Time for my annual NFL Mock Draft. I expect fewer hits this year than others, for two reasons. First, prospects are much more clustered than usual this year, there is no clear-cut No.1 QB, WR, TE, OT, C, DT, LB, CB or S, so several picks will be more about scheme fit than best player available. The big stories of the last few days are the uncertainty about which QBs will go where (usually we have a pretty good idea by this time) and the recent buzz that several interior linemen who were projected lower (James, Daniels, Frank Ragnow etc.) are locks for the first round.Second, I expect a high number of first-round trades this year. In fact I'll be happy if I get 25 of the 32 first round players correctly (i.e in the first round), and ecstatic if I can match at least 10 players to the team that ends up drafting them. With that out of the way, here's my projection of this year's first round:
1. Cleveland Browns: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
GM John Dorsey and OC Todd Haley like big, strong QBs with arm strength. Allen is the best combination of those traits in the draft. Until a couple weeks ago, it was considered a lock that the Browns would pick Darnold. Usually a team with the No.1 pick does not need to disguise its intentions, but the Browns also have No.4, so they might be playing games to make sure they end up with the two players they really want. Would they dare go non-QB (Barkley or Chubb) with the pick? It's not impossible, in fact it might even make sense (Darnold, Allen and Mayfield are pretty close as prospects, whereas there's a huge gap between Barkley and Chubb and the second best RB and DE), but after two years of hesitating to pick great young QBs, can the Browns get away with doing it a third time?
Plan B: Sam Darnold, QB, USC
2. New York Giants: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
David Gettleman is on record saying the Giants want a future Hall of Famer with this pick, and Barkley is the prospect most likely to reach that level. If Gettleman was not afraid to pick a part-time back at No.8 last year, he shouldn't have any issues picking Barkley at No.2. The availability of Bradley Chubb and/or Sam Darnold might complicate the decision. The Giants can probably trade down and still get a prospect they really love, so look out for a trade here.
Plan B: Sam Darnold, QB, USC or Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State
3. New York Jets: Sam Darnold, QB, USC
The Jets traded with the Colts at a time when Darnold was expected to be the No.1 pick and that shows they really like one of the other QBs (Mayfield, Allen, Rosen), most probably Mayfield, but in this scenario they can pick Darnold, who fits their offense really well.
Plan B: a different QB (Mayfield, Rosen, Allen)
4. Cleveland Browns: Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State
The Browns get an elite defensive prospect, to go along with their QB of the future. Picking another DE so high after Myles Garrett last year may land them in salary cap hell a few years from now, but they can't pass up on Chubb. If Barkley is still available, they'll consider him here. If both Barkley and Chubb are gone, they might trade this pick as they have holes all over the roster. Despite the loss of Joe Thomas, it is probably too early to bolster their line with Quenton Nelson, especially when they already have Joel Bitonio at guard. Denzel Ward might also be in play here.
Plan B: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
5. Denver Broncos: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
The first shocker of the draft. John Elway sees a bit of himself in the UCLA signal-caller and pulls the trigger. Rosen won't be happy sitting behind Case Keenum, but Elway's presence might just be enough to keep things civil in the Broncos QB room. Baker Mayfield and/or Quenton Nelson will also be considered here.
Plan B: Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
6. Indianapolis Colts: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
The Colts would probably love Bradley Chubb to drop here, but it doesn't look likely. Edmunds is far from a finished product, but has insane upside, and can fill a variety of roles in their new Tampa 2 defense. Local star Quenton Nelson and Denzel Ward will also get a lot of consideration here. The buzz recently is that this will be the landing spot of Roquan Smith, but I remain doubtful. The Colts are not contenders until Andrew Luck returns fully healthy, so the higher upside of Edmunds might tip the scale in his favor, as the Colts will probably have the time to develop him.
Plan B: Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Derwin James, S, Florida State
The Bucs like Nelson, but they already have a good young interior lineman in Ali Marpet. James is an ideal fit in their secondary.
