As some of you may know, I release a mock draft a few days before each year's NFL draft, as a primer for those watching the process. This year, in addition to that, I thought I'd also try a different exercise, and create a mock draft based on who I think each team should draft, rather than who I think each team will draft.
1. Cleveland Browns: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
There are no sure things in the draft, but Barkley is as close to one as anyone in recent history. And when a team with the holes (and draft capital) that Cleveland has gets a chance at premier picks, it needs to get premium players. There are several QBs in the draft with a high ceiling, but all of them have obvious and potentially crippling flaws.
2. New York Giants: Sam Darnold, QB, USC
Josh Rosen is a better prospect, but he is also ready to play, and the dyamic between him and an aging Eli Manning may be problematic. Darnold on the other hand needs some technical work (tightening up the footwork and shortening his delivery), so he should be fine with being a backup initially. Another option would be to get Quenton Nelson to further strengthen the OL and audition last year's pick, Davis Webb for the role of Manning's successor.
3. New York Jets: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
The Jets, especially after the trade they made with the Colts, need to draft a starting QB in this spot, a longer-term prospect (like Josh Allen who they seem to covet) may very well be dealing with a new regime next year. The only two who can play right away are Rosen and Mayfield, and Rosen might not be a fit with them personality-wise. It is somewhat worrying that the best option for the third overall pick is decided through an elimination process, but that's why the Jets are the Jets.
4. Cleveland Browns: Josh Rosen, UCLA
Polished, smooth thrower, needs to move around the pocket better, but can play right away. Hugh Jackson should be able to deal with Rosen's personality. A high-risk option would be to pick Lamar Jackson, put him in a backfield with Saquon Barkley, and scheme up a college style offence to drive NFL defenses nuts, but can that style of football be effective long-term?
5. Denver Broncos: Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame
The Broncos are now a power-running team, after decades of zone-blocking schemes, and Nelson is ideal for that style, and a transcendent talent. John Elway has thrown enough darts at the QB board to wait a year and see how they pan out, so he should have no pressure to take Josh Allen here.
6. Indianapolis Colts: Bradley Chubb, Edge, North Carolina State
Not an athletic freak like Myles Garrett or Jadeveon Clowney, but the consensus best defensive player in the draft would bolster the anemic Colts pass rush. Nelson would also fit in nicely, and the fact he played for Notre Dame is a plus.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Derwin James, S, Florida State
Great talent, but also a great leader and tone-setter, the latter two being huge needs for Tampa's defense. Also a local hero who can excite the fan base. The NFL is a business.
8. Chicago Bears: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
They retained Fuller at a price that makes resigning him in three years prohibitive. Ward can play with Fuller, and eventually replace him in the No.1 corner role. McGlinchey would fill the need at OT, but I am not sure I like the fit with Chicago.
9. San Francisco 49ers: Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB/S, Alabama
A versatile talent, Fitzpatrick can provide options for a rather thin 49ers secondary. If James slips here he should be the pick instead, the 49ers defense really lacks leadership and he would immediately fill the void left by Eric Reid's departure.
10. Oakland Raiders: Connor Williams, OT/OG, Texas
The consensus No.1 OT is Notre Dame's Mike McGlinchey. Williams has fallen off since last season and he's dropping in draft projections, but he's a rare talent and has the work ethic and character to bounce back. Also, if he doesn't work out at tackle, he can slide in to guard and the Raiders have needs all along the line. Unlike most scouts, I feel Williams is a Top 10 talent in this draft. For defensive help, DL Vita Vea, LB Roquan Smith or CB Jaire Alexander (in that order) should be considered if Williams is somehow unavailable.
11. Miami Dolphins: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
Not an obvious fit, but ultra-athletic players like Edmunds are versatile enough to eventually be productive for any defense. The player Edmunds is most compared with, UCLA's Anthony Barr, had some issues adapting to the Vikings' scheme when he first entered the league, but is now a tremendous defensive weapon. If Edmunds is gone, Washington's DT Vita Vea is another physical freak and would fill the need created by the release of Suh .
12. Buffalo Bills: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
A bust risk, no doubt about it. However the Bills badly need a QB, are not close enough to trade up to get one without surrendering future first rounders and Allen has the upside to make the pick worth it. Furthermore, he is close enough stylistically to McCarron to play behind him without changing the scheme, while still athletic enough to be an occasional running threat, making him a more attractive prospect than Lamar Jackson, if only by a hair. Both are very viable options however. If none are available, the Bills should probably grab WR Courtland Sutton.
13. Washington Redskins: Jaire Alexander, WR, Louisville
The Redskins needed secondary help even before they traded away their best young CB prospect. Alexander is an injury risk, but has a great skillset.
14. Green Bay Packers: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
The Packers should also grab Alexander if he falls here, but after years of drafting bigger LBs for the 3-4, a smaller, quick 4-3 WILL linebacker would be great for their current scheme. Edge Marcus Davenport of UTSA would be a great consolation prize if Smith is off the board.
15. Arizona Cardinals: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
Vita Vea is a great fit, but the Arizona defense is still OK, whereas the offense (and especially the line) is a complete mess. Also, offensive tackles are much harder to find in free agency and the draft than defensive help. The presence of Sam Bradford makes it practically impossible to go with Lamar Jackson, as they're about as different as two quarterbacks can be.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Da'Ron Payne, DT, Alabama
Practically a clone of current Ravens NT Brandon Williams (who has a very high cap charge), and an Alabama prospect, this is a no-brainer Ravens pick. They could be bold and go with the more talented and versatile Vita Vea, but Payne is more consistent. Getting WR Michael Crabtree in free agency unfortunately makes WR Calvin Ridley, a player seemingly made to play for the Ravens, a luxury pick. If none of them are available, Connor Williams (if he slips) and Orlando Brown would add bulk and nastiness, two traits the Ravens value highly, to the offensive line.
17. Los Angeles Chargers: Vita Vea, DL, Washington
Vea is a great interior rusher at 350 pounds (that's no typo). He can play nose in a 3-4 or 4-3, tackle in the 4-3 or defensive end in a 3-4. If he gets rid of his play-to-play and game-to-game inconsistency he may end up in the Hall of Fame. If not, he may be out of the league in 3 years. At No.17, that's a risk worth taking.
18. Seattle Seahawks: Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
Tall corner with only average top speed, but a former receiver who had an insane ballhawking season (27 PD, 8 INT). A few years ago, with teams looking for quick twich athletes at CB, Seattle was able to take the prototype for that style of corner, Richard Sherman, in the 4th round. Now that many teams are in the market for such players, Seattle has to use the 18th overall pick to nab a potential Sherman successor. Auburn's Carlton Davis is a similar player, in fact he has higher upside, but his issues with press coverage make him more of a projection. Marcus Davenport is also an option after losing Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril this offseason.
19. Dallas Cowboys: Will Hernandez, OG, Texas-El Paso
Tough and dependable, Hernandez can help restore the dominance of the Dallas OL that has slipped somewhat in the last couple of years. Even better if Connor Williams is still available. The other option (especially after releasing Scandrick) would be CB, but I don't find any of the remaining corners worth the draft slot.
20. Detroit Lions: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
The Lions should rush to the podium if Ridley is still there when they pick. If not, they might want want to look at South Carolina's Hayden Hurst to replace the departed Eric Ebron at TE. The hiring of defensive coach Matt Patricia makes a high pick on defense less of a need.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
Under Mike Zimmer, the Bengals defense developed a reputation for really aggressive play and Bengals' linebackers embody that style, with Vontaze Burfict being the prime example. However Burfict, although critical to the Begals' scheme both for his playing ability and for his tone-setting, is frequently reckless and undisciplined on and off the field and has cost the team wins. Evans can provide a similar playing style and attitude, but without the baggage.
