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Pre-combine first round NFL mock draft

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Now that the book is closed on the 2017 NFL season, the first sign of the 2018 season showing up on the horizon is right around the corner. That would be the NFL combine, an event that is constantly debated, widely publicized, and ultimately boils down to a bunch of early twenty-something dudes running around in skin tight shorts and getting their hands measured down to an eighth of an inch.

While the combine itself is somewhat silly (as is the constant outrage surrounding the analysis of it), there are a lot of interesting things that go on in Indianapolis behind the scenes. For example, the trade that netted the Rams Jared Goff and ultimately shot the Titans into the playoff picture took place during that week at Lucas Oil Stadium. That’s why before that backdoor chaos takes place, a mock draft that currently assesses where each team is at heading into it all makes some sense.

1. Cleveland Browns: Sam Darnold, Quarterback, USC

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The Browns can’t afford to keep getting cute at this position. While it’s not hard to blame them for getting gun shy as they’ve whiffed on big plays for passers over and over again, that overly cautious approach cost them Carson Wentz, Deshaun Watson, and many more franchise saving talents. There’s no guarantee Darnold will be that for them, but they simply have to try and figure the position out with a guy that new general manager John Dorsey apparently really likes.

2. New York Giants: Josh Rosen, Quarterback, UCLA

NCAA Football: Cactus Bowl-Kansas State vs UCLA Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The second L.A. passer comes off the board in as many picks, giving the Giants their heir apparent to Eli Manning. Even if the Giants do hang onto the declining Manning as he enters his twilight years, they have to take advantage of the unique position they’re in. Even when they do have a down year, they never find themselves picking within the top two and having the opportunity to grab a franchise talisman to groom behind the one that will likely need replacing very soon if not now.

3. Indianapolis Colts: Bradley Chubb, Defensive End, N.C. State

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The Colts could go a few different ways here, as their roster is again in need of young talent in a lot of different spots. I decided to give them a shot in the arm in their defensive front seven in Chubb, who would give them the pass rushing presence that they’ve missed since prime Robert Mathis was still in the league.

4. Cleveland Browns (via HOU): Minkah Fitzpatrick, Defensive Back, Alabama

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It’s beyond tempting to pair Darnold up with Saquon Barkley here, but Duke Johnson should do the job just fine for now. Instead, giving them Fitzpatrick would assure them a starting superstar on that side of the ball and shore things up for a somewhat toothless defensive backfield.

5. Denver Broncos: Saquon Barkley, Running Back, Penn State

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John Elway is in dire need of a home run offseason after a couple years of missing the playoffs, and in this scenario, I’m predicting his first big move towards one is signing Kirk Cousins in free agency. With an already legit defense and a pretty nice pass catching corps, this came down to Barkley and Quenton Nelson. Elway has shown a flash for the big time move in the past, so picking possibly the best and most exciting player at number five wouldn’t be the most surprising move by him.

6. New York Jets: Baker Mayfield, Quarterback, Oklahoma

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The most polarizing player in the class is heading to the Big Apple in this mock, giving gang green fans a potentially iconic player at quarterback for the first time since Joe Willie Namath. Mayfield will have to answer the Johnny Manziel question approximately seven million times between now and when he actually hears his name called, and if he does a good job doing so, a top ten slot isn’t at all unrealistic.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Quenton Nelson, Guard, Notre Dame

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If the Buccaneers ever want to be taken seriously, they have to get serious about protecting quarterback Jameis Winston. They certainly could go defense here, but with one of the best and cleanest players falling to them at seven, they should definitely take advantage.

8. Chicago Bears: Calvin Ridley, Wide Receiver, Alabama

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The supporting cast that the Bears surrounded Mitchell Trubisky with last year was downright embarrassing. With Matt Nagy coming in to install an offense to support the young quarterback, an infusion of talent at receiver will be much needed to help execute it. Adding the draft’s best receiver is a good first step.

