Continuing on with my 2018 mock draft in the first round:

23.  New England Patriots : Harold Landry, DE, Boston College.  Up until it was time to make this pick for New England, I was thinking offensive line to replace Nate Solder, the left tackle they lost to free agency.  But knowing the Patriots defense has always been a strength of their teams, and has been backsliding for a couple of years now (31st in pass defense), it makes sense to me that they are going to dedicate this years draft to rebuild their defense with a heavy infusion of talent.  That starts with Landry, arguably the best pass rusher in this draft, who had 16 sacks two seasons ago.  By trading Brandon Cooks, who the Patriots rented for a year, a year that Julian Edelman was out with injury, for the 23rd pick, makes total sense to me.  People have been speculating who head coach Bill Belichick is targeting at #23 and I think it’s Landry.  It is the right spot, directly in front of Carolina who also needs a pass rusher.  Landry had a great year two years ago and was down statistically last year, but mid to late first round is great value for a player who will be a great fit in the Patriots system.  The right team at the right time, Landry will be average at first as a part-time pass rusher, but may blossom into an all-pro in a few seasons

The Patriots also let receiver Danny Amendola go in free agency.  They re-tooled their receiving corps by signing cheap, fast and decent production guys like Phillip Dorsett, Kenny Britt, Jordan Mathews and Cordarrelle Patterson.  They also signed running back Jeremy Hill to back up James White after they let Dion Lewis go in free agency.  Looking at all the moves the Patriots made this off-season, it’s clear to see what their plans are.  On the offensive line they let Solder go because they drafted his replacement a year ago in the 3rd round.  The Patriots are always working their depth chart and drafting one of the top three defensive ends in this draft is right up Belichick’s alley.  I predict he will also draft a cornerback or two in this draft, along with Tom Brady’s replacement.

24.  Carolina Panthers : Joshua Jackson, cb, Iowa.  Carolina is similar to New England in terms of needs, at cornerback, receiver, pass rusher, backup quarterback, and offensive line depth.  With Landry off the board and not as much draft capital as the Patriots, Carolina must make this pick count and gets the 2nd rated cornerback in the draft.  Jackson’s ball skill’s with 8 interceptions last year are undeniable, along with his size at 6 foot 1 inch.  He may not be as athletic as other corner’s, but as long as he gets the ball back to Cam Newton and the offense I think head coach Ron Rivera will be happy to have Jackson.  I’m sure they thought long and hard about giving Newton another weapon on offense though, letting DJ Moore of Maryland go by.  Instant starter with a sudden impact.

25.  Tennessee Titans : Taven Bryan DT/DE, Florida.  Bryan with his freakish speed and athleticism is a good fit to play defensive end for the Titans.  It’s not a natural fit but a good fit.  Bryan has played mostly inside on the defensive line, but will man the edge for Tennessee.  His size at 6 foot 4 inches and 290 pounds makes him well suited to play the run on the edge of a 3-4 defense.  He will be asked to hold the corner at the point of attack and has the strength to do so.  Other teams and general managers might ask more of him than he is capable of delivering on, in terms of pass rush.  At this spot with the Titans he will be asked to help control the running games featured by the other teams in the rapidly improving AFC South.  In spite of all of his athletic gifts he has never been productive at rushing the passer.  He will have the chance to shine by being part of an improving unit on a playoff contender.  His impact will be under the radar, but will show in terms of statistical team efficiency against the run.

26.  Atlanta Falcons : D.J. Moore, wr, Maryland.  Moore finally lands, and couldn’t have picked a better spot.  With health concerns every year to star wideout Julio Jones, this pick makes sense to give the Falcons another weapon in spread formations, 3rd down situations and for depth.  With every unit on offense and defense ranking in the top 10, Atlanta has no specific needs except for defensive tackle.  But the run on defensive players up to this point diminishes the value of making a defensive selection here.  General Manager Thomas Dimitroff will follow the best available athlete mantra here and select the #1 wide receiver  on many draft boards.  The only reason Moore is even available here is because every team up til now has had more pressing needs and teams are scared off by the lack of production from receivers taken in many 1st rounds of recent drafts.  It will be tough to pass on Stanford defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, but I think the Falcons will address that need in the 2nd or 3rd round.  May start on day 1 as the new slot receiver.  As a sudden impact player, Moore may free up Jones and Mohamed Sanu to help lift quarterback Matt Ryan to a record setting year.  A return trip to the Super Bowl if Atlanta’s offense proves unstoppable.

