Our first mock of 2018 looks at who Denver might target

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It’s time to look forward to the future. For NFL fans, that means the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft which we’ve already previewed a decent amount this season. The real work starts in full now as the college football season only has a few more weeks to go and the NFL is entering its final stretch.

For fans of losing teams who seem to have said goodbye to all hope of making the playoffs in 2017, the Draft can provide refugee and hope. I’m looking at you, Broncos fans.

A quick note before starting: the draft order we’re using here is based on our updated estimated win numbers on - check that column out on every Friday. The order is fairly similar to the actual draft order but the metric allows us to project how things could be by the end of the year as opposed to how they are now - also if we have in-house numbers why not use them? With lots of these coming from now until April we’re only highlighting 10 picks. Here we go.

1 Cleveland Browns, Sam Darnold, QB, USC

Things get interesting pretty quickly as reports have been out that Darnold wouldn’t declare if the Browns have the top pick. He does, however, seem like the consensus top pick by this time and it’s legitimate to wonder if he’d risk going through another season of scrutiny and exposure to potential injury. Also, simply not declaring doesn’t ensure that this won’t be the same exact situation he finds himself in in 2019 either. More likely, he pulls an Eli Manning or John Elway and refuses to play in Cleveland forcing a trade. There is a lot that still needs to play out, but it does feel like this might be the scenario we’re building up to.

2 New York Giants, Connor Williams, OT, Texas 

A quarterback would be an option here as well as reports have swirled that the Giants have already dug deep into scouting this class. There’s also a heavy need for an offensive tackle upgrade and Williams is the clear-cut top guy. He has some injury concerns to sort out with his medical pre-draft check-up, but assuming all goes well he has the goods to go this high.

3 Miami Dolphins, Arden Key, EDGE, LSU

4 Indianapolis Colts, Bradley Chubb, DE, North Carolina State

5 San Francisco 49ers, Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama

It feels like a trade down here would be possible as the Niners just need to add talent and it’s debatable whether or not Kyle Shanahan would dare take a running back this high, which is why Saquon Barkley didn’t end up being the pick. Fitzpatrick is versatile and fits the mold of the big school contributor that the Niners targeted a year ago. He could be a real building block on their back end.

6 Denver Broncos, Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

What a perfect scenario for the Broncos who have both the second-best quarterback available to them in Rosen and Barkley still around. Either would prove to be a significant upgrade for Denver's offense that’s in need of some kind of spark. Free agency could change things but for now, the need for a quarterback trumps all. Also, Rosen’s NFL readiness should make him particularly appealing to the Broncos who don't want to go through another raw developmental prospect. Obviously, serious upgrades must be made for the rookie to have early success as the offense won’t cut it as presently constituted, but getting your quarterback without having to trade anything is a big help in making that happen.

Sam Darnold and Connor Williams would also be in the running if still around, which is likely for Williams depending on how his knee checks out. Josh Allen could also be a possibility if the Broncos fall in love and feel he can be ready to play sooner than Paxton Lynch - Allen’s mental adage will make a big difference as will his ability on the board, he plays in a pro-style offense right now which makes a huge difference. Offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey’s dropped off drastically due to his struggles as a pass protector and his teammate, guard Quenton Nelson would be a possibility, though given his position is too high a pick in the top six.

Don’t put it past John Elway to draft a defender either, especially at premium positions like edge rusher or defensive back where there are several appealing candidates. The offense should be the top priority, particularly quarterback, which is why Rosen dropping to the Broncos would be quasi-miraculous.

7 Arizona Cardinals, Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

Given his statistical production this season, Allen’s selection this high should strike you as a bit of a reach and it is. Then again, upside is the name of the game and as we get further from the tape and into the workouts and athletic testing, teams will fall in love with Allen.

Bruce Arians’ offense requires a strong-armed armed quarterback and the Carson Palmer era has run its course. Allen is this class’ equivalent of Patrick Mahomes and he’s bound to go similarly high. Arizona seems like a perfect landing spot.

