compliment to Sherman, who is more of that physical press corner this late in his career. And especially just coming off the Achilles tear last season, his speed will most certainly be diminished. Therefore, Ward gives them that speed on the other side of the field to keep up with the other guy more and play against more complicated routes and deeper man-to-man coverage situations. And watching him at Ohio State, he was able to stretch the field and keep up step-for-step with the receivers deep downfield. I believe this is still the biggest need for the 49ers even bringing in Sherman, maybe besides wide receiver. However, if they were to have their eyes on a wide receiver, I don’t think it would be with this pick. I think they would either thake one in the second round or trade back if they had their eyes set on one in this draft.
Will take: Derwin James, Florida State S
If Derwin James is there at #9 for the 49ers, it should be a no-brainer to take him. Along with corner, safety is another big weakness. They got a nice year this year out of Jaquiski Tartt, but whether he does it again is another question. Eric Reid fell off after a decent first 2 years of his career, and he is now a free agent still looking for a home. James makes sense for the 49ers likely at free safety but still with the skillset to be a strong safety. He can hit hard, stop the run, and tackle fundamentally as well. Not to mention, the 49ers need speedy guys that can cover. They found that at linebacker last draft with Reuben Foster at 31, but missed on the chance to have Marshon Lattimore who I thought they should have taken last year at 3. I think to redeem themselves for that miss, Derwin James would be a nice pickup. Being that they don’t have a second round pick due to trading it for Jimmy Garropolo, they need to address the secondary with this pick, with their front 3 being good and young right now and their linebacking core being solid as well. And I don’t believe John Lynch will pass on an outstanding defensive back two years in a row, which is why I think James is the most likely pick.
10: Oakland Raiders
Should take: Ro’Quan Smith, Georgia MLB
The Raiders have two directions they can go in here that would both be effective. Their obvious weakness last year was run defense, both from a talent perspective and a statistical perspective. And with some young DB’s drafted the last two drafts and already having good defensive ends and outside rushers, the Raiders really need to bolster the middle of that defense. Both Ro’Quan Smith and Washington DT Vita Vea fit the bill for the Raiders here. The reason why I think they should take Smith over Vea is for the simple reason of draft strategy. Despite their biggest need being a nose tackle, Jon Gruden may switch back to the 4-3 that he had while he was coaching the Buccaneers. And for that reason, I think the middle linebacker will be more crucial for them. Not to mention, from a draft strategy standpoint, there could be more DT’s available that can fill that void in the second round, such as Maurice Hurst, Harrison Phillips, and Da’Ron Payne. At middle linebacker, there would be just Rashaan Evans that I would consider taking at round 2 pick 10, unless they decide to trade back. So with that in mind, despite me liking both players a lot, I give the slightest of edges to Ro’Quan Smith over Vita Vea here.
Will take: Vita Vea, Washington DT/NT
Surprise surprise. Being how I hyped up Vea you could’ve seen this coming. The Raiders have always loved those big guys up front, especially pass rushers. But in this case, they need the big run stopper, and with Smith off my “will take” board at 8, I think there is an 80% chance that Vea will be the pick here. Vea, at 6’5″ and 340 pounds, is a monster when it comes to stopping the run. He has unbelievable size and ability to power in and clog the middle, which is something the Raiders have lacked ever since they lost Dan Williams to free agency. Justin Ellis, their current starting DT, is a decent #2 option as a pass rusher, but isn’t a good run stopping. Whoever takes Vea will have their run D upped instantly, and the Raiders could definitely use a player like this to fix their biggest need. Not to mention, he has good speed and agility as well for somebody that big, which will help against the outside runs. And like I was saying with him instantly fixing their run defense, another team in their division, the L.A. Chargers, should be highly pursuing Vea as well, which I’m sure the Raiders don’t want to see against them. Don’t expect Vea to be much of a pass rusher, but the Raiders don’t really need that, with Khalil Mack, Mario Edwards, and Bruce Irvin all being effective pass rushers. However, with him being the biggest need for the Raiders, I give them a strong chance of using the 10th overall pick on Vita Vea.