The NFL Draft will be held April 26-28 at AT&T Stadium, and the media pundits all have weighed in with various versions of their mock drafts. We do things a bit differently here at STATS.
Using a variety of proprietary metrics, STATS weighed current roster rankings, team needs and player-specific performance statistics to translate how a potential draft pick will fit with teams throughout the draft order. Instead of making predictions for which player a specific team will select, STATS based its mock draft on who a team should pick when factoring in all the metrics.
You won’t find us discussing 40-yard dash times or bench-press records. Instead you’ll notice terms such as Pass Pro Opportunities, which is a situational metric STATS created describing the number of chances for pass protection based on game situation, QB release time and play concept. Or Burn Rating, which is like a QB rating for pass coverage, looking at preventing quality passing plays on passes thrown into a player’s coverage area.
The following is STATS’ version of how the first round would play out if STATS held the GM role for every NFL team.
1 – Cleveland Browns (32 – STATS roster rank heading into 2018)
Needs: QB, OT, MLB, EDGE, DL
QB – Sam Darnold (USC)
The Browns need good players – as many as possible – but the need for a QB trumps all other positions. They pick the next “QB of the Future” in Cleveland. Josh Allen is a popular possibility here, but he’s brimming with question marks and accuracy issues, and the Browns cannot afford to continue taking risks at QB. Darnold had issues with turnovers in 2017, but he’s got the arm talent to succeed in the NFL. He was the ninth-most accurate QB in the Power 5 by STATS’ adjusted accuracy metric – on-target passes adjusted for distance thrown downfield – and had 16 TDs against just one interception in the red zone.
2 – New York Giants (30)
Needs: WR, RB, OT, CB, EDGE
QB – Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma)
The Giants could do so many different things with this pick. However, as this mock doesn’t predict trades and Eli Manning isn’t getting any younger, the Giants go with market value and draft Eli’s replacement. Mayfield isn’t the physically gifted specimen we often see drafted in the top 5, but he’s such a gamer. He was a top 10 QB in avoiding sacks, with just 8 percent of pressures resulting in sacks (FBS average is 16.5) while amassing 43 TD passes.
3 – New York Jets (26)
Needs: QB, TE, OT, OG, EDGE
QB – Josh Rosen (UCLA)
The Jets haven’t had a franchise QB in decades, and they get one here who might be the best in the draft. He’s athletic enough, but it’s his accuracy that makes him so appealing. He was the fourth-most accurate QB in the Power 5 last season by STATS adjusted accuracy metric.
4 – Cleveland Browns (32)
EDGE – Bradley Chubb (NC State)
The Browns were the least efficient pressuring team off the edge in 2017. Myles Garrett was good, but the Browns could use an upgrade across from him. Chubb may be the most complete complete EDGE defender in the draft. He was the only EDGE in the power 5 who was in the top 10 in both pressures per opportunity (sixth) and disruptions per opportunity (fifth), which is STATS’ version of a pressure on a run play.
5 – Denver Broncos (27)
Needs: WR, RB, TE, OT, OG, CB, DL
OG – Quenton Nelson (Notre Dame)
Yes, that’s a lot of needs on offense, and the Broncos should really just take the best option available. Nelson is a stud. He helped the Notre Dame offensive line win the Joe Moore Award, provide an average of more than four yards before contact to their running backs, and he allowed just seven pressures in 225 pass pro opportunities in one of the toughest offensive schemes to block in. He and Ronald Leary can make for one of the best guard duos in the NFL.
6 – Indianapolis Colts (25)
Team Needs: RB, TE, OT, OG, S, DL
RB – Saquon Barkley (Penn State)
The Colts’ defense wasn’t bad last season, but their offense was brutal. They could use help on the offensive line, but it’s a bit of a reach to take any of the remaining offensive linemen at No. 6. Instead, they take the most dynamic offensive skill player in the draft. Yes, taking a running back with a top 10 pick is generally risky, but Barkley is also a dynamic receiver, and with enough targets he effectively becomes a top receiver in the league (See: Kamara, Alvin 2017).
7 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers (18)
Team Needs: MLB, CB, S, EDGE
CB – Denzel Ward (Ohio State)
The Bucs’ defensive backfield was atrocious last season, and the outlook for 2018 still looks pretty grim. The need to take the best defender on the board. At this point, that’s Ward. The former Ohio State standout was burned on just 22 percent of passes thrown into his coverage (national average for a CB was 49) and posted a DB rating – STATS’ version of a QB rating for DBs, but in this case having a lower number is better – of 81 when the average for CBs nationally was 171. To put that in more perspective, he was almost a full standard deviation better than the next best CB in 2017.
8 – Chicago Bears (16)
Team Needs: WR, OG, OT, S
WR – Calvin Ridley (Alabama)
The Bears need help on offense, even with the additions of Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton. Ridley played in a run-heavy offense at Alabama with a QB who was a below-average thrower, but when he got his opportunities, he was the most productive receiver in the college ranks. Nearly 80 percent of the time the ball was thrown to him he produced a quality play. He also led the FBS in WR rating (the higher the number, the better this time around).
9 – San Francisco 49ers (14)
Team Needs: OG, MLB, S, EDGE
EDGE – Marcus Davenport (UTSA)
Davenport may be a risk, but his ceiling is sky-high. In 2017, he generated 51 pressures in 146 pass rushing opportunities. That 35 percent pressure rate is 2.5 times the standard for EDGE players in the FBS. Additionally, he was a stellar run defender, pacing all EDGE players in disruption percentage. Sure, he did it against lower competition, but he has an NFL body, plays a premium position, and has a chance to take the Niners’ line from good to great.
10 – Oakland Raiders (29)
Team Needs: WR, RB, OT, CB, S, MLB, EDGE, DL
CB – Josh Jackson (Iowa)
Defense. The Raiders need defense. Their offense has some holes, but their defense is porous. Jackson is a big corner with a nose for the ball and fills one of the many openings on this defense. Jackson had a highly productive college career, capped off by a senior season where he finished fourth in DB rating.
11 – Miami Dolphins (31)
Team Needs: TE, OG, S, MLB, EDGE
S – Derwin James (Florida State)
The Dolphins have a lot of needs, and they address perhaps more than one by taking Derwin James. James played all over the field during his tenure at Florida State. He can play safety in the base package, but also slide into the nickel role, or at dime linebacker. His versatility will do wonders for a team that needs a little bit of help in a lot of places.
12 – Buffalo Bills (20)
Team Needs: WR, OG, OC, CB, MLB, DL
MLB – Roquan Smith (Georgia)
MLB is a no-brainer for the Bills. Their current combination of Tanner Vallejo, Matt Milano, and the ageless Lorenzo Alexander is not going to cut it. Smith can fly, and it shows in his ability to cover.
13 – Washington Redskins (22)
Team Needs: OG, CB, S, EDGE, DL
S – Minkah Fitzpatrick (Alabama)
Like the Dolphins, the Redskins get a player who can serve in a variety of roles. Fitzpatrick spent most of his time at slot CB for the Crimson Tide, where he was an excellent player, but also spent time at free safety and sub-package linebacker.
14 – Green Bay Packers (19)
Team Needs: OG, CB, MLB, DL
CB – Jaire Alexander (Louisville)
Since losing Sam Shields and Casey Heyward two years ago, the Packers have been consistently at the bottom of the league in pass defense. They got Kevin King last year, but still need more playmakers in the secondary. Alexander had some injuries in 2017, but he was incredibly productive while on the field. If he had enough targets to qualify, he would have been the fifth-most productive corner in the FBS.
15 – Arizona Cardinals (23)
Team Needs: WR, OT, OG, CB, MLB, EDGE
QB – Lamar Jackson (Louisville)
The Cardinals are in a bad spot. The have holes everywhere, but they have to address the future of quarterback in Phoenix. Lamar Jackson is an unbelievable athlete with holes in his game, but the Cardinals are in a position to let him sit and learn for a year or two.
16 – Baltimore Ravens (13)
Team Needs: WR, RB, TE, OT, EDGE
OT – Mike McGlinchey (Notre Dame)
The Ravens could use some skill players, and could reach for a TE at this pick. However, McGlinchey is the best value. He’s a good pass protector, but he’s a supreme run blocker, which makes him an ideal right tackle. He can start right away, and having McGlinchey and Marshal Yanda blocking next to each other could open up some huge holes for the offense.
17 – Los Angeles Chargers (1)
Team Needs: OG, DL
DT – Vita Vea (Washington)
The Chargers have a stacked roster already, so they can pick one of the best players on their board without having to think about need. Coincidentally, this pick also fills a need. The Chargers DL is loaded, but they’ve been missing a 1-tech. Vea is a stout run defender, but he also generates pressure at an alarmingly high rate (34 pressures in 146 pass rush opportunities, tops among DTs). A line of Bosa, Ingram, Liuget, and Vea is frightening.
18 – Seattle Seahawks (9)
Team Needs: OT, OG, EDGE, DL
OT – Connor Williams (Texas)
The Seahawks OL is in a constant state of disarray. They’re not quite as bad as they’re portrayed, but they certainly aren’t good. Williams was injured in 2017, but had a great 2016, and can start from Day 1 at either guard or tackle, if the Hawks want to kick Germain Ifedi inside.
19 – Dallas Cowboys (7)
Team Needs: WR, TE, CB, DL
DT – Maurice Hurst (Michigan)
The Cowboys defensive line last year was held afloat by Demarcus Lawrence, who had a season for the ages, but they need more pass rush from players who aren’t Lawrence. Hurst adds burst to the interior of the line, which has been thin for the last few seasons, and provides both pass rush (second-most productive DT in 2017) and run stuffing (most productive DT in 2017).
20 – Detroit Lions (28)
Team Needs: OC, CB, MLB, EDGE, DL
EDGE – Harold Landry (Boston College)
The Lions need help all over the defense, but none more than at rush end. Ziggy Ansah is back, but he’s been hot and cold the last two years, and the space opposite him has been a black hole. Landry had a “down” year in 2017 by his standards, but that’s partly because his 2016 season set such a high bar. He was the second-most efficient EDGE player in 2016, accumulating 48 pressures in 153 opportunities.
21 – Cincinnati Bengals (11)
Team Needs: OT, EDGE
MLB – Tremaine Edmunds (Virginia Tech)
The Bengals have a well-rounded roster. They could use some more help at tackle, but there isn’t a tackle prospect worth taking with Edmunds still on the board. Just 19 years old, Edmunds has a high ceiling. When he gets beat, it’s his inexperience and he gets beat badly, but he doesn’t get beat that often. He had the highest difference between burn percentage and burn rating among middle linebackers.
22 – Buffalo Bills (20)
OG – Isaiah Wynn (Georgia)
The retirements of Eric Wood and Richie Incognito have put the Bills in a tough situation with regards to their offensive line. Wynn has experience at both guard and tackle during his college career, but he’s also been productive at both. He allowed just 5 pressures in 193 pass pro opportunities as Georgia’s starting left tackle in 2017.
23 – New England Patriots (10)
Team Needs: WR, OT, MLB, DL
MLB – Rashaan Evans (Alabama)
The Pats fill a huge need on defense, and it’s with a player who can fit right in with the Patriots’ scheme. The Patriots love to move their linebackers around, and while Evans was an inside linebacker for the Crimson Tide last year, he spent a lot of time on the line of scrimmage as a rush end. He’ll pair well with Dont’a Hightower.
24 – Carolina Panthers (21)
Team Needs: WR, TE, OT, OG, CB, S
OG – Will Hernandez (UTEP)
The Panthers lost Andrew Norwell via free agency, and they get his replacement here. Hernandez absolutely dominated Group of 5 play in 2017 as the best statistical pass and run blocker at guard. The Panthers’ run-heavy scheme makes this a high-value pick.
25 – Tennessee Titans (15)
Team Needs: WR, OG, S, EDGE
EDGE – Arden Key (LSU)
The Titans have vastly improved their roster over the last two seasons, going from one of the most depleted rosters in 2016 to one that’s in the top half of the league going into next season. One area they can stand to improve is their pass rush. Key has had a plethora of off-the-field questions, but his play on the field has left little to be desired. In limited time in 2017 he had 28 pressures on 88 pass rushing opportunities, which would have been tops in the power 5, had he qualified.
26 – Atlanta Falcons (4)
Team Needs: OG, CB, MLB, DL
DT – Taven Bryan (Florida)
Bryan is a Dan Quinn type of player; great get-off and outstanding effort. The Falcons have one of the best rosters in the NFL heading into the 2018 season, but they can shore up their run defense and get even more pressure on the QBs in the NFC South.
27 – New Orleans Saints (12)
Team Needs: OG, CB, MLB, DL
CB – Mike Hughes (UCF)
The Saints had a largely improved defense in 2017, but there are still a few holes to fill. Hughes is small, but can give the Saints a lockdown secondary. He had a great 2017, finishing as the ninth-best CB in the FBS.
28 – Pittsburgh Steelers (5)
Team Needs: TE, MLB, EDGE, DL
MLB – Leighton Vander Esch (Boise State)
With Ryan Shazier done for the foreseeable future, the Steelers need to add more depth to their linebacking corps. Vander Esch has come on strong during the offseason and is now positioned to be taken late in the first. This is a great fit.
Aside: If we were to have QB Josh Allen in the first round, we’d put him here. He probably needs to sit a few years, and having a similar QB like Big Ben as a tutor would be great for him. The Steelers also have a well put together roster already, so they can afford to take a project QB with an early pick.
29 – Jacksonville Jaguars (6)
Team Needs: WR, TE, OG, S
CB/S – Donte Jackson (LSU)
The Jaguars have the top defense in the NFL, and they add to it here. Jackson can play safety or cornerback, and after losing Aaron Colvin in free agency, he can help the Jaguars keep that defense at the top of the NFL.
30 – Minnesota Vikings (8)
Team Needs: TE, OT, OG, CB, S
G/C – Billy Price (Ohio State)
The Vikings need help on the offensive line. With Joe Berger retiring, they have holes at both guard spots. Price had an injury at the combine, but it’s considered minor. He’ll slide back over to guard with the Vikings, which is where he played his junior year (with current Viking Pat Elflein at center).
31 – New England Patriots (10)
OT – Jamarco Jones (Ohio State)
The Patriots lost Nate Solder and Cameron fleming to free agency, and now have a gaping hole at left tackle. Jones has been great tackle for the Buckeyes for the last two years, allowing just 10 pressures in 271 pass pro opportunities in 2017.
32 – Philadelphia Eagles (2)
Team Needs: WR, RB, CB
RB – Darrius Guice (LSU)
The Eagles have a good enough roster that they could go any number of ways with this pick, but we give the offense another weapon, adding a dynamic complement to Jay Ajayi. Guice has big-play ability and experience running in a pro-style zone scheme.