The 2018 NFL Draft will go down in history as one of the more fascinating classes in recent history, in large part due to a potentially record-breaking crop of quarterbacks.
Holders of the No. 1 and No. 4 overall picks (as well as the top pick in the second round), the Cleveland Browns are in position to be big winners -- as long as new general manager John Dorsey and his staff pick the right passer.
Here is my final projection of the first 32 picks, with a new No. 1 (which I hinted at early this week in 10 Bold Predictions before the Baker Mayfield buzz become really loud):
–1. CLEVELAND BROWNS: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma: It takes a bold general manager, indeed, to draft a two-time walk-on at No. 1 overall but the meek rarely win in the NFL. Mayfield quieted critics (including myself) with impressive showings against elite competition outside of the Big 12, including at the Senior Bowl where any concerns about velocity or schematic fit were answered. Stylistically, he is the closest match in this class to Cleveland’s current starter, Tyrod Taylor, which should aid in his development. It is hard to imagine Mayfield, the ultimate competitor, holding the clipboard for long, however.
--2. NEW YORK GIANTS: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State: General manager Dave Gettlemen signaled the direction the Giants might be going with this pick back in March when he awarded former Patriots Pro Bowl left tackle Nate Solder a four-year $62 million contract, including $35 million guaranteed, the biggest deal for an NFL offensive lineman. That's why immediate impact prospects like Barkley (or N.C. State's Bradley Chubb) ultimately make more sense than drafting a quarterback to groom behind Eli Manning. Add Barkley to a unit that already features Odell Beckham Jr., Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard, and the Giants suddenly have the playmakers to compete with any offense in the NFL.
–3. NEW YORK JETS: Sam Darnold, QB, USC: Signing veterans Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater provide the Jets options but considering their recent history — Mark Sanchez and Chad Pennington are the only quarterbacks to start the equivalent of two full seasons for the Jets since the turn of the century — GM Mike Maccagnan and head coach Todd Bowles know full well how critical it is to find the right quarterback. Darnold’s experience in a pro offense (and media market) make him the ideal building block.
--4. CLEVELAND BROWNS: Bradley Chubb, DE, North Carolina State: While the Browns' quarterback woes have earned plenty of attention, their need for a pass rusher opposite last year's No. 1 overall selection Myles Garrett is also a significant cause for concern. Garrett struggled with various injuries last season but still managed seven sacks, nearly double that of any other member of Cleveland's defense. Chubb is a proven playmaker who enters the NFL with even better technique and consistency than the freakishly athletic Garrett, giving aggressive defensive coordinator Gregg Williams the tandem to terrorize opponents.
--5. DENVER BRONCOS: Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame: Yes, the Broncos need a young quarterback to groom but I'm not convinced John Elway is eager to gamble on one of the remaining quarterbacks. If unable to land a mega deal in trade, taking the best player available -- Nelson -- is the simple and smart move.
--6. INDIANPOLIS COLTS: Roquan Smith, ILB, Georgia: Any of the top three non-QBs selected earlier would make sense for a Colts roster that has plenty of holes but GM Chris Ballard had to anticipate the possibility (some would say the likelihood) that Barkley, Chubb and Nelson would not make it to No. 6, overall. Dropping from No. 3 to No. 6 following the trade with the Jets suggests that Ballard is comfortable with other options. Smith, the 2017 Butkus Award winner as the nation's top linebacker, possesses the speed to the flanks and in coverage which make him perfectly suited to today's modern pass-happy NFL.
--7. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: Derwin James, SS, Florida State: The Bucs overhauled their defensive line to create more of a pass rush but the secondary still could use an infusion of playmakers. Plugging in a versatile athlete like James into a deep patrol tasked with handling divisional weapons like Devonta Freeman (Falcons), Alvin Kamara (Saints) and Christian McCaffrey (Panthers) makes sense.
--8. CHICAGO BEARS: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame: The big investment in Mitchell Trubisky only makes sense if the Bears protect him and with the top rushers in the NFC North playing on the edges, tackle should be a priority. After coaching McGlinchey (among others) at Notre Dame, respected offensive line coach Harry Hiestand can vouch for the blue collar tackle's toughness and versatility.
--9. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech: The quickest way to send a message to Reuben Foster and the rest of the 49ers about the franchise's expectations on and off the field would be to draft a potential replacement. At just 19-years old Edmunds is just scratching the surface of his potential, projecting as an immediate impact defender with Pro Bowls in his future.
--10. OAKLAND RAIDERS: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State: Despite boasting a terrific 1-2 set of edge rushers in Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin, the Raiders featured one of the league's leakiest secondaries in 2017 and finished with an NFL-low five interceptions. Ward is a true cover corner, blanketing receivers due to his exceptional quickness and speed.
--11. MIAMI DOLPHINS: Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB/S, Alabama: With a 16-16 record after two seasons and an increasingly frustrated owner in Steve Ross, I'm expecting a splashy pick for the Dolphins, with a quarterback a possibility. Miami's secondary has been a mess for years, however, and so if Fitzpatrick is still on the board, head coach Adam Gase may rely upon his old connections with Nick Saban (the two worked together at Michigan State and LSU), who raves about Fitzpatrick's instincts, toughness and versatility.
--12. BUFFALO BILLS: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming: The Bills might have to make a deal to move up to land one of the top four quarterbacks in reality but with no trades allowed in this projection, they get lucky that the one with the highest upside (and most experience in cold weather) falls into their lap. While his 56.2 career completion percentage is worrisome, it is not much lower than the numbers put up by former top three picks Matt Ryan (59.9) and Matthew Stafford (57.1) in college. Further, Allen showed improvement and poise in wow performances at the Senior Bowl and Combine.
--13. WASHINGTON REDSKINS: Vita Vea, DT, Washington: The Redskins finished dead last in the NFL a season ago in run defense, allowing an average of just over 134 yards per game. A terrific athlete with burgeoning pass rush skills, Vea is more than just a run-stuffer but that is where the 6-4, 347 pounder will make his initial impact.
--14. GREEN BAY PACKERS: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State: The Packers would like to reinforce their front seven while also boosting their playmaking ability in coverage. The versatile Vander Esch provides both, with the still-untapped potential that has made him one of the hottest names in scouting circles as the draft approached.
--15. ARIZONA CARDINALS: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA: This would be an ideal scenario for the Cardinals and one that may require a trade up in the club really does want Rosen, the most polished passer in this draft. He could slip on draft day, however, amid concerns about his competitiveness and struggles with durability at UCLA, where he missed action in two of his three years as a starter.
--16. BALTIMORE RAVENS: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville: There is some buzz recently in the scouting community linking Jackson to the Ravens, which have finished near the bottom of the NFL in passing each of the past five season since Joe Flacco guided the club to a title five years ago. Out-going general manager Ozzie Newsome might take extra satisfaction in knowing that the Ravens have their future at quarterback in place before he retires. Jackson is a remarkable talent but remains quite raw in comparison to the other top-rated passers in this class.
--17. LOS ANGELES CHARGERS: Da'Ron Payne, DT, Alabama: The Chargers are likely to address the front seven after ranking last in the league in 2017, allowing 4.9 yards per carry. Payne is one of the more aptly-named players in the draft, offering the power and consistency to make an immediate impact.
--18. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: Harold Landry, DE, Boston College: The Seahawks already used their second- and third-round picks of the 2018 draft, trading for defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (who has since left for Minnesota) and offensive tackle Duane Brown, leaving general manager John Schneider with essentially two choices here -- either slide back to recoup picks or directly address one of the club's biggest concerns. Landry's numbers plummeted in 2017 after ranking among national leaders in sacks, tackles for loss and fumbles as a junior but his burst and bend off the edge is unparalleled in this class.
--19. DALLAS COWBOYS: D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland: The Cowboys already have a traditional split end to replace Dez Bryant on the roster in Allen Hurns. Built more like a running back than a traditional receiver at 6-0, 210 pounds, Moore could be the perfect slant and screen game weapon to penalize defenses loading the box against the run.
--20. DETROIT LIONS: Marcus Davenport, DE, UT-San Antonio: Defensive-minded head coach Matt Patricia is going to be expected to help boost a pass rush that ranked 20th in the NFL a season ago in sacks despite playing half their games against some awful NFC North offensive lines. The Lions could see a lot of the same moldable traits in Davenport that have helped Ziggy Ansah develop into one of the premier edge rushers in the NFL -- when he is healthy and complemented with other talent.
