Dom Foxworth: If your teams follow my mock draft, they’ll be celebrating come training camp
Stop talking about the QBs. The strength of this draft is linemen and linebackers.
It’s the most wonderful time of the NFL year, the NFL draft. At the end of the event, every fan base feels like they’ve won. But actually, it is when most teams lose. Savvy player-personnel staffs aren’t blinded by a prospect’s best or worst trait. They trust their scouts and add players with skills they can game-plan around. Sadly, most teams don’t have savvy personnel staff. But, don’t worry. They have my mock draft.
This is not a prediction mock draft. This is a recommendation mock draft. Your team might not make the moves I suggest. But they should.
1. Cleveland Browns – Sam Darnold, QB, SoutherN California
Guess who’s bizzack at the top of the draft. For the second time in as many years, Cleveland has the first pick. But this year the Browns are a little less brown, after having cut ties with Sashi Brown, their Harvard Law-educated, analytics-driven general manager. Brown’s unique approach irritated traditionalists, which led to his untimely dismissal. But thanks to Brown’s strategy, John Dorsey, his replacement, has an embarrassment of riches. Hopefully, for Cleveland fans, it doesn’t end in just embarrassment. With the first and the fourth picks in this year’s draft, some have suggested that the Browns should draft two quarterbacks. Although that move wouldn’t be as crazy as it sounds in this quarterback-obsessed league, the Browns’ trade for Tyrod Taylor makes it unlikely. Instead, the Browns should choose Southern Cal’s Sam Darnold. His production doesn’t suggest that he is head and shoulders above the other top QB prospects, but he faced a tougher schedule than the other prospects did. And with just two seasons as a college starter, I think Darnold would benefit from learning behind Taylor early in the season.
2. New York Giants – Bradley Chubb, DE, N.C. State
With offseason additions like offensive tackle Nate Solder, linebacker Alec Ogletree and running back Jonathan Stewart, the Giants are not behaving like a team that is looking to rebuild around a young quarterback. Despite their 3-13 record, they are a talented team that needs an impact player. Bradley Chubb is that player. With every collegiate team game-planning to contain him, Chubb ended last season with 10 sacks and 23 tackles for loss in 12 games. He played well against several quality opponents, putting up three tackles for loss and a sack against Notre Dame’s NFL-caliber offensive linemen. The Giants brass might be wrong, but they believe they have a team that can make a run next season, and Chubb is likely to help.
3. New York Jets – Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
It is rare that you can point to a 5-11 team and say it overachieved, but that is absolutely true of the Jets last season. Before the start of last season, Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan purged the roster. At the time, it looked like they were angling for the 2018 No. 1 overall pick. If that was the goal, they failed, but I think they will end up with the most NFL-ready quarterback in the draft anyway. Josh Rosen carried a UCLA team that was short on talent. He is a smart, outspoken player who will not be swallowed up by the New York media market or an NFL playbook.
4. Cleveland Browns – Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
The running back position is one of the least valued in modern football. But Barkley is more than just a runner. He could be the best player in the draft because of his route-running and catching ability. And he is a stellar pass blocker, so defenses can’t use blitzes to scheme him off of the field on third downs. I know this may sound crazy, but the Browns could have the Rookie of the Year. Barkley could put up big numbers behind the Browns’ high-priced offensive line, as long as they get consistent play from the quarterback position.
5. Denver Broncos – Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
Signing Case Keenum to a two-year, $36 million deal doesn’t take the Broncos out of the quarterback market, but Quenton Nelson is a can’t-miss prospect who will instantly improve their entire offense. I suspect there will be some intense debate in the Denver war room. Hopefully, practicality wins the day and John Elway chooses Nelson, who will give their running game a shot in the arm and give Keenum a cleaner pocket from which to throw.
6. Indianapolis Colts – Derwin James, S, Florida State
In order to have flexibility, NFL defenses need versatile players. With more and more running backs and tight ends running routes from the slot or split out wide, defenses can’t predict offensive formations or play types based on the offensive personnel, so players like Derwin James are coveted. He is physical enough to play in the run game and athletic enough to play man coverage against top tight ends and backs.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars (trade from Tampa Bay) – Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
It might cost the Jags quite a bit of draft capital to move up this many spots, but it will be worth it. Lamar Jackson is the best quarterback in this year’s draft, and he is an immediate upgrade as a passer and runner over the Jags’ current starter, Blake Bortles. Jackson is a perfect fit, not just because the city is already named after him but also because Jags offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett is a smart young coach who, in the playoffs, served a steady diet of run-pass options, QB runs and play-action, plays that allowed his quarterback’s athleticism to create conflicts for both the Steelers and the Patriots.
