USC Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold (14) looks for a receiver in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic on December 29, 2017 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. File photo by Shane Roper/UPI | License Photo
Mock drafts before the NFL Scouting Combine aren't meant for accuracy. There is a lot that will change over the next two months through free agency and the draft process. But mock drafts can still be an interesting exercise to examine scenarios of how the NFL Draft could play out for each team.
The quarterback carousel is always the juicy storyline during the NFL offseason and that is true again this year. The first domino is Kirk Cousins and where he could possibly sign.
What about AJ McCarron or Case Keenum? Or the next tier of "caretaker" options like Josh McCown?
Once those quarterbacks find homes, the passing prospect pairings in the first round should become clearer. However, this year's first round will most likely include at least one top-10 trade for a quarterback, just like the two years prior. Arizona at No. 15 is looking for the future of the franchise. Buffalo at picks No. 21 and 22 have the ammo to make a splash.
Bottom line, a lot will happen between now and April 26 at the quarterback position to shake up first-round projections. But for now, here is one scenario of how round one could play out:
--1. Cleveland Browns -- Sam Darnold, QB, USC
The Browns' search for a long-term answer at quarterback continues. Darnold's turnovers stand out, but so do his intangibles, passing instincts and ability to move the pocket and create plays. Two months before the draft, Darnold is the current favorite to go No. 1 to the Browns.
--2. New York Giants -- Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State
With new decision-makers (general manager and head coach) in New York, this pick could be a quarterback, running back or a trade back. But don't count out Chubb, the best defensive end in this class.
While Jason Pierre Paul and Olivier Vernon were signed to big contracts, they were locked up by the previous regime, and Dave Gettleman might have a different vision.
--3. Indianapolis Colts -- Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
Regardless of who is taking snaps under center, Barkley is the type of talent who will make the quarterback's job easier. Ironman Frank Gore is a free agent and might not return to Indianapolis, moving running back near the top of the priority list for Chris Ballard.
--4. Cleveland Browns (from Houston) -- Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB, Alabama
With a league-low 13 takeaways on the season, the Browns are void of playmakers in the secondary. Regardless if he is playing cornerback, free safety or nickel, Fitzpatrick has the intelligence, leadership and physical skill-set to be a game-changer and cornerstone on defense, along with Myles Garrett.
--5. Denver Broncos -- Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame
Goal No. 1 for the Broncos this offseason is figure out the quarterback position, and one possible option would be to sign Kirk Cousins in free agency. If that happens, Nelson would make a lot of sense as Denver continues to bolster the offensive line. Nelson and Ronald Leary would immediately create one of the best guard combinations in the NFL.
--6. New York Jets -- Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
Ideally, the Jets will find the long-term answer to their quarterback woes at this pick, but also a player ready to see the field from day one. That's Rosen, a talented (albeit polarizing) passer who is ready for NFL snaps as a rookie.
--7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- Derwin James, SS, Florida State
Although he is a better athlete than football player right now, James has a bright future ahead of him as do-it-all defender able to play single-high or in the box. Justin Evans and James would give the Bucs a talented safety duo for the foreseeable future.
--8. Chicago Bears -- Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
Chicago doesn't have playmakers on the outside at cornerback and need to find upgrades this offseason. Ward lacks ideal height, but his feet, hips and eyes are what makes him a potentially special cover man.
--9. San Francisco 49ers -- Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
A versatile linebacker, Edmunds can rush off the edge or play any of the linebacker positions in the 49ers' defense, giving the coaches options. He would also provide San Francisco with insurance in case Reuben Foster can't stay on the field, either because of injury or off-field issues.
--10. Oakland Raiders -- Vita Vea, DT, Washington
The Raiders have one of the weakest interior defensive line units in the AFC and need to upgrade from the inside out on defense. At 340 pounds, Vea is a rare player with his power to handle double-teams and athleticism to chase down ball-carriers on the perimeter.
--11. Miami Dolphins -- Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
It is too early to say what the Dolphins will do at quarterback, but it is fair to say they are keeping an open mind to drafting one early. Mayfield would provide a jolt of energy for Adam Gase's offense.
--12. Cincinnati Bengals -- Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma
The Bengals need to address offensive tackle, possibly with this pick. Brown isn't the prototypical left tackle with his heavy feet, but his wide base and wingspan helps him compensate and get the job done.
--13. Washington Redskins -- Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
If Zach Brown departs in free agency, linebacker becomes much more of a need this offseason. Not only would Smith fill that hole, but he would be arguably the best player available if he lasts until this pick.
--14. Green Bay Packers -- Marcus Davenport, DE/OLB, UTSA
The Packers have new faces on the defensive coaching staff, but regardless of scheme, Green Bay needs to add new life at pass rusher. A former basketball player, Davenport is a high ceiling rusher.
