Sam Darnold goes first in PFF’s early 2018 mock draft

PFF Senior Analyst Steve Palazzolo offers his first 2018 mock draft, featuring four QBs in the top 12.

| 3 weeks ago
(Otto Gruele Jr., Getty Images)

(Otto Gruele Jr., Getty Images)

Sam Darnold goes first in PFF’s early 2018 mock draft


We all love mock drafts, so let’s talk 2018.

On the surface, the quarterback class could be a big one, as there are a number of big names vying for spots in the first round. As is usually the case, each of the quarterbacks comes with their own requisite question marks and there are no sure things in the group as they all have developing to do to lock in their first-round status. Beyond quarterback, there appears to be talent at running back once again, a lot more potential along the offensive line, and another intriguing group of edge defenders.

Here’s a look at the way-too-early 2018 mock, with draft order taken specifically from Las Vegas odds. This mock represents what I would do with each pick, not necessarily a prediction of the future.

1. New York Jets

Sam Darnold, QB, USC

While he may not be the slam-dunk No. 1 overall that some are making him to be, Darnold had an outstanding redshirt freshman season and he’s poised to take another step forward in 2017. Darnold was outstanding under pressure, ranking sixth in the nation with a passer rating of 101.0 when pressured and, perhaps even more impressive, only 6.8 percent of his pressured snaps became sacks, second-best out of 133 qualifiers. The USC offense took off once Darnold took over last season, and while he was impressive in his debut, there’s still more work to do before he’s locked in at the top.

2. Cleveland Browns

Derwin James, S, Florida State

Perhaps the best player in the nation regardless of position, James is a do-it-all safety who was limited to only 100 snaps last season. He was incredible as a true freshman, grading at 91.1 to lead the nation’s safeties while lining up all over the defense. He adds a movable chess piece to the Cleveland defense, capable of stopping the run, playing man or zone coverage, and getting after the quarterback like an edge rusher. Expect James to be one of the most coveted players in the draft once he’s eligible.

3. San Francisco 49ers

Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State

Rudolph is often overlooked when citing the best quarterbacks in the class of 2018, but he has the best resume of the bunch after finishing eighth in the nation with an 86.7 grade in 2015 and second with a 92.7 grade last season. Rudolph still has some consistency issues to iron out, but he throws the ball very accurately outside the numbers and he’s handled pressure extremely well over the last two seasons. The 49ers exhibited patience with the quarterback class in 2017, but they can get their future signal-caller a year from now.

4. Chicago Bears

Arden Key, Edge, LSU

While Key sat out during spring drills, Key insists he’ll be back for the fall and the NFL will be watching him closely. He was the top-graded true freshman edge defender in 2015 (83.0) and his 87.8 overall grade is No. 2 among returning edge defenders. Key is a dynamic pass-rusher, picking up 16 sacks, 26 QB hits, and 70 hurries on 641 career rushes, and he’s been solid against the run. Expect even more pass-rush production while his work in the run game does have to take it up a notch to a secure a spot in the top five.

5. Los Angeles Rams

Connor Williams, OT, Texas

Williams stepped right in as the starting left tackle for Texas in 2015, leading all true freshmen with a 79.1 overall grade and he took his game to the next level last season with an 87.6 overall grade that ranked third in the nation. He’s a smooth pass protector, giving up only 20 hurries on 789 attempts in his career and he’s a strong run blocker both at the point of attack and at the second level. The Rams didn’t address their offensive line in this year’s draft, so expect it to be an emphasis in 2018.

6. Jacksonville Jaguars

Harold Landry, Edge, Boston College

Landry has continued to progress throughout his college career, ranking fifth in the nation against the run in 2015 before taking his pass-rushing to a new level in 2016 to finish seventh at 90.2 and his 89.7 overall grade is the highest of any returning edge defender from last season. He provides burst off the edge as the Jaguars continue to add pieces along their defensive front.

