NFL Draft 2018: 5 potential first-round surprises
The opening night of the NFL Draft is always full of surprises and 2018 should be no exception.
No mock draft is ever perfect and trying to predict what will happen is often an exercise in futility, with a surprise name always sneaking into the first round.
Here we look at five prospects from this year's class who could go earlier than expected and examine potential fits for them.
WR Dante Pettis - Washington
Potential fits: Green Bay Packers, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens
This is a class of wide receivers somewhat sparse on starting calibre players who can create separation downfield. Pettis is one such receiver who has the speed to do that but can also win with physicality at the top of his routes.
An impressive ball tracker who excels after the catch, Pettis is also a significant threat on special teams with nine punt return touchdowns at Washington. In a class full of limited receiving talents, teams looking for offensive help with their first pick may well gravitate to a player who can impact two facets of the game.
The Packers need receiver help with Jordy Nelson gone and Randall Cobb seemingly already in decline. They reportedly hosted Pettis for a pre-draft visit, though their first-round pick (14th overall) could be a little early for him. He would also be a nice complement to Julio Jones in Atlanta and could provide the spark the Baltimore passing game needs.
TE Mike Gesicki - Penn State
Potential fits: New Orleans Saints, Minnesota Vikings
The tight end class is not as strong as that of last year, when three went in the first round.
However, every team in the NFL knows the value of a true game-changing talent at the position. You only need to watch Rob Gronkowski to see what a difference a generational one can make.
Gesicki put on a show at the Scouting Combine and his athleticism and proficiency for making difficult catches gives him an extremely high ceiling that could lead to a team deciding he should not be allowed out of the top 32.
The Saints have never replaced Jimmy Graham and could do so by picking Gesicki, who would also pair nicely with the reliable Kyle Rudolph in Minnesota.
EDGE Lorenzo Carter - Georgia
Potential fits: Detroit Lions, Tennessee Titans, Philadelphia Eagles
After Bradley Chubb and Harold Landry, there is a clear drop-off in talent among this crop of pass rushers. However, the need for players who can affect the quarterback is one that will never subside and pass rushers will likely be pushed up the board as a result.
Carter is the perfect candidate for such a rise. He recorded only 14 sacks over four seasons but is a remarkable athlete who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds at 250 pounds at the Combine. That kind of burst was evident on film, as was an ability to bend around the corner, a blend of skills likely to at least tempt a team to pull the trigger on him earlier than anticipated.
Finding another pass rusher to go with the franchise-tagged Ezekiel Ansah should be a priority for Detroit, while the Titans are also in need of help off the edge to take their defense to the next level. Carter would fit the bill for both. The Eagles have been collecting pass rushers, but the draft is as much about building on strengths as it is about filling needs, and Michael Bennett and Chris Long will not be around forever.
EDGE Josh Sweat - Florida State
Potential fits: Seattle Seahawks, Pittsburgh Steelers
Sweat is something of a similar prospect to Carter. He is just as athletically blessed but the production (14.5 sacks in three years) does not quite reflect his capabilities.
Yet he has hugely impressive burst off the ball and excels at bending his body to turn the corner. If a team believes they can harness that on a consistent basis Sweat should be gone before the first day is out.
The Seahawks should love Sweat's athletic ability as they look to combat something of a developing talent drain up front. Bud Dupree, a first-round pick in 2015, has not had the impact the Steelers would have expected, so Sweat would also make sense for Pittsburgh.
DL Rasheem Green - USC
Potential fits: New England Patriots, Dallas Cowboys
Green is fortunate he is making the jump to the NFL in an era where 'position-less' players are on the rise. Despite spending much of his career at USC at defensive tackle, it is not clear whether Green's best fit is as an interior defensive lineman or as an edge rusher.
But Green is 6'4" and 275 pounds with a 4.73-second 40 time under his belt and 10 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss in 2017. That kind of production is not taken lightly in an NFL where interior disruption is king. Look for a team to make him a day-one surprise and figure the rest out later.
Bill Belichick has long been the best in the league at figuring out how to best utilise players, and the Patriots' pass rush is crying out for a talent of Green's calibre. His versatility should also appeal to a Cowboys team that has gotten precious little out of recent picks on the defensive line save for Demarcus Lawrence.