--15. Arizona Cardinals -- Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
Even if the Cardinals find Carson Palmer's replacement in free agency, that quarterback is likely a stopgap option. Allen would give the organization a passer to groom for the long-term.
--16. Baltimore Ravens -- Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
The Ravens had only two wideouts with 20-plus catches last season (Mike Wallace, Jeremy Maclin) and need to add a young playmaker to help Joe Flacco. Ridley offers NFL-ready route-running and the play speed to create -- before and after the catch.
--17. Los Angeles Chargers -- Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
The Chargers focused on the interior offensive line in last year's draft and could look to add youth at tackle this spring. McGlinchey has experience at both left and right tackle and is ready for NFL snaps as a rookie.
--18. Seattle Seahawks -- Isaiah Wynn, OG, Georgia
Seattle has invested in upgrading the offensive line, but the Seahawks aren't done. Time will tell if they look to add more help in the first round, but Wynn, a plug-and-play guard, wouldn't be a bad option if they do.
--19. Dallas Cowboys -- Da'Ron Payne, DT, Alabama
It would be out of character for the current Cowboys' coaching staff to sign off on a nose tackle in the first round. However, adding a player of Payne's talent level would create a ripple effect that directly helps the linebackers and edge rushers.
--20. Detroit Lions -- James Daniels, OG/C, Iowa
With Travis Swanson not expected back, the Lions will have a need on the interior of the offensive line. Regardless if Graham Glasgow moves to center or stays at guard, Daniels has the balanced skill-set to fill in at either position.
--21. Buffalo Bills -- Billy Price, OG/C, Ohio State
With Eric Wood announcing his retirement, center becomes a need in Buffalo. Price, who grew up in Northeast Ohio and is accustomed to playing in the elements, would be a natural fit for the Bills, also offering versatility with his experience at guard.
--22. Buffalo Bills (from Kansas City) -- Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
The Bills drafted cornerback Tre'Davious White in the first round last year, but after White, there currently isn't much behind him on the depth chart. Jackson is a long, fast cover man with ball-hawking instincts to make plays.
--23. Los Angeles Rams -- Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State
Hubbard might not be the screaming rusher who consistently threatens the edge, but he has the versatility, athleticism and smarts to play various roles in Wade Phillips' front-seven. Hubbard and Robert Quinn would give Los Angeles formidable book-end defensive ends.
--24. Carolina Panthers -- Connor Williams, OT, Texas
The Panthers have some questions on the offensive line and Williams should be an attractive prospect for them in the opening round. He has the skill-set to play guard as a rookie while also possibly being the answer long-term at left tackle.
--25. Tennessee Titans -- Harold Landry, DE/OLB, Boston College
Tennessee's defensive front hasn't created enough pressure on the quarterback, making pass rusher a likely option here. Landry didn't have the senior season most expected, but he hasn't forgotten how to bend the edge and put pressure on the quarterback.
--26. Atlanta Falcons -- Mike Hughes, CB, UCF
Cornerback is far down the list of needs on the Falcons' wish list, but Hughes is simply great value at this point and would give Atlanta an upgrade over Brian Poole in the nickel. He would also give the secondary insurance for Desmond Trufant, who missed eight games the past two seasons due to injury.
--27. New Orleans Saints -- Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
Although defensive tackle isn't the top need on the roster, it is a position that could use more firepower. Hurst surges off the snap with the ability to disrupt the opponent's backfield, something all 32 teams, including the Saints, could use.
--28. Pittsburgh Steelers -- Ronnie Harrison, SS, Alabama
The Steelers have dealt with several issues in the back half of the defense all season, something that was obvious in the loss to the Jaguars. Adding a player with Harrison's downhill speed and toughness would be a good start to rebuilding the Pittsburgh image on defense.
--29. Jacksonville Jaguars -- Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State
The Jaguars have a crowded tight end depth chart but no players who create any fear in the minds of defenders. Goedert is a dangerous over the middle of the field and will help make Blake Bortles' job easier.
--30. Minnesota Vikings -- Taven Bryan, DT, Florida
The Vikings have one of the NFL's top defensive units but are always looking to add depth in the trenches. Bryan is still figuring things out, but his athletic movement skills for a three-technique jump off the screen.
--31. New England Patriots -- Donte Jackson, CB, LSU
Possibly the fastest player in the 2018 NFL Draft class, Jackson has twitchy athleticism, which helps mask his lack of size and technical deficiencies. With Malcolm Butler moving on, the Patriots will be looking to add talent at the position on draft weekend.
--32. Philadelphia Eagles -- Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
A physical, downhill linebacker, Evans plays with speed and power, taking on blocks and filling run lanes. He has a versatile skill-set and would be a great mix of need and best player available here for the Eagles.