7. Buffalo Bills

Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

The Bills aren’t tied to QB Tyrod Taylor, so they go with the strong physical tools of Josh Allen. No quarterback threw a higher percentage of big-time throws last season, but he also had the 32nd-highest percentage of negatively graded throws out of 146 qualifiers. He still has to show a lot of growth in 2017 to warrant the first-round hype, but the arm, athleticism, and ability to throw on the run combine to tantalize evaluators if he can cut down on the mistakes.

8. Philadelphia Eagles

Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU

The Eagles will likely still be in the market to add weapons for QB Carson Wentz, and Sutton is has a combination of size and athleticism that shows up on the field. He uses his big, 6-foot-3 frame well, and he caught 45.7 percent of his deep targets last season, seventh-best among returning wide receivers.

9. Los Angeles Chargers

Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma

Brown broke out with a huge 2016 season, living up to his recruiting hype by allowing only six pressures on 438 pass block attempts while showing continued improvement in the run game. The Chargers took huge steps toward solidifying the interior of their offensive line in the 2017 draft and Brown adds a cornerstone piece at tackle.

10. Cincinnati Bengals

Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame

While the Bengals invested heavily in offensive tackle in the 2015 draft, they’ve yet to reap the rewards from either Cedric Ogbuehi or Jake Fisher, so there’s a good chance they’re looking for at least one tackle a year from now. McGlinchey would have been in first-round consideration had he come out this year and he’s a powerful run-blocker with experience at both left and right tackle.

11. Tennessee Titans

Christian Wilkins, DI, Clemson

Wilkins moves extremely well for a 300-pounder, so much so that Clemson used him to fill a gaping hole on the edge in 2016. His 2016 run-defense grade of 84.9 is tops among all returners and perhaps most impressive was his ability to pressure the quarterback off the edge with three sacks, eight QB hits, and 30 hurries. He’ll likely kick back to the interior at the next level where he should be a three-down player who can play the run and rush the passer.

12. Washington Redskins

Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville

If Washington does not re-up QB Kirk Cousins, they may be tapping into the deep quarterback market a year from now. Jackson is an elite runner who continues to improve as a passer where he’ll miss his fair share of throws, but he’ll also sprinkle in enough tight window throws to show his potential. Jackson has some similarities to Michael Vick as they both have angle-changing speed and they’re both inconsistent passers, but the league may be more conducive for Jackson’s game than ever before.

13. Miami Dolphins

Maurice Hurst, DI, Michigan

One of the many productive defensive linemen at Michigan, Hurst may be the best of the bunch after dominating on 760 snaps over the last two seasons. He can win with quickness and technique right off the snap, resulting in seven sacks, 15 QB hits, and 42 hurries on 442 rushes while ranking among the nation’s top run defenders in each of the last two years. Miami continues the youth movement along their defensive line.

14. New Orleans Saints

Bradley Chubb, Edge, NC State

Chubb has two excellent years of film at NC State and his 85.6 overall grade ranks third among returning edge defenders. He’s stout against the run and he’s picked up 18 sacks, 16 QB hits, and 54 hurries on his 677 rushes over the last two years and he’s poised to take yet another step forward in 2017. The Saints will still be looking for defensive playmakers, so he’ll be a good fit.

15. Detroit Lions

Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

2018 presents yet another strong running back class, with Penn State’s Saquon Barkley right at the top. He led the nation in elusive rating as a true freshman in 2015 and followed that up with the No. 8 overall grade in the nation in 2016, at 85.0. Barkley can make an impact as a runner and a receiver, and he’s dynamic in the open field, adding a versatile playmaker to the Detroit offense.

16. Arizona Cardinals

Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

Many thought the Cardinals would be in the market for a quarterback in 2017, but they held off and more than likely have to address the positon next season. Rosen was once expected to be the No. 1 overall pick, but his college career has had its ups and downs. He’s still a polished passer in the pocket, and he was off to a strong start before going down due to injury in Week 6. New offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch may be just what he needs to get back on track.

17. Minnesota Vikings

Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame

While the Vikings brought in competition at guard in the 2017 draft, there’s still room to improve and Nelson would have been one of the top guard prospects had he come out this season. He’s a powerful run-blocker and excellent at locating targets on the move, and his 86.4 overall grade ranked fourth among guards in 2016.

