Looking forward to the 2018 NFL Draft now that the combine is over?
I’m going to be honest with you. The NFL Scouting Combine doesn’t have a significant impact on my NFL Draft analysis.
Sure, there’s always news. A player gets hurt. A player doesn’t meet expectations. A player exceeds expectations. It’s great theater, but most of it doesn’t have anything to do with actually playing football.
Sure, the perception of a player can change from team-to-team depending on how they handle this part of the job interview, but the player will have other meetings and they still have a pro-day to make up for any 40-yard-dash faux pas.
If a team is smart, they’ve already locked a majority of their draft board.
Free agency, however, will have a significant effect on the draft and it’s right around the corner.
Unless new GM John Dorsey is already sold on a quarterback prospect, I don’t see how he passes on Barkley here. There’s no way he’ll be available three picks later and it’s guaranteed one of the top signal callers will be there. Of course, this assumes they don’t land Kirk Cousins or A.J. McCarron in free agency. Barkley is a generational talent at the position and the most dynamic player in this draft. Top needs: QB, Edge, CB
This is the Giants’ highest selection in 37 years. They took a North Carolina linebacker named Lawrence Taylor with the second overall selection in 1981, not bad. You may think this too high for a guard, but I’d take the unanimous All-American over 95 percent of the NFL’s guards right now, plus there are scouts who believe his size (6-foot-5, 325 pounds) would allow him to play tackle at the next level. Top needs: OT, QB, LB
3. Indianapolis (4-12) — Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State, Sr.
The Colts need a significant upgrade to their pass rush as they finished with the second-fewest sacks in the NFL (25) last season. Beyond a variety of moves off the edge, the Nagurski award winner (top defender) has proven capable of impacting games through his run defense and also on special teams (blocking kicks). Top needs: OT, OG, Edge
4. Cleveland from Houston (4-12) — Sam Darnold, QB, USC, So.
It’s clear Dorsey will not favor the analytical approach like the previous regime and likely wants a fresh start at quarterback. Darnold isn’t a flawless prospect — I’m a firm believer he would have benefited from another year of seasoning at USC — but he possesses everything most scouts look for in a franchise quarterback. Top needs: QB, Edge, CB
5. Denver (5-11) — Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming, Jr.
Signing Cousins or McCarron (or even Case Keenum) would free up John Elway to select the best player available here. However, pairing Allen with Keenum wouldn’t be a bad idea. Allen has aced the draft process so far. Plenty of people jumped off the Allen bandwagon during the season, but he still possesses the arm talent — check out the tape of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, the Senior Bowl or the combine — and athletic ability that caused most scouts to fall head over heals last season. Top needs: QB, OT, FS
Another team in the Cousins sweepstakes. There’s no way the Jets can exit the first round without a quarterback if they lose out on the free agent prize. The comparisons to Drew Brees make sense. If the Heisman winner were three or four inches taller, he’d likely be the top overall pick. Top needs: QB, Edge, OT
7. Tampa Bay (5-11) — Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama, Jr.
The unanimous All-American is capable of playing both safety and cornerback at a high level, and is such a detail-oriented person, his Crimson Tide teammates called him “Coach Saban’s son.” Top needs: S, RT, Edge
8. Chicago (5-11) — Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio St., Jr.
The Buckeyes have produced four first-rounders at cornerback the past four years. Ward is likely to make it five-for-five. He’s an impressive athlete whose only real weakness is his slight frame. Top needs: WR, ILB, CB
9. San Francisco (6-10) — Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech, Jr.
The 49ers can address other needs with their quarterback questions answered. The Butkus Award finalist — and combine standout — anchored one of the best defenses in college football (first in shutouts and third in scoring defense). His size, speed and athleticism are off the charts. He’d pair nicely with Reuben Foster — or as a replacement depending on Foster’s legal issues. Top needs: WR, Edge, CB
10. Oakland (6-10) — Roquan Smith, ILB, Georgia, Jr.
Smith is built more like a strong safety — he’s 6-1, 225 pounds — than a linebacker. The modern NFL prefers its linebackers speedy and is willing to sacrifice size if the prospect features athleticism, physicality and football intelligence. The Bednarik finalist and Butkus award winner (best linebacker) is blessed with all three. Top needs: DT, Edge, CB