Plan B: Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame
8. Chicago Bears: Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame
The Bears are ecstatic about getting Nelson, a rare talent and possibly the best player in the entire draft. If they go defense, Ward, Roquan Smith or Tremaine Edmunds will be considered.
Plan B: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
9. San Francisco 49ers: Minkah Fitzpatrick, S, Alabama
John Lynch should be able to evaluate safeties better than most talent evaluators, having played the position at an exceptionally high level for a long time. Fitzpatrick is a versatile chess piece Lynch should love. If Denzel Ward is still on the board, his pure ability at corner might trump Fitzpatrick's versatility. Edmunds will also be considered if available, since Reuben Foster probably does not have a future in the NFL.
Plan B: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech.
10. Oakland Raiders: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
Smith reminds people of Derrick Brooks, one of John Gruden's favorite players in Tampa. Gruden wants to create a more edgy, aggressive culture in Oakland, and Smith is ideal for that as he plays like a man possessed. Or the Raiders could go with Vita Vea, a physical freak of a player.
Plan B: Vita Vea, DT, Washington
11. Miami Dolphins: Vita Vea, DT, Washington
The Dolphins would probably like one of the two LBs better than Vea, but if they're gone, the huge tackle from the Pacific Northwest can fill the gap left by Ndamukong Suh by playing in a rotation with Jordan Philips and Davon Godcheaux and replacing Phillips if the latter leaves in next year's free agency.
Plan B: Any of the prospects I have between 1 and 11
12. Buffalo Bills: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
The Bills need a QB and have the draft ammo to trade up, so they might end up picking earlier than 12th. Mayfield does not have ideal arm strength for upstate New York weather, but he is a tough competitor and AFC East teams need that kind of attitude to change the narrative after years of Patriots domination. The Bills line was decimated, losing its left tackle Cordy Glenn (trade), left guard Richie Incognito (retirement) and center Eric Wood (retirement), so they might look at Notre Dame's Mike McGlinchey, but Dion Dawkins played well at tackle last year, so the Bills might wait until their second pick and address the interior of the line. They will also take a hard look at any defensive stud that slips down here.
Plan B: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
13. Washington Redskins: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
The Redskins end up with a prospect projected as high as No.4 at No.13. Even with Ward available however, there might be a debate between him and Iowa's Josh Jackson in the Redskins draft room. Most people expect Jackson to go lower, but he is probably a better zone corner than Ward. The Redskins biggest need is at NT, so Vita Vea (if he slips) or Alabama's Da'Ron Payne might be the pick.
Plan B:: Da'Ron Payne.
14. Green Bay Packers: Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA
Great match between value and team need, Davenport can be a cornerstone of Green Bay's new defensive scheme. Alternatively, LB Leighton Vander Esch might remind people of a young Clay Matthews.
Plan B: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State
15. Arizona Cardinals: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
Mike McGlinchey can help the Cardinals line, which was atrocious last year, to protect the injury-prone Sam Bradford. Or the Cardinals can swing for the fences and pick Lamar Jackson, who will go from the ACC's Cardinals to the NFL's Cardinals in that scenario. Jackson and David Johnson could become the scariest backfield in the entire NFL.
Plan B: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
16. Baltimore Ravens: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
Ozzie Newsome says goodbye to the Ravens with another Alabama pick. Ridley is the best route-runner among the good WR prospects. If Eric DaCosta ends up making the final call on the pick, he might go with Da'Ron Payne instead as current NT Brandon Williams has a high cap charge and is scheduled to be a free agent next offseason. There is a lot of buzz right now that Lamar Jackson will end up with the Ravens.
Plan B: Da'Ron Payne, DT, Alabama or Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville.