8. Chicago Bears – Harold Landry, OLB, Boston College
With Aaron Rodgers and Matt Stafford in their division, the Bears are in need of pass-rushers. Landry is the player for them. He put up outstanding combine numbers for his position group and was very productive in 2016. Last season he was slowed some by injuries, but there is no reason to believe that he can’t return to his healthy form and provide the Bears’ defense with the pass rush they need.
9. San Francisco 49ers – Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
Linebacker wasn’t a position of need for the 49ers until Reuben Foster, their 2017 first-round pick, was arrested and charged with domestic violence after being accused of assaulting his girlfriend. San Francisco general manager John Lynch says he will release Foster if the allegations are proved true. Given that this isn’t Foster’s first run-in with the law, I suspect Lynch wants to move on. Smith is a bit undersized for the position, but the position is becoming more about athleticism than power. Smith has been compared to the Atlanta Falcons’ playmaking linebacker Deion Jones. If that comparison is accurate, the game-changing plays will outweigh any shortcomings.
10. Oakland Raiders – Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama
Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie, who himself was an NFL linebacker, might be tempted to select Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. That wouldn’t be a bad pick, but a run-stuffing, pocket-pushing defensive tackle will have more impact on the whole defense, and Da’Ron Payne has the potential to be that for the Raiders. Payne was at his best against Georgia in the national championship game. He was incredibly disruptive in the run and pass game against the Bulldogs.
11. Miami Dolphins – Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
Miami’s roster is sparse. The Dolphins moved on from just about every player who produced for them last season. Now that they are in rebuild mode, they could consider trading back to amass more draft capital. However, I think they’d be better off trying to find an impact player in Ohio State’s Denzel Ward. With 4.3-second speed, Ward will be better than any cornerback the Dolphins have. Without a steady pass rush or reliable offensive support, it might be tough for Ward to thrive immediately. But he will be a spark for this otherwise bland team.
12. Buffalo Bills – Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
The Bills are clearly in search of a QB. This offseason they traded away Tyrod Taylor and replaced him with A.J. McCarron, whom they signed to a two-year, $10 million deal. McCarron will probably be the starter in Week 1, but Bills head coach Sean McDermott has shown that he is quick to bench a quarterback. Mayfield is the best remaining quarterback in the draft, so he should be the man to replace McCarron when McDermott gets the itch to switch. Mayfield’s talent and production are unquestionable, and his competitiveness is infectious. But he is going to need more offensive playmakers than are currently on the roster.
13. Washington Redskins – Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
The grade on Washington’s big offseason trade for Alex Smith will likely be determined by how well Smith plays. But that is just half of the trade. Washington sent a third-round pick and Kendall Fuller, a talented young corner to Kansas City. Unless Washington is able to replace Fuller, their aging cornerbacks will cost this team for years to come. And Alex Smith has never been the kind of quarterback you want in a shootout. D.C. should choose Josh Jackson. He doesn’t have the speed you’d want at the cornerback position, but neither does Washington’s top cornerback Josh Norman. Jackson’s aggressive style of play would fit with this defense.
14. Green Bay Packers – Minkah Fitzpatrick, S, Alabama
The Packers are rarely in the hunt for big-time free agents. That’s why landing tight end Jimmy Graham was a surprise. Their NFC North rivals are surely having nightmares thinking about defending passes from the league’s most precise quarterback to the 6-foot-6 Graham. Though I would love if the Packers went all in on supporting Rogers and used this pick to get him a running back or receiver, the truth is Rogers is going to be great with or without any more additions. The defense, on the other hand, is weak in the backfield. Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and cornerback Tramon Williams are exceptional, but their secondary mates are not. Minkah Fitzpatrick, like Dix, is a safety who can do it all. Having two safeties who are supremely intelligent in zone, good in man, strong blitzers and reliable in run support makes it impossible for offenses to use formations and shifts to disadvantage either safety.
15. Arizona Cardinals – Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
Like many teams in the NFL, the Cardinals are uncertain about the future of the quarterback position. Given the fact they have uncertainty at many other positions that can be more reliable at this point in the draft, they should resist the urge to reach for a quarterback. Now, which position do they address? Does going after a pass-catcher here make sense? Even though Larry Fitzgerald is coming off back-to-back seasons with six touchdowns and 1,000 yards, he turns 35 this summer. But Tremaine Edmunds is guaranteed value. He has the coverage ability to stay on the field in all situations and will be a dependable starter for years to come.