22. Buffalo Bills: Taven Bryan, DT, Florida
Just about the ideal complement to Kyle Williams, who was re-signed. Has the added plus of being exactly the versatile interior presence Bill Belichick covets, and depriving the Pats of a coveted prospect should win the Bills some points with their fans.
23. Los Angeles Rams: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise St.
Wade Philips gets a swiss army knife prospect to play with. On paper, a much better fit for Wade's scheme than the departed Alec Ogletree.
24. Carolina Panthers: Marcus Davenport, Edge, UTSA
Davenport is projected to go much higher, and the Panthers need an edge so this is a great combination of need and value. I would be a bit worried by his lack of consistent production, but not enough to draft Sam Hubbard or Josh Sweat above him. In fact if Davenport is gone, one of those guys may be a reach and the Panthers might be best served going for someone like Jaire Alexander or Carlton Davis instead.
25. Tennessee Titans: Harold Landry, Edge, Boston College
Great for what Mike Vrabel wants to do. The only player who would be an even better fit is Georgia's Lorenzo Carter, but Carter is a more risky prospect and the difference in talent between the two players does not justify the additional risk.
26. Atlanta Falcons: Isaiah Wynn, OG, Georgia
The Dirty Birds could really use a DT, and should pounce if one of the top prospects ends up slipping. But if that doesn't happen, Wynn may move from Athens to Atlanta. Another option would be Auburn CB Carlton Davis, who can immediately be an upgrade at the outside corner position.
27. New Orleans Saints: Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina
The Saints have been looking for a weapon at TE for years. Hurst is talented, but more importantly, as a former professional baseball player he is expected to adapt quickly to life as a pro and have a flat learning curve. The Saints missed a chance at a Superbowl last year because a very talented rookie made a rookie mistake, they can't afford many more of those with a 40 year old Drew Brees at the helm. For offensive helm, WR Christian Kirk has a skillset that complements that of No.1 WR Michael Thomas.
28. Pittsburg Steelers: Mike Hughes, CB, Central Florida
Tough, versatile corner who offers added value as a return man. If Bryan and/or vander Esch are available, especially the latter, they should probably get the nod over Hughes.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
The ideal QB for a run-first team, Jackson can terrorize a defense on running downs with his dual threat capability, especially when sharing a backfield with someone like Leonard Fournette, and is a good enough passer to employ play-action to devastating effect. For a "safer" pick, the Jags could go TE and nab Hurst if available, or South Dakota State's Dallas Goedert.
30. Minnesota Vikings: Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma
They ran a mostly zone-blocking scheme last year under Schurmur, and Brown is definitely not a fit for that, but Mike Zimmer likes smashmouth football, and Brown will remind Vikings fans of Phil Loadholt, another massive Oklahoma right tackle who played 89 games (all of them starts) for Minnesota. Ohio State's Jamarco Jones is not a mauler like Brown, but he offers swing tackle versatility and can even be developed into a serviceable left tackle so he could be a viable alternative.
31. New England Patriots: Brian O'Neill, OT, Pittsburg
Has the tools, but doesn't always use them. New England is in a bad spot, they have a glaring hole at LT, the players that will be available in the second round are nowhere near being ready to protect Tom Brady's blind side, but instead of the type of left tackle usually available at the end of the first round (technically sound but less than ideal athletically). New England has to choose between two wildly inconsistent athletes (O'Neill and UCLA's Kolton Miller), and Jamarco Jones who may not be able to play left tackle at all. Of those, I would go with O'Neill (by a hair over Miller).
32. Philadelphia Eagles: Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA
Jason Peters is not going to play forever and while the Eagles just won the Superbowl with Halapoulivaati Vaitai manning the LT spot, I am sure they don't want to repeat that experience. Miller is huge (6' 9") and very athletic but has technical issues. Sitting behind Peters for a couple of years with an opportunity to learn from someone who went from an undrafted TE prospect to one of the best tackles in the NFL should increase Miller's chances of realizing his potential.