--21. CINCINNATI BENGALS: Frank Ragnow, C, Arkansas: The Bengals allowed last year's starting center Russell Bodine to leave, leaving this position to be filled either via the draft or perhaps asking incumbent right guard Trey Hopkins to slide over. Ragnow's size, physicality and leadership are perfect for a club looking to reload up front.
--22. BUFFALO BILLS: Isaiah Wynn, OG, Georgia: The decision to trade away former starting left tackle Cordy Glenn landed the Bills an extra first round pick to potentially move up for a quarterback but given that the club also has to replace starters at guard (Richie Incognito) and center (Eric Wood), GM Brandon Beane may want to consider addressing the offensive line, as well. Wynn has extensive experience at tackle and guard, projecting as a plug and play starter.
--23. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (via RAMS): Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA: Proving that there is more than one way to make his future Hall of Fame quarterback happy, Bill Belichick nabs a massive, long-armed left tackle to take the place of Solder with the selection picked up in the Brandin Cooks trade. Miller is a polarizing prospect but his height, length and athleticism would fit well in New England's pass-heavy scheme.
--24. CAROLINA PANTHERS: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama: The Panthers' offense is expected to focus more on Christian McCaffrey in 2018, but that doesn't mean the club should ignore its previous strategy of surrounding Cam Newton with big pass-catchers, especially if Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olson's threats of retirement are being taken seriously. With Devin Funchess entering his contract year and 2017 second round pick Curtis Samuel coming off surgery, the Panthers can't ignore the top receiver in the draft falling into their lap.
--25. TENNESSEE TITANS: Rashaan Evans, OLB, Alabama: The Titans could see Evans as a plug and play starter and ideal match with Wesley Woodyard after losing inside linebacker Avery Williamson to the Jets in the offseason. Evans is the classic 'Bama 'backer, athletic, tough and well-coached.
--26. ATLANTA FALCONS: Taven Bryan, DL, Florida: The Falcons boast one of the better young defensive tackles in the game in Grady Jarrett but have little besides him on the roster. Jarrett's ability to disrupt from the interior would be that much more effective with a complementary threat like Bryan, whose raw talent likely would intrigue Dan Quinn, a former defensive line coach at Florida.
--27. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville: The Saints hit it big with rookie Pro Bowl cornerback Marshon Lattimore a year ago but given the durability concerns which plagued him at Ohio State and need for multiple corners in today's pass-happy NFL, adding another dynamic cover corner like Alexander -- and one with proven ability as a returner -- would give the Saints depth at two positions while offering terrific value at this point in the draft.
--28. PITTSBURGH STEELERS: Sony Michel, RB, Georgia: Every draft has a surprise and the Steelers could be in position to provide this year's shocker. As expected, Le'Veon Bell opted not to attend the Steelers' voluntary mini-camp. While the issue likely will be resolved in plenty of time for Bell to star again for Pittsburgh in 2018, GM Kevin Colbert may opt to have his Super Bowl contender prepared with a quality back up option, just in case.
--29. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU: Moving on from Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, Julian Thomas and Marcedes Lewis means that pass-catcher jobs in Jacksonville are literally up for grabs. Sutton plays above the rim, possessing the size, physicality and underrated athleticism to provide a terrific red zone presence to complement Jacksonville's powerful running game.
--30. MINNESOTA VIKINGS: Will Hernandez, OG, Texas-El Paso: The retirement of longtime starting right guard Joe Berger further muddies the offensive line charged with protecting splashy free agent signee Kirk Cousins. Hernandez plays with the physicality and dependability that head coach Mike Zimmer looks for in his players.
--31. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: James Daniels, C, Iowa: Two offensive linemen in the same draft for the Patriots? It seems unlikely but then so does New England standing "pat" with these selections. Daniels is the most athletic center prospect in years with starting experience at guard, as well. Versatile, technically-sound blockers like him rarely fall out of the top 32.
--32. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: Derrius Guice, RB, LSU: With a stacked roster, the Super Bowl champions are in the enviable position of being able to take the best player available or trade out. With current starter Jay Ajayi on the last year of his contract and seemingly unlikely to be re-signed, adding a physical back like Guice makes sense (and cents).