17. San Diego Chargers: Da'Ron Payne, DT, Alabama
The Chargers would love Vea (and may end up trading up a few spots to get him), but Payne is a great consolation prize. Joey Bosa, Payne and Melvin Ingram can really terrorize opposing offensive lines for years. The Chargers offensive line has been suspect for a while, and they might decide to gamble with the huge athletic upside of UCLA's Kolton Miller, despite the fact that he is probably not ready to play right now, especially on the left side.
Plan B: Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA
18. Seattle Seahawks: Taven Bryan, DT, Florida
If Josh Jackson is still on the board, the Seahawks may end up deciding between a possible Richard Sherman successor and a possible Michael Bennet successor. Last year's first pick, Malcom McDowell is about to be released by the team whereas last year's cornerback pick, Shaquil Griffin played well, so the Seahawks might consider the defensive line a bigger need. Or they might see Kam Chancellor's successor in Alabama's Ronnie Harrison.
Plan B: Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa or Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama
19. Dallas Cowboys: Courtland Sutton, WR, Texas
The Cowboys find a possible replacement for Dez Bryant in the draft. Sutton is not as explosive as Bryant, he is closer in style to Alshon Jeffery, but he gives the Cowboys the big red zone threat they desperately lack after releasing Dez. If they somehow believe Terrance Williams can fill the Dez role, they might go with a smaller, faster receiver like Christian Kirk or Moore/Ridley if they slip. Or they could go with an offensive guard given that La'el Collins wants to stay at RT.
Plan B: Will Hernandez, OG, UTEP
20. Detroit Lions: Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
Running back is a huge need for the Lions, and Matt Patricia might be tempted to coach up the defense instead of adding a first-round pick to it, so this pick makes sense. The Lions have not given up on Ameer Abdullah, so a more shifty back like Ronald Jones or Sony Michel might not make as much sense as Guice. The Lions might also feel that improving the interior of the offensive line is the best way to fix their running game. The huge wildcard from this point in the draft on is DT Maurice Hurst, a Top 15 talent who is expected to drop due to a heart condition.
Plan B: Connor Williams. OT/OG, Texas
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
The Bengals have been burned by Vontaze Burfict's lack of discipline, so they draft Evans to lead their defense now and in the future. If they feel Evans is too similar to Burfict in terms of playing style, they might go with Leighton Vander Esch instead. The offensive line is also an area of need, and they may go with someone like Frank Ragnow here.
Plan B: Frank Ragnow, OG/OC, Arkansas
22. Buffalo Bills: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State
The rangy three-down linebacker will fit in very well in the Bills defense behind new DT Star Lotulelei. Even if the Bills draft McGlinchey the line still needs improvement, but will Bills GM Brandon Beane be bold enough to spend both of his first round picks on the offensive line? If yes, Iowa's James Daniels, Ohio State's Billy Price or Arkansas' Frank Ragnow (who has been generating a lot of buzz lately) may be the new Bills' center.
Plan B: Frank Ragnow, OC, Arkansas.
23. New England Patriots: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
The Patriots pick Brady's successor, and he couldn't be more different than the Patriots icon. A creative playcaller like Josh McDaniels (who drafted Tim Tebow in the first round as Denver's HC) gets a dual threat QB to terrorize defenses with. Alternatively, after the loss of Nate Solder and Cameron Fleming in free agency, Bill Belichick may decide to invest in his offensive line. Williams is a great talent and he has the versatility that the Patriots prize in prospects as he can play all five positions in the offensive line. Isaiah Wynn is another option, most teams see him as strictly a guard, but there are rumours the Pats project him to tackle. If Vander Esch and/or Evans are still available, the Patriots might prefer one of them to complement and perhaps eventually replace Dont'a Hightower.
Plan B: Connor WIlliams OT/OG, Texas
24. Carolina Panthers: Will Hernandez, G, UTEP
The Panthers have needs at WR, OL, DE, LB, CB and S, so they're one of the wildcards of the first round, but Will Hernandez (or Georgia's Isaiah Wynn) is a plug-and-play replacement for Andrew Norwell who left in free agency. If some of the WR, DE or CB prospects expected to go higher end up dropping, Carolina might make a move as those positions are considered much more valuable than offensive guard.
