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September 20, 2018

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NFL Mock Draft: Projecting the first round with dueling picks

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L.E. Baskow

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval announces the Oakland Raiders third-day draft pick, David Sharpe from the University of Florida going 129th overall, from the Welcome to Las Vegas sign on Saturday, April 29, 2017.

Perhaps to the detriment of gamblers, the NFL Draft appears more unsettled than usual this year.

The mystery has proven beneficial to interest levels, which are at an all-time high heading into the ESPN-televised first round at 5 p.m. tomorrow night from Arlington, Texas. There’s not even a consensus top overall selection, as the Cleveland Browns could conceivably go with as many as three different highly touted quarterbacks.

This year’s quarterback group is considered one of the strongest in recent memory, and fans are captivated by how everything could shake out. For the second straight year, the Sun will try its hand at solving the riddle.

Read below as Mike Grimala and Case Keefer partake in a dueling mock draft, with a pause at the soon-to-be local Raiders where both make a selection.

1. Cleveland Browns: Sam Darnold, QB, USC

Bring on the Browns’ fourth first-round quarterback selection in the last 11 years. All indications are that they will take either Darnold or Josh Allen, and out of those two options, the choice should be clear. -Keefer

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

Saquon Barkley is the popular projection here, but burning a top pick on a running back is not the best way for the Giants to start a rebuild. Now is the time to acquire a franchise QB for the post-Eli years and Rosen is the most polished passer on the board. -Grimala

3. New York Jets: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

When the Jets traded up from the sixth to the third pick in a deal with the Colts last month, there were rumblings that they fancied the rocket-armed Cowboy. If that’s true, this is their dream scenario and the easiest pick in the draft. -Keefer

4. Cleveland Browns: Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State

This is also the dream scenario for the Browns, who get their franchise QB and now an elite pass rusher to bookend last year’s overall No. 1 pick, Myles Garrett. -Grimala

5. Denver Broncos: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

In this simulation, the Broncos could land a king’s ransom to trade out of a spot that many teams would covet. If they don’t orchestrate a trade, however, they’ll likely be happy to take the player many consider the best in the draft. –Keefer

6. Indianapolis Colts: Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame

The Colts could be another trade-down candidate, or they could stay put and grab the highest-rated offensive lineman in the draft. Keeping Andrew Luck upright and healthy is the priority and Nelson will make a difference there. –Grimala

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB, Alabama

Tampa Bay must improve its secondary after giving up 7.6 yards per pass attempt last year, and it needs to start at cornerback. This pick should therefore come down to whom the Buccaneers rate higher between Fitzpatrick and Denzel Ward. –Keefer

8. Chicago Bears: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State

Fitzpatrick would have been the selection had the Bucs not snatched him a pick earlier, but the Bears are happy to settle for Ward, the latest coverage prodigy to come out of OSU. –Grimala

9. San Francisco 49ers: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia

After ending last season on a five-game winning streak, the 49ers figure to be one of the flashier teams to start next year. Grabbing the draft’s flashiest defensive player at a position of need fits perfectly. –Keefer

10. Oakland Raiders: Harold Landry, DE, Boston College

Landry was slowed by an injury this season, but he showed his true form as a junior when he racked up 16.5 sacks and 22 tackles for loss. He may be the most explosive edge rusher in the draft, and the thought of pairing him opposite Khalil Mack has to appeal to Jon Gruden and Reggie McKenzie. —Grimala

Alternate Choice: Derwin James, S, Florida State

The Raiders join the Buccaneers as the two teams in the top 10 that must improve their pass defenses above all else. An edge rusher could go a long way in accomplishing that goal, but they would be foolish to pass up on a chance to strengthen their secondary with the draft’s best safety. Landry is the official choice for this mock, but James could be a game-changer. –Keefer

11. Miami Dolphins: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

It’s now considered unlikely that the Dolphins trade up to take a quarterback. But they’re likely to pounce if one of the top four falls to them, especially if it’s the one they’ve been linked to all along in Mayfield. –Keefer

12. Buffalo Bills: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville

The Bills traded up to this spot looking for a franchise quarterback, and they’re not leaving empty-handed. Jackson is the most dynamic dual-threat QB in the draft and may need less developmental time than expected. –Grimala

13. Washington Redskins: Vita Vea, DL, Washington

Washington gets its choice of linemen to help repair a dreadful rush defense, and although Vea comes with concerns, his ceiling is higher than anyone else at his position. Washington won’t pass on that potential. –Keefer

14. Green Bay Packers: Marcus Davenport, DE, Texas-San Antonio

With the top-tier defensive backs off the board, the defensively deficient Packers should pivot and look to juice up their pass rush. Davenport’s game is more raw than Chubb or Landry, but there’s a ton of upside with this 6-foot-7, 255-pounder. —Grimala

