2018 Mock Draft: Sam Darnold, Lamar Jackson highlight top prospects

By Rob Rang, The Sports Xchange
Louisville Cardinals quarterback Lamar Jackson is already considered among the NFL's top draft prospects. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI
Louisville Cardinals quarterback Lamar Jackson is already considered among the NFL's top draft prospects. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo

The 2017 NFL and NCAA seasons just began, but already is peeking ahead to the spring and to the incoming crop of rookies.

After all, on Tuesday the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced 108 preliminary, modern era nominees for the Class of 2018, so it is time to find potential future NFL stars -- as the beat goes on.


A year ago it was obvious that an exciting new era of running backs was barreling towards the NFL. Fortunately for clubs needing help at quarterback, this year's crop of passers is the big story this year in college football with Southern Cal's Sam Darnold, UCLA's Josh Rosen, Louisville's Lamar Jackson and Wyoming's Josh Allen - all underclassmen - currently projected to earn early first round selections.


Don't like the projected selection order? Don't blame The order listed below is based off current Super Bowl odds from a Las Vegas Super Book.

*denotes underclassmen

--1. NEW YORK JETS: Sam Darnold, QB, Southern Cal*: Given the caliber of quarterback play for the Jets in recent years, perhaps the odds-makers are being kind with the club "only" a 1,000-to-one longest of longshots to win the Super Bowl. Darnold, prototypically-built and poised beyond his years, would go a long way to re-establishing this franchise.

--2. BUFFALO BILLS: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville*: Veteran Tyrod Taylor will get his opportunity to convince new Bills head coach Sean McDermott to look towards a different position but if the Bills finish this poorly, change is coming. Jackson, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, offers an upside Taylor (and few others) can match.

--3. CLEVELAND BROWNS: Derwin James, SS, Florida State*: James is a physical specimen, with experience at safety, linebacker, cornerback and even defensive end. With former first round pick Joe Haden sent packing, the Browns could be in the market for another playmaking defender and James is the early favorite to be the first one of them drafted in 2018.


--4. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA*: Kyle Shanahan was brought in to spark the 49ers' offense and he will be looking for an opportunity to land a young quarterback. Rosen may just be the most gifted passer in the country, though his brash personality could turn off some decision-makers.

--5. CHICAGO BEARS: Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB/S, Alabama*

The bold trade up for Mitchell Trubisky last season only works if the Bears are just as aggressive in filling the club's other shortcomings, including on the defensive side of the ball. Instinctive, physical and versatile, Fitzpatrick could be the answer in the deep patrol Chicago has been missing for years.

--6. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming*: The Blake Bortles experiment has not worked as hoped, leaving Tom Coughlin and the Jaguars likely to roll the dice on a new young passer this spring. Allen is undeniably raw as a passer but he possesses the natural tools to develop in the downfield, play-action offense Doug Marrone is attempting to build in Jacksonville.

--7. MIAMI DOLPHINS: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama*: Perhaps with Jay Cutler heaving passes, 2015 first round pick DeVante Parker lives up to his billing in his third season. If not, adding a polished receiver with game-breaking speed like Ridley could be Miami's plan to make this offense more dynamic.


--8. LOS ANGELES RAMS: Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson*: If the Rams can sign superstar Aaron Donald to a long-term deal, they may be able to focus on a leaky offensive line with this selection. Wilkins has the initial quickness and tenacity to be a perfect complement (or potential replacement) to Donald as a potential consolation prize.

--9. WASHINGTON REDSKINS: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State*: Only the fact that so many clubs found star running backs in last year's draft could allow a talent like Barkley to slip this far down the board. If Washington is indeed forced to replace Kirk Cousins next year as some believe, adding a big-time talent on offense will be the club's top priority.

--10. DETROIT LIONS: Derrius Guice, RB, LSU*: With all due respect to Leonard Fournette, Guice was LSU's most impressive runner in 2016. With another big season (including improved ball security), he'll earn first round consideration, perhaps for a Detroit club in need of a bell-cow.

--11. INDIANPOLIS COLTS: Arden Key, DE/OLB, LSU*: New general manager Chris Ballard did a nice job in his first draft but this defense still lacks speed in the front seven. Key has an explosive initial burst and terrific flexibility off the corner, making him arguably this year's most dangerous edge rusher.


--12. CINCINNATI BENGALS: DaRon Payne, DT, Alabama*: Unless Andy Dalton suddenly picks up his play, the Bengals may have no choice but to look at quarterbacks. Given the team's adherence to the "best player available" strategy under Mike Brown, however, adding a powerful player still just scratching the surface like Payne may be the more likely move.

--13. LOS ANGELES CHARGERS: Vita Vea, DT, Washington*: Adding a potentially dominator inside to a defensive line already boasting plenty of talent and the Chargers might finally be able to "light up" opposing quarterbacks.

--14. BALTIMORE RAVENS: Harold Landry, DE/OLB, Boston College: With all due respect to veteran Terrell Suggs, the Ravens will be looking at younger options at pass rusher soon. Landry plays with the relentless motor that Suggs and general manager Ozzie Newsome will appreciate.