18. Indianapolis Colts

Derrius Guice, RB, LSU

Guice carried the LSU running game when RB Leonard Fournette got hurt last season, finishing fifth in the nation with an elusive rating of 111.7 as he forced 48 missed tackles on only 183 rushes. He’ll add a big-play element to the Colts’ rushing attack while doubling as a threat out of the backfield in the pass game.

19. Baltimore Ravens

Vita Vea, DI, Washington

At a listed 346 pounds, Vea moves well for a big man and he excels in the run game while showing more than most big men as a pass-rusher. He finished at 85.4 overall last season on only 433 snaps and he picked up five sacks, three QB hits, and 22 hurries on 232 rushes.

20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB, Alabama

Fitzpatrick has played primarily in the slot for Alabama, but he has the skills to line up all over the field. He had the No. 7 overall grade in the nation last season at 87.4, allowing a passer rating of only 37.8 on throws into his coverage while intercepting six passes and breaking up eight others. Fitzpatrick fits the mold of the versatile coverage defender coveted by the NFL.

21. Carolina Panthers

Frank Ragnow, C, Arkansas

With center Ryan Kalil getting up there in age, it makes sense to look toward the future at center for the Panthers. Ragnow was the nation’s best center last season, finishing at 89.4 overall. He’s strong at the point of attack and smooth at the second level, and he has the versatility to play any position along the interior.

22. Buffalo Bills (from Kansas City Chiefs)

James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State

Washington would have been a coveted receiver in the 2017 draft, but he returned to school and will be in the first-round mix in 2018. With Sammy Watkins headed to free agency in 2018, Washington brings his shifty route-running and knack for getting open down the field (690 yards on deep passes ranked sixth in the nation last season) to Buffalo to pair with 2017 second-rounder Zay Jones.

23. New York Giants

Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia

Chubb looked like a future first-round pick as a true freshman in 2014, but a 2015 injury and 2016 recovery season slowed some of that hype. Expect a bounce back next season as at Chubb’s best, he runs with power and speed while maximizing what the offensive line gives him on every run.

24. Denver Broncos

Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Edge, Oklahoma

Denver’s defense can never have too many edge rushers, and Okoronkwo brings pass-rush ability and some coverage experience. He had nine sacks, 14 QB hits, and 36 hurries despite rushing the passer only 262 times while taking strides as a run defender.

25. Cleveland Browns (from Houston Texans)

Tarvarus McFadden, CB, Florida State

McFadden has had his ups and downs, but with a 6-foot-2 frame, eight interceptions, and seven pass breakups last season, he has the NFL’s attention. He’ll have to cut back on some of the big plays that he gave up, but he has the length to play press man and adds a playmaker to the Cleveland secondary.

26. Oakland Raiders

Derrick Nnadi, DI, Florida State

Nnadi has been strong against the run on his 1,142 career snaps, but he added eight sacks, three QB hits, and 19 hurries as a pass-rusher last season. Oakland still has work to do in the middle of the defense and he adds another piece to a unit that continues to improve.

27. Seattle Seahawks

Bo Scarbrough, RB, Alabama

Scarbrough looked like a man among boys at times last season, posting an elusive rating of 147.3 with 40 forced missed tackles on only 125 rushes. Scarbrough has the size and speed to dominate next season and put himself on the first-round radar and the Seahawks offense would be scary with him paired next to QB Russell Wilson in the backfield.

28. Green Bay Packers

Jerome Baker, LB, Ohio State

It’s fun mocking linebackers to the Packers every year, even if they won’t actually make the move. But it’s my mock, and what I’d do, so the Packers get a back-7 playmaker in Baker who ranked 11th in the nation with an 86.5 overall grade last season. He was strong both against the run and in coverage while adding 16 pressures, including four sacks, as a pass-rusher, showing potential three-down ability at the next level.

29. Pittsburgh Steelers

Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville

Alexander burst onto the scene last year with five interceptions and nine pass breakups (tied for seventh in the nation) while finishing seventh among cornerbacks at 87.4 overall. He adds a playmaker on the back end for Pittsburgh as they still have work to do to get the defense back to its desired form.

