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2018 NFL Mock Draft: With defenders flying off the board, the Steelers’ pick is an easy one

The Browns, Giants, and Jets get quarterbacks, the Patriots don’t take Lamar Jackson, and the Titans steal the Steelers’ prized darling from under their noses.

NCAA Football: Auburn at Louisiana State Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 NFL Draft starts this Thursday, so please peruse yet another mock draft:

Pick No. 1 Cleveland Browns: USC QB Sam Darnold

Obvious need: They have many but OMG if they don’t draft a quarterback people will take to the streets.

Secondary need: Cornerback, Probably also another pass rusher

The Cleveland Browns have famously started nearly 30 different quarterbacks since resuming operations in 1999, which is the result of poor scouting, even poorer player development, and downright rotten luck. Will the Browns shift the paradigm this season? Probably they won’t. Whoever is selected to serve as Cleveland’s newest sacrificial lamb will be staring nearly two decades of organizational ineptitude right in the face, and it is for this reason that he should be completely alarmed with the direction of his short- and long-term career trajectory. My heart says the Browns are gonna totally Browns this pick and select Josh Allen from Wyoming, but my brain thinks they will ultimately relent and take the “safest“ prospect. Darnold, it is!

Pick No. 2 New York Giants: UCLA QB Josh Rosen

Obvious need: Day-one starter at running back; Long-term development project at quarterback

Secondary need: Offensive line

This time one year ago, I was convinced that Eli Manning could survive an all-out nuclear war. I could picture him emerging from a pile a radioactive ash and carefully observing the lightning bolts emanating from his newly-formed tentacles before throwing a game-ending interception on 3rd-and-2. But Eli is 37! The universe is presenting the Giants with a seemingly foolproof contingency plan, and it strikes me as exceedingly unwise to pass it up.

Pick No. 3 New York Jets: Wyoming QB Josh Allen

Obvious need: Quarterback

Secondary need: Everything

There were legitimate 0-16 rumblings surrounding the Jets last offseason—unfortunately, they did not embrace the tanking process, which led them to overachieve in 2017 by posting a 5-11 record. Deprived of the top-three pick we assumed they’d obtain by virtue of being, um, the Jets, the Jets were forced to dip into their surplus of draft capital in order to get themselves in position to draft a perceived “franchise quarterback.” This is to say: the Jets are absolutely going to draft a quarterback, and it’ll likely be whoever was lucky enough to avoid being the 29th name on this hilarious novelty Browns jersey or Eli Manning’s benchwarmer.

Pick No. 4 Cleveland Browns: NC State Edge defender Bradley Chubb

I wanted to put Saquon Barkley here, because Barkley might be the best player in the whole dang draft and it isn’t often that your team gets two shots at drafting a franchise savior. With that said, though, new general manager John Dorsey understands the value of finding running backs in the later stages of the draft (Kareem Hunt, the AFC’s leading rusher in 2017, was drafted by Dorsey in the third-round of the 2017 NFL Draft; Spencer Ware, who was well on his way to becoming Kansas City’s Next Great Back before an ACL injury allowed Hunt to enter the fray, was a sixth-rounder in 2013), so it would not shock me if he opted to instead find a running mate for 2017 No. 1 pick Myles Garrett.

Pick No. 5 Denver Broncos: Notre Dame G Quenton Nelson

Obvious need: Offensive line

Secondary need: Running back; Long-term plan at quarterback

The Broncos probably need a new quarterback, though the addition of Case Keenum, coupled with John Elway’s steadfast and unshakable belief in Paxton Lynch’s professional quarterbacking acumen, should prevent Denver from dipping their toes in these waters for at least another year. In lieu of Baker Mayfield or Lamar Jackson, it makes sense for Denver to pad the offensive line with a dude who is apparently a millennial Steve Hutchison.

Pick No. 6 Indianapolis Colts: Penn State RB Saquon Barkley

Obvious need: Offensive line; Edge rusher

Secondary need: Secondary

I’m not playing the “trades included!” game for this exercise, but if I had to realistically pick one team that would willingly ship their first-round selection elsewhere, it would be the Colts. Indianapolis must address their longstanding needs along the offensive line eventually—this unit was, after all, nearly complicit in the murder of Andrew Luck—but drafting Barkley would provide the Colts with a multifarious offensive centerpiece and, more importantly, take some of the scoring load off of Luck’s ailing shoulder.

