Mock draft: Browns to take QB Sam Darnold with top pick; Colts zero in on Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson

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Analysis from contributor Joe Hopkins

Quick, read this article before another trade goes through. The NFL Draft is always a circus, but this year clubs aren’t waiting for the show to begin to make a deal.

The Jets worked out a trade with the Colts as the franchise searches for a franchise quarterback, the Bills did business with Cincinnati with the same goal in mind, and the Patriots sent Brandin Cooks to the Rams in exchange for their first-round pick. While predicting trades is about as easy as predicting what my girlfriend will want to eat for dinner, one thing is obvious, teams aren’t finished wheeling and dealing.

For the purposes of this exercise, I’ll resist the urge to play Nostradamus. Forecasting future transactions would be futile. Instead, I stick to the current draft order where we can get a clear understanding of team needs and where players rank. Let’s not make this more complicated than it has to be!

For each pick I weigh the best overall prospect against the team’s biggest needs and select the player who offers the most value to that team. Player comparisons are based on body type, play style and athletic similarities, and represent a rough projection of how good that prospect could become.

Quarterback Sam Darnold #14 of the USC Trojans heads off the field after beating the Washington Huskies 24-13 on November 12, 2016 at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

1-Cleveland Browns: Sam Darnold – QB – Southern California

NFL Comparison – Jameis Winston   

Nearly 20 years after the team was reestablished in 1999, Cleveland is still searching for a franchise quarterback. While other top passers face concerns regarding personality, durability, size or a lack of production, Darnold checks all those boxes, making him the cleanest quarterback in this draft. If the 20-year-old can learn to cut back on his turnovers, there is nothing stopping him from enjoying a successful NFL career.

Other Considerations- Josh Allen (QB), Saquon Barkley (RB), Josh Rosen (QB)

Courtesy Getty Images

2-New York Giants: Saquon Barkley – RB – Penn State

NFL Comparison – LaDainian Tomlinson    

The Giants hold the keys to this draft. New York could select an eventual successor to the 37-year-old Eli Manning, draft Chubb to replace the recently traded Jason Pierre-Paul, or take the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson. I believe they’ll choose the latter. General manager Dave Gettleman made Christian McCaffrey the eighth-overall pick with Carolina last year, and should have no hesitation selecting a running back this early. That is, if they don’t end up trading down.

Other Considerations- Josh Rosen (QB), Josh Allen (QB), Bradley Chubb (EDGE)

PASADENA, CA – NOVEMBER 24: Josh Rosen #3 of the UCLA Bruins throws in the pocket in front of Tony Mekari #97 of the California Golden Bears during the second quarter at Rose Bowl on November 24, 2017 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

3-New York Jets: Josh Rosen – QB – UCLA

NFL Comparison – Eli Manning    

A trio of second-round picks went to Indy so the Jets could better position themselves for a quarterback. When kept clean, Rosen is the best pure passer in this class, displaying gorgeous mechanics and pinpoint accuracy. However, questions surrounding his durability, mobility and brash personality prevented the former Bruin from being chosen first overall. If Rosen can win over the locker room, he’ll be productive early in his career.

Other Considerations- Josh Allen (QB), Baker Mayfield (QB), Bradley Chubb (EDGE)

Courtesy of Getty Images

4-Cleveland Browns: Bradley Chubb – EDGE – North Carolina State

NFL Comparison – Joey Bosa  

This pick will be the target of quarterback-needy teams who are desperate to trade up (like the Bills, for example). However, the idea of pairing this draft’s best defensive end with last year’s first overall pick, Myles Garrett, may be too tempting to pass up. Those two would instantly give Cleveland one of the top pass-rushing duos in the league, capable of tormenting the AFC North for years to come.

Other Considerations- Denzel Ward (CB), Derwin James (S), Minkah Fitzpatrick (DB)

SAN DIEGO, CA – DECEMBER 21: Josh Allen #17 of the Wyoming Cowboys passes the ball during the first half of the Poinsettia Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium on December 21, 2016 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

5-Denver Broncos: Josh Allen – QB – Wyoming    

NFL Comparison – Joe Flacco  

The two-year contract Denver signed with Case Keenum tells us they don’t see the veteran as a long-term answer. While the Broncos aren’t a lock to use their first pick on a quarterback, I doubt John Elway will be able to resist, should Allen fall into his lap. His production at Wyoming is underwhelming, but Allen’s otherworldly arm-strength, size and athleticism will give coaches plenty to work with while he develops behind Keenum.