30. Atlanta Falcons

Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis

Miller may be a surprise at this spot, but he explodes in and out of his breaks and he’s been a reliable weapon for the Memphis offense over the last two years. He can provide a good route-running presence at the intermediate level and he’s only dropped 11 of his 153 catchable targets in his career.

31. Dallas Cowboys

Tyquan Lewis, Edge, Ohio State

Dallas goes back to the edge rusher well with Lewis who put up 10 sacks, seven QB hits, and 34 hurries on only 315 rushes. After adding Taco Charlton in the 2017 draft, Lewis brings another edge rush threat to a defense that has re-shaped its ability to defend the pass.

32. New England Patriots

Trenton Thompson, DI, Georgia

Thompson has been one of the best run-stopping defensive linemen in the nation over the last two years, ranking in the top-six in run stop percentage in both years. If Thompson can improve as a pass-rusher, he’ll certainly be in the first-round mix, but even as an early-down run stopper, he’s a valuable piece for a New England defense that thrives in winning in the trenches on early downs.

| Senior Analyst

Steve is a senior analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has been featured on ESPN Insider, NBC Sports, and 120 Sports.

  • Joe Doe

    “It’s fun mocking linebackers to the Packers every year, even if they won’t actually make the move.” So true!

  • Joe Doe

    “It’s fun mocking linebackers to the Packers every year, even if they won’t actually make the move.” So true!

  • Joe Doe

    I challenge the underlying assumption that the same NFC South team will win the division as the year before by invoking “NFC South Flavor of the Year Theory”

    • Flash_Cyborg2

      Hey now, Carolina won three years in a row. That was the combo breaker.

  • Joe Doe

    I challenge the underlying assumption that the same NFC South team will win the division as the year before by invoking “NFC South Flavor of the Year Theory”

  • Drew

    Outside of size, whats the knock on Baker Mayfield? He graded as the best qb the last 2 years and you have like 5 guys ahead of him…..its silly. Neither Brees, Wilson, Taylor had even close to the kind of college career Mayfield is having. He has the arm strength and accuracy, and he can throw on the run better than anyone in this class. Knocking him because of 2 inches of height is ridiculous. Im pretty sure hes peeking over 6-6 lineman right now at OU and its not causing an issue……

    • Ty

      Mayfield is a bum. Rudolph is 10x the QB. Mayfield is surrounded by 5 star recruits and the best money can buy. Rudolph is the product of good coaching, arm talent, and instincts. Rudolph will be a top 3 pick. Mayfield may be a 2 rounder if hes lucky. He will be just like every other qb who runs good and throws ok, he will get hit by the biggest and best in the nfl and change his mind.

      • William Schulte

        Rudolph is 10x the QB Mayfield is? I’m trying to figure out which QB has been in the running for Heisman 2 years in a row, is PFF’s #1 returning college player, and has smoked their rival. Hint: It’s not Mason Rudolph

        • Andre Taylor

          Bro i dont necessarily agree with Ty’s thoughts about Baker Mayfield. But i will say that you are way off, there hasn’t been a QB from a blue blood program who was surrounded by 4 and 5star talent, that has went to the NFL and become a star. The last 2 that have even come close were Carson Palmer from USC, and Sam Bradford from Oklahoma. There is a reason why that is, the QB that come from blue blood programs are vastly overrated, been surrounded by 4 and 5star talent makes those QB’s look alot better than they truly are. Masking their deficiency, and boosting their overall skillset. Looking at the QB’s that succeed in the NFL, like Aaron Rodgers, Drew Bree’s, Phillip Rivers, Russell Wilson, Derek Carr, Ben Roesthisburger, and Dak Prescott last year. Come from programs that have average to slightly above-average talent, and they talent, skillset, and leadership that makes the others around them better. Jamius Winston has done fairly well has done fairly well, but Florida State isn’t considered a blue blood program. Mason Rudolph will end up being a much better Pro QB, Baker Mayfield will be much like most of the QB’s that have come out of Oklahoma. He will struggle with trying to run a PRO-STYLE OFFENSE, because that spread offense they run doesn’t translate over to the NFL.