16. Baltimore Ravens – Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
The only general manager Baltimore has ever known, Ozzie Newsome, is entering his last draft as the boss. The Hall of Famer has decided to walk away after 22 years and two Super Bowls. But one hole remains in his draft résumé: receiver. Of the 24 receivers drafted by Newsome, only Jermaine Lewis has gone to the Pro Bowl — and he was selected as a returner. Newsome, a Pro Bowl pass-catcher himself, should grab Calvin Ridley from Alabama, where Newsome played in the 1970s. With 4.4-second speed, Ridley is a deep threat, and he has the quickness and body control to run ankle-breaking routes. As long as Ridley can get off of press coverage, he will be open.
17. Los Angeles Chargers – Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State
The Chargers have a strong defensive front and some playmakers in the secondary, but they are thin at inside linebacker. They should draft Vander Esch. Admittedly, this is a risky pick. Although Vander Esch put up impressive stats last season, it was his only season as a starter, and most of his 141 tackles came against Mountain West Conference teams. I would normally stay away from a player like this at this point in the draft, but his combine numbers were eye-popping. At 6-foot-4, 256 pounds, he ran a 4.6-second 40-yard dash and 6.8-second 3-cone and had a 39-inch vertical jump. That puts him in the company of players like Khalil Mack and Anthony Barr.
18. Seattle Seahawks – Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State
When Russell Wilson signed his big contract extension in 2015, the Seahawks began a slow transition from a team that won with defense to a quarterback-centric team. Seattle’s in-season trade for tackle Duane Brown, postseason trade of Michael Bennett and release of Richard Sherman were the final few moves in the transition. There is one minor issue. Other than Doug Baldwin, Wilson is short on playmakers. Mike Gesicki from Penn State would change that immediately. He is a freakish athlete with ball skills, in the vein of Jimmy Graham, who the Seahawks lost to Green Bay in free agency. Like Graham, Gesicki is a big receiver, not a blocker, yet he is big and powerful enough that defenses would be unlikely to cover him with a nickel cornerback.
19. Dallas Cowboys – Vita Vea, DT, Washington
The engine powering the Cowboys’ offense is the talented offensive line they’ve built through the draft. They now seem to be applying that same strategy to their defensive front. In last year’s draft, they took Michigan defensive end Taco Charlton, although he hasn’t reached the expectations of a 28th overall pick. But 2014 second-round pick DeMarcus Lawrence has more than surpassed projections. Adding the uncommonly athletic, 347-pound defensive tackle Vita Vea would help the entire defense. At his best, Vea is the best tackle in the draft, but his inconsistency might allow him to slip to Dallas. Vita has drawn comparisons to Haloti Ngata, and not just because some analysts are lazy and see a big tackle from California of Polynesian descent: They’re both surprisingly athletic as 6-foot-4, 340-pounders who ran identical 5.1-second 40-yard times.
20. Detroit Lions – Will Hernandez, G, UTEP
Since Kevin Jones rushed for 1,133 yards in 2004, the Lions have had only one back reach the 1,000-yard benchmark. In 2013, Reggie Bush surpassed 1,000 by just 18 feet. And in 2017, the Lions ranked last in the league with 76 rushing yards a game. Choosing a running back here wouldn’t be a bad idea, but, unless one of these backs is the second coming of Barry Sanders (which they are not), they won’t solve the running game issues. This year’s draft is full of good running backs. The Lions will be able to get one with their second-round pick at 51. I’d recommend selecting UTEP guard Will Hernandez, who excels at blocking in the run game.
21. Cincinnati Bengals – James Daniels, C, Iowa
Maybe Marvin Lewis, the coach, didn’t deserve the contract extension he signed after missing the playoffs for the second year in a row. But Marvin Lewis the general manager absolutely did deserve to stay. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Bengals have 40 original draft picks still on their roster, the most in the NFL. And with 11 picks, the Bengals are sure to land some contributors. This offseason, it has been about addressing deficiencies in the offensive line that they failed to resolve before the start of last season. So far they’ve traded for left tackle Cordy Glenn, from the Bills, and signed free-agent tackle Bobby Hart. That won’t be enough. They need Iowa center James Daniels to shore up the inside. James has the speed and quickness to be a headache for linebackers in the run game, but he could struggle with the big nose tackles in the AFC North.
22. Buffalo Bills – D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland
Last season, the Bills traded for Carolina Panthers receiver Kelvin Benjamin to bolster their thin receiver corps, but he wasn’t the answer. Maryland’s D.J. Moore is accustomed to a revolving door at quarterback, so Buffalo may be a perfect fit. Moore had eight touchdowns and 1,033 yards receiving despite catching passes from four different quarterbacks in 2017. At 6 feet and 210 pounds, Moore looks more like a running back than a receiver, without compromising speed. Moore was clocked at 4.4 seconds in the 40.