Other Considerations- Quenton Nelson (CB), Denzel Ward (CB), Tremaine Edmunds (LB)

SOUTH BEND, IN – OCTOBER 17: Quenton Nelson #56 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after a 10-yard touchdown reception by Corey Robinson against the USC Trojans in the fourth quarter of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

6-Indianapolis Colts: Quenton Nelson – OG – Notre Dame

NFL Comparison – Brandon Scherff     

By trading back three spots, the Colts acquired three second-round draft picks and still land arguably the best player in the draft. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Nelson allowed just five quarterback pressures this past season, second fewest amongst draft eligible guards. Oh, and he’s an even better run blocker. Nelson’s presence should go a long way in stabilizing a unit that surrendered an NFL-high 56 sacks in 2017.

Other Considerations- Tremaine Edmunds (LB) Denzel Ward (CB), Derwin James (S)

ATLANTA, GA – SEPTEMBER 02: Derwin James #3 of the Florida State Seminoles reacts after a play against the Alabama Crimson Tide during their game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on September 2, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

7-Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Derwin James – S – Florida State

NFL Comparison – Eric Berry   

No team gave up more passing yards than Tampa Bay last season (260.6 YPG). In a division with Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton, the Bucs must improve their secondary if they want to compete. James is a versatile safety with excellent size and eye-popping athleticism. What’s more impressive is the way his former coaches rave about his character and leadership ability.

Other Considerations- Denzel Ward (CB), Minkah Fitzpatrick (DB), Tremaine Edmunds (LB)

GREENVILLE, NC – SEPTEMBER 16: Running back Tyshon Dye #22 of the East Carolina Pirates is tackled by linebacker Tremaine Edmunds #49 and cornerback Brandon Facyson #31 of the Virginia Tech Hokies in the first half at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on September 16, 2017 in Greenville, North Carolina. (Photo by Michael Shroyer/Getty Images)

8-Chicago Bears: Tremaine Edmunds – LB – Virginia Tech

NFL Comparison – Anthony Barr     

The Midway could use another monster. Veteran linebacker Jerrell Freeman was released in February and Danny Trevathan has missed eleven games in two seasons with Chicago. Edmunds is a physical freak with the athleticism to roam sideline to sideline and the size to rush off the edge. The All-ACC linebacker won’t celebrate his 20th birthday until May and has as high a ceiling as anyone in this draft.

Other Considerations- Denzel Ward (CB), Minkah Fitzpatrick (DB), Roquan Smith (LB)

TUSCALOOSA, AL – OCTOBER 21: Minkah Fitzpatrick #29 of the Alabama Crimson Tide tackles Jarrett Guarantano #2 of the Tennessee Volunteers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 21, 2017 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

9-San Francisco 49ers: Minkah Fitzpatrick– DB – Alabama

NFL Comparison – Tyrann Mathieu      

General manager John Lynch has done a nice job of rounding out this roster and is in the position to spend his first pick on the best player available. Fitzpatrick is a versatile chess piece who can hang back as a traditional safety, cover the slot or line up as a nickel linebacker. The All-American is at his best when he can float near the line of scrimmage and make plays on the ball using his outstanding football I.Q. and awareness.

Other Considerations- Roquan Smith (LB), Denzel Ward (CB), Marcus Davenport (EDGE)

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – DECEMBER 02: Denzel Ward #12 of the Ohio State Buckeyes celebrates an interception against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the first half during the Big Ten Championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 2, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

10-Oakland Raiders: Denzel Ward– CB – Ohio State

NFL Comparison – Chris Harris Jr.      

After allowing the second-highest completion percentage in 2017 (68.1%), Oakland must continue upgrading the secondary. Despite measuring a hair under 5’11”, Ward is the best cornerback in this draft. The 20-year-old is an explosive athlete with the foot quickness and long speed to mirror the shiftiest of receivers. Ward would join his college teammate, Gareon Conley, to give the Raiders an exciting, young pair of cover corners.

Other Considerations- Roquan Smith (LB), Vita Vea (DT), Marcus Davenport (EDGE)

ATLANTA, GA – JANUARY 08: Henry Ruggs #11 of the Alabama Crimson Tide is tackled by Roquan Smith #3 of the Georgia Bulldogs in the CFP National Championship presented by AT&T at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on January 8, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

11-Miami Dolphins: Roquan Smith – LB – Georgia

NFL Comparison – Reuben Foster

Miami appears to have pressed the reset button, casting off their most talented players in an effort to “change the culture” in the locker room. Praised for his leadership at Georgia, Smith is a strong voice who will hold himself and his teammates accountable. The Butkus Award winner is also a force on the field, using his speed and intelligence to track down ball carriers.