27.  New Orleans Saints : Courtland Sutton, wr, Southern Methodist.  Not to be outdone by their divisional counterparts in Atlanta, the Saints also move to give their quarterback more weapons.   Having never really replaced a retired Marques Colston and a traded Brandon Cooks, the Saints counter the Falcons escalation of their arms race by drafting a Colston clone in Sutton.  All Courtland did was score 12 touchdowns with his jumping ability and 6 foot 4 inch frame.  He has good speed and will need to learn how to deal with press coverage, which shouldn’t be much of a problem with Micheal Thomas on the other side and sprinter Ted Ginn Jr. in the slot.  How he adapts to the physical play in the NFL will dictate how sudden his impact will be.  Regardless, he should quickly become a red zone favorite of quarterback Drew Brees.  Like Atlanta, New Orleans will address their derfensive line in later rounds.

28.  Pittsburgh Steelers : Isaiah Wynn, G, Georgia.  It was tough to draft for the Steelers, who have been a model of consistency in the NFL since they beat the Bears in a tie-breaker coin flip and drafted Terry Bradshaw #1 in 1970.  Six Super Bowl championships later, the family owned Steelers have always relied on the draft and growing their own talent.  By keeping their hierarchy in place and almost always promoting from within, the front office in Pittsburgh is as good as any outside of New England.  They routinely cover their roster and evenly spread out their depth.  They prioritize the lines, always draft well at quarterback and emphasize a good running game and coverage in the secondary.  That’s why it was so hard to make this pick.  It sounds crazy but the Steelers running game may be their biggest weakness, even with all-pro running back LaVeon Bell.  That’s why I think Isaiah Wynn is a logical choice here.  Left guard appears to be their biggest weakness.  Inserting Wynn, who played tackle in college, instantly gives the Steelers offensive line a shot of athleticism and size in the middle.  Wynn should earn the starting nod quickly and be blasting holes for Bell to run though.  I thought about drafting a running back for depth with Bell’s free agency looming, as well as addressing needs at linebacker and in the secondary.  I think Pittsburgh drafts for those positions, as well as a quarterback of the future in this draft.  Wynn rates as the 3rd best guard which is good value at #28 overall.  He will provide instant impact as a starter and should drastically improve the Steelers 20th ranked running game.

29.  Jacksonville Jaguars : Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama.  Harrison is a bit of a hybrid like his Alabama teammate Minkah Fitzpatrick.  At 6 foot 2 inches tall, 207 pounds and 4.59 in the 40 at the combine, his combination of size and speed means that he can cover in a zone defense and in nickel packages, and offer sledgehammer type support against the run in base defensive packages.  Kind of like Troy Polamalu, a future hall of famer who played for the Steelers, Harrison is a physical defender with long arms, a trait that usually translates into having decent ball skills.  After building their defensive line and linebacking corps in the last two drafts, the Jags focus on their secondary with an eye towards the Super Bowl.  Harrison will get in mix, especially in nickel packages, good if not great impact.

30.  Minnesota Vikings : Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA.  After investing $90 million signing Kirk Cousins to be their quarterback for the next 3 years, the Vikings move to protect that investment by drafting the 2nd true tackle overall.  As with most contending teams, there don’t appear to be a lot of roster needs.  But with most of the top defensive talent off the board, it makes sense that Minnesota drafts the best player available and gets the 2nd true tackle in this draft.  Isaiah Wynn, will play guard for the Steelers with his lack of height.  Miller at 6 foot 8 inches tall, will probably step in and start at right tackle, which is currently manned by an undrafted free agent.  Someday, when he’s acclimated to the NFL, Miller may become the Vikings left tackle, but for now he has an instant impact as the starting right tackle on a Super Bowl contender.  A perfect countermove to the Bears, Packers and Detroit improving their pass rush ability.

31.  New England Patriots : Jaire Alexander, cb, Louisville.  One of the biggest plus or bust players in the draft, Alexander lands in the right spot for himself.  As one of the fastest players at any position at the combine, it’s Alexander’s 4.38 speed that will possibly make him a breakout star from this draft class.  But his lean lightweight frame also makes him prone to injuries, that is something that plagued him throughout his college career.  If it weren’t for durability issues, Alexander may have gone in the top 10.  But here is a nice soft landing spot for his talents, where Belichick will get him into the lineup slowly and take advantage of his speed in nickle packages only for now.  He also may be used as a punt return man on special teams.  The rich get richer, as Alexander’s greatest impact may come in next years playoff’s with a full season to get his feet wet and get stronger.  Good to great impact.

32.  Philadelphia Eagles : Isaiah Oliver, cb, Colorado.  With the Eagles having only one pick in the first 130 of this draft, they make this pick count, based on need, and reach for the developing Oliver, who’s rated between 5th and 7th best in the draft.  The Super Bowl victory over New England exposed the Eagles need for a shutdown cornerback, as the Eagles gave up over 500 yards passing to Tom Brady.  Drafting Oliver, who predominantly played man on man coverage in college, gives the Eagles a chance to round his development into a top flight NFL cornerback.  The Eagles will ask him to be a nickle back at first and ease him into more complex coverage’s as the season goes on.  I believe he represents good value for the Eagles at this spot, because he has the best combination of size and speed among the cornerbacks that are still available here.  His arm length at nearly 34 inches also gives him an edge over the other corners, most of whom have 32 inch arm length.  That matters when it comes to the ability to defend passes against faster wide receivers.  The farther a defender can reach and bat a ball away, shrinks the window from which the receiever and quarterback can complete the pass.

That concludes the 1st round of the draft and the first night.

The 2nd and 3rd rounds are drafted the next night on Friday April 27th.

Cleveland again has the 1st pick of the 2nd round, #33 overall, as well as two more 2nd round picks; #35 and #64.  The Indianapolis Colts (#36,#37 and #49), Buffalo Bills (#53 and #56) and New England Patriots (#43 and #63) have multiple picks in the 2nd round.  The Bears pick #39 overall in the second round.

In the 3rd round the New York Giants (#63, #66), San Francisco 49’ers (#70, #74), Carolina Panthers (#85, #88) and Kansas City (#78, #86) each have multiple picks.

Arizona, Houston, Denver and Cincinnati each have a compensatory pick for a free agent lost the previous year and will select at the end of the 3rd round.   Those highlighted teams represent the Bears best partners to trade and acquire more draft capital, since the Bears currently have no 3rd round pick.

Interesting enough, the Green Bay Packers own the 1st pick of the last day (rounds 4-7)  of the draft (#101), which will begin on Saturday the 28th at around noon.  The Packers also own picks #45 and #76 for my friends who want to know where Green Bay is drafting, and want the Bears to get in front of them.  I’m talking to you Bob!

The second round begins:

33.  Cleveland Browns : Derrius Guice, rb, LSU.  The tough runner goes off the board and Cleveland gets the 2nd best graded running back on some boards.  A knee injury last year is why he dropped out of the first round.

34.  New York Giants : Nick Chubb, rb, Georgia.  The human bowling ball rolls into the Big Apple.  The Giants, like Cleveland, get their running back a round later than most would’ve thought.  Also dropped because of knee injury two years ago, but came back to be productive in a split backfield with Sony Michel (drafted #18 by Seattle).

35.  Cleveland Browns  Tim Settle, DT, Virginia Tech.  The Browns need a space eating run defender and Settle at 6 foot 3 inches and 325 pounds fits the bill.  With over 12 tackles for a loss and 4 sacks last year, he was one of the most productive defensive tackles in college football a year ago.

36.  Indianapolis Colts : Christian Kirk, wr, Texas A&M.  The Colts run to the podium to select the wide receiver many believe is the top talent in the class.  Many people had him pegged as going to the Cowboys in the first round.  He lands here and becomes the next Marvin Harrison.  Has probably the best rookie year by a receiver in recent memory.

37.  Indianapolis Colts : R.J. McIntosh, DT/DE, Miami.  The guy who ate McGlinchey and Nelson’s lunch, when Notre Dame got pummeled 41-8 late last year, goes off the board.  McIntosh is versatile enough to play all over the line and he will start on day one at right defensive end for the Colts.

38.  Tampa Bay Buccaneers : Rashaad Penny, rb, San Diego St.  In spite of having great needs on the offensive line and defensive secondary and no picks til #102, Tampa Bay selects the running back who may be THE darkhorse talent in this draft.  Penny was spectacular at the Senior Bowl all-star game, and fills a major need with the Buccaneers, to take pressure off quarterback Jameis Winston.  Tampa should trade down out of this spot and get more picks, regardless Penny won’t last long in the 2nd round.

39.  Chicago Bears : Rasheem Green, DE, USC.  The Bears double up on defensive pass rush talent.  The 6 foot 4 inch, 275 pound Green ran a blazing fast 4.73 at the combine.  As a junior he had 12 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in the Pac-10 conference.  He’s coming out early and paired with Tremaine Edmunds they would be a nightmare for the Packers, Lions and Vikings.  All Pace has to do is avoid drafting a receiver at this spot, I know he wants to.  With this pick the Monsters are back!

To be continued: