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February 23, 2017

Way-too-early 2018 NFL Mock Draft: Browns Select Franchise Quarterback

We are still a week away from the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine and more than two months away from the 2017 NFL Draft in Philadelphia.

So, naturally, it makes sense to post my first 2018 NFL Mock Draft. (Of course, it makes no sense as there is so much that will change between now and then.)

But that won't stop me.

For simplicity, the 2018 NFL Draft order used below is based on the draft order for this year's draft. More than anything, the goal of this mock draft is to highlight some players and some possible fits, but this will clearly look so different with future iterations of this mock draft.

With all of that said, here is my early projection of how Round 1 of the 2018 NFL Draft could play out:

1. Cleveland Browns (Draft History): Sam Darnold, QB, USC

It appears to be a lock that the Browns will use their No. 1 overall pick in 2017 to select Texas A&M's Myles Garrett, the consensus top player available in this year's draft. Provided they don't trade for Jimmy Garoppolo or draft a signal-caller with their other first-round pick, selecting a potential franchise quarterback like Darnold would make sense next year if the Browns are once again in this spot.

Not only is the 2018 quarterback class widely viewed as being more talented than this year's crop of quarterbacks, Darnold has the potential to be the best of the group. With prototypical physical tools and outstanding poise and leadership, the redshirt freshman engineered a come-from-behind victory over Penn State in Rose Bowl as he threw for 453 yards and five scores.

2. San Francisco 49ers (Draft History): Arden Key, DE/OLB, LSU

Based on my 2017 NFL Mock Draft (as of 2/17), Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers will get their franchise quarterback in UNC's Mitch Trubisky. There is some uncertainty with Key, who has recently taken a leave of absence for personal reasons, but he's an explosive edge rusher that set the school's single-season sack record (12) as a true sophomore in 2016.

3. Chicago Bears (Draft History): Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

The Jay Cutler era is likely to end soon and both backup-caliber quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley are due to become unrestricted free agents. In previous versions of my 2017 mock, I've had the Bears select Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer. It's unlikely that they pass on a signal-caller once again if they don't address the position long term this year.

Perhaps the Bears go with another Josh (UCLA's Rosen) at quarterback, but Allen has great size (6-5, 222) and plays in a pro-style offense although he is a bit raw. One AFC Exec told MMQB's Albert Breer, "He’s a big ol’ kid with a big arm, and he’s pretty athletic too. We gotta learn more about him, but the tools are there." Coincidentally, Allen plays for Craig Bohl, who recruited Carson Wentz to North Dakota State.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars (Draft History): Derwin James, S, Florida State

With Tashaun Gipson signed to a free-agent deal before last season, the Jags may go in a different direction here. That said, James is a freakish talent that warrants a top-five selection and one ACC coach said the following of James before the start of last season: "Derwin James is flat scary good. He could probably start at all 11 positions. He’s one of those freaky guys who might be better than Ramsey when it’s all said and done."

5. Los Angeles Rams (Draft History): Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB, Alabama

The Rams could certainly use more weapons for or help protecting Jared Goff and I strongly considered slotting Christian Kirk or Calvin Ridley to them. But defensive back could be a need as well. Trumaine Johnson is a free agent this year, Lamarcus Joyner is a free agent next year and E.J. Gaines graded out as the 107th-best of 112 qualified cornerbacks last season. With experience at both cornerback and safety, the 6-foot-1 Fitzpatrick led the SEC with six interceptions as a sophomore.

6. New York Jets (Draft History): Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

Perhaps the Jets will address their need at quarterback in 2017 with only two unproven quarterbacks -- Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg -- on the roster. Considering they used a second-round pick on Hackenberg last season, it's possibly the franchise waits another year before investing a high draft pick in the position. Expected to be the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft even before stepping foot on campus, Rosen's 2016 season was cut short by a shoulder injury and he will now have his third offensive coordinator in as many seasons. But if Rosen's still available here, it would be difficult for the Jets to pass on him.

7. Los Angeles Chargers (Draft History): Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame

Left tackle King Dunlap has played in only 19 of 32 games over the past two seasons and will turn 33 years old at the beginning of the 2018 NFL season. While the team's offensive line seems to be in perpetual need of an upgrade, McGlinchey would be a first step in upgrading it.

8. Carolina Panthers (Draft History): Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M

One of the most explosive receivers in college football, Kirk (5-11, 200) has 80-plus catches and 900-plus yards in each of his first two seasons in College Station. In addition, Kirk has averaged 22.25 yards per punt return with five returned for scores over the past two seasons. Meanwhile, WR/PR/KR Ted Ginn Jr. is a free agent heading into the 2017 season.

9. Cincinnati Bengals (Draft History): Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

While his sophomore season (71/776/7) was a disappointment at least compared to expectations and his freshman production (89/1,045/7), Ridley has elite speed, hands and route-running ability to develop into a true No. 1 receiver at the next level. If Tyler Eifert could stay healthy, the Bengals would have one of the best trios of pass-catchers with A.J. Green, Ridley and Eifert for years to come.

10. Buffalo Bills (Draft History): Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State

Originally committed to play lacrosse at Notre Dame and a high school safety, Hubbard is a freakish athlete that closed the season strong. Per PFF, Hubbard had seven total pressures and 12 defensive stops in the team's final three games. If he builds upon that momentum in 2017, Hubbard could become a top-10 pick in 2018.

- Continue reading our 2018 NFL Mock Draft

- Our 2017 NFL Mock Draft

- For more mocks, check out our NFL Mock Draft Database.

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