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Matt Tabeek's 2018 NFL Mock Draft 5.0: Falcons land top defender in QB-heavy first round

Posted Apr 25, 2018

With several teams taking quarterbacks early on, Atlanta stays put and lands a top target at No. 26

After poring over stats, highlight videos, the latest free agent moves and team needs for all 32 NFL teams, it's finally here -- my final mock draft of 2018.

And, yes, I have the Falcons picking yet another player for the fifth straight mock.

Why? Because things change in the NFL – in a hurry, folks. When I put together my first mock draft way back on March 1, so much had yet to unfold in free agency, not to mention some key trades.

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Plus, the Falcons have since made several moves in free agency, too. Maybe signing guard Brandon Fusco or tight end Logan Paulsen wasn’t as splashy as some Falcons fans would’ve liked, but they were still significant.

But back to the 2018 NFL Draft, which kicks off Thursday night in Dallas. There’s a very good chance that the top of the first round is going to be quarterback-heavy with the Browns, Jets, Bills, Dolphins, Cardinals, Giants and possibly even the Patriots being linked to quarterbacks in various reports. And with three teams holding at least two first-round picks, there could be some teams looking to move up.

So what does that mean for the Falcons? Well, with so many quarterbacks possibly going early – and up to six could realistically go in the first round – that would result in other (very good) players moving down some. And that would be a good thing for Atlanta.

So, without further ado, onto mock draft 5.0:

1. CLEVELAND BROWNS

QB Sam Darnold, USC. This is a major change from my previous four mock drafts, which had Josh Allen going here. While I love Allen’s size and arm strength, Sam Darnold is the safer pick. And when you’re picking at No. 1, you better get it right. The 6-foot-3, 221-pound former Trojan checks all of the boxes – size, arm strength, accuracy, pocket mobility, poise, field reading capability. The one knock? His wind-up is less than ideal.


2. NEW YORK GIANTS

RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State. I get that a lot of people who cover the league see Dave Gettleman going with a pass rusher here because of his history, but Saquon Barkley is a special talent – and I don’t think the new Giants general manager will pass on the Penn State star. He’ll provide immediate help for that offense and quarterback Eli Manning, who can still be productive for another season or two.


3. NEW YORK JETS (via Colts)

QB Josh Rosen, UCLA. The Jets traded up for one reason: to get their franchise quarterback and with Josh Rosen on the board, the decision here is an easy one for the Jets brass. Some (including yours truly) believe Rosen is even more polished than Sam Darnold and the former Bruins star did nothing to hurt his draft stock during the NFL combine. Now the Jets need to get some more weapons for him.


4. CLEVELAND BROWNS (via Texans)

DE Bradley Chubb, NC State. After securing their franchise quarterback, the Browns select the top defensive end in the NFL Draft for the second year in a row, making Chubb the perfect bookend to last year's No. 1 overall pick, Myles Garrett. Chubb has the potential to be a dominant pass rusher for years to come in the NFL.


5. DENVER BRONCOS

G Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame. Even after signing veteran Case Keenum in free agency, I think John Elway might be tempted to pick Baker Mayfield or Josh Allen here. Regardless, finding a tackle and bolstering the offensive line is a high priority for the Broncos. They'll take former Notre Dame standout Quenton Nelson here, who might just be the best overall prospect in this draft class.


6. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (via Jets)

T Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame. Yes, they could certainly use help with their edge rush on defense, but with Colts will look to fortify their offensive line. Indy needs to do a much better job in protecting its franchise quarterback, Andrew Luck. They'll take the 6-foot-8 Mike McGlinchey, who is a first cousin of Matt Ryan and more than fits the bill.


7. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

SS Derwin James, Florida State. The Bucs need help on defense and helped the edge rush when they acquired Jason Pierre-Paul from the Giants for a third-round pick. They could still bolster that position by taking Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Marcus Davenport, Jeff Holland or Arden Key, but I think the No. 7 spot might be too high for those guys. Instead they'll go with the best strong safety in this draft class - Derwin James. He's a playmaker out of FSU who can blitz, cover and hit.


8. CHICAGO BEARS

CB Denzel Ward, Ohio State. The Bears landed their franchise quarterback last year in Mitchell Trubisky and they've got a potent 1-2 backfield punch in Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. They added tight end Trey Burton as well as receivers Allen Robinson and former Falcon Taylor Gabriel in free agency. Now they get their lockdown corner in Denzel Ward. He’s an athletic ballhawk with tremendous hand skills. The one knock is that he's only 5-foot-10 and has a smaller frame.


9. SAN FRANCISCO 49ers

LB Roquan Smith, Georgia. The 49ers addressed cornerback when they signed Richard Sherman, but they also need a pass rusher, help along the offensive line and a go-to receiver for Jimmy Garoppolo. But with Reuben Foster's future with the team uncertain, they'll pounce on the former Georgia star. Despite being on the small side for a linebacker, Smith has great speed, football instincts and is a leader.


