2018 Pre-combine NFL mock draft

Quarterback Sam Darnold #14 of the USC Trojans heads off the field after beating the Washington Huskies 24-13 on November 12, 2016 at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

By FOX59.com contributor Joe Hopkins

Draft season is ramping up as prospects report to Indianapolis this week for the NFL Combine. The numbers they post can heavily influence each individual’s draft stock. Last year we saw Washington wide receiver, John Ross, skyrocket up draft boards after breaking the combine record in the 40 yard dash (4.22). He was ultimately drafted ninth overall by Cincinnati. On the flip side, Teez Tabor’s perceived value plummeted after the Florida cornerback recorded a poor 40 time (4.62). He didn’t hear his name called until the Lions selected him with pick 53.

Last year we witnessed six trades during the first round alone. Due to the unpredictable nature of these transactions, I do not attempt to forecast them. Though teams aren’t going to stop swapping picks anytime soon, this mock draft will abide by the current draft order.

For each pick I weigh the best overall prospect against the team’s biggest needs and select the player who offers the most value to that team. Player comparisons are based on body-type, play-style and athletic similarities, and represent a rough projection of how good that prospect could become.

1-Cleveland Browns: Sam Darnold – QB – USC

NFL Comparison – Tony Romo  

Though far from a sure bet, Darnold is the safest quarterback prospect in this draft. He has ideal size, above average athleticism, and excels at making off-script plays. The 20 year-old’s decision making skills have been questioned after he tallied 22 turnovers this past season, but that was also the knock against Deshaun Watson coming out. Cleveland can’t afford to pass on the draft’s best quarterback for a second time.

Other Considerations- Saquon Barkley (RB), Josh Allen (QB), Josh Rosen (QB)

2-New York Giants: Saquon Barkley – RB – Penn State

NFL Comparison – LaDainian Tomlinson  

Don’t tell me a running back isn’t worth being drafted this high. In back to back years we’ve seen Leonard Fournette and Ezekiel Elliot lift their respective teams from the cellar of the league, to the playoffs as rookies. Barkley is better than both of them. All the key pieces of New York’s dominant 2016 defense remain, and Eli Manning is still capable of being a game manager at worst. Barkley makes the Giants a playoff team.

Other Considerations- Josh Rosen (QB), Josh Allen (CB), Bradley Chubb (EDGE)

3-Indianapolis Colts: Bradley Chubb – EDGE – North Carolina State

NFL Comparison – Joey Bosa   

One of the draft’s top talents happens to fill one of the Colts’ biggest needs. Only Tampa Bay managed less sacks than Indianapolis (25) this past season. Chubb plays with attitude, and wins with his size, strength, non-stop motor and tremendous hand-usage. Listed at 275 lbs., the Bronco Nagurski Award winner is the perfect fit to play defensive end as Indy’s transitions to a 4-3 scheme.

Other Considerations- Quenton Nelson (OG), Tremaine Edmunds (LB), Roquan Smith (LB)

4-Cleveland Browns: Minkah Fitzpatrick – DB – Alabama

NFL Comparison – Tryann Mathieu

After forcing a league-low thirteen turnovers in 2017, Cleveland must add playmakers on defense. Fitzpatrick started as a true freshman at Alabama, and used his Mathiue-esque versatility to impact the game from the nickel, outside corner, and safety positions. The All-American has the size to matchup with tight ends and the speed to run with wide receivers. Combine that with his awareness, instincts and ball-skills, and you have the makings of Pro Bowl safety.

Other Considerations- Denzel Ward (CB), Derwin James (S), Quenton Nelson (OG)

5-Denver Broncos: Quenton Nelson – OG – Notre Dame   

NFL Comparison – Kelechi Osemele  

This pick is made based off the prediction that Denver will land Kirk Cousins via free agency. Nelson is arguably the best player in this draft but is devalued a bit by the position he plays. His size, power and tenacity will make him the first guard drafted in the top ten since 2013. The unanimous All-American will immediately be the best lineman on the Broncos, upgrading a unit that’s currently a work-in-progress.

