Pre­dict­ing early quar­ter­back domi­noes

USA TODAY International Edition - - SPORTS / NFL - Michael Mid­dle­hurst-Schwartz

With the NFL draft set to kick off next week, the top picks in the first round have yet to take shape.

What has be­come clear: Quar­ter­backs should fly off the board quickly, with de­mand once again seem­ingly out­weigh­ing sup­ply. How the domi­noes fall at that po­si­tion could set the rest of the first round into mo­tion.

1. Browns — Josh Allen, QB, Wy­oming:

Tak­ing strong-armed Allen seemed al­most un­fath­omable a few weeks ago. Now buzz con­tin­ues to build that Cleve­land will make a con­sid­er­able gam­ble on the quar­ter­back who might have the high­est up­side of any thrower. With Ty­rod Tay­lor able to open the sea­son as the starter, Hue Jack­son can keep Allen out of the fire as he gets a bet­ter han­dle on his sub­par me­chan­ics and ball place­ment (56% com­ple­tion rate in col­lege). Jack­son needs to show he can tai­lor his of­fense to Allen’s skill set af­ter do­ing few fa­vors last year for DeShone Kizer, an­other tal­ented but raw rookie.

2. Gi­ants — Sam Darnold, QB, South­ern Cal­i­for­nia:

This spot might be where the draft truly be­gins to take shape. New gen­eral man­ager Dave Get­tle­man has a wealth of op­tions, whether tak­ing a non­quar­ter­back who can help Eli Manning and Co. right away or trad­ing to stock­pile picks. New York hasn’t had a top-five pick since 2004, how­ever, and should strongly the con­sider the op­por­tu­nity to take a fran­chise passer. Darnold is a prodi­gious tal­ent whose phys­i­cal and men­tal makeup make him a per­fect pick as Manning’s ap­pren­tice.

3. Jets (from Colts) — Baker May­field, QB, Ok­la­homa:

Pass­ing up Josh Rosen could be a dif­fi­cult propo­si­tion for GM Mike Maccagnan given how wellaligned the draft’s most pro-ready quar­ter­back ap­pears to be with of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Jeremy Bates’ phi­los­o­phy. But May­field gen­er­ates a unique spark for an of­fense in need of some­one who can cre­ate on the fly. If his brash­ness and sig­na­ture flair trans­late to the Jets, Broad­way Baker will be a phe­nom­e­non.

4. Browns (from Tex­ans) — Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State:

If quar­ter­backs are taken with the top three picks for the first time since 1999, Cleve­land stands to be per­haps the pri­mary bene­fac­tor. With their new QB al­ready in tow, the Browns can snap up a cor­ner­stone at an­other po­si­tion. Barkley’s rare blend of power, speed and agility places him on a level few in­com­ing run­ning backs from the past 10 years can match. Most im­por­tant, he al­lows any team to re­cal­i­brate its of­fense and ease the bur­den on the rest of the unit, which would be a wel­come de­vel­op­ment for a Cleve­land at­tack that could be find­ing its foot­ing with a young passer and new left tackle af­ter Joe Thomas’ re­tire­ment.

5. Bron­cos — Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA:

Maybe John El­way is sat­is­fied with Case Keenum and pre­pared to by­pass a top quar­ter­back should one fall to him. Yet it’s dif­fi­cult to imag­ine El­way be­ing sa­ti­ated with a short-term so­lu­tion when he’s star­ing at a po­ten­tial fran­chise passer who has proved so elu­sive. Rosen’s re­fined skill set would be an even more wel­come ad­di­tion should Keenum prove to be a one-year won­der.

6. Colts (from Jets) — Bradley Chubb, DE, North Carolina State:

A run on quar­ter­backs would be a wel­come de­vel­op­ment for In­di­anapo­lis, which would have its pick of most of the top non-skill po­si­tion play­ers af­ter trad­ing back to this spot. So­lid­i­fy­ing the of­fen­sive front for An­drew Luck with some­one like Quen­ton Nel­son could be a strong con­sid­er­a­tion. But it’s hard to over­state the value that Chubb, the draft’s pre-em­i­nent pass rusher, would bring to a de­fense that ranked sec­ond to last in sacks last sea­son.

7. Buc­ca­neers — Der­win James, S, Florida State:

Tampa Bay needs to reload in the sec­ondary af­ter rank­ing as the worst de­fense in to­tal yards and vs. the pass in 2017. Whether in cov­er­age, run sup­port or on a blitz, James makes plays and brings much-needed lead­er­ship with his con­fi­dent de­meanor.

8. Bears — Quen­ton Nel­son, G, Notre Dame:

Af­ter spend­ing the last three months with an al­most sin­gu­lar fo­cus on aid­ing sec­ond-year quar­ter­back Mitchell Tru­bisky, Chicago should be over­joyed if Nel­son is on the board. A mauler in the run game with the foot­work and form to ex­cel in pass pro­tec­tion, Nel­son might have the high­est floor and ceil­ing of any prospect.

9. 49ers — Ro­quan Smith, LB, Ge­or­gia:

Reuben Fos­ter’s place on the team is un­der “great scru­tiny” af­ter he was charged with three felonies. Re­gard­less, the 49ers need play-mak­ing abil­ity and lead­er­ship at linebacker, and rangy Smith of­fers am­ple amounts of both.

10. Raiders — Tre­maine Edmunds, LB, Vir­ginia Tech:

Aid­ing 2016 de­fen­sive player of the year Khalil Mack is a pri­or­ity for Jon Gru­den, and Edmunds is the kind of player who can help re­di­rect at­ten­tion from op­pos­ing of­fenses. His su­per­sized frame (6-5, 253 pounds) and re­mark­able ath­leti­cism should make him an as­set both as a run stuffer and an edge rusher.

11. Dol­phins — Den­zel Ward, CB, Ohio State:

While Mi­ami might have more press­ing needs, a top-flight corner­back would be a wel­come ad­di­tion for a de­fense con­stantly try­ing to keep up with Tom Brady and the Pa­tri­ots pass­ing at­tack. Ward is the class of his po­si­tion and demon­strates both the flu­id­ity and ball skills to make life dif­fi­cult for all kinds of op­pos­ing re­ceivers.

12. Bills (from Ben­gals) — La­mar Jack­son, QB, Louisville:

With a press­ing need at quar­ter­back and five of the top 65 picks, Buf­falo seems like a solid bet to make an­other move to vault even higher af­ter al­ready ad­vanc­ing to this slot. If Buf­falo misses out on the first four quar­ter­backs, how­ever, Jack­son is the kind of dis­tinct tal­ent who the team can build an of­fense around — and might have to, given his elu­sive abil­ity as a run­ner and un­even show­ings as a pocket passer.

13. Red­skins — Vita Vea, DT, Wash­ing­ton:

There’s no ques­tion the NFL’s last-ranked run de­fense needs re­in­force­ments. At 6-4 and 347 pounds, Vea can clog lanes in the early go­ing while he learns to build on his im­pres­sive move­ment skills.

14. Pack­ers — Minkah Fitz­patrick, DB, Alabama:

New de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Mike Pet­tine places a pre­mium on keep­ing quar­ter­backs on their toes with a wide range of dif­fer­ent looks, and Fitz­patrick is the kind of ver­sa­tile piece he’d covet. Though the do-ev­ery­thing de­fen­sive back doesn’t fit the tra­di­tional role of a lock­down cor­ner on the out­side, Green Bay would find plenty of ways to cap­i­tal­ize on his in­tel­li­gence and clos­ing speed.

15. Car­di­nals — Calvin Ri­d­ley, WR, Alabama:

Ari­zona might have to wait un­til a later round to pull the trig­ger on a quar­ter­back. Ri­d­ley would add an­other di­men­sion as a deep threat to a po­ten­tially ex­plo­sive of­fense and pro­vide a needed op­tion be­yond Larry Fitzger­ald.

16. Ravens — Mar­cus Daven­port, DE, Texas-San An­to­nio:

Fac­ing his last draft in Bal­ti­more, Ozzie New­some might be in­clined to find Ter­rell Suggs’ suc­ces­sor with the mas­sive Daven­port, who’d be well-served by pass rush­ing classes at Ball So Hard Univer­sity.

17. Charg­ers — Leighton Van­der Esch, LB, Boise State:

No team gave up more yards per carry (4.9) last sea­son than the Bolts. Van­der Esch’s lat­eral speed and bat­ter­ing-ram hits would be a salve, es­pe­cially if he shows more re­straint in his pur­suit.

18. Seahawks — Josh Jack­son, CB, Iowa:

Once over­flow­ing with tal­ent in the sec­ondary, Pete Car­roll’s de­fense has en­tered a full-on re­build amid the de­par­ture of Richard Sher­man, among oth­ers. The Cover 3 scheme would af­ford Jack­son a role in which he could make lots of plays on the ball af­ter he led the Foot­ball Bowl Sub­di­vi­sion with eight in­ter­cep­tions in 2017.

19. Cow­boys — DJ Moore, WR, Mary­land:

Af­ter dis­patch­ing Dez Bryant, Dal­las has a need at wide re­ceiver too large to ig­nore. Moore thrives on cre­at­ing sep­a­ra­tion and pick­ing up yards af­ter the catch on out routes and screens, which would be a boon for Dak Prescott.

20. Lions — Harold Landry, DE-LB, Bos­ton Col­lege:

It would only be fit­ting for the Matt Pa­tri­cia era in Detroit to kick off with a pick from the New Eng­land area. What Landry lacks in a strength he makes up for with his ex­plo­sive burst and top-notch elas­tic­ity.

21. Ben­gals (from Bills) — James Daniels, C, Iowa:

The in­te­rior of Cincin­nati’s of­fen­sive line is still in dis­re­pair, and Daniels can serve as a sta­bi­liz­ing force for years.

22. Bills (from Chiefs) — Will Her­nan­dez, G, Texas El-Paso:

Richie Incog­nito’s re­tire­ment means the Bills are with­out their three best starters from last year’s of­fen­sive line. The pow­er­ful Her­nan­dez would open holes for LeSean McCoy, who av­er­aged less than 4 yards per carry for the first time in his ca­reer.

23. Pa­tri­ots (from Rams) — Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame:

With Nate Sol­der gone, New Eng­land could try to scrape by at left tackle with LaA­drian Wad­dle and Tony Gar­cia, last year’s third-round pick who missed the en­tire sea­son with blood clots in his lungs. But the bet­ter tac­tic might be to grab McGlinchey to keep the pres­sure off Brady (and his even­tual suc­ces­sor).

24. Pan­thers — Jaire Alexan­der, CB, Louisville:

Carolina needs some­one to fill the start­ing void op­po­site James Brad­berry, and Alexan­der is a sticky cover cor­ner whose ath­leti­cism and savvy will serve him well against an im­pos­ing ar­ray of NFC South re­ceivers.

25. Ti­tans — Sam Hub­bard, DE-LB, Ohio State:

Be­yond the Buck­eyes con­nec­tion, the slip­pery pass rusher might be just what Mike Vra­bel is look­ing for as he tries to ramp up the pres­sure in Year 1.

26. Fal­cons — Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama:

At­lanta has am­ple ath­leti­cism through­out its de­fense, but Payne will serve a needed role as a run stuffer who can han­dle the dirty work.

27. Saints — Hay­den Hurst, TE, South Carolina:

New Or­leans has flirted with find­ing an­other tight end for Drew Brees, and sure-handed Hurst could han­dle a start­ing role right away.

28. Steel­ers — Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama:

Re­plac­ing Ryan Shazier won’t be easy, but the ath­letic Evans can cover a lot of ground and shore up a de­fense with several holes up the mid­dle.

29. Jaguars — Isa­iah Wynn, G-OT, Ge­or­gia:

Even af­ter pony­ing up for An­drew Nor­well, Jack­sonville might look to fur­ther bol­ster its of­fen­sive line with fleet-footed Wynn, whose trun­cated build por­tends a move inside.

30. Vik­ings — Con­nor Williams, GOT, Texas:

A savvy pro­tec­tor, he could be a quick fill-in at guard with the po­ten­tial to be a left tackle down the road.

31. Pa­tri­ots — Der­rius Guice, RB, LSU:

Never afraid to take a flyer when tal­ent out­weighs cost, Bill Belichick could de­ploy the rugged run­ner be­tween the tack­les while he cre­ates mis­matches for James White and Rex Burk­head else­where.

32. Ea­gles — Dal­las Goed­ert, TE, South Dakota State:

With no press­ing needs, Philadel­phia can look to cre­ate fur­ther matchup prob­lems by grab­bing Goed­ert, who could be dif­fi­cult to de­fend along­side Zach Ertz and a tal­ented group of re­ceivers.


Sam Darnold, one of the most cov­eted play­ers in the draft, is pro­jected to go sec­ond in USA TO­DAY’s lat­est mock draft.

It ap­pears the Browns might not pass on Josh Allen at No. 1 when the three-day draft be­gins April 26.

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