10. OAKLAND RAIDERS

LB Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech. Jon Gruden's forte may be offense, but he also understands that the Raiders need help on defense, especially at linebacker. After missing out on Smith (above), they take Edmunds, a tall linebacker -- he's 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds -- who can run and hit like a truck. He's the son of former NFL tight end Ferrell Edmunds. He should flourish on a unit that already includes Khalil Mack.


11. MIAMI DOLPHINS

QB Josh Allen, Wyoming. Is Ryan Tannehill really the long-term answer in Miami? Between Tannehill's injury concerns and the inconsistent play of Jay Cutler last season, the Dolphins pull the trigger on the former Wyoming star. The strong-armed Allen is big -- he's 6-foot-5 and 233 pounds -- and helped himself a lot at the combine. He should flourish under Gase's tutelage


12. BUFFALO BILLS (via Bengals)

QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma. With Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and now Josh Allen off the board, the Bills stay put and are thrilled to land Baker Mayfield at No. 12. The fiery Heisman Trophy winner should compete with AJ McCarron for the starting job and breathe life into the Bills' offense.


13. WASHINGTON REDSKINS

DT Vita Vea, Washington. The Redskins, already in need of defensive line help, select the mammoth Vita Vea -- who is 6-foot-4, 344 pounds -- arguably the best run-stuffer in this draft class. The former Washington Husky should also help collapse the pocket on a regular basis, too.


14. GREEN BAY PACKERS

WR D.J. Moore, Maryland. The Packers landed tight end Jimmy Graham and defensive end Muhammed Wilkerson in free agency but opted to release longtime go-to receiver Jordy Nelson in a salary-cap move. Green Bay fills Nelson’s void and takes the elusive D.J. Moore out of Maryland, who many scouts believe is the top receiver in this class. The 2017 Big Ten receiver of the year and first-team all-conference selection is plenty big - he's 6-foot, 210 pounds - and clocked a 4.42 in the 40. He did not put up huge numbers, but improved every single season, including last year, when four different quarterbacks ended up throwing passes to him.


15. ARIZONA CARDINALS

QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville. The Cardinals desperately need a quarterback following the retirement of Carson Palmer. Despite signing Sam Bradford to a one-year, $20-million deal, they land who they hope is their QB of the future in Lamar Jackson. There are questions about his accuracy on the run, but comparisons to Michael Vick are spot on - and the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner will inject life into Arizona's offense.


16. BALTIMORE RAVENS

TE Hayden Hurst. The Ravens have major needs at receiver and linebacker, but they also could use a lot of help at tight end. Enter Hayden Hurst, a sure-handed pass catcher out of South Carolina who will likely start right away and turn into Joe Flacco’s safety blanket if he improves elements of his route running.


17. LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

FS Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama. The Chargers need to shore up their run defense, which surrendered a league-worst 4.9 yards per carry in 2017. I’ve gone back and forth here between Da’Ron Payne and Florida’s Taven Bryan, but I'm going safety here -- another need for the Bolts. And it'll be hard to pass on Minkah Fitzpatrick, the top free safety in this class. He can cover the slot, play high safety or handle nickel linebacker responsibilities and has been compared to Budda Baker.


18. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

OT Orlando Brown, Oklahoma. Seattle could address a number of needs here, including offensive line, defensive end and cornerback. Without a Day 2 pick (rounds 2 and 3), the Seahawks must hit on the first pick - and it's time to fix that offensive line and take tackle Orlando Brown. Forget the "historically bad" combine numbers because Brown is massive (6-8, 360 pounds) and the man can play.


19. DALLAS COWBOYS

LB Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State. With a total of 10 draft picks (thanks to four compensatory picks), I wouldn't be surprised if the Cowboys considered moving up to address a number of needs (linebacker, tight end, cornerback/safety, guard and defensive end). If they stay here, it'll be hard to pass on Leighton Vander Esch, who the Cowboys reportedly like a lot and has the athletic ability and tools to become a stud inside for years to come. The Boise State product is a former basketball standout who had a terrific showing at the combine.


20. DETROIT LIONS

DE-OLB Harold Landry, Boston College. Detroit placed the franchise tag on Ziggy Ansah, but expect that Lions defense to get a makeover under new coach Matt Patricia. The versatile Harold Landry, who can play in both a 3-4 and 4-3, should pair up nicely with Ansah. One NFC team pro personnel director says Landry is just like Vic Beasley "coming out with the way he comes off the snap" and "when he puts it together, he'll do what Beasley did."


