The SemiColumn: 10 Tantalizing Storylines Heading Into The 2018 NFL Draft

By | April 20, 2018
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We’re less than one week from what figures to be a wild first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, so it’s time for the annual pre-draft SemiColumn, examining the latest & greatest (and stupidest) draft rumors we’re hearing to date.

Here are 10 questions/storylines to watch between now and next Thursday’s opening day of the draft.

Could Minkah Fitzpatrick Fall To The Redskins At #13 Overall?

via PFF/Getty Images

As ridiculous as this would’ve sounded back in February, there is a very realistic scenario where stud defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick from the University of Alabama falls to the Redskins pick at #13.

For example: let’s assume the “big 4” quarterbacks (Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen, and Josh Rosen) are taken among the top 11 picks (which I think is a lock). Saquon Barkley, Bradley Chubb, and Quenton Nelson will be taken among the top 10 picks (that’s also a lock). Let’s also say that Tremaine Edmunds, Denzel Ward, and Derwin James are taken among the top 12 (highly likely); that’s 10 guys right there. Roquan Smith should be a top 12 pick, too (more on him in a second); that’s 11 guys. So, if someone like defensive tackle Vita Vea (could be a great fit in Oakland or Miami) or edge rushers Harold Landry or Marcus Davenport slip into the top 12 (or maybe even Lamar Jackson?), Fitzpatrick would be sitting there at 13.

On Bleacher Report’s “Stick To Football” podcast, Matt Miller mentioned this week that Fitzpatrick’s landing spot sounds like it’s in the “10 to 14” range. This echoes what other insiders have also reported. I’m trilled to hear that he’s very high on the Redskins wish list, because he would be a bona fide stud at free safety and/or slot cornerback, which are two positions of need (especially after we lost Kendall Fuller).

For those who might be interested, I wrote a rather in-depth pre-draft profile of Fitzpatrick, which you can find here.

The Redskins Pursuit Of A Running Back In The NFL Draft

The Redskins have made no secrets about their interest in running back Derrius Guice from LSU, and it continues to reinforce their publicly-stated desire to upgrade at running back (and it’s about damn time).

While many — present company included — believe the #13 overall pick is a bit too “rich” to take Guice (and the familiar “WE SHOULD TRADE DOWN!!!” refrain is easier said than done), the Redskins will likely miss out on the top five or or six running backs in this draft by the time their second round pick rolls around (#44) overall. There’s a very strong chance that Guice, Ronald Jones from USC, and Sony Michel from Georgia are all taken among the top 35 or 40 picks. After that, you’re maybe looking at Nick Chubb from Georgia (who I think would be a bit redundant to Samaje Perine’s skillset) or Rashad Penny from San Diego State (a ridiculously productive — though physically unspectacular — running back who looked like a man amongst children, albeit against an inferior level of talent in the Mountain West Conference), though there’s no guarantee either of them will be available at #44, either.

One intriguing name that would be a great fit for Washington, at that position: Kerryon Johnson from Auburn, a smooth, tough, between-the-tackles runner whose running style has been compared to that of Le’Veon Ball. Like Bell, Johnson could be valuable asset in the passing game as well.

The New York Giants And The Hottest Pre-Draft Rumor

via TMZsports.com

The hottest rumor of the week has been Penn State running back Saquon Barkley being selected #2 overall by the New York Giants being “inevitable,” as ESPN’s Todd McShay described it (building on a report from ESPN’s Louis Riddick). To me, this confirms what i’ve suspected all along: the Giants can’t/won’t take a quarterback with this pick, and burn the bridges with Eli Manning (again).

However, i’m still not 100% sold that the Giants will take Barkley with this pick. I still have a hunch that, if they kept the #2 overall pick, they would take defensive end Bradley Chubb from NC State, instead of Barkley. Another interesting wrinkle to this: from what I hear, the Giants want to put themselves in a position where they can trade off the #2 pick, but still somehow get Quenton Nelson. I just don’t think that’s very likely.

If the Giants don’t draft Barkley at #2, expect them to have running back high on their “shopping list” with their second round pick. They’re one of the teams that could snatch up Rashad Penny, Nick Chubb, or Kerryon Johnson at the top of the second round.

Three Locks Among The Top Five Picks

Assuming nothing wacky happens between now and next Thursday, three picks are starting to approach “lock” status (although, as always, a lot can still change between today and next Thursday): Sam Darnold going #1 overall to the Cleveland Browns, the New York Jets taking Baker Mayfield at #3 overall, and the Browns taking Bradley Chubb at #4 overall (assuming Chubb isn’t taken at #2, and that they don’t themselves trade back from this pick).