11. Miami (6-10) — Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville, Jr.
Anywhere between the seventh pick and here would be a likely spot for a team needing a quarterback (cough, Bills, cough) to trade up to — especially with Josh Rosen still available. Otherwise, the Dolphins will need to upgrade a position that let them down last season. Alexander is an athletic cornerback who has elite ball skills and plays with the physicality of a safety. Top needs: OG, CB, FS
12. Cincinnati (7-9) — Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame, Sr.
The Bengals offensive line is in need of an epic overhaul. The AP first-team All-American is versatile — he has started double-digit games at both right and left tackle — and athletic in a massive package (6-foot-8, 315 pounds). His strength (run blocking) will suit the Bengals offense perfectly. Top needs: OG, OT, SS
13. Washington (7-9) — Derwin James, SS, Florida St., So.
The Redskins are moving on from Cousins with the trade (and contract extension) for Alex Smith. With quarterback out of the way, the Skins are free to address other needs. Much like the Seminoles themselves, James had a disappointing season, but few defensive backs can match his dynamic combination of speed, size, instincts and hitting ability. He’d be the Redskins best safety prospect since Sean Taylor. Top needs: ILB, WR, C
14. Green Bay (7-9) — Harold Landry, OLB, Boston College, Sr.
The Packers will likely draft multiple edge rushers this time around. Landry played defensive end for the Eagles, but is athletic enough to stand up and play outside linebacker in the NFL — critics will certainly hush after his combine performance. Like Chubb, he’s capable of being an elite pass rusher and effective run defender, but will likely be had at a discount on draft day. Top needs: Edge, OL, TE
15. Arizona (8-8) — Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA, Jr.
The Cardinals would be tickled pink to have Rosen fall here, but as I mentioned before, it’s more likely for a team to trade up (likely in the top ten) and take him. There are questions (personality, durability), but there’s no questioning his polished pro-ready skill-set. Top needs: QB, OT, C
16. Baltimore (9-7) — Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama, Jr.
The Ravens offense is a mess, and we all know General Manager Ozzie Newsome is mighty fond of Crimson Tide players. Ridley features explosive speed and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better route runner in college football. A rare combination. Top needs: WR, OG, Edge
17. L.A. Chargers (9-7) — Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama, Jr.
The Chargers had the second-worst run defense in the NFL last season. The defensive MVP of the national title game is a dominant force in the middle who will draw blocks away from Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram as well. Top needs: OT, ILB, DT
18. Seattle (9-7) — Marcus Davenport, DE, Texas-San Antonio, Sr.
The Seahawks have no selections in the second or third round, which means GM John Schneider will likely trade down this round or completely out of it — something he has done four times since 2010. If they stay put, Davenport would be a solid replacement for Michael Bennett. Top needs: Edge, RB, OL
19. Dallas (9-7) — Vita Vea, DT, Washington, Jr.
The 6-foot-5, 340-pound Pac-12 defensive player of the year might be the strongest prospect in the entire draft class and would have likely been a first-round selection had he left school a year ago. Top needs: DT, WR, TE
20. Detroit (9-7) — Joshua Jackson, CB, Iowa, Jr.
Jackson isn’t quite the size-speed prospect Alabama’s Fitzpatrick is, but his ball skills are second-to-none and his technique is flawless. Top needs: Edge, RB, DT
21. Buffalo (9-7) — Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville, Jr.
The Bills are desperate for offense. A right-handed version of Mike Vick is a solid comparison for Jackson. Top needs: DT, OL, Edge
22. Buffalo from Kansas City (10-6) — Connor Williams, OT, Texas, Jr.
Williams missed seven games with a knee injury, but returned to his normal dominating form late in the season, showcasing top-ten talent — he allowed a single sack during his three seasons as a Longhorn. Top needs: DT, OL, Edge
The trade for Marcus Peters insulates the Rams from the potential loss of Trumaine Johnson in free agency. Wynn played tackle for the Bulldogs last season, but was a dominant force at guard during Senior Bowl week. Top needs: Edge, OG, SS
24. Carolina (11-5) — Mike Hughes, CB, Central Florida, Jr.
Hughes is a very physical cornerback, an elite playmaker and a dangerous kick returner. Top needs: Edge, FS, CB
25. Tennessee (9-7) — Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio St., Jr.
Hubbard has the size and motor Bill Belichick covets in his edge rushers. Wouldn’t shock me if new Titans head coach Mike Vrabel copies his mentor. Top needs: Edge, SS, OG
26. Atlanta (10-6) — Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan, Sr.
The Falcons have several defensive lineman who could leave during free agency. A potential heart issue could cause Hurst’s draft stock to plummet. We’ll see if he can get cleared by Michigan’s pro day on March 23. Top needs: OG, DL, S
27. New Orleans (11-5) — Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota St., Sr.
Drew Brees hasn’t had a threat at tight end since the Saints traded Jimmy Graham. Goedert has the ability to work all three levels of the field, and unlike Graham, can block. Top needs: OG, WR, LB
28. Pittsburgh (13-3) — Ronnie Harrison, SS, Alabama, Jr.
It was clear the Steelers secondary was missing some pieces against the Jaguars in the playoffs. Harrison could end up being the best all-around safety in this draft class. Top needs: ILB, OT, FS
29. Jacksonville (10-6) — Will Hernandez, OG, Texas-El Paso, Sr.
There aren’t very many holes on this roster, but Hernandez is a starter from day one. Top needs: QB, OG, TE
30. Minnesota (13-3) — Taven Bryan, DT, Florida, Jr.
Bryan is capable of playing inside or outside at a high level and will fit in nicely with this dominant defense. Top needs: OG, QB, DL
31. New England (13-3) — Carlton Davis, CB, Auburn, Jr.
The Patriots will have to replace Malcolm Butler. Davis is the definition of a big, physical corner and will fit nicely in Belichick’s scheme. Top needs: CB, Edge, QB
32. Philadelphia (13-3) — Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma, Jr.
Considering Jason Peters’ uncertain future, securing some depth on the offensive line isn’t a bad idea. Brown had a historically bad combine, but you can’t teach size. He is a gigantic force — he’s 6-8, 345 pounds — who has proven capable of subduing talented opponents on a weekly basis — he didn’t allow a single sack his junior season. Top needs: ILB, OT, DB
33. Cleveland— Leighton Vander Esch, OLB, Boise St., Jr.
34. N.Y. Giants— Arden Key, DE, LSU, Jr.
35. Cleveland from Houston— Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado, Jr.
The Chargers have an opportunity to build an elite defense. Evans is a super athlete and versatile player who would be a significant upgrade to a glaring weakness. Top needs: OT, ILB, DT
49. N.Y. Jets from Seattle— Rasheem Green, DE, USC, Jr.
50. Dallas— Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU, So.
51. Detroit— Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego St., Sr.
52. Baltimore— Lorenzo Carter, OLB, Georgia, Sr.
53. Buffalo— Tim Settle, DT, Virginia Tech, So.
54. Kansas City— Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, DE, Oklahoma, Sr.
Okoronkwo’s speed and explosiveness make him almost un-blockable off the edge, but his size — he’s 6-1, 245 pounds — could make him a hybrid inside-outside linebacker at the next level. Top needs: DB, WR, OL
The Chargers will likely take their “quarterback of the future” in this draft. Rudolph gets a bad rap as a “system” QB, but he’s improved every season, has prototypical size and has proven to hold his own within a pocket. Top needs: OT, ILB, DT
85. Carolina from Buffalo — Simmie Cobbs, WR, Indiana, Jr.
86. Kansas City — Jalyn Holmes, DE, Ohio St., Sr.
87. L.A. Rams — Will Clapp, C, LSU, Jr.
88. Carolina — Quin Blanding, FS, Virginia, Sr.
89. Tennessee — Micah Kiser, ILB, Virginia, Sr.
90. Atlanta — Wyatt Teller, OG, Virginia Tech, Sr.
91. New Orleans — Josey Jewell, ILB, Iowa, Sr.
92. Pittsburgh — Brandon Parker, OT, North Carolina A&T, Sr.