SportsPulse: It’s the end of an era in Dallas after the departure of star receiver Dez Bryant. Lorenzo Reyes details where each side goes from here.
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With the NFL draft set to kick off next week, the top picks in the first round have yet to take shape.
What has become clear: Quarterbacks should fly off the board quickly, with demand once again seemingly outweighing supply. How exactly the dominoes fall at that position could set the rest of the first round into motion.
1. Browns — Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming: Taking the strong-armed Allen seemed almost unfathomable even just a few weeks ago. Now buzz continues to build that Cleveland is make a considerable gamble on the quarterback who might have the highest upside of any thrower. With Tyrod Taylor able to open the season as starter, Hue Jackson can keep Allen out of the fire as he gets a better handle on his subpar mechanics and ball placement (56% completion rate in college). But Jackson needs to show he can tailor his offense to Allen’s skill set after doing few favors last year for DeShone Kizer, another talented but raw rookie.
2. Giants — Sam Darnold, QB, Southern California: This spot may be where the draft truly begins to take shape. New general manager Dave Gettleman has a wealth of options, whether taking a non-quarterback who can help Eli Manning and Co. right away or trading back to stockpile picks. New York hasn’t had a top-five pick since 2004, however, and should strongly the consider the opportunity to take a franchise passer. Darnold is a prodigious talent whose physical and mental makeup make him a perfect pick as Manning’s apprentice.
3. Jets (from Colts) — Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma: Passing up Josh Rosen could be a difficult proposition for GM Mike Maccagnan given how well-aligned the draft’s most pro-ready quarterback appears to be with offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates’ philosophy. But Mayfield generates a unique spark for an offense in need of someone who can create on the fly. If his brashness and signature flare translate to the Jets, Broadway Baker will be a phenomenon.
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4. Browns (from Texans) — Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State: If quarterbacks are taken with top three picks for the first time since 1999, Cleveland stands to be perhaps the primary benefactor. With their new QB already in tow, the Browns can then snap up a cornerstone at another position. Barkley’s rare blend of power, speed and agility place him on a level that few incoming running backs from the past 10 years can match. Most importantly, he allows any team to recalibrate its offense and ease the burden on the rest of the unit, which would be a welcome development for a Cleveland attack that could still be finding its footing with a young passer and new left tackle after Joe Thomas’ retirement.
5. Broncos — Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA: Maybe John Elway really is satisfied with Case Keenum and prepared to bypass a top quarterback should one fall to him. Yet it’s difficult to imagine Elway being satiated with a short-term solution when he’s staring at a potential franchise passer that has proven so elusive so far. Rosen’s refined skill set would be an even more welcome addition should Keenum prove to be a one-year wonder.
6. Colts (from Jets) — Bradley Chubb, DE, North Carolina State: A run on quarterbacks would be a welcome development for Indianapolis, which would have its pick of most of the top non-skill position players after trading back to this spot. Solidifying the offensive front for Andrew Luck with someone like Quenton Nelson could be a strong consideration. But it’s hard to overstate the value that Chubb, the draft’s pre-eminent pass rusher, would bring to a defense that ranked second to last in sacks last season.
7. Buccaneers — Derwin James, S, Florida State: Tampa Bay needs to reload in the secondary after ranking as the worst defense in total yards and against the pass in 2017. Whether in coverage, run support or on a blitz, James makes plays and brings much-needed leadership with his confident demeanor.
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8. Bears — Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame: After spending the last three months with an almost singular focus on aiding second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago should be overjoyed if Nelson is still on the board. A mauler in the run game with the footwork and form to excel in pass protection, Nelson might have both the highest floor and ceiling of any prospect in the class.
9. 49ers — Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia:Reuben Foster’s place on the team is under “great scrutiny” after he was charged with three felonies. Regardless of his future, the 49ers need play-making ability and leadership at linebacker, and rangy Smith offers ample amounts of both.
10. Raiders — Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech: Aiding former defensive player of the year Khalil Mack is a priority for Jon Gruden, and Edmunds is the kind of player who can help redirect attention from opposing offenses. His supersized frame (6-5, 253) and remarkable athleticism should make him an asset both as a run stuffer and edge rusher.
11. Dolphins — Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State: While Miami might have more pressing needs, a top-flight cornerback would be a welcome addition for a defense constantly trying to keep up with Tom Brady and the Patriots passing attack. Ward is the class of his position and demonstrates both the fluidity and ball skills to make life difficult for all kinds of opposing receivers.
12. Bills (from Bengals) — Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville: With a pressing need at quarterback and five of the top 65 picks, Buffalo seems like a solid bet to make another move to vault even higher after already advancing to this slot. If Buffalo misses out on the first four quarterbacks, however, Jackson is the kind of distinct talent that the team can build an offense around — and might have to, given his elusive ability as a runner and uneven showings as a pocket passer.
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13. Redskins — Vita Vea, DT, Washington: There’s no question the NFL’s last-ranked run defense needs reinforcements. At 6-4 and 347 pounds, Vea can clog lanes in the early going while he learns to build on his impressive movement skills.
14. Packers — Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama: New defensive coordinator Mike Pettine places a premium on keeping quarterbacks on their toes with a wide range of different looks, and Fitzpatrick is the kind of versatile piece he would covet. Though the do-everything defensive back doesn’t fit the traditional role of a lockdown corner on the outside, Green Bay would find plenty of ways to capitalize on his intelligence and closing speed.
15. Cardinals — Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama: Arizona might have to wait until a later round to pull the trigger on a quarterback. Instead, Ridley would add another dimension as a deep threat to a potentially explosive offense and provide a needed option beyond Larry Fitzgerald.
16. Ravens — Marcus Davenport, DE, Texas-San Antonio: Facing his last draft in Baltimore, Ozzie Newsome might be inclined to find Terrell Suggs’ successor with the massive Davenport, who would be well-served by some pass rushing classes at Ball So Hard University.
17. Chargers — Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State: No team gave up more yards per carry (4.9) last season than the Bolts. Vander Esch’s lateral speed and battering-ram hits would be a salve, especially if he shows more restraint in his pursuit.
18. Seahawks — Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa: Once overflowing with burgeoning talent in the secondary, Pete Carroll’s defense has entered a full-on rebuild amid the departure of Richard Sherman, among others. Seattle’s Cover 3 scheme would afford Jackson a role in which he could make lots of plays on the ball after he led the Football Bowl Subdivision with eight interceptions last year.
19. Cowboys — DJ Moore, WR, Maryland: After dispatching Dez Bryant, Dallas has a need at wide receiver too large to ignore. Moore thrives on creating separation and picking up yards after the catch on out routes and screens, which would be a boon for Dak Prescott.
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20. Lions — Harold Landry, DE/LB, Boston College: It would only be fitting for the Matt Patricia era in Detroit to kick off with a pick from the New England area. What Landry lacks in a strength he makes up for with his explosive burst and top-notch elasticity.
21. Bengals (from Bills) — James Daniels, C, Iowa: The interior of Cincinnati’s offensive line is still in disrepair, and Daniels can serve as a stabilizing force for years.
22. Bills (from Chiefs) — Will Hernandez, G, Texas El-Paso: Richie Incognito’s retirement means the Bills are now without their three best starters from last year’s offensive line. The powerful Hernandez would open holes for LeSean McCoy, who last year averaged less than 4 yards per carry for the first time in his career.
23. Patriots (from Rams) — Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame: With Nate Solder gone, New England could try to scrape by at left tackle with LaAdrian Waddle and Tony Garcia, last year’s third-round pick who missed the entire season with blood clots in his lungs. But the better tactic might be to grab McGlinchey to keep the pressure off Brady (and his eventual successor).
24. Panthers — Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville: Carolina needs someone to fill the starting void opposite James Bradberry, and Alexander is a sticky cover corner whose athleticism and savvy will serve him well against an imposing array of NFC South receivers.
25. Titans — Sam Hubbard, DE/LB, Ohio State: Beyond the Buckeye connection, the slippery pass rusher might be just what Mike Vrabel is looking for as he tries to ramp up the pressure in Year 1.
26. Falcons — Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama: Atlanta has ample athleticism throughout its defense, but Payne will serve a needed role as a run stuffer who can handle the dirty work.
27. Saints — Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina: New Orleans has flirted with finding another tight end for Drew Brees, and the sure-handed Hurst could handle a starting role right away.
28. Steelers — Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama: Replacing Ryan Shazier won’t be easy, but the athletic Evans can cover a lot of ground and shore up a defense with several holes up the middle.
29. Jaguars — Isaiah Wynn, G/OT, Georgia: Even after ponying up for Andrew Norwell, Jacksonville might look to further bolster its offensive line with the fleet-footed Wynn, whose truncated build portends a move inside.
30. Vikings — Connor Williams, G/OT, Texas: A savvy protector, he could be a quick fill-in at guard with potential to be a left tackle down the road.
31. Patriots — Derrius Guice, RB, LSU: Never afraid to take a flier when talent outweighs cost, Bill Belichick could deploy the rugged runner between the tackles while he creates mismatches for James White and Rex Burkhead elsewhere.
32. Eagles — Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State: With no pressing needs, Philadelphia can look to create further matchup problems by grabbing Goedert, who could be difficult to defend alongside Zach Ertz and a talented group of receivers.
Follow Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz