The NFL Scouting Combine is a chance for heroes to be born – or to fall. Some players rose well above what was expected, and others (see: the projected first-overall pick) simply reaffirmed their incredible athleticism.
Here’s a look at how the first round could look come April:
1. Cleveland Browns – Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
It doesn’t matter that there have been plenty of “late-round gems” at running back over the past few years; the best rule of the draft is draft the best player available. Barkley was a top-tier talent before his freakish combine, and there will be top-tier QB talent for the Browns at No. 4.
2. New York Giants – Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
Rosen actually reminds me a bit of Eli Manning – high football IQ, great pocket passer, inscrutable personality. Whatever new coach Pat Shurmur says, the Giants have to be thinking about life after Eli. Rosen can sit for a year or two before taking the reins.
3. Indianapolis Colts – Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State
As the Colts’ never-ending search for difference-makers on defense continues, they’d be thrilled to grab the best pass rusher in the draft. Chubb would be the best defensive lineman for Indianapolis since Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney hunted quarterbacks.
4. Cleveland Browns – Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
Sam Darnold is still available, but Hue Jackson falls in love with the biggest arm to be available in the draft since JaMarcus Russell. But don’t let that comparison fool you – Allen has all the talent to be the next big thing at quarterback. Having Barkley and Allen gives the Browns the best young nucleus they’ve had in a decade.
5. Denver Broncos – Sam Darnold, QB, USC
If the quarterback considered by many to be the best available falls to the Broncos, John Elway will jump for joy. Denver probably doesn’t have enough money to lure in Kirk Cousins, so why not snag the clutch playmaker in Darnold and give the Broncos the best California quarterback they’ve had since, well, Elway himself.
6. New York Jets – Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
This is a case of a player being over-drafted based on need. Mayfield has all the tools and confidence to be a great quarterback, but lacks ideal size and arm strength. On the other hand, how much would Mayfield thrive in the big media scene of the Big Apple? This seems like a perfect match on all sides – and you can’t deny the big-play ability.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
The best player in the defensive backfield available in the draft, Fitzpatrick is an immediate starter for the Buccaneers. If they draft defense now and get a running back in the middle rounds, maybe we’ll finally see the turnaround that’s been promised every year since Jameis Winston was drafted.
8. Chicago Bears – Quentin Nelson, OG, Notre Dame
The Bears might have the most underrated stable of running backs in the league. Headlined by Jordan Howard and rookie sensation Tarik Cohen, Chicago has the tools to be a hard-nosed running team under new coach Matt Nagy. Adding Nelson gives two great runners a big, strong body to run behind.
9. San Francisco 49ers – Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
Alabama wide receivers have had a history of success over the past few years (see: Julio Jones and Amari Cooper), and Ridley should be no exception. This isn’t the strongest year for wideouts, but Ridley has the size and strength to become new quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s go-to guy for years to come.
10. TRADE – Buffalo Bills – Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
The Bills give up both of their first-round picks this year and a third-round pick next year to vault ahead of the Dolphins, Bengals, and Cardinals to grab Jackson. A raw but explosive talent, Buffalo could let Jackson sit and learn behind Tyrod Taylor for a year before taking over – it seems like Taylor and the Bills are destined for a divorce, anyways.
11. Miami Dolphins – Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
The Dolphins desperately need a QB, but this is not the place to draft anyone who’s left. So for now, Miami grabs the most exciting linebacker in the draft – and a potential difference-maker behind their fierce defensive line.
12. Cincinnati Bengals – Vita Vea, DT, Washington
Geno Atkins isn’t getting any younger, and the Bengals need an infusion of talent along the defensive side of the ball. Vea is an absolute beast – and potentially the best defensive player in the draft. The Bengals could do worse than pair Atkins and Vea for the twilight of the former’s career.
13. Washington Redskins – Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
You don’t want Kirk Cousins, fine – at least give Alex Smith someone to throw the ball to. Smith saw success in Kansas City after they finally decided to surround him with strong playmakers. Sutton is a big-bodied wideout with lots of upside, and should immediately become the best receiver on the roster.
14. Green Bay Packers – Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
New defensive coordinator Mike Pettine would be licking his chops if the hyper-energetic Smith fell this far. A star at Georgia, Smith should be a plug-and-play player for a Packers linebacking corps that needs a spark.
15. Arizona Cardinals – Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
The big run of quarterbacks early on means some really good players fall a little bit, and Ward is no exception. If the Cardinals don’t make a move for the passer of their dreams, Ward would be more than just a consolation prize for the Arizona defense to combat the suddenly pass-happy NFC West.
16. Baltimore Ravens – Christian Kirk, WR, Texas
The Ravens have swung and missed at freaky athlete receivers (see: Breshad Perriman), so why not take the receiver considered one of the most polished route runners in the draft? There are some who think he’s the best receiver in the draft, period. Baltimore has to take him if he’s there at this point.
17. Los Angeles Chargers – Derwin James, S, Florida State
Los Angeles lost a lot of close games last season, but they came together by the end of the year. Philip Rivers and the offense actually look pretty solid, and last year’s first-round pick Mike Williams will be at full health this year. In James, they can get a freakishly athletic, hard-hitting safety to roam the defensive backfield and bolster the weaker part of the team.
18. Seattle Seahawks – Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
How can one not match the Seahawks with one of the best remaining offensive linemen available? Russell Wilson needs better protection than he got last year, and the line needs to open up more holes for the run. Wilson’s deadly even when he has zero time – imagine him with a clean pocket.
19. Dallas Cowboys – Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA
Davenport had a strong combine showing, and the Cowboys just used the franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence. Worst-case scenario, Lawrence has a down year and Davenport can step up. Best-case scenario, Davenport and Lawrence wreak havoc on the star quarterbacks in the rest of the NFC East.
20. Detroit Lions – Harold Landry, DE, Boston College
The Lions absolutely need someone young to pair with Ziggy Ansah, and Landry is a pass rusher, pure and simple. Detroit’s defensive backfield has become a strength over the past few years, but what better way to help out the pass defense than with pressure up front?
21. Oakland Raiders – Connor Williams, OT, Texas
After trading down with Buffalo, Oakland could go a lot of different directions at this point in the draft. But left tackle Donald Penn is coming off foot surgery, and right tackle Marshall Newhouse was hit and miss last year. Williams gives the Raiders depth, and a player to develop into the future.
22. Oakland Raiders – Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
A weak combine pushes Jackson down in the first round, but not out. If you look at the tape, Jackson might not have breakaway speed, but he’s a sticky cover corner. The Raiders have needed secondary help for a while, and Jackson still looks like one of the best available options here.
23. Los Angeles Rams – Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State
Besides Cooper Kupp and the shockingly useful Robert Woods, who did Jared Goff have to throw to last year? It looks like the Rams are going to let Sammy Watkins walk in free agency, Goedert gets knocked a bit because he didn’t play in a major conference, but he’s a big six-foot-five red zone target for Goff.
24. Carolina Panthers – James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State
Cam Newton needs someone who can stretch the field, and that’s pretty much Washington’s favorite pastime. A prototypical deep threat, Washington should be a good fit to take over the WR2 position across from Devin Funchess, who has been steadily improving.
25. Tennessee Titans – Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama
Payne is without a doubt one of the best interior linemen available in the draft – and if Tennessee can get him here, they’ll be thrilled. True, they might have wanted a wideout to pair with Mariota, but the pass catcher position is deep in the middle rounds. Payne is a vicious run-stuffer who has the potential to impact the passing game of defenses.
26. Atlanta Falcons – Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma
Brown takes a tumble thanks to a dismal performance at the combine, but someone will take a look at him based on his great game tape. Atlanta plays in a division with some surprisingly feisty pass rushers, and the longer the Falcons can keep Matt Ryan upright the better their chances for success.
27. New Orleans Saints – Arden Key, DE, LSU
Speaking of NFC South pass rushers, why not keep the polarizing Key in-state and give the Saints another strong pass-rushing threat to pair with Cameron Jordan. Key didn’t run the 40-yard dash at the combine, but his speed and explosiveness jump off the tape.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers – Sony Michel, RB, Georgia
Will the Steelers ever pay Le’Veon Bell what he wants? They just franchise tagged him again, so those negotiations might get messy. In the meantime, why not grab one of the most versatile running back prospects in the draft who lit up defenses for Georgia in the College Football Playoff.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars – Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina
Keeping Blake Bortles? Fine. Then give him more to throw at. Hurst and Goedert are the two best tight ends in the draft, but Goedert gets the edge here because Hurst is already 24 years old. Nonetheless, Jacksonville’s current starting tight end is Marcedes Lewis, so 24 doesn’t really seem too old.
30. Minnesota Vikings – Mike Hughes, CB, UCF
If the Vikings are set to lose Terence Newman (age 40) this offseason, then coach Mike Zimmer needs some more playmakers on the back end to keep up with Matt Stafford and Aaron Rodgers. Hughes is quick and smart, and has potential to contribute on special teams as well.
31. New England Patriots – Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
Hurst feels like the prototypical New England Patriots pick: talented, tough, fell in the draft for weak reasons, and finds a home with the defensive line-needy Pats. Hurst should be an immediate starter for Belichick if the Patriots aren’t able to trade out of this spot.
32. Philadelphia Eagles – Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
The Eagles got a gem in Jay Ajayi, but let’s set the defending Super Bowl champs up with more firepower. Guice has the playmaking potential to run the ball to the edge and play a role in the passing game. I could also see the Eagles reloading at offensive tackle with this pick.
Thoughts on the picks? Who would you like your team to take? Discuss in the comments below!
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