23. New England Patriots – Taven Bryan, DT, Florida
For the first time, the Patriots dynasty looks to be nearing its end. Some think that the Pats should package their two first-round picks and move up to draft a quarterback. But that seems like the type of desperate move that would weaken their Super Bowl chances in Tom Brady’s final years without securing the team’s future. The Patriots have holes that need to be addressed on both sides of the ball. The most urgent is their defensive line. Defensive lineman Taven Bryan is an explosive pass-rusher from the inside and outside. He’ll make an impact for the Pats on third down.
24. Carolina Panthers – Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
The Panthers traded cornerback Daryl Worley for receiver Torrey Smith. They hope Smith’s presence as a downfield threat will be the key to stabilizing an erratic passing attack. Although Worley wasn’t a shutdown corner, he was a starter and they need to replace him. Jaire Alexander will be an upgrade at that position. He was hampered by a knee injury last season but looked great in his combine drills, running a sub-4.4-second 40. At 196 pounds, the physical Alexander will match up well against the NFC South’s big receivers.
25. Tennessee Titans – Marcus Davenport, DE/OLB, Texas-San Antonio
The Titans’ 3-4 defensive scheme may not be ideal for Davenport, who would probably fit more comfortably as a 4-3 defensive end. But his pass rush ability would be too great to pass up at this point in the draft for the Titans, whose edge defenders are aging. Davenport has shown the speed to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 if necessary, but it likely won’t matter early on. He will probably be a pass rush specialist at first in Tennessee.
26. Atlanta Falcons – Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
After losing Dontari Poe to divisional rival Carolina, the Falcons could use Maurice Hurst. Although a player with the size of Vea would be more suited to eat up double-teams and keep offensive linemen off the Falcons’ undersized linebackers, Hurst’s playmaking ability means the linebackers will need to make fewer plays.
27. Cleveland Browns (trade from New Orleans Saints) – Connor Williams, OT, Texas
Let us not forget that the Browns were 0-16 last year, so they need as many first-round picks as they can get. Trading with the Saints makes sense because they have no second-round picks, while the Browns have three. With this newly acquired pick, the Browns should get offensive tackle Connor Williams. Williams will have the misfortune of being compared to Joe Thomas, the Browns’ future Hall of Fame left tackle who recently retired. Although Connor was a left tackle at Texas, he may not have the consistency to play there in the NFL. But he will help the Browns from day one, no matter where he plays on the line.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers – Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
Pittsburgh is a franchise that is known for having great linebackers, and Ryan Shazier was in that mold. His leadership, intelligence and versatility were core to the Steelers’ defensive scheme. So when he went down with an injury last season, the Pittsburgh defense was never the same. Though the play looked routine at first, the aftermath wasn’t. Shazier appeared to have lost feeling in his legs, so to see him stand again seemed like an accomplishment. Seeing him back on the field seems unlikely, so the Steelers will have to move forward without him. And Rashaan Evans from Alabama is the player they should choose to become the next great Steelers linebacker. Evans’ versatility is evident on film, and you know he has a grasp of complicated defensive principles because all Alabama linebackers do. I think Evans has a chance to be extraordinary if he lands with Pittsburgh.
29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (trade with Jacksonville Jaguars) – Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
Tampa’s offense is well-stocked with playmakers, but the one position that could use an upgrade is running back. Derrius Guice is a big, physical back who can carry the load on early downs. He doesn’t project to be much of a threat in the passing game, which should be a concern. But Jacquizz Rodgers has some pass-catching ability, and Jameis Winston has never been much of a checkdown quarterback.
30. Minnesota Vikings – Isaiah Wynn, G, Georgia
Currently, according to the roster posted on the Vikings’ website, they have only two guards on their team. Starting right guard Joe Berger retired after last season, so the Vikings are most definitely in the market. Isaiah Wynn is their man. He opened big holes for the backs at Georgia and was named first-team All-American because of his play against SEC defensive lines.
31. New England Patriots – Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina
Obviously the Patriots are set at tight end with Rob Gronkowski, but Hurst is too talented to pass up at this point. Most teams are lucky if they have one safety or linebacker with the size and athleticism to cover a skilled route-running tight end and remain stout should they face a running play. Tom Brady throwing to Gronk and Hurst would be panic-inducing for defensive coordinators.
32. Philadelphia Eagles – Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado
The Eagles’ young cornerbacks improved throughout the season, but you can never have too many in a pass-happy league. The Eagles should build their secondary the same way they did their defensive line: overload. They are two deep with starting-level players across the defensive front. They should pick up Isaiah Oliver and start to do the same thing with their cornerbacks. At 200 pounds, Oliver is a big corner who excels in press coverage. He could contribute in Philly, even if he doesn’t win the starting job out of camp.