It’s never too early to begin looking at the top prospects for the 2018 NFL Draft. Sure, it’s essentially impossible to know what the draft order is going to be as we don’t know who will be the bottom dwellers of the 2017 NFL season. That’s always the toughest part because it’s much easier identifying who are the top collegiate athletes that will be deserving of that first round spot. Of course, that can change too. But a larger number of those predictions will prove to be accurate when we look back at this in a year. On the other hand, the draft order is an entirely separate mystery … but it’s still one we’re going to tackle and predict with this list.
With this list we take a stab at identifying the 15 teams that will play bad enough this year to warrant a draft pick within the first half of the first round in 2018. We’ll also project which player each team is going to select. Some of the choices are obvious. No one expects teams like the Jets, Browns or Bears to make a playoff run, which is why they’ll rightfully be drafting in one of the top 15 spots. Then again, teams like New England, Green Bay and Atlanta are all likely to be competing in the playoffs by the end of the 2017 regular season. That’s why teams like those don’t show up here because we are predicting the top 15 picks of the 2018 NFL Draft.
29 LOS ANGELES RAMS SELECT SAM DARNOLD
This season will prove to be just too much for Jared Goff as he’s unable to transform the Rams into a winning organization. This is a tough one for young Goff, who will struggle to find a place on the field after this season. But he will still get a chance to compete for the starting job, but it will be against another No. 1 pick as the Rams are going to safely secure the top spot in the 2018 draft. By next year, Goff will be going up against Sam Darnold.
Darnold, who is 9-1 as USC’s starter, will be a no-brainer decision for the Rams. The redshirt freshman led USC to its first Rose Bowl win since 2008. He recorded 3,086 yards and 31 touchdowns with just nine interceptions. In each of his nine wins, he tossed at least two touchdowns. Darnold is part of a quarterback class that is widely considered better than the quarterback class going into the 2017 draft. And he’s going to be at the top of that group after he continues on the success he from last season, which concluded with a comeback victory over Penn State in the Rose Bowl as he tossed 453 yards and five touchdowns.
28 CLEVELAND BROWNS SELECT JOSH ALLEN
Josh Allen is big, athletic and scouts say that he has the tools to start as a quarterback on a NFL roster and that’s exactly what a team like Cleveland needs. Allen would have likely been a first round draft pick this year, but he decided to go back for another season in Wyoming. Good call. And it seems like the Browns decided to wait on him as they passed on a first round quarterback. Allen would have sat on the bench or been tossed into the game far too early if he were drafted this year. Allen needs one more season to mature a bit before taking his talents to the NFL.
With all the team’s struggling to find a quarterback going into the 2017 season, it’s no surprise the Browns won’t find their answer in Deshone Kizer. The Browns will again this year fail to find their quarterback and will be forced in selecting one with the second pick in 2018, but Cleveland will finally find its football savior with Allen.
27 NEW YORK JETS SELECT JOSH ROSEN
The Jets are going to be the third-straight team to pick a quarterback to start the 2018 draft. Well, maybe that’s not much of a spoiler because everybody in the league knows that the Jets have failed to address their biggest need this season. At best, a seasoned backup will be the starting quarterback for the Jets this year. That bodes quite well for the Jets 2018 draft plan. The only problem is that the top quarterback available here will be Josh Rosen, who tends to get criticized for the way he speaks to the media.
In addition to that, Rosen becomes a questionable pick when you factor in injury history. A shoulder injury kept him from the field during his sophomore season. During that time UCLA went 1-5. Everyone knew Rosen was a star, the downside is that no one expected him to miss so much time. That hurt his chances to quickly shift into the NFL. He needs a season with no issues, which is likely to happen in the coming year. But after getting back on track next season, Rosen will be a lock for the first round.
26 MIAMI DOLPHINS SELECT MIKE MCGLINCHEY
Miami have two major issues that will affect them in 2017 and these issues are going to be the reason why the Dolphins will secure a top-five draft pick. First is the fact that the team placed way too much emphasis on strengthening its defense this offseason. Sure, some additions were necessary but that didn’t mean they should have neglected the offense so much. Plus, Ryan Tanehill’s injuries will often be an issue during the season as the Dolphins offensive line, which didn’t get much attention this offseason, crumbles in front of the fragile quarterback.
That’s why the Dolphins will invest in a pick that will bore a lot of fans – an offensive lineman. Mike McGlinchey (#68) would have most likely been the best (or one of the best) offensive tackles in this year’s draft. But he decided to return to school. That leaves him up for grabs in 2018, and there will be no shortage of suiters for this star O-lineman, which is why the Dolphins will have to secure him early. McGlinchey will be the leading force changing that trend and will help turn the Jaguars into a playoff-bound team.