Other Considerations- Denzel Ward (CB), Tremaine Edmunds (LB), Derwin James (S)

6-New York Jets: Josh Rosen – QB – UCLA

NFL Comparison – Eli Manning    

In this scenario the Jets are fortunate enough to land the draft’s best pure passer without having to trade up. Rosen possesses prototypical height, crisp footwork and sharp mechanics which he uses to deliver the ball with timing and accuracy. However, rumblings of an attitude problem and questions regarding his durability are likely to turn some teams off. Nonetheless, New York will take a chance on his upside by using their first round pick on an offensive player for the first time since 2009 (M. Sanchez).

Other Considerations- Josh Allen (QB) Baker Mayfield (QB), Tremaine Edmunds (LB)

7-Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Derwin James – S – Florida State

NFL Comparison – Eric Berry   

This may seem like a slight reach now, but James’ stock will skyrocket as the draft process goes along. The 21 year-old uses his elite size, speed, explosiveness and physicality to torment offenses from a multitude of positions. He’s lined up at both safety spots, nickel corner, linebacker, and was even asked to rush the passer from the edge on occasion. Imagine an Eric Berry and Kam Chancellor hybrid, and you have Derwin James.

Other Considerations- Denzel Ward (CB), Josh Jackson (CB), Marcus Davenport (EDGE)

8-Chicago Bears: Denzel Ward – CB – Ohio State

NFL Comparison – Chris Harris Jr.    

Ohio State’s current regime has an impressive track record of taking ultra-athletic recruits and equipping them with the technique that will eventually warrant a first round pick. Ward is no different, and if he had a few more inches on him you would hear his name called within the first five picks. Though undersized, he plays above his measurements, and has the talent to replace Kyle Fuller should he sign elsewhere.

Other Considerations- Calvin Ridley (WR), Tremaine Edmunds (LB), Josh Jackson (CB)

9-San Francisco 49ers: Tremaine Edmunds – LB – Virginia Tech

NFL Comparison – Anthony Barr     

With their quarterback questions answered, San Fran can sit back and select the best player available. That would be a hyper-athletic Hokie who possesses the size and movement skills to leave scouts salivating. While calling him raw would be an overstatement, Edmunds does need to quicken his play diagnoses to reach his moon-shattering upside. The All-ACC linebacker would make a great partner, or replacement, for troubled linebacker, Reuben Foster.

Other Considerations- Roquan Smith (LB), Josh Jackson (CB), Calvin Ridley (WR)

10-Oakland Raiders: Roquan Smith– LB – Georgia  

NFL Comparison – Reuben Foster     

Smith seems destined to be a Raider. He brings the leadership, explosiveness and intelligence Oakland so desperately needs in the middle of their defense. The Butkus Award winner’s draft stock isn’t as damaged by his small frame as it would be in the past. Though he can be engulfed by larger blockers, Smith uses his quickness and instincts to avoid them en route to the ball-carrier.

Other Considerations- Josh Jackson (CB), Vita Vea (DT), Da’Ron Payne (DT)

11-Miami Dolphins: Calvin Ridley – WR – Alabama

NFL Comparison – Amari Cooper

Jarvis Landry has accounted for over 27% of Miami’s receptions since 2014, and is expected to be traded, despite his franchise designation. Former first-round pick, DeVante Parker, is entering the final year of his contract, and is yet to live up to his potential. Coming off a torn ACL, Ryan Tannehill will need a new go-to receiver if he is to resurrect a 28th ranked scoring offense (17.6 PPG). Ridley’s refined route-running, sticky hands and blazing speed separate him from an otherwise underwhelming receiver class.

Other Considerations- Josh Jackson (CB), Rashaan Evans (LB), Marcus Davenport (EDGE)

12-Cincinnati Bengals: Connor Williams – OT – Texas

NFL Comparison – Jake Matthews

The Bengals bet on the development of Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher when they let Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler walk last offseason. Having lost that bet, Cincinnatti must commit another high draft pick to the offensive line. Known as a technician with athleticism and size, Williams was widely considered one of the nation’s top tackles entering 2017. Though an inconsistent and injury marred junior season has diluted his draft stock, the 20 year-old still possessed the traits of a quality left tackle.