Plan B: A WR, DE or CB prospect that slips.
25. Tennessee Titans: Harold Landry, Edge, Boston College
Landry is a great fit for what Matt Vrabel wants to do on defense, and can play the same role as Whitney Mercilus did for the Texans. If Landry is not available, the Titans may end up overdrafting a less explosive defensive end like Ohio State's Sam Hubbard (Mike Vrabel has worked on the Buckeyes defensive staff, so he should be able to get an honest scouting report on him), that's how big their need is at the position.
Plan B: Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State
26. Atlanta Falcons: Isaiah Wynn, G, Georgia
Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff would love it if Taven Bryan was still available at 26 (and they might even go and get him earlier in the draft), but drafting Isaiah Wynn to avoid relying on the likes of Ben Garland next season would not be a bad move. Or Dimitroff might gamble on the upside of Maurice Hurst, despite his health condition (heart issue).
Plan B: Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
27. New Orleans Saints: Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina
The Saints fill their biggest need with Hurst, an older, more mature prospect who can help right away. Or they may like South Dakota's Dallas Goedert better, and pick him instead.
Plan B: Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers: Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
Some analysts project Alexander as high as No. 10 to Oakland, so based on draft projection this would be a huge steal for the Steelers. Josh Jackson is a better zone corner (though a worse all-rounder), so the Steelers might go with him instead. If Vander Esch is somehow still available at No.28, he probably would be the pick instead, as he looks like the prototypical Steelers player, and would fill the huge need created by Ryan Shazier's injury.
Plan B: Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa, Vander Esch if he slips.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars: DJ Moore, WR, Maryland
This pick might come down to DJ Moore vs. Christian Kirk. Perhaps a bit of a reach, Kirk is not as polished as most first round wide receivers. But even if he doesn't catch many balls as a rookie, his speed can open things up underneath for Jacksonville's formidable running game, so he should provide value to the Jags. Moore is a more complete WR, with better potential to eventually be a No.1 NFL receiver Conversely, if the WRs are gone, Jacksonville may look at the interior of the offensive line instead.
Plan B: Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M, an OG
30. Minnesota Vikings: Justin Reid, S, Stanford
The rich get richer. Andrew Sendejo is not getting any younger, so the Vikings pick Reid, a do-it-all safety to pair with All-Pro Harrison Smith. If they feel Sendejo will be ok for a few more years, they might go interior OL instead.
Plan B: Billy Price, OG, Ohio State
31. New England Patriots: Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
Bill Belichick loves drafting interior defensive linemen in the first round. Hurst is a phenomenal talent (No.1 in the entire draft in terms of efficiency according to PFF) who will probably fall due to health concerns. He also complements New England's linemen (Danny Shelton and Malcom Brown) nicely. If he doesn't get cleared by New England's doctors, Belichick might draft Georgia's Sony Michel to replace Dion Lewis. Also if the Pats did not address their offensive line with their first pick, they might look at someone like Connor Williams, Frank Ragnow, or James Daniels here. On defense, the Patriots' biggest need is of course a pass rusher, and Georgia's Lorenzo Carter has the measurables the Patriots like, but he is probably not good value at this point in the draft.
Plan B: Sony Michel, RB, Georgia
32. Philadelphia Eagles: Connor Williams, OG/OT, Texas
The defending Super Bowl champs have a deep roster that's the envy of the entire league. Their (minor) weaknesses are the offensive line and cornerback, so spending their first rounder to improve one of those areas would make sense. Connor Williams or Ohio State's Billy Price would probably start for them from Day 1. If they feel like gambling, they might go with Kolton Miller as a swing tackle and eventual replacement for Jason Peters.
Plan B: Billy Price, OG/OC, Ohio State