Pick No. 7 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Alabama DB Minkah Fitzpatrick

Obvious need: Secondary

Secondary need: Running back

Let me go on record as saying that, before Hard Knocks first aired last summer, I assumed the Bucs were at least headed for the NFC Playoffs, if not the Super Bowl. That was a bad sports take.

Pick No. 8 Chicago Bears: Ohio State CB Denzel Ward

Obvious need: Wide receiver

Secondary need: Some kind of edge defender; Probably also a cornerback

The Bears signed Allen Robinson, who is coming off an ACL injury and whose last good season occurred in 2015, to a $42 million contract this offseason, thereby temporarily placating their need for a top-end No. 1 receiver. Chicago should still make rounding out their receiver depth chart a priority (for context, Demarcus Ayers is currently, like, the third-best receiver on their roster), but No. 8 is probably a bit to early to reach on the likes of Courtland Sutton, Christian Kirk, or Calvin Ridley. Shutdown cornerbacks are always in style and the Bears require plenty of help pretty much everywhere, so the BPA approach makes sense here.

Pick No. 9 San Francisco 49ers: Georgia ILB Roquan Smith

Obvious need: Some kind of linebacker

Secondary need: Wide receiver

Who could have guessed that Reuben Foster, who was sent home from the NFL Combine—the most important job interview of his life—for verbally abusing a student medical worker that committed the unforgivable atrocity of not knowing who Reuben Foster was, would wind up being a contemptible butthole in the professional ranks? Foster stands accused of attacking his girlfriend, and if Foster is convicted of the criminal charges levied against him, he will be unemployed, and the Niners will be in need of a new linebacker. Smith, a dynamic, sideline-to-sideline hellbeast cut from the Ryan Shazier mold, would slot in as a first-day starter.

Pick No. 10 Oakland Raiders: Virginia Tech ILB Tremaine Edmunds

Obvious need: Secondary help; Inside linebacker

Secondary need: Wide receiver

Edmunds, a hulking throwback compared to contemporary speedsters like Smith, is probably even better than his draft stock indicates.

Pick No. 11 Miami Dolphins: Boston College LB Harold Landry

Obvious need: Interior defensive line

Secondary need: Quarterback; Wide receiver

The Dolphins, ostensibly in the midst of a roster overhaul (they shipped out Jarvis Landry and Ndamukong Suh, but somewhat inexplicably acquired Robert Quinn and Danny Amendola) have immediate needs at virtually every position, so I could see them getting a little weird and gambling on a fluid, versatile linebacker hybrid whose exceptional collegiate production (25 sacks in 36 career games) precedes him.

Pick No. 12 Buffalo Bills: Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield

Obvious need: Quarterback

Secondary need: Wide receiver; Offensive line

The Bills did sign 27-year-old A.J. McCarron to a surprisingly tiny two-year, $10 million contract this offseason, so it is very possible that Brandon Beane and his cronies view McCarron as merely a bridge quarterback, one who could keep the team competitive while it grooms its quarterback of the future—namely, a Heisman-winning virtuoso. I’d like to think Mayfield would be a welcome participant in the requisite tailgating proceedings up in Buffalo.

Pick No. 13 Washington: Florida State S Derwin James

Obvious need: Secondary

Secondary need: Starting running back

That James’ draft stock has dropped fairly substantially is bonkers. Mock drafts are obviously ridiculous exercises in futility (erm...except for this one), and there is always, unfailingly, some stud player whose stock slips without warning (oddly enough, Washington’s first-round pick last season, DL Jonathan Allen, fits this description).

Washington currently has a safety on their roster by the name of Fish Smithson, presumably because Magnum Bowflex and Beef Wellington were already taken. I’m certain Washington can make room for James in their rotation.

Pick No. 14 Green Bay Packers: UTSA Edge defender Marcus Davenport

Obvious need: Interior offensive line

Secondary need: Linebacker

Because you can never have enough pass rushers.

Pick No. 15 Arizona Cardinals: Alabama WR Calvin Ridley

Obvious need: Quarterback

Secondary need: Wide receiver; Secondary

Fun fact: Sam Bradford, who signed with Arizona this offseason, has made nearly $150 million in his career. One-hundred and fifty million dollars. Why do teams keep doing this.