Other Considerations- Orlando Brown (OT), Rashaan Evans (LB), Mike McGlinchey (OT)

13-Washington Redskins: Vita Vea – DT – Washington  

NFL Comparison – Haloti Ngata     

No defense allowed more rushing yards last season than Washington’s (134.1 YPG). Enter Vita Vea. The 23 year-old’s combination of size and athleticism has inspired comparisons to Haloti Ngata and Vince Wilfork. His tremendous power allows him to dominate individual blockers and push double-teams into the backfield. His movement skills allow him to hastily close gaps in pursuit of ball-carriers. With refined technique, this 340 pounder should reach the Pro Bowl early in his career.

Other Considerations- Josh Jackson (CB), Da’Ron Payne (DL), Rashaan Evans (LB)

14-Green Bay Packers: Josh Jackson – CB – Iowa 

NFL Comparison – Marcus Peters 

After giving up the second-most touchdown passes (30) and the third highest completion percentage (67.8) last season, it’s apparent Green Bay still needs help in the secondary. Recruited to play receiver, Jackson used his excellent length, anticipation and ball-skills to intercept eight passes in his first and only season as a full-time starter. Though he can’t do much to shake “one-year-wonder” concerns, the All-American can answer questions regarding his long-speed with a solid 40 time at the combine.

Other Considerations- Rashaan Evans (LB), Isiah Oliver (CB), Marcus Davenport (EDGE)

15-Arizona Cardinals: Josh Allen – QB – Wyoming  

NFL Comparison – Joe Flacco  

The retirement of Carson Palmer has thrust Arizona into the quarterback market. Don’t be surprised if they sign a bridge quarterback through free agency and drafting their signal caller of the future. Though Allen’s production is below par, his traits are first-round worthy. The 21 year-old’s prototypical size, mobility and rare arm strength will have teams intoxicated by his upside. Allen is the definition of a boom or bust prospect.

Other Considerations- Baker Mayfield (QB), Orlando Brown (OT), Da’Ron Payne (DL)

16-Baltimore Ravens: Orlando Brown – OT – Oklahoma     

NFL Comparison – Trent Brown    

With no available pass-catcher worthy of a pick this high, Baltimore must improve the offense by solidifying their O-line. Brown is a mountain of a man, listed at 6’8” and 360 lbs. He uses his enormous size to pummel defenders in the run game, and his great length to ward off pass-rushers. Though he projects as a right tackle due to his lack of agility and knee bend, the All-American will pair nicely with Ronnie Stanley, giving the Ravens their bookend tackles.

Other Considerations- Derrius Guice (RB), Mike McGlinchey (OT), Ronald Jones (RB)

17-Los Angeles Chargers: Mike Hughes – CB– Central Florida

NFL Comparison – Williams Jackson III

The Chargers are a difficult team to project as their roster lacks any glaring holes. Though their secondary seems strong at the moment, both Casey Hayward and Jason Verrett will become free agents in 2019. Hughes is a physical press corner with the speed and twitch to stay with any receiver. He fills a future need while providing immediate value in the return game, as he ran three kicks/punts back for touchdowns in 2017.

Other Considerations- Da’Ron Payne (DL), Rashaan Evans (LB), Isaiah Oliver (CB)

18-Seattle Seahawks: Derrius Guice – RB – LSU  

NFL Comparison – Marshawn Lynch

Russell Wilson was Seattle’s leading rusher in 2017 (586 yards). Consequently, the team missed the playoffs for the first time since 2011. Balance must be restored to the offense if they intend on making a postseason run in 2018. Guice will give Seahawk fans flashbacks of Marshawn Lynch with his violent running style, incredible balance, and intimidating combination of power and quickness.

Other Considerations- Da’Ron Payne (DL), Isaiah Oliver (CB), Mike McGlinchey (OT)

19-Dallas Cowboys: Maurice Hurst – DT – Michigan  

NFL Comparison – Grady Jarrett        

Assuming Dallas is able to resign their 2017 sack leader, Demarcus Lawrence (14.5 sacks), the team could delegate their first pick towards an interior pass rusher. Though undersized, Hurst wins with elite quickness, leverage and a non-stop motor. His draft stock is diminished by his scheme-specific playing style. Nonetheless, the All-American is a perfect fit as a penetrating three-technique in the Cowboys’ 4-3 defense.

