The NFL is great at creating storylines year round, so it is not hard to think of some storylines heading into the NFL Draft. I do not know if we will see anything as crazy this year as Ole Miss T Laremy Tunsil’s Twitter Account being hacked and tweeting out a video of him smoking weed out of a gas mask. That does not mean that the NFL Draft will be boring this year.
There are three teams that have multiple picks in the first round this year. Cleveland owns the first and 12th pick in the draft, Tennessee owns the fifth and 18th picks in the first round and New Orleans owns the 11th and the 32nd picks in the first round. It is always interesting to see what a team does with two first round picks. The Los Angeles Rams, Minnesota Vikings and New England Patriots do not have any first round picks. It is also interesting to see how a team with no first round picks is able to find value in the NFL Draft.
Here are 10 stories that I will be watching between now and when the NFL Draft starts on April 27th. Let us know what you are looking for in this NFL Draft in the comments section at the end of the article.
1) Can the Cleveland Browns draft Texas A&M DE Myles Garrett first and still draft a franchise quarterback at 12th? – The Browns need to come away with a quarterback at the 12th pick, because if the season started today, their starting quarterback would be either QB Brock Osweiler or QB Cody Kessler. That would be a recipe for going (2-14) this season, so they need to find a rookie that they can start building around and make the move toward respectability. They could have had North Dakota State QB Carson Wentz last year, but they chose to trade that pick to the Philadelphia Eagles for a boatload of picks.
That will be a good move if Wentz does not go onto be an elite NFL quarterback and if they are able to take their two first round picks this year and turn those into a dominant defensive end and a franchise quarterback. I have seen many mocks that have the Browns taking North Carolina QB Mitchell Trubisky or Clemson QB Deshaun Watson with the 12th pick. As long as they can come away with a quarterback they feel they can develop, Cleveland will be a big winner in this draft.
2) Can the San Francisco 49ers trade for Washington QB Kirk Cousins prior to the NFL Draft? – I think Cousins will ultimately become a 49er; the question is whether a trade happens this year prior to the NFL Draft or if he signs there in free agency in the 2018 NFL offseason. If Washington cannot sign him, they would be best to trade him now rather than losing him in free agency, which would probably only net a third round compensatory pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. San Francisco has the ammunition to trade for Cousins; they have the second pick in the NFL Draft. However, they may not want to give up that pick for Cousins, when they can have him in free agency next year.
This is going to be the ultimate cat and mouse game leading up to the NFL Draft. Each team is going to try to control the negotiation so they can receive the most compensation in the NFL Trade. Washington wants a boatload of compensation and San Francisco wants Cousins, but at the right price. The NFL Draft may produce the deadline to allow that deal to happen, but do not expect anything to happen until the final days before the NFL Draft. My guess is that Cousins plays in Washington this year and leaves for San Francisco in 2018.
3) How many quarterbacks go in the Top 15 of the NFL Draft? – Nobody seems to have a consensus where these quarterbacks are going to go, which is a problem, because if the quarterbacks were that talented, there would be no question that they would go in the Top-5. Last year, there were two good prospects, but the Tennessee Titans did not need a quarterback and Cleveland did not want to draft one. That led to the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles trading up and the rest of the league not going quarterback until the Denver Broncos took Memphis QB Paxton Lynch at 26th in the first round.
This year the Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans and New York Jets are in the Top-6 of the NFL Draft. Only the Titans are set at quarterback with QB Marcus Mariota and I do not expect the Jaguars to go quarterback in the first round with QB Blake Bortles on the roster. After that, the other four teams are in desperate need of a quarterback. The fact that I have seen mocks that have the New York Jets, San Diego Chargers, Cleveland Browns and Arizona Cardinals all going with one of the four quarterback prospects in this draft (North Carolina QB Mitchell Trubisky, Clemson QB Deshaun Watson, Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer and Texas Tech QB Patrick MahomesII). My guess as of right now is that Trubisky and Watson end up going in the Top-12 (see my Mock Draft 2.0), Kizer goes in the back of the first round and Mahomes II goes in the early second round. However, teams lose their minds early in the draft when it comes to quarterback, so who knows what happens if there is an early run at quarterback.
4) Will this be the latest an offensive lineman is drafted in the first round since the 1970 merger? – It has a very realistic chance to be a record year for offensive lineman not being taken in the Top-10 of the NFL Draft. The last time an offensive lineman failed to go in the Top-10 was 2005 when University of Oklahoma T Jammal Brown was the first offensive lineman taken at 13th by the New Orleans Saints. In 1999, BYU T John Tait was the first tackle off the board at 14th to the Kansas City Chiefs. In 1987, the Los Angeles Raiders were the first team to take a tackle, selecting Missouri T John Clay at 15th.
I think it is completely possible that the first offensive lineman taken in the NFL Draft this year is by the Indianapolis Colts at the 15th selection. It is a perfect storm of the elite players in this draft playing other positions and no franchise left tackle available in this draft. There are a lot of fine players that could end up contributing teams for the next decade, but nobody that is such a physical freak that he is going to warrant being a Top-10 selection.
5) Will three running backs go in the first round this year? – In 2013 and 2014, there were no running backs taken in the first round. Many people thought that could mark the end of running backs going in the first round, but the 2015 NFL Draft was okay for running backs in the first round. Georgia RB Todd Gurely (10th) and Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon (15th) both went in the first round. Last year Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott went fourth in the NFL Draft, which was the highest since Alabama RB Trent Richardson went third in the 2012 NFL Draft. However, he was the only running back to go in the first round last year.
The last time that three running backs were taken in the first round was 2010, when Clemson RB C.J. Spiller (8th), Fresno State RB Ryan Mathews