While the Cardinals should find a quarterback who is NOT Sam Bradford as soon as possible, they are stuck with him for at least this season, which means that it would be prudent to surround him as many talented playmakers as possible.

Pick No. 16 Baltimore Ravens: LSU Edge defender Arden Key

Obvious need: Wide receiver

Secondary need: Some kind of linebacker; A tight end who is not Maxx Williams

Do you guys recall the shameless and unrelenting Maxx Williams love that suffused the pages of this very website three years ago? Fun times. Maxx Williams is a bad football player, and thus the Ravens should do everything in their power to replace him.

Alas, Baltimore will probably take a linebacker, who will almost assuredly become the next Terrell Suggs. The reckoning is coming, and the Ravens have been “down” for far too long.

Pick No. 17 Los Angeles Chargers: Florida DL Taven Bryan

Obvious need: Defensive line

Secondary need: Long term plan at quarterback

Unearthing a stud interior lineman could enable the Chargers to challenge Philadelphia as owner’s of the league’s most fearsome defensive line.

Pick No. 18 Seattle Seahawks: Notre Dame OL Mike McGlinchey

Obvious need: OMG offensive linemen the Seahawks are so laughably bad

Secondary need: Wide receiver; Cornerback

If we were to remove some of the incredibly narrow parameters of what we use to determine the merits of the the league’s “most valuable” player—Did they play for a winning team?; Were their stats awesome?—and replace them with criteria that aren’t as strictly evaluable, then I think Russell Wilson would’ve won MVP in a landslide last season. Should Wilson ever miss any extended period of game action, Seattle is so screwed. See for yourselves. This is a four-win roster without Wilson.

The first step to safeguarding the franchise centerpiece is drafting serviceable linemen. The Seahawks, amazingly, have yet to figure this out.

Pick No. 19 Dallas Cowboys: Texas A&M WR Christian Kirk

Obvious need: Wide receiver; Probably defensive line

Secondary need: Secondary

How Dallas goes about replacing Dez Bryant, an imposing, volcanic outside receiver with an insatiable appetite for red-zone targets, will be among the most intriguing stories of the offseason. Drafting Kirk, whose likeness to New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. has earned him the “Baby Beckham” moniker, would be a good start.

Pick No. 20 Detroit Lions: Iowa CB Josh Jackson

Obvious need: Cornerback

Secondary need: Running back

Ugh. Since, like, 2011, the Lions have remained trapped in this endless void of mediocrity; they’ve been a solid, formidable playoff contender for the most part, but no one in their right mind believes that this group can realistically compete for a Super Bowl. How do you escape this void? You either sell out and tank unapologetically, or you pray that you uncover a treasure trove of riches like the Saints did in last year’s draft. Jackson isn’t as highly regarded as Marshon Lattimore was, but he’s a solid player who fills a need and projects as an immediate starter opposite of Darrius Slay.

Pick No. 21 Cincinnati Bengals: Alabama LB Rashaan Evans

Obvious need: Offensive line

Secondary need: Wide receiver

I feel bad for sending Evans here, because he seems like a nice enough kid. 6ix9nine would make a good Bengal.

Pick No. 22 Buffalo Bills: UCLA OT Kolton Miller

After losing their best offensive lineman to retirement (correction: the fleshy, pulsating anger mound known as Richie Incognito apparently retired before subsequently unretiring and demanding his release—either way, he won’t play for Buffalo in 2018) and their second-best offensive lineman to a trade (Cordy Glenn), the Bills need to initiate the rebuilding process.

Pick No. 23 New England Patriots: Georgia G Isaiah Wynn

Obvious need: Long-term plan at quarterback

Secondary need: Linebacker; Offensive line

Whoa, boy: the Patriots are “impressed” by former Louisville quarterback and Heisman winner Lamar Jackson. Is this finally the year Bill Belichick drafts Tom Brady’s replacement? LOL NOPE. They will probably take a guard, or something.

Pick No 24: Carolina Panthers: Alabama S Ronnie Harrison

Obvious need: Cornerback/Safety

Secondary need: Pass rusher

The Panthers are exciting again! The NFL is a better league when Cam Newton is doing Cam Newton things.

Pick No. 25 Tennessee Titans: Boise State LB Leighton Vander Esch

Obvious need: Linebacker; Defensive line

Secondary need: Wide receiver

Noooooo this was supposed to be the Steelers’ guy! The Titans are pretty loaded across the board, so upgrading at middle linebacker would represent a luxury pick. Tennessee could also afford to beef up its defensive line a bit, so perhaps they’ll take that route and Vander Esch can assume his rightful home in the middle of Pittsburgh’s front seven.

Pick No. 26 Atlanta Falcons: Washington NT Vita Vea

Obvious need: Interior defensive line

Secondary need: Wide receiver

My favorite aspect of social media is that professional athletes, knowing full well that reporters, overzealous fans, and Reddit detectives will go to insane lengths to expose the purported hidden narratives and contradictions underpinning their online activity, will intentionally gaslight their online followings by posting vague, cryptic, and out-of-context messages. Yesterday, Falcons superstar Julio Jones stripped his Twitter account of everything Falcons-related, which, naturally, sent NFL observers into a frenzy. Was a trade imminent, perhaps a reunion with former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco? (It should be noted that the Niners boast a familiar offense, a shiny, handsome new quarterback, plenty of cap room, and, critically, attractive draft capital, so a shipping the No. 9 pick and maybe a third-rounder or something eastward to acquire Jones is a move that makes sense for San Francisco and Atlanta—just saying.) It was later reported that Jones had no insidious intentions and that he merely wanted “a fresh start” on social media, but c’mon; he knew exactly what he was doing. It’s always fun to keep the offseason interesting, so I respect the hustle.

Pick No. 27 New Orleans Saints: South Carolina TE Hayden Hurst

Obvious need: Linebacker; Developmental quarterback

Secondary need: Tight end

The Saints are so good. Here’s an early, pre-draft hot take: the Saints are going to win the NFC this season. They are so good that they can afford to reach on a position of need rather than draft a good player to slot in elsewhere for the heck of it.

Pick No. 28 Pittsburgh Steelers: LSU RB Derrius Guice

Obvious need: Inside linebacker

Secondary need: Safety; Developmental quarterback

I make this prediction only because it seems like Pittsburgh’s front office has expressed a lot of interest in Guice during the pre-draft evaluation process. I am firmly in the Le’Veon Bell is an amazing, singular talent and must be retained at all costs camp, but I am a disciple of the there is no possible way the Steelers are gonna pay him what he deserves faith. Drafting an inside linebacker, one can assume, is at the tippy-top of Pittsburgh’s checksheet of priorities, but if Smith, Edmunds, Evans, and Vander Esch are all off the board, running back becomes an acceptable hole to fill.

Pick No. 29 Jacksonville Jaguars: Louisville QB Lamar Jackson

Obvious need: Wide receiver

Secondary need: Developmental quarterback; Tight end

Jacksonville handled the Blake Bortles situation about as masterfully as they could’ve hoped. By extending Bortles this offseason, the Jaguars shaved nearly $9 million from his 2018 cap hit, providing themselves with an appreciable degree of short-term financial flexibility. Though Bortles’ cap hit ultimately swells to north of $26 million in 2020, Jacksonville’s front office has included an “out” in his current deal that would allow the Jaguars to incur just over $6 million in dead money if they cut Bortles in the 2020 offseason.

In plain language, the structure of Bortles’ contract does not provide him with any long-term assurances, which gives Jacksonville free rein to enlist a quarterback prospect.

Pick No. 30 Minnesota Vikings: Texas OT Connor Williams

Obvious need: Offensive line

Secondary need: Secondary

The fact that the Vikings advanced the the NFC Championship game with what was essentially the Indianapolis Colts’ offensive line is a testament to the elite talent rounding out the remainder of their roster. Perhaps they can solidify this group by selecting arguably the least athletic offensive line prospect in league history.

Pick No. 31 New England Patriots: OSU QB Mason Rudolph

Oh, shucks! We really were gonna take Jackson, you guys! But the Jaguars picked him! Darn!”

Pick No. 32 Philadelphia Eagles: Maryland WR D.J. Moore

Obvious need: Left tackle

Secondary need: Wide receiver

I don’t wanna make any sweeping generalizations about the citizens of Philadelphia, but their sports fans need to chill. Is Villanova even in the downtown proper? Let’s cool this erroneous “City of Champions” discourse, and let’s definitely stop throwing full beer cans at professional athletes.

So that is that. I’m gonna set the over/under for correct guesses at 6, and I’m definitely taking the under.