Other Considerations- Da’Ron Payne (DL), Marcus Davenport (EDGE), Taven Bryan (DL)

20-Detriot Lions: Marcus Davenport – EDGE – Texas-San Antonio

NFL Comparison – Danielle Hunter   

Only five teams surrendered more passing yards than Detroit last season (3,892). To make matters worse, 2017 sack leader, Ziggy Ansah, could sign elsewhere through free agency. Like Ansah coming out of BYU, Davenport is a raw football player but a tremendous athlete. The 21 year-old’s size, length, explosiveness and effort are enough to land him in the first round. He’ll need to refine his technique if he is to consistently win at the next level.

Other Considerations- Da’Ron Payne (DL), Isaiah Oliver (CB), Rashaan Evans (LB)

21-Buffalo Bills: Baker Mayfield – QB – Oklahoma

NFL Comparison – Case Keenum   

One of the most polarizing players in this draft, opinions remain split on Mayfield. His doubters see an undersized prospect with character concerns, who comes from a spread offense. His believers see a Heisman Trophy winner with strong leadership skills, incredible accuracy, resolve and the ability to improvise. With four picks in the first two rounds, Buffalo can afford to take a chance on the high risk, high reward passer.

Other Considerations- Da’Ron Payne (EDGE), Rashaan Evans (LB), Billy Price (C)

22-Buffalo Bills: Da’Ron Payne – DL – Alabama  

NFL Comparison – Kawaan Short

The interior of Buffalo’s defense needs a makeover. The team traded Marcell Dareus mid-season and will have to decide whether or not to resign 34 year-old free agent, Kyle Williams. Payne can replace Dareus’s run-stopping production immediately. The 20 year-old is built like a truck and combines his over-powering strength with sound technique. What’s more exciting is he’s just scratching the surface of his pass-rushing upside. Arm this man with some countermoves and he’ll make the Pro Bowl early in his career.

Other Considerations- Rashaan Evans (LB), Billy Price (C), Leighton Vander Esch (LB)

23-Los Angeles Rams: Isaiah Oliver– CB – Colorado

NFL Comparison – Stephon Gilmore

In a stunner of a trade, Los Angeles recently acquired star cornerback, Marcus Peters. That means free agent corner, Trumaine Johnson, will likely hit the open market, leaving the other cornerback spot wide open. Oliver possesses all the traits needed to excel in Wade Phillips’ aggressive, attacking defensive scheme. He has the size, length and speed scouts covet in a boundary corner, and is at his best when pressing the receiver from the snap.

Other Considerations- Harold Landry (EDGE), Carlton Davis (CB), Arden Key (EDGE)

24-Carolins Panthers: Arden Key – EDGE – LSU

NFL Comparison – Jason Pierre-Paul

Who is Arden Key? Every team will have a different answer. After a promising sophomore campaign in which Key used his length, burst and agility to register 12 sacks, the 21 year-old stepped away from the team for “personal reasons” this past spring. During that time he had shoulder surgery, and returned to the team in poor condition, leading to a disappointing 2017 season. His upside is worth the gamble for Carolina, who desperately needs to get younger on the edges.

Other Considerations- Rashaan Evans (LB), Leighton Vander Esch (LB), Ronnie Harrison (S)

25-Tennessee Titans: Harold Landry – EDGE – Boston College

NFL Comparison – Bruce Irvin      

Both Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan are entering the final year of their contracts and will begin the season on the wrong side of 30. Mike Vrabel can use his first draft to snag a long-term pass rusher. Landry possesses the speed, burst and bend to get around the edge and explode toward the quarterback. After a 16.5 sack season in 2016, the 21 year-old’s stock has slipped as he battled through injury this past year.

Other Considerations- Rashaan Evans (LB), L. Vander Esch (LB), I Wynn (G)

26-Atlanta Falcons: Isiah Wynn – G – Georgia

NFL Comparison – Ronald Leary

With the departure of Kyle Shanahan, Atlanta saw their offense drop from first in scoring during 2016 (33.8 PPG), to fifteenth in 2017 (22.1 PPG). Though the team can’t draft an offensive coordinator, they can address a weakness at guard. Wynn earned first-team All-SEC honors at left tackle this season, but projects as an NFL guard because of his lack of length. Nonetheless, his awareness, sound technique and above average athleticism suggest he’ll be an early starter.

Other Considerations- Taven Bryan (DL), Will Hernandez (OG), Harrison Phillips (DT)

27-New Orleans Saints: Rashaan Evans– LB – Alabama

NFL Comparison – C.J. Mosley        

Evans falling to pick 27 should send New Orleans sprinting to the podium. The Saints’ young defense improved rapidly this season, but a void remains at linebacker. Evans is a long, rangy linebacker who flies from sideline to sideline. He has the versatility to mirror shifty running backs and tight ends, but also managed six sacks in 2017, showing off his pass rush prowess.

Other Considerations- Ronnie Harrison (S), Leighton Vander Esch (LB), Taven Bryan (DL)

28-Pittsburgh Steelers: Leighton Vander Esch – LB – Boise State  

NFL Comparison – Derrick Johnson

A horrific spinal injury may have ended Ryan Shazier’s career this past December. Fellow inside linebacker, Vince Williams, is entering the final year of his contract. Suddenly, Pittsburgh needs linebacker help.  If you haven’t heard of Vander Esch, get familiar. The Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year plays like a magnetic attraction is pulling him to the football. His size, athleticism and instincts are all exceptional, but he gets overlooked in a loaded linebacker class.

Other Considerations- Ronnie Harrison (S), Malik Jefferson (LB), Donte Jackson (CB)

29-Jacksonville Jaguars: Will Hernandez – G – UTEP     

NFL Comparison – Riche Incognito         

Without many holes elsewhere, Jacksonville can upgrade their guard position, further strengthening a smash-mouth, run-first offense. Hernandez is a big, mean blocker with an abundance of power and impressive movement skills for a man his size. What he lacks in length, he makes up for with agility and balance. The 22 year-old has started 37 straight games for the Miners and is a perfect fit for the Jaguars’ mauling offensive line.

Other Considerations – Billy Price (C), Ronnie Harrison (S), Courtland Sutton (WR)

30-Minnesota Vikings: Mike McGlinchey – OT – Notre Dame   

NFL Comparison- Alejandro Villanueva

Aside from their quarterback contract conundrum, Minnesota is another team with a well-rounded roster. Adding talent to an offensive line that overachieved in 2017 would make things easier for whoever is delivering passes going forward. McGlinchey’s sound technique, adequate athleticism, and outstanding size and length allowed him to excel at both tackle positions for the Fighting Irish. His presence at right tackle would allow Mike Remmers to move inside, where some argue he’s best suited.

Other Considerations – Ronnie Harrison (S), Taven Bryan (DL), Billy Price (C)

31-New England Patriots: Donte Jackson – CB – LSU

NFL Comparison- Terrence Newman

As a pending free agent who was benched for the Super Bowl, Malcom Butler is as good as gone. That only intensifies New England’s need at cornerback, as the team surrendered the third-most passing yards in 2017 (251.2 YPG). Jackson may be the fastest player is this draft, and uses his elite athleticism to mask his subpar size and instincts. His stock is on the rise.

Other Considerations- Carlton Davis (CB), Ronnie Harrison (S), Taven Bryan (DL)

32-Philadelphia Eagles: Malik Jefferson – LB – Texas

NFL Comparison – Zach Brown

Without another draft selection until pick 127, Philadelphia may trade out of this spot in order to accumulate more picks. The team must address the linebacker position, as Nigel Bradham is a free agent, and Jordan Hicks is entering the final year of his contract. Jefferson is an ultra-athletic linebacker with prototypical size and length. Though raw, he fits well in Jim Schwartz defensive scheme as a weak-side linebacker.

Other Considerations- Ronnie Harrison (S), Carlton Davis (CB), Jamarco Jones (OT)