8 Chicago Bears, Derwin James, DB, Florida State

9 Cincinnati Bengals, Rashaan Evans, OLB, Alabama

10 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

11 Washington Redskins, Christian Wilkins, DL, Clemson

12 New York Jets, Derrius Guice, RB, LSU

13 Oakland Raiders, Ronald Jones II, RB, USC

14 Los Angeles Chargers, Ronnie Harrison, SS, Alabama

15 Buffalo Bills, Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville

The Bills recent doubts in Tyrod Taylor make this a perfect time to pull the trigger on a quarterback. With a 2019 quarterback class that doesn’t look nearly as promising and two first round picks, it might be now or never for Buffalo to find an upgrade under center. Jackson isn't for everyone but his talents are too appealing for an NFL team to not be enticed and pull the trigger in round one.

Jackson’s not your typical pro-style QB by any means, but he has hyper-natural athletic skills, a good enough arm, and pocket presence, added to some special playmaking abilities. The people of upstate New York would fall in love with him and Head Coach Sean McDermott’s already seen what an unconventional former Heisman winner can do for a franchise during his time in Carolina.

16 Tennessee Titans, Clelin Ferrell, EDGE, Clemson

17 Cleveland Browns (via Houston), Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado

18 Green Bay Packers, Malik Jefferson, OLB, Texas

19 Baltimore Ravens, Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame

Nelson’s fall ends here as he could’ve landed a few spots earlier especially at 14 to the Chargers. The guard’s talent is undeniable but the top 5-10 hype surrounding him might be overblown. He’s a true mauler who plays with sound technique and a high IQ, but he’s a natural guard with the athleticism to match; we’re not talking about a former college All-America left tackle like Zack Martin or Brandon Scherff - former top 15 picks.

With that, don’t be surprised if the Fighting Irish star loses a bit of ground come the offseason draft workout period, dropping him in the 15-20 range. Since losing Kelechi Osemele the Ravens line hasn’t been the same and Nelson’s one of the few who in time could prove to be a worthy replacement.

20 Atlanta Falcons, Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan

21 Dallas Cowboys, Tarvarus McFadden, CB, Florida State

22 Detroit Lions, Harold Landry, EDGE, Boston College

23 Carolina Panthers, Sam Hubbard, EDGE, Ohio State

24 Buffalo Bills (via Kansas City), Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville

25 Pittsburgh Steelers, Carlton Davis, CB, Auburn

A succession plan for Ben Roethlisberger is very much needed in Pittsburgh and Mason Rudolph is still around which could be a good stylistic fit for the Steelers. However, I’m not sure he fits the AFC North’s culture despite having lots of the raw physical skill. One guy that does fit the Steelers culture is Davis, the Auburn cornerback who’s tenacious and physical. He could be the missing piece to a young secondary that’s shown lots of promise. Though few are talking about Davis in the first round, the talent and tape are all there to warrant this high a pick.

26 Seattle Seahawks, Chukwuma Okorafor, LT, Western Michigan

27 Minnesota Vikings, Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma

28 New England Patriots, Hercules Mata’afa, EDGE, Washington State

29 New Orleans Saints, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, OLB/EDGE, Oklahoma

30 Philadelphia Eagles, Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame

A trade down is very likely here as Philly’s now without their second and third round picks. Recouping a pick by moving down 10-to-15 spots would make a lot of sense. If stuck here the Eagles are likely looking for an heir to Jason Peters at offensive tackle and there are options including McGlinchey who’s stock is falling as he keeps on struggling in pass protection. Would Philadelphia take the gamble to develop him while Peters is still around? It’s a possibility. Adding talent at cornerback is also a need here as would adding an inside linebacker like Florida State’s Matthew Thomas.

31 Jacksonville Jaguars, Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State

Rudolph, Baker Mayfield, or one of the other possible quarterbacks? That should be the big question here for the Jaguars. Don’t discount someone moving into the conversation either with Jarrett Stidham and Clayton Thorson being potential risers if they have a great final stretch of the season. The Jags don't have many needs defensively, it’s their passing attack that needs an upgrade. A receiver would be a possibility here as they’ve dropped in our mock, as would Mark Andrews, a mismatch receiving tight end who could help, too. Given how no one in Jacksonville believes in Blake Bortles, taking Rudolph makes a lot of sense as his upside could see him go even higher than this.

32 Los Angeles Rams, Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa

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