21. CINCINNATI BENGALS (via Bills)

CB Josh Jackson, Iowa. I previously had the Bengals taking offensive lineman Connor Williams out of Texas here, but the trade for Cordy Glenn addresses the need to bolster the offensive tackle position. Cincinnati also needs to add some speed at cornerback, and they jump at Josh Jackson, who is the definition of a ball hawk with 27 passes defensed and eight interceptions.


22. BUFFALO BILLS (via Chiefs)

OT Connor Williams, Texas. The Bills addressed their defense during the first wave of free agency by re-signing defensive tackle Kyle Williams and then adding Star Lotulelei. I think they'll turn their attention to the offensive line with pick 22 and take 6-foot-6, 320-pound Connor Williams, who fills a need. Williams performed well at the NFL combine and is also a locker room leader.


23. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (via Rams)

CB Jaire Alexander, Louisville. With the first of two first-round picks the Patriots address cornerback, a position that's become somewhat of a sore spot when you consider what happened in Super Bowl LII following the benching of Malcolm Butler. If that ends up being the case, Alexander -- who is 5-10, 196 pounds and ran a blistering 4.38 40 -- is the pick here for the defending AFC champs.


24. CAROLINA PANTHERS

G Isaiah Wynn, Georgia. With the loss of guard Andrew Norwell in free agency, the Panthers will need to replace a major void along the offensive line. Isaiah Wynn more than fits the bill for Carolina. The former Georgia star played both tackle and guard but will likely play the latter in the NFL.


25. TENNESSEE TITANS

DE Marcus Davenport, UTSA. New coach Mike Vrabel knows he needs to find an edge rush, especially if the Titans hope to keep pace with the Jaguars in the AFC South. Enter Marcus Davenport, a 6-foot-6, 264-pound defensive end out of Texas-San Antonio. He can rush standing up or with his hand in the dirt. He tallied a team-best 6.5 sacks and eight quarterback hurries in 2017.


26. ATLANTA FALCONS

DT Da'Ron Payne, Alabama. With only one defensive tackle off the board to this point, the Falcons are beyond thrilled to see Da'Ron Payne sitting there at No. 26. Payne is 6-foot-2, 308 pounds and has been described as a wall of granite. Atlanta not only fills a major void at defensive tackle after Dontari Poe signed with the Panthers in free agency, but it comes away with perhaps the most complete defensive lineman in the draft.


27. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

TE Mike Gesicki, Penn State. The Saints are also looking to address tight end in the draft as well as receiver and possibly find their quarterback of the future. But they'll take arguably the most NFL-ready tight end in this draft class in the 6-foot-5, 247-pound Gesicki, who led all tight ends at the combine in the 40, vertical jump, broad jump and the three-cone. Gesicki should be a nice target for Drew Brees, especially in the red zone.


28. PITTSBURGH STEELERS

LB Rashaan Evans, Alabama. The Steelers have a definite need at inside linebacker and the 6-foot-3, 234-pound Evans compares to Lawrence Timmons and can play all three downs. Evans is a perfect fit for the Steelers' defense, which will be without the injured Ryan Shazier for the 2018 season.


29. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

WR Courtland, Sutton, SMU. The Jaguars made some significant moves in free agency, which included deals with guard Andrew Norwell, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, corner D.J. Hayden and receivers Marqise Lee and Donte Moncrief. I still think they'll look for receiver help in the draft and Sutton -- who is 6-foot-4, 218 pounds -- will be a welcome (and hard to miss) target for Blake Bortles.


30. MINNESOTA VIKINGS

G Will Hernandez, UTEP. There's a lot to like about Will Hernandez, who has the size, power, speed and quickness to bolster the Vikings' offense, which could use help at both tackle and guard. Hernandez, a four-year starter at UTEP, is aggressive, smart and disciplined - and when he gets to the second level, he routinely destroys linebackers. Some NFL scouts believe that Hernandez is polished enough to step in and start right away.


31. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

QB Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State. After trading away both Jacoby Brisett and Jimmy Garoppolo, it's no secret that the Patriots need to get a succession plan at quarterback in place with Tom Brady about to turn 41 in August. As a senior at Oklahoma State, Rudolph led the FBS with 377 passing yards per game (4,904 total) and 37 touchdowns while throwing just nine interceptions.


32. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama. The defending Super Bowl champs have a number of needs to fill, including a playmaker at receiver for quarterback Carson Wentz. Taking the speedy Calvin Ridley here is a no-brainer. The former Alabama star possesses game-changing talent, rare route-running ability and has been compared to Marvin Harrison.

Please Note

The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed on AtlantaFalcons.com represent those of the individual authors. Unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions or policies of the Atlanta Falcons’ organization, front office staff, coaches and executives. The writers’ views are formulated independently from any inside knowledge and/or conversations with Falcons officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.