--15. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M*: Adding young weapons for Carson Wentz should be a top priority and Kirk has the juice to be a difference-maker as a receiver and returner, as well.

--16. CLEVELAND BROWNS (from HOUSTON TEXANS): Courtland Sutton, WR, Southern Methodist*: Unless journeyman Kenny Britt picks things up considerably, the Browns could be forced to look to the draft for the long-term replacement for Josh Gordon and Terrelle Pryor as the club's featured split end. The 6-foot-3, 218 pound Sutton has the size and playmaking ability Hue Jackson prioritizes.


--17. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: Connor Williams, OT, Texas: Jameis Winston is a talented passer but he is hardly fleet of foot. As such, the Bucs will likely always be on the lookout for tackles like Williams, an athletic pass blocker with good size (listed at 6-foot-5, 320 pounds) and the toughness to switch to the right side, if needed.

--18. MINNESOTA VIKINGS: Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma*: As long as Mike Zimmer is coaching the team, size and physicality will be a premium for future Vikings. That fits this 6-foot-7, 360-pound Sooner - the son of late standout NFL tackle Orlando "Zeus" Brown - perfectly.

--19. DENVER BRONCOS: Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama*: The Broncos lost an intimidating hitter by letting T.J. Ward go but could find a cheaper, younger alternative on draft day in Harrison, a force near the line of scrimmage and in the deep patrol.

--20. ARIZONA CARDINALS: Nick Fitzgerald, QB, Mississippi State*: The Cardinals talked a lot about finding Carson Palmer's replacement prior to the 2017 draft but ultimately didn't select a quarterback. Fitzgerald is undeniably raw with little over one full season as the Bulldogs' starter. However, he showed grit in replacing Dak Prescott and possesses the raw traits to make a huge jump up draft boards this fall.


--21. CAROLINA PANTHERS: Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State*: On the surface, defensive line may not appear be Carolina's top need but after trading away Kony Ealy, the Panthers need help. While perhaps not as athletic as former teammate Joey Bosa, Hubbard plays with a similar style and intensity.

--22. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson*: The Saints have consistently gambled on upside with their first round picks and this selection of the 6-foot-5, 265 pound redshirt sophomore, Ferrell, would be no different. Overshadowed, at times, at Clemson, Ferrell led the club in QB pressures in his first full season of action and may be just scratching the surface of his potential.

--23. BUFFALO BILLS (from KANSAS CITY CHIEFS): James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State: Even if second round pick Zay Jones lives up to expectations, the Bills will want to continue adding playmakers. Washington lacks preferred size but he is a big play waiting to happen.

--24. TENNESSEE TITANS: DaShawn Hand, DE, Alabama: In two drafts, general manager Jon Robinson has transformed the Titans roster into one of the tougher, more physical groups in the league. Pardon the pun, but Hand would fit like a glove in that type of environment.


--25. ATLANTA FALCONS: Billy Price, OG, Ohio State: Protecting Matt Ryan is priority No. 1 in Atlanta. Price, a returning All-American and four-year starter, could be a plug and play option at guard.

--26. NEW YORK GIANTS: Bradley Chubb, DE, North Carolina State: Few teams reload along the defensive line as consistently as Big Blue and Chubb, a pro-ready tough guy who recorded 10.5 sacks and 22 tackles for loss, is too talented to slip any further.

--27. DALLAS COWBOYS: Maurice Hurst, DL, Michigan: Injuries and suspensions have robbed the Cowboys of some of their more talented defensive linemen, leaving coach Rod Marinelli little to work with. The 6-foot-2, 280 pound Hurst may lack ideal size but his quickness, tenacity and versatility suggest NFL success.

--28. PITTSBURGH STEELERS: Chukwuma Okorafor, OT, Western Michigan: Teammate Taylor Moton received most of the attention in 2016 - and for good reason, the 64th overall pick of the draft may very well wind up starting for the Carolina Panthers as a rookie. At 6-5, 333 pounds Okorafor is bigger and has lighter feet than his former teammate, among the reasons he was the Broncos' left tackle while Moton manned the right side.


--29. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame: The Seahawks believe in their young offensive line but it just looked like more of the same in a Week One loss on the road in Green Bay. The Seahawks would value McGlinchey's size (6-foot-7, 312 pounds), toughness and versatility.

--30. OAKLAND RAIDERS: Malik Jackson, LB, Texas: The Raiders boast one of the league's elite pass rush tandems in Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin but could use steadier play on the inside. Jackson is an athletic and physical presence with a knack for making big plays - qualities that might appeal to Jack Del Rio.

--31. GREEN BAY PACKERS: Mitch Hyatt, OT, Clemson*: Few reload along the offensive line as consistently as Ted Thompson but with injuries to linemen seemingly an annual problem in Green Bay, adding an athletic pass blocker like Hyatt would certainly make sense.

--32. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: Lowell Lotulelei, DT, Utah: The younger brother of Carolina's Star is not quite as big at "just" 6-2, 310 pounds but he is also very difficult to move off the line of scrimmage, projecting as a plug and play and longtime starting nose guard in the NFL. That sort of value will appeal to Bill Belichick.


--Rang is Senior Analyst for

Latest Headlines