          • William Schulte

            Kinda awkward when Flacco, Cam, Alex Smith, Mariota, Carr, Mahomes, Watson, and even Drew Brees to an extent all played in spread offenses in college. Yet, Mahomes and Watson TBD, those guys seem to be doing just fine. I’ll agree with you on the blue bloods point, but you can’t simply write off a QB because they come from a blue blood program. Montana played for Notre Dame and Brady played for Michigan

          • Andre Taylor

            I never said that all spread offenses QB’s can’t be successful in the NFL. It is rare that a QB coming from those blue blood programs dont usually translate well to the NFL. First Tom Brady, and Joe Montana were not highly regarded coming out of college. Both came from Pro-Style offenses in college, and went in the 3rd and 6th round, which makes a hugh difference. Also there is a big difference from running a shotgun, Pro-Style offense, verses a college air-raid spread offense. Like what Pat Mahomes ran at Texas Tech, do the research friend. There has never been a successful QB in the NFL that comes from that type of offense. FYI, there is a big difference between a shotgun based offense, then the Air-Raid Spread offense that is taking over college football. Also like i said before, it is very rare that a QB comes from a blue blood program, surrounded by 4 and 5star recruites. Then comes to the NFL and lives up to the hype

    • William Schulte

      You’re completely echoing my thoughts exactly.

  • Drew

    Outside of size, whats the knock on Baker Mayfield? He graded as the best qb the last 2 years and you have like 5 guys ahead of him…..its silly. Neither Brees, Wilson, Taylor had even close to the kind of college career Mayfield is having. He has the arm strength and accuracy, and he can throw on the run better than anyone in this class. Knocking him because of 2 inches of height is ridiculous. Im pretty sure hes peeking over 6-6 lineman right now at OU and its not causing an issue……

  • GBPFan12

    They usually just move Safeties to Linebacker in nickle/dime packages.
    They’ve got 3 decent guys in Ryan, Martinez and Thomas….

    I think the Packers should go get Clay’s replacement in next year’s draft.

    • Andre Taylor

      My friend GM Ted Thompson has screwed your Packers hard and deep, with his prehistoric thought process. Year after year allowing homegrown talent walk out the door, or like he did last year cutting pro-bowl LG Josh Sitton. Im not even a Packers fan, but there is no denying that Aaron Rodgers is the best QB in the NFL. For him despite all of his talent to only have 1 Super Bowl ring, is nothing short of a disgrace. With Thompson being the egomanical jackass that he is, refusing to add veteran free agents. Not that he should go out and over spend, or kill the Packers cap-space with huge contracts. But to either resign their own free agents or bring in other talented players. But to think year after year that he can draft a rookie, or push an inexperienced player into a role he is ill-equipped to handle is not only unfair to Rodgers, but also unfair to the fanbase. OLB Clay Matthews was well on his way to a HOF career, but because Thompson refuse to bring in a veteran MLB, choosing to try and make a 4th round kid in Jake Ryan try and man the position, shifting Matthews back and forth between ILB and OLB. The pounding and overall grind beat up Matthews body, now he is injury prone. Although he is still a decent player, he may never reach his full potential. Its moves like this that is the reason your Packers only have 1 Super Bowl ring during Rodgers time as the starting QB. Its sad

  • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

    you guys are down on the chargers, i think they could surprise in 2017

  • Vic Shimmy

    Who are these new GM & HC in Seattle that are using a late 1st round pick at all, let alone on a RB?

  • Trey Bates

    lol the Cowboys going to the super bowl? trash mock

    • Andre Taylor

      Trey i am not a Cowboys , im a Ravens fan. However as a football fan i have to appreciate what one draft did for your Cowboys as a team. Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott changed the culture there in Dallas. Stephen Jones has Dallas in the thick of the Super Bowl discussion. I dont know if they will go this year, but they sure will be right there.

  • Nut Niner

    Looks like every mock I’ve seen gave the NINERS a different qb…hell I say dl again then…lol!

  • Detective Rust Cohle

    Ok Minnesota is not better than Detroit. Lions are arguably the best team in the division at this point, Rodgers the only thing that may prevent them from taking division crown.