On Thursday, the 2018 NFL Draft begins, featuring one of the most intriguing quarterback classes since 2004 — the year Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger all landed in the first round.
As many as four quarterbacks could be drafted in the first five picks and it seems like fans and NFL teams alike have no idea what exactly is going to happen.
Here is my mock draft for the first 10 picks, plus some bonus predictions for draft-eligible USC players. Each pick is not necessarily what I think will happen in the draft, but rather what I think each team should do, based on how I rate the top prospects.
No. 1 Cleveland Browns: Sam Darnold, QB USC
It has to be Darnold. He’s the toughest and most unflappable quarterback in this draft class, which will come in handy in Cleveland, a notoriously difficult place for young quarterbacks to play. Darnold still has a lot of work to do — his footwork is sloppy and his ball security was non-existent in 2017 (he had a whopping 21 turnovers). But he’s a much more refined and decorated passer than Wyoming’s Josh Allen, whom the Browns seem to also be considering.
No. 2 New York Giants: Josh Rosen, QB UCLA
The Giants have one of the toughest decisions in the draft: Should they draft the best talent available (read: Saquon Barkley) or a quarterback to replace the aging Eli Manning? If I were the Giants, I’d draft a quarterback who can lead the franchise into a new era and then use picks on offensive linemen and skill players in later rounds, where there’s still value. Rosen often looks shaken under pressure, but he possesses all the physical tools to be successful.
No. 3 New York Jets: Baker Mayfield, QB Oklahoma
The Jets traded up from No. 6 to No. 3, presumably to acquire an elite quarterback. They have two serviceable options under contract for next year — Teddy Bridgewater and Josh McCown — so there’s not a ton of pressure to draft a guy who can start from day one. Therefore, with Rosen off the board, the Jets take Mayfield, an undersized yet cerebral signal caller who won the Heisman Trophy in 2017.
No. 4 Cleveland Browns: Saquon Barkley, RB Penn State
One could make an argument for defensive end Bradley Chubb at this spot, but the Browns already have a talented defensive front with the likes of Myles Garrett and Emmanuel Ogbah. Here, they should fill a more pressing need and pick the most explosive offensive player in the draft. Barkley should make an immediate impact in both the running and passing games, serving as a game-changing playmaker for Darnold.
No. 5 Denver Broncos: Bradley Chubb, DE NC State
Denver signed former Vikings quarterback Case Keenum to a two-year $36 million deal in March, so general manager John Elway doesn’t need to reach for Allen at this point in the draft. If the Broncos don’t trade the pick, they should take Chubb, a prototypical pass-rusher who would wreak havoc opposite six-time Pro-Bowler Von Miller.
No. 6 Indianapolis Colts: Quenton Nelson, OG Notre Dame
The Colts need to do a better job protecting their oft-injured franchise quarterback Andrew Luck. They start by picking Nelson, by far the best offensive lineman in this draft class. He’s an elite run blocker and pass protector with a nasty streak that sets him apart from the pack.
No. 7 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Minkah Fitzpatrick, S Alabama
Florida State safety Derwin James also makes sense here, but Fitzpatrick is the more pro-ready prospect. He’s versatile enough to play all over the secondary and he possesses the athletic ability to cover both wide receivers and tight ends. Perhaps more importantly, his work ethic and leadership are unmatched, making him one of Alabama head coach Nick Saban’s favorite players during his time with the Crimson Tide.
No. 8 Chicago Bears: Mike McGlinchey, OT Notre Dame
This is a bit of reach, but the Bears desperately need to protect their young quarterback Mitch Trubisky before addressing other needs. McGlinchey is a natural pass blocker, who can start for Chicago from week one.
No. 9 San Francisco 49ers: Roquan Smith, LB Georgia
One of my favorite players in this year’s draft, Smith makes up for his undersized frame (6’1”, 236 pounds) with clinical tackling and excellent coverage skills. With second-year middle linebacker Reuben Foster’s career up in the air due to a domestic violence arrest, Smith will help fill the void at the position, even if he winds up playing on the outside.
No. 10 Oakland Raiders: Derwin James, S Florida State
The Raiders could also use a linebacker of Smith’s quality, but if their Bay Area rivals pull the trigger first, they’ll settle for James — a hard-hitting, big-bodied safety, who plays similarly to the Seahawks’ Kam Chancellor.
RB Ronald Jones II
Jones is a shifty runner who combines speed, quickness and power. He’ll be a day-two steal in round two or three for a team like the Broncos or Lions, who are in need of running backs.
OLB Uchenna Nwosu
Nwosu may not have the athletic ability to become an elite pass rusher, but he’s an intelligent football player with great instincts. He could compete for playing time right away for linebacker-needy teams like the 49ers or Bills. Expect him to get drafted in the third or fourth round.
WR Deontay Burnett
Burnett lacks explosive speed and a prototypical frame, but he’s a skilled route runner with solid hands. That should be enough for him to get picked up in the seventh round as a team’s backup slot receiver. I could see him going to the 49ers or Eagles, where respective star quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo and Carson Wentz could use more offensive weapons.
Trevor Denton is a sophomore majoring in journalism. He is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “T-Time,” ran Wednesdays.