So, yes, you should ignore all the “Browns could take Josh Allen” talk (it’s increasingly doubtful this will happen). I still think Darnold goes #1, and it’s been widely rumored that Cleveland would love to use the #4 pick on Chubb, envisioning a pass rush featuring Chubb on the opposite side of Myles Garrett, last year’s #1 overall pick.

A Darkhorse Team To Trade Up For A Quarterback

One interesting “trade up” team to watch is the Arizona Cardinals. If Josh Allen falls outside the top four picks — there’s certainly a possibility he could, demonstrated by the top 13 mock above — Arizona could try to sneak ahead of the Buffalo Bills, moving up to #5 or #6 to get Allen.

There’s precedent for such a move, too. In 2012, Dallas moved up from #14 overall to #6 overall to grab cornerback Morris Claiborne, by sending the Rams their 1st (#14) and 2nd (#45) in that draft. Could Arizona do the same with their 1st (#15) and 2nd (#47)? The big drawback to making that deal would be the fact such a deal would leave Arizona with only three picks in this year’s draft; the Cardinals enter the draft with only their first, second, third, and fifth round picks.

The Buffalo Bills Still Want To Make Moves

Conversely, Buffalo could package the better of their two first and second round picks (#12 and #53), to try and trade up as well, which would be worth more than the Cardinals’ two picks (according to the NFL Draft pick value chart). Buffalo could make that deal, and still have five selections in the first three rounds of the draft. That’s why everyone believes Buffalo is more likely to move up (presumably to try to grab Josh Allen).

One spot to keep an eye on, for a trade: Denver, at the #5 overall pick, who has been rumored to have interest in getting Buffalo’s two first-round picks. A deal where the Bills send #12 and #21 to Denver for the #5 pick plus the Broncos’ 3rd round pick (#71 overall) could work, according to the draft pick value chart.

Could Indianapolis Trade Down (Again)?

If Saquon Barkley, Bradley Chubb, AND Quenton Nelson are all taken among the top five picks (it could happen), keep an eye on Indianapolis again trading back from the 6th overall pick — perhaps with Miami at #11 or Buffalo at #12 — with the hopes of dropping back and getting more draft picks, but still being in position to grab Roquan Smith.

Indianapolis is moving to a 4-3 scheme under new defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, and Smith is — almost strictly — best suited as a 4-3 WILL (weakside) linebacker, ala Telvin Smith in Jacksonville or Lavonte David in Tampa Bay.

The Next Travis Frederick?

One of the less-heralded-but-fastest-rising names in the draft right now is Frank Ragnow, a Center from the University of Arkansas. It sounds like he could be this year’s version of Travis Frederick — not necessarily a player who’ll turn into one of the very best at his position in the NFL (though it’s certainly possible), but someone who could surprise a lot of people if/when he’s taken at the end of the first round.

The Newest “Heir Apparent” To Tom Brady

via Boston.CBSlocal.com

I’m not saying it’s going to happen, but there’s certainly a possibility that the New England Patriots could package their two first-round picks (#23 and #31 overall) and move up into the top 10 of the draft, presumably to take a quarterback — like, say, Josh Rosen — if he fell into the latter part of the top 10.

Referring back to the draft pick value chart, trading those two picks could move them up to the 8th or 9th overall pick, meaning the Patriots could take someone like Rosen if here were available, and still keep their two second round picks.

A Quick, Updated “Mini” Mock Draft

I’m fully admitting that this is a purely hypothetical and very-likely-to-be-wrong exercise, given that — as mentioned above — we’ll probably see at least one or two trades among the top 12 picks. But if things were to surprisingly stay static, here’s a quick look at what could happen in the top 13, based on the latest intel i’m hearing/reading/seeing…

1. Cleveland — Sam Darnold, QB, USC
2. NY Giants — Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
3. NY Jets (from Indianapolis) — Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
4. Cleveland (from Houston) — Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State
5. Denver — Quenton Nelson, OL, Notre Dame
6. Indianapolis — Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
7. Tampa Bay — Derwin James, Safety, Florida State
8. Chicago — Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
9. San Francisco — Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
10. Oakland — Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
11. Miami — Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
12. Buffalo — Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
13. Washington — Vita Vea, DT, Washington

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