Other Considerations- Baker Mayfield (QB), Vita Vea (DT), Marcus Davenport (EDGE)

PASADENA, CA – JANUARY 01: Baker Mayfield #6 of the Oklahoma Sooners throws a pass during the 2018 College Football Playoff Semifinal Game against the Georgia Bulldogs at the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual at the Rose Bowl on January 1, 2018 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

12-Buffalo Bills: Baker Mayfield – QB – Oklahoma  

NFL Comparison – Case Keenum  

It’s no secret the Bills are on the hunt for a quarterback. They’ve already climbed from pick 21 to twelve by trading with Cincinnati and could very well move up again. Without projecting trades, Buffalo is able to stay put and still acquire the draft’s most accurate passer. Mayfield is a gritty underdog whose upside is sometimes overshadowed by concerns over immaturity and a lack of size (6’-5/8”).

Other Considerations- Rashaan Evans (LB), Marcus Davenport (EDGE), Da’Ron Payne (DT)

SEATTLE, WA – OCTOBER 22: Defensive lineman Vita Vea #50 of the Washington Huskies battles guard Gus Lavaka #63 of the Oregon State Beavers on October 22, 2016 at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

13-Washington Redskins: Vita Vea – DT – Washington  

NFL Comparison – Haloti Ngata

If Washington plans to slow down Ezekiel Elliot, Jay Ajayi and possibly Saquon Barkley twice a year, they’ll need to fortify their defensive line. Vea is a monster of a man who is capable of clogging rush lanes with his 6’4”, 347-lb frame, but he can also chase down ball carriers with surprising speed and quickness. The 23-year-old’s presence should strengthen a defense that ranked dead last against the run last season (134.1 YPG).

Other Considerations- Da’Ron Payne (DT), Derrius Guice (RB), Josh Jackson (CB)

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MARCH 04: UTSA defensive lineman Marcus Davenport (DL29) runs a drill during the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 4, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

14-Green Bay Packers: Marcus Davenport – EDGE – University of Texas-San Antonio

NFL Comparison – Ziggy Ansah   

Clay Matthews will turn 32 in May and is entering the final year of his contract. Green Bay would be wise to draft the descending star’s replacement immediately. Like Ansah coming out, Davenport is a raw pass rusher with tremendous upside thanks to his physical gifts. Though cornerback remains a crucial need, the talent gap between Davenport and the next best edge rusher is substantial.

Other Considerations- Rashaan Evans (LB), Josh Jackson (CB), Jaire Alexander (CB)

LEXINGTON, KY – NOVEMBER 25: Lamar Jackson #8 of the Louisville Cardinals throws a pass against the Kentucky Wildcats during the game at Commonwealth Stadium on November 25, 2017 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

15-Arizona Cardinals: Lamar Jackson – QB – Louisville   

NFL Comparison – Robert Griffin III  

Is this a reach? Probably, but I challenge you to find a year in which quarterbacks weren’t over-drafted. Already being compared to Michael Vick, Jackson possesses jaw-dropping traits, including a rocket arm, underrated accuracy and an electric set of wheels. The Heisman Trophy winner’s X’s and O’s need coached up, which suggests his rookie year will be spent sitting behind recently signed veterans Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon.

Other Considerations- Calvin Ridley (WR), Connor Williams (OL), Da’Ron Payne (DT)

16-Baltimore Ravens: Calvin Ridley – WR – Alabama     

NFL Comparison – Amari Cooper    

General manager Ozzie Newsome has spent his first pick on an Alabama player in three of his last six drafts. I expect him to turn to his alma mater once again to select the draft’s top receiver. Ridley is a scintillating route runner with excellent speed, burst and the ability to rack up yards after the catch. His knack for making big plays will be invaluable for an offense that mustered up a league-worst 5.7 yards per pass attempt last season.

Other Considerations- Mike McGlinchey (OT), Derrius Guice (RB), Billy Price (C)

17-Los Angeles Chargers: Da’Ron Payne – DT– Alabama

NFL Comparison – Marcell Dareus

The Chargers are close. Last season L.A. ranked thirteenth in points for (22.2 PPG), third in points against (17 PPG) and third in turnover differential (+12). Their Achilles heel was against the run, where the team surrendered a league-high 4.9 yards per rush.  Payne is a run-stuffing extraordinaire who explodes off the line of scrimmage and manhandles blockers. What’s more exciting is the raw pass-rushing upside he displayed during the College Football Playoffs.

Other Considerations- Rashaan Evans (LB), Leighton Vander Esch (LB), Mike McGlinchey (OT)

18-Seattle Seahawks: Josh Jackson – CB – Iowa

NFL Comparison – Marcus Peters

A changing of the guard is taking place in Seattle. Impact players such as Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett, Jimmy Graham and Sheldon Richardson have been shown the door. Like Sherman, Jackson is a former wide receiver, who possesses outstanding ball skills, length, anticipation and leaping ability. The All-American defended 26 passes in 2017, including eight interceptions. Jackson fits what the Seahawks are looking for as they transition to a younger Legion of Boom.

Other Considerations- Darrius Guice (RB), Mike McGlinchey (OT), Harold Landry (EDGE)

19-Dallas Cowboys: Rashaan Evans – LB – Alabama

NFL Comparison – C.J. Mosley

The additions of Allen Hurns and Cameron Fleming allow Dallas to focus on landing an impact defender in round one. Evans is a rangy, versatile linebacker who can both rush the passer and cover tight ends/running backs in space. He led the Crimson Tide in tackles this past season, including thirteen for a loss and six sacks. Evans fills the void left by free agent departure of Anthony Hitchens.

Other Considerations- Taven Bryan (DT), Leighton Vander Esch (LB), Courtland Sutton (WR)

20-Detriot Lions: Taven Bryan – DT – Florida  

NFL Comparison – Malik Jackson

Giving up the sixth-most passing yards isn’t something that’s going to be tolerated under new head coach Matt Patricia. After spending the past six seasons as defensive coordinator for the Patriots, Patricia will make adding defensive talent a priority in Detroit. Bryan is a raw prospect who wields tremendous physical gifts, making him a potential steal at the end of round one. If anyone can develop him, it’s Patricia.

Other Considerations- Derrius Guice (RB), Billy Price (OL), Jaire Alexander (CB)

21-Cincinnati Bengals: Will Hernandez – OG – UTEP

NFL Comparison – Richie Incognito        

Despite their investments on the offensive side of the ball, Cincinnati mustered up the seventh-fewest points last season (18.1 PPG). To get their offense back on track, the Bengals must continue to revamp their offensive line. Hernandez is a mauler who uses his power and mean streak to bully the man across from him. After starting 37 consecutive games for the Miners, teams have to be impressed with the 22-year-old’s durability as well.

Other Considerations- Leighton Vander Esch (LB), Billy Price (C), James Daniels (C)

22-Buffalo Bills: James Daniels – C – Iowa  

NFL Comparison – Jason Kelce

A neck injury forced Eric Wood to retire, Cordy Glenn was traded to Cincinnati and who the hell knows what is going on with Richie Incognito. Suddenly, Buffalo’s offensive line is a major question mark. Daniels is an exceptionally athletic center who is technically sound and plays with great awareness. Providing Mayfield a talented center to grow with will be immensely beneficial to his development.

Other Considerations- Leighton Vander Esch (LB), Billy Price (C), Mike McGlinchey (OT)

23-New England Patriots: Mike McGlinchey – OT – Notre Dame

NFL Comparison – Alejandro Villanueva

The loss of left tackle Nate Solder cannot be overstated. Priority number one should be finding a new blindside protector for Tom Brady, who will turn 41 in August. McGlinchey was extremely well coached at Notre Dame, and has four years of experience at both left and right tackle. The 6’8” behemoth uses his size, intelligence and above-average movement skills to shield defenders from his quarterback.

Other Considerations- Connor Williams (OT), Kolten Miller (OT), Leighton Vander Esch (LB)

24-Carolins Panthers: Mike Gesicki – TE – Penn State  

NFL Comparison – Jimmy Graham

It appears the broadcast booth will have to wait at least one more season, but 33-year-old Greg Olsen seems to be approaching the end of his prolific career. Gesicki is virtually an oversized receiver who combines his awe-inspiring athleticism with soft hands and detailed route running. Though he’ll have to improve his play strength and blocking ability, Gesicki is a matchup nightmare who gives Cam Newton another target with size to lean on.

Other Considerations- Jaire Alexander (CB), Isiah Wynn (OG), Mike Hughes (CB)

25-Tennessee Titans: Harold Landry – EDGE – Boston College

NFL Comparison – Bruce Irvin      

Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan are entering the final year of their contracts. Both players will find themselves on the wrong side of 30 after 2018, putting their future with Tennessee in jeopardy. New head coach Mike Vrabel would be wise to draft his pass-rusher of tomorrow, today. Landry is an edge bender, who uses his burst, speed and hands to slip around blockers and finish at the quarterback.

Other Considerations- Leighton Vander Esch (LB), Isiah Wynn (OG), Jaire Alexander (CB)

26-Atlanta Falcons: Harrison Phillips – DT – Stanford

NFL Comparison – Kyle Williams  

Division rivals Carolina and New Orleans finished fourth and fifth in rushing last season. The need for a run stuffer is only amplified by the loss of nose tackle Dontari Poe. Phillips is one of the most underrated players in this draft. “Horrible Harry” used his brute strength, intelligence and non-stop motor to lead Stanford in tackles (103) this past year. The three-time state champion’s wrestling background helps him shed blocks en route to the ball carrier.

Other Considerations- Isiah Wynn (OG), Hayden Hurst (TE), Jaire Alexander (CB)

27-New Orleans Saints: Hayden Hurst– TE – South Carolina

NFL Comparison – Zach Ertz 

Coby Fleener has been an utter disappointment, and the 37-year-old Benjamin Watson can’t be counted on forever. Hurst is an easy mover with reliable hands, solid size and the ability to rack up yards after the catch. The 24-year-old gets knocked for his age, but that shouldn’t matter to the Saints, who are in a rush to win before Drew Brees’ illustrious career comes to an end.

Other Considerations- Leighton Vander Esch (LB), Jair Alexander (CB), Dallas Goedert (TE)

28-Pittsburgh Steelers: Leighton Vander Esch – LB – Boise State  

NFL Comparison – Karlos Dansby  

The Steelers must be rejoicing to see Vander Esch fall to them. A spinal injury put Ryan Shazier’s career in severe doubt, leaving a gaping hole in the middle of their defense. The All-Conference linebacker is an explosive athlete who plays with tremendous instincts, length, speed and change-of-direction ability. Don’t be surprised if Vander Esch quickly develops into the best linebacker from this draft class.

Other Considerations- Derrius Guice (RB), Jaire Alexander (CB), Mike Hughes (CB)

29-Jacksonville Jaguars: Jaire Alexander – CB – Louisville    

NFL Comparison – Kendall Fuller

The unsung hero of Jacksonville’s top-rated pass defense was slot cornerback Aaron Colvin. Now with the Texans, Colvin was one of two defenders with over 500 coverage snaps not to surrender a touchdown reception in 2017, according to PFF. Alexander is a quick-twitch athlete who boasts tremendous burst, toughness, anticipation and ball-skills. With all the three receiver sets being deployed, teams need three starting cornerbacks in today’s NFL.

Other Considerations – Courtland Sutton (WR), D.J. Moore (WR), Ronnie Harrison (S)

30-Minnesota Vikings: Connor Williams – OL – Texas    

NFL Comparison – Jake Matthews

Protecting the $84-million-dollar investment they made in Kirk Cousins should be the Vikings’ lead priority. Williams was the top tackle prospect entering 2017, displaying exceptional technique, lateral agility and knee bend. The 20-year-old’s play regressed this past year, and that coupled with less than ideal length has pushed him down draft boards.  While some insist he’s better suited to play guard, Williams has the tools be a quality blocker, regardless of where he lines up.

Other Considerations – Isiah Wynn (G), Mike Hughes (CB), Rodney Harrison (S)

31-New England Patriots: Mason Rudolph – QB – Oklahoma State

NFL Comparison – Andy Dalton

New England needs another Jimmy Garoppolo. Tom Brady will play this season at the age of 41 and can’t have too many more quality years in the tank. Rudolph has prototypical size, delivers the ball on time and has improved in each season he’s played. While some worry he is a product of OSU’s passer-friendly system, Rudolph has the traits needed to be molded into Brady’s eventual successor.

Other Considerations- Mike Hughes (CB), Ronnie Harrison (S), Dallas Goedert (TE)

32-Philadelphia Eagles: Derrius Guice – RB – Louisiana State

NFL Comparison – Marshawn Lynch

When your roster is as complete as Philly’s, you can afford to make this type of luxury pick. Guice is by far the best player available and allows the Eagles to continue their committee approach to the run game. The former Tiger runs angry, displaying exceptional power, quickness and burst. With Jay Ajayi entering the final year of his contract, Guice’s presence provides Philadelphia with flexibility should they decide their funds are best spent elsewhere.

Other Considerations- Mike Hughes (CB) Kolten Miller (OT), Courtland Sutton (WR)

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