25 SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS SELECT JAMES WASHINGTON
It sort of hurt the 49ers missing out on one of the top few picks of this year’s draft. They’ll likely still need a quarterback, but won’t have any options this high up in the draft. So, they’ll have to secure a quarterback another way next season since none of their current options will be able to brunt the workload of a successful starting quarterback in the NFL. That’s why we have to assume that the 49ers will either trade or sign a quarterback before the draft.
That means they need a receiver, and this is the perfect spot to select the best one in the draft – James Washington. This young star wide receiver would have been a first-round draft pick this year. Barring any injuries, teams will be fighting for Washington in the first round of the 2018 draft. Everything is lining up perfectly for Washington. He’s coming off a huge season. And his quarterback, Mason Rudolph (who only tossed four interceptions last season) will be an added benefit as the duos chemistry together will likely cause a lot of touchdowns and big plays.
24 HOUSTON TEXANS SELECT SAQUON BARKLEY
The Texans will be on the verge of turning a corner by this time next year and that will begin to become obvious by the end of the regular season. For much of the coming season the Texans will struggle. Largely due to the fact that they’re grooming a rookie quarterback to take over and that takes time. But that’s why the Texans will want to draft a backfield companion for their young quarterback. There will be no one better than Saquon Barkley.
Barkley will be in the conversation for the Heisman Trophy by the end of next season. And as Penn State will move forward with a new quarterback, Barkley will lead the way to the top of the Big Ten for the Nittany Lions with his awesome combination of power and speed. As a sophomore, Barkley recorded almost 2,000 yards from scrimmage with 1,496 rushing yards and 402 receiving while scoring 22 touchdowns. Barkley led Penn State to a Big Ten Championship last season and he will continue to lead in the NFL.
23 WASHINGTON REDSKINS SELECT CHRISTIAN KIRK
Along with quarterbacks that will be available in the 2018 draft, wide receivers are looking to be quite talented. The wide receiver class next year will provide enough talent to potentially occupy a few spots in the top 10 picks in the first round. Washington will be the second team drafting a wide receiver up here as the team will realize that they got rid of too much receiving talent in 2017. Losing DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon and Jordan Cook will just decimate this offense.
The best guy to add to the Redskins receiving corps will be Christian Kirk, as long as he decides to forgo his senior season (which shouldn’t be an issue as he’ll be projected a top 10 pick following the season). Kirk has been a monster through his first two seasons and will be coveted because of the way he uses his running-back like moves to crush the opposition. Kirk has a lot riding on next season after collecting 1,418 all-purpose yards last season. He’ll get a lot of opportunities. Kirk is now the primary target with the team who lost Josh Reynolds to graduation, while Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil both declared for the NFL Draft.
22 CHICAGO BEARS SELECT ARDEN KEY
At this point in the draft, the Chicago Bears have to go with the best player available on the board. And that’s a blessing for the team as it comes in the form of a great defensive talent, who drops this far down the list because of the overwhelming offensive needs of the teams that are coming up. There’s some questions surrounding Arden Key because he has taken a leave of absence for personal reasons.
But he’s one of the most talented collegiate edge rushers and set the school’s single-season sack record, 12, as a sophomore in 2016. He seemed unstoppable last season, and a lot of NFL teams have a huge need for someone who can pressure the quarterback like Key is able to do. Although his leave is indefinite, he will return as one of the nation’s top pass rushers. That type of talent will be welcome by just about any NFL team, but the Bears will be drooling from the mouth with the possibility of adding this type of talent to their defensive front.
21 DENVER BRONCOS SELECT HAROLD LANDRY
We’ve got to assume that with all the talent Denver has growing on the offensive side of the ball that the best decision will be making defense a priority again at the top of the draft next year. Defense is what has made the Broncos overwhelmingly successful and its what will keep this team relevant throughout the next few seasons.
Harold Landry (#7) would have been a high draft pick this year, but his stock will surely rise with another season like he posted last year. And that will make him very appealing to most teams up this high in the draft. But after playing a full career at Boston College, Landry’s stock will only be able to go so far. He’s playing against some top-notch offenses, but his school’s schedule doesn’t permit the type of competition that the likes of many football powerhouses see each year. But you can’t deny his talent that led him to setting his college’s single-season record last year with 16.5 sacks.
20 BUFFALO BILLS SELECT LAMAR JACKSON
This dual-threat quarterback has a chance to see a top-15 draft pick in 2018 if he can build on the success seen last season. Lamar Jackson was so good last season that he was awarded the Heisman Trophy. Jackson tossed 3,543 yards with 30 touchdowns. And he tossed only nine interceptions. What’s even better? He rushed for 1,571 yards and an additional 21 touchdowns.