9. San Francisco 49ers: Denzel Ward, Defensive Back, Ohio State

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The 49ers are a team on the rise and in position to add the best player available after finally figuring it out at quarterback this past season. Ridley and Nelson coming off the board hurts, as they would both help push Jimmy Garoppolo to even further heights, but Ward is a good consolation prize. He’ll immediately step in as a starter in San Francisco’s defense, and be NFL ready from the jump as Ohio State products usually are.

10. Oakland Raiders: Roquan Smith, Linebacker, Georgia

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The Raiders defense is in a continual need of retooling, and with a solid pass rush and some promising defensive backs, Smith would do a good job in helping with that. His sideline-to-sideline coverage ability is unmatched by any linebacker in this class, and as the Raiders’ new head coach would say, “he’s just a damn good football player, man.”

11. Miami Dolphins: Josh Allen, Quarterback, Wyoming

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Allen is yet another polarizing quarterback prospect, but in a different way. Many fans and some media aren’t convinced on his abilities, while others insist that NFL teams love him and what he offers behind the scenes. If that’s the case with the Dolphins, they may as well pull the trigger, as they can move on from Ryan Tannehill at no cost this offseason.

12. Cincinnati Bengals: Orlando Brown, Offensive Tackle, Oklahoma

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Another year, another down season for Andy Dalton who has struggled since seeing some of his supporting cast leave town. What’s made matters worse for him is poor drafting along the offensive line, so assuming A.J. Green is 100 percent and John Ross exists as a human being, this is probably the move to make in the first round for the Bengals.

13. Washington Redskins: Josh Jackson, Defensive Back, Iowa

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The Redskins have some needs in a few different areas, and thankfully for them, quarterback isn’t one of them. As a result of that however, they lost Kendall Fuller to Kansas City, and could replace him with the very talented Jackson in this scenario.

14. Green Bay Packers: Marcus Davenport, Defensive End, UTSA

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Davenport has been a riser since the offseason began, and that’ll likely continue at the combine as he should test pretty well. The Packers have had a need at pass rusher ever since Clay Matthews’ injuries began to pile up, and an athletic freak like Davenport could fill it for them.

15. Arizona Cardinals: Da’Ron Payne, Defensive Tackle, Alabama

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After missing out on the top four quarterbacks and Calvin Ridley, the Cardinals go meat and potatoes at 15 with Payne. He’ll fill in nicely at the spot that Calais Campbell left vacant, and help their defense return to a dominant status.

16. Baltimore Ravens: Derrius Guice, Running Back, LSU

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Some Ravens fans may be disappointed in this pick; don’t be. If the Ravens have other avenues to bring in receiving talent (which they will), Guice represents a playmaking talent they haven’t had at the position since Ray Rice. He and Alex Collins would form a deadly committee.

17. Los Angeles Chargers: Derwin James, Defensive Back, Florida State

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The Chargers offense consistently gets it done, while the back end of their defense has lagged behind the pack for the past couple of seasons. James would give them a namebrand talent to strike fear into AFC West offenses for years to come.

18. Seattle Seahawks: Mike McGlinchey, Offensive Tackle, Notre Dame

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For years the Seahawks have neglected building the offensive line, which works to a point when your quarterback has Houdini level escapability. The facade has recently begun to fall though, and with Tom Cable out the door, maybe they’ll finally eschew the strategy of converting any random athlete into a starting pass blocker for their team. Picking McGlinchey would be a pretty good start at that.

19. Dallas Cowboys: Vita Vea, Defensive Tackle, Washington

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The Cowboys fell hard back to Earth in 2017 after a big time run to the number one seed the year before. Having Ezekiel Elliot back for a full year will certainly help them get back there, as will beefing up their d-line again with the mauler Vea.

20. Detroit Lions: Harold Landry, Defensive End, Boston College

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The Lions are pretty much set on offense, and their defense has some nice talent as well. With Matt Patricia there to take advantage of some of it, adding Landry into the mix will help them get more out of a front seven that’s underperformed. He’ll help them maximize the abilities of Ziggy Ansah as well which has been much needed recently.

21. Buffalo Bills: Lamar Jackson, Quarterback, Louisville

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This may look shocking now, but when it’s all said and done I believe that Jackson will settle in as a late first/early second round prospect (at quarterback). The Bills have back to back picks here and could package them to move up and get a guy they like even more, especially since they’ve been clamoring to move on from Tyrod Taylor for the better part of a few years now. He’s not the cleanest passing prospect, but Jackson is the most explosive prospect at the position since Michael Vick, and would represent a different element than what NFL defenses are used to seeing.

22. Buffalo Bills (via KC): Courtland Sutton, Wide Receiver, SMU

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After swinging big on a wild card like Jackson, the Bills would do best to surround him with as much talent as possible. There’s no one among their group of pass catchers that really strikes fear into the heart of a defense, but a Jackson/Sutton pairing could be the start of that.

23. Carolina Panthers: Connor Williams, Offensive Tackle, Texas

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Williams was once seen as a generational type talent at tackle, and while he’s not that heading into the draft, he could still very much be a first rounder. For the Panthers, he would need to be the investment that would offer up long term protection for Cam Newton, who has badly needed that security for a while now.

24. Los Angeles Rams: Billy Price, Center, Ohio State

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The post Jeff Fisher Rams were almost as fun to watch as the actual Jeff Fisher Rams weren’t, if you can believe that. The investments into the promising young Jared Goff should continue, and picking up Price from Ohio State would solidify an already strong offensive line.

25. Tennessee Titans: Christian Kirk, Wide Receiver, Texas A&M

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Despite some of the additions the Titans made last offseason, it often looked like Marcus Mariota was left out to dry. They need to get younger and faster, starting with making Derrick Henry the bellcow back, and also with adding in the speedy Kirk to take some heat off of Corey Davis.

26. Atlanta Falcons: Tremaine Edmunds, Linebacker, Virginia Tech

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The Falcons are already freakishly fast on defense, and have made some young and promising draft picks on that side of the ball. Edmunds paired up with players like Deion Jones, Vic Beasley, and Takk McKinley would give them the horses to win the NFC South race in 2018.

27. New Orleans Saints: Rashaan Evans, Linebacker, Alabama

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The Saints defense made a surprising turnaround, and were one fluke play away from making it to the NFC Championship game in 2017. They’ll be a favorite to make it their in ‘18 if Drew Brees comes back, which if he does, the offense will be full go yet again. In that case, they may as well add a super solid talent like Evans into their front seven.

28. Pittsburgh Steelers: Isaiah Oliver, Defensive Back, Colorado

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While the Steelers defense has made some serious strides the past couple of years, they still could use some more bite on the back end. Artie Burns hasn’t really worked out in the way they hoped he would up to this point, and bringing in a player like Oliver might help take the pressure off of him as he continues the learning curve.

29. Jacksonville Jaguars: Dallas Goedert, Tight End, South Dakota State

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The Jags have such a strong roster that it’s tough to pick out any one glaring weakness. Except for, you know, quarterback. However with five of the top guys already gone at that position, either trading back or picking Goedert to replace Marcedes Lewis makes the most sense.

30. Minnesota Vikings: Kolton Miller, Offensive Tackle, UCLA

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The Vikings are another team with very few needs, and depending on what happens at the quarterback position, they should be a postseason favorite yet again. Picking Miller here to support whoever passes the ball may help them get back there again.

31. New England Patriots: Leighton Vander Esch, Linebacker, Boise State

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With the Super Bowl loss still fresh in memory, adding anything other than defensive help to the Patriots seems like an unrealistic scenario. They’ve trafficked in bringing in relative no names to play linebacker for them recently, but Vander Esch would provide some much needed athleticism into that group.

32. Philadelphia Eagles: Arden Key, Defensive End, LSU

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As with most Super Bowl champions, it’s tough to find a glaring weakness on the Eagles roster, all the way down to the backup quarterback. With that said, you can never have enough pass rushers so Key would be a good pickup for Philly at the bottom of the first round.