The NFL Draft is the ultimate equalizer. Singular picks have turned around franchises. Fans and front offices alike have fretted over big boards, mock drafts, potential trades and more for months. The culmination of this exhaustive effort is distilled into three days in Dallas, commencing tonight. The Spectrum offers its take on how the top 10 may play out tonight.
No. 1: Sam Darnold – Cleveland Browns
Speculation abounds that the Browns may select either Josh Allen or Baker Mayfield No. 1 overall. The Browns — also selecting fourth — are well positioned to turn things around in this draft, and that process will begin with Darnold. The Southern California product is a safer choice than Allen and more refined than Mayfield. Darnold has turnover woes that he will need to clean up, but with a year to carry the clipboard behind Tyrod Taylor, Darnold won’t be thrust into the same crossfire hurricane previous Browns signal callers have faced.
No. 2: Saquon Barkley – New York Giants
New general manager Dave Gettleman is applying his “gold jacket” test on this selection in the hopes of bringing East Rutherford back to its winning ways. He’ll opt for the top prospect in this year’s draft in Saquon Barkley. Both Gettleman and new head coach Pat Shurmur appear to stand behind Eli Manning, leading them to pass on his understudy, who in my estimation is already on the roster in the form of Davis Webb. For what it’s worth, the last time New York picked in this spot, they chose Lawrence Taylor, a gold jacket recipient himself.
No. 3: Josh Rosen – New York Jets
Recent quarterback selections Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg for the Jets have been abysmal. New York swapped with the Colts to slide into a strong position to amend their past mistakes. The Jets are not in a well-suited to take a risk on Josh Allen, leading them to opt for Rosen instead. For all the talk of a regression, the UCLA man posted career bests in completion percentage, yards, touchdowns and QB rating in his junior season. Rosen is the most pro-ready and best passer in the field, which gives him a good chance to succeed with the Jets.
No. 4: Bradley Chubb – Cleveland Browns
Cleveland flips to the other side of the ball in this spot to take Chubb, who is unequivocally the best pass rusher in the draft. He and Myles Garrett will make a formidable pairing at defensive end for the Browns, who receive great value with this pick. The reigning ACC defensive player of the year, Chubb is a menace in the backfield, posting 23 career sacks and 54.5 tackles for loss at North Carolina State. The Browns don’t blink on this defensive star.
No. 5: Denzel Ward – Denver Broncos
The Broncos’ victory in Super Bowl 50 already feels like an eternity ago. The hallmark of Denver’s recent dominance was an insurmountable defense. The departure of Aqib Talib to the Rams leaves a hole in a secondary that was third in passing yards allowed last year. Ward’s skills slot in well to Denver’s man-to-man coverages, making him an ideal pick to replace Talib. Case Keenum gives Denver a stop-gap to allow them to pass on a QB. Guard Quenton Nelson or a trade is also in play with this pick.
No. 6: Quenton Nelson – Indianapolis Colts
It is challenging to question Nelson’s merits as perhaps the draft’s best prospect behind Barkley. The Notre Dame guard would immediately shore up the Colts’ offensive line and has All-Pro capabilities. Indianapolis was near the bottom third of the league in rushing yards last year, and Nelson’s presence would boost this deficiency right away, not to mention ease Andrew Luck’s return from injury.
No. 7: Minkah Fitzpatrick – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay was a trendy postseason pick this past year after an impressive 2016, but ultimately regressed in the über competitive NFC South. The Bucs are not in a position to address their needs along both the offensive and defensive fronts, so they select the best safety in the draft in Fitzpatrick. The versatile defensive back can be deployed at corner as well, making him a diverse addition to the NFL’s worst pass defense in 2017.
No. 8: Tremaine Edmunds – Chicago Bears
With Ward, Nelson and Fitzpatrick off the board, the Bears are unable draft positions in the secondary or strengthen their offensive line, forcing them to choose Edmunds at this pick. Edmunds’ huge size and quick instincts ought to make him a mainstay in Chicago’s defense for years to come. Joining Danny Trevathan and Leonard Floyd, Edmunds provides a huge boost to the Bears’ linebacking corps.
No. 9: Roquan Smith – San Francisco 49ers
The Niners have a major need to improve their pass rush, which with Chubb off the board makes Texas-El Paso defensive end Marcus Davenport an option here. However, in wake of domestic violence allegations against current linebacker Reuben Foster, San Francisco needs to take a look at the Georgia linebacker here. GM John Lynch promises that Foster will be cut if found guilty, opening room for Smith. Smith proved a proficient rusher at the outside linebacker position with 6.5 sacks for the Bulldogs in 2017.
No. 10: Vita Vea – Oakland Raiders
Oakland is in need of an interior force on their defensive line, and Vea fits the bill. At 6-foot-4 and 347-pounds, the former Washington Husky is a mountain of a man and indomitable presence in the middle of the line. His incredible athleticism was on full display at the combine, where he showcased both speed and power. His addition to the line ought to help both Khalil Mack and Mario Edwards, whose sack numbers suffered in 2017.
With so much staked to the outcome of the draft, it is essential that teams get it right. The picks in the first round ought to go a long way in determining if these cellar-dwellers can earn playoff berths in 2018.