15. Arizona Cardinals: Kolton Miller, OL, UCLA

Mason Rudolph may tempt the quarterback-needy Cardinals here, but it would ultimately be too much of a reach. Arizona has plenty of other needs, and picking the best tackle in the draft could jumpstart an aim to rebuild its offensive line. –Keefer

16: Baltimore Ravens: D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland

Speaking of reaches, Calvin Ridley has been universally mocked to the Baltimore at this spot, and the Ravens are starving at receiver. But it wouldn’t surprise me if the team is higher on Moore, a 6-foot-4 downfield threat who has better physical tools than Ridley. —Grimala

17. Los Angeles Chargers: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama

The Chargers have hardly hidden the fact that they’re thinking linebacker with their first pick. They should be jumping for joy that a potential franchise cornerstone will be available here. –Keefer

18. Seattle Seahawks: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame

The Seahawks couldn’t block last year, so Seattle execs would sprint to the podium in this scenario, as McGlinchey becomes the second tackle off the board. —Grimala

19. Dallas Cowboys: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

Dez who? Dallas fans angered over the release of Dez Bryant will get over it in record time if their team replaces him with a younger, cheaper, and maybe just-as-electrifying receiver. –Keefer

20. Detroit Lions: Da’ron Payne, DT, Alabama

New Lions head coach Matt Patricia came up under Bill Belichick, and the Patriots have always invested heavily in the defensive line on draft day. Payne could be a building block up front for Detroit. —Grimala

21. Cincinnati Bengals: Connor Williams, OT, Texas

Most mocks have Iowa’s James Daniels going here, but history has shown it’s a little too early to take a center. The Bengals can pick up a decent center prospect in a later round after getting better value elsewhere on the line here. –Keefer

22. Buffalo Bills: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech

The Bills need to get faster at the linebacker position, and Edmunds brings sideline-to-sideline range. He’ll plug in and play as an every-down linebacker from the first day of training camp. —Grimala

23. New England Patriots: Derwin James, S, Florida St.

Imagine the cries if one of the highest-regarded players in the draft somehow tumbles right into the hands of Bill Belichick. The Patriots probably aren’t looking safety here, but they would select James in a heartbeat in this long-shot scenario. –Keefer

24. Carolina Panthers: Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa

Poor James Daniels, who gets passed over again — this time in favor of his college teammate. Jackson was a brilliant playmaker at Iowa, where he snagged eight interceptions last year (and returned two for touchdowns). —Grimala

25. Tennessee Titans: Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State

Tennessee seems so desperate to add a young edge rusher that it may overpay. Hubbard looks more like a second-round talent because of his lack of an always-vital explosive first step, but he might be the best available in the area the Titans are seeking. –Keefer

26. Atlanta Falcons: Taven Bryan, DL, Florida

Atlanta values speed above all else on defense, and Bryan is exceptionally fast for his nearly 300-pound frame. He’ll provide depth on the defensive line while the Falcons figure out how to harness his explosiveness. –Grimala

27. New Orleans Saints: Will Hernandez, G, UTEP

The Saints have shown particular interest in the local late-bloomer, and it makes a lot of sense. The devastating pass protector would be a natural fit in New Orleans’ offense. –Keefer

28. Pittsburgh Steelers: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State

Linebacker is the obvious need for Pittsburgh in the wake of Ryan Shazier’s potentially career-ending injury, and Vander Esch is a versatile playmaker who should thrive playing alongside last year’s first-rounder, outside linebacker T.J. Watt. —Grimala

29. Jacksonville Jaguars: Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M

Out of all the highly-graded receivers in this year’s draft, Kirk was the most productive in college. And he should be able to pick up right where he left off with the Aggies for the Jaguars, which look set at most other positions. –Keefer

30. Minnesota Vikings: Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama

There must be a temptation to add more offensive weapons after signing quarterback Kirk Cousins, but the Vikings’ defense is quietly about to start getting expensive. Harrison can develop in the system and replace a pricey veteran down the road. —Grimala

31. New England Patriots: Brian O’Neill, OT, Patriots

New England is likely to use one of its two first-round picks on the offensive line, where O’Neill possesses rare athleticism. He could turn into All-Pro with some seasoning from offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. –Keefer

32. Philadelphia Eagles: Mike Hughes, CB, Central Florida

After allowing more than 500 passing yards in the Super Bowl, the Eagles could use an upgrade in the secondary. Hughes is the top-rated cornerback in a lot of mock drafts, so this turns out to be a pretty good value pick for the reigning champs. –Grimala

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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