There are questions about whether Jackson can successfully transition into the NFL as a quarterback. Because of this Buffalo will be scrutinized for taking on such a risky pick in such a crucial position. But without risk there is no reward. This could be exactly what Buffalo needs to turn its offense around, especially as the Bills will be in a frantic search for a quarterback after their experiments fail this season.
19 LOS ANGELES CHARGERS SELECT CHRISTIAN WILKINS
The Chargers are going to need a lot of help next offseason, and selecting someone as versatile as Christian Wilkins will suit the team well. Wilkins can play on the D-line wherever he is needed for the reigning National Champions. Wilkins versatility will allow him to leap into the NFL without missing a step. Wilkins shifted and started as a defensive end last season and recorded 48 tackles (13.5 for loss) with 20 quarterback hurries and 10 pass breakups. Not many players have been able to accomplish what Wilkins has through his first two collegiate seasons.
That’s why ESPN named Wilkins as one of the five defensive players who could win the Heisman Trophy in 2017. Although Wilkins won’t win the Heisman, he’ll see continued success as he gets drafted up here by the Chargers. There’s no doubt that Wilkins will continue his talented gameplay with the Chargers.
18 DETROIT LIONS SELECT DERWIN JAMES
This guy might be the most talented athlete heading into the 2018 draft. Derwin James went down in September last year with a season-ending injury. But the Seminoles aren’t going far without James, who tallied 91 tackles with 9.5 for loss and 4.5 sacks in 2015. He proved to be great at stumping the run, while also proving to be scary good with the blitz, and that’s all nothing compared to his coverage downfield.
James earned redshirt sophomore status after suffering the Week 2 injury last season, but after he returns from injury with a bang there won’t be anyone questioning his intentions to enter the NFL draft. And when he does, a team like Detroit will be looking for young talent that can give them an edge for a postseason run. The only thing is, James will need to stay healthy if he wants to prove any type of success in the NFL.
17 JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS SELECT MALIK JEFFERSON
Although Blake Bortles seems like he doesn’t have many chances left in Jacksonville, we have faith that his talent will prevail over the Jaguars lackluster play that we’ve seen in the recent years. That’s why Malik Jefferson will join Bortles and he is going to have to be one of the team’s biggest leaders heading into next season, and he’s not going to shy away from the pressure. In fact, he’s going to build on that momentum and take it to a first round draft spot before starring in the NFL for years to come. One of his biggest strengths is coming off the edge, and there’s no doubt that will improve next season under Tom Herman and his staff.
Jefferson’s athleticism will get the NFL scouts attention, but his blitzing ability will make him a star in the NFL. Jefferson will see his first contract come in from the Jacksonville Jaguars, who will be at the top of the draft board next year as the team will look to continue strengthening its defensive attack.
16 PHILADELPHIA EAGLES SELECT MINKAH FITZPATRICK
Minkah Fitzpatrick is going to be a shutdown corner once he gets to the NFL and the Eagles are going to jump on the opportunity to draft him. The pressure of the pros won’t be an issue as he’ll have three seasons playing in one of the most followed college football programs in Alabama. As a sophomore, he led the SEC with six interceptions. It wouldn’t be surprising if he leads the entire NCAA in interceptions next season. He was a first team All-American selection last year and now holds the all-time mark for pick-sixes in Alabama with four.
The thing with Fitzpatrick is that he will be drafted very high up in the NFL Draft, so we’ve got to look at teams who will fail to succeed next season. Although there will be a group of below-average teams looking to snag Fitzpatrick at the top of the 2018 draft, he will spend his initial professional years with the Philadelphia Eagles, who will need a boost to their (what will be) stale defensive attack.
15 BALTIMORE RAVENS SELECT DERRIUS GUICE
The Ravens are going to eventually need to replace Joe Flacco, but for now adding a star running back to the equation will be just fine. LSU had a first-round pick from the running back position in this year’s draft with Leonard Fournette. Derrius Guice may not be the same type of talent, but he’ll prove to be deserving of a first round pick next year. Though Guice has been a backup to this point, he would have been a starter on just about every other team in the country. As for his collegiate career,
Guice has filled in for Fournette on occasion and recorded 1,387 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. That was with a stunning 7.6 yards per carry. Although he’ll likely fail to match that average as a starter, Guice will awe spectators as he takes over the starting role. He’ll carry on that success in the NFL as he gets drafted by the Ravens. Plugging a talent like Guice onto that type of team will make for a viable postseason threat and he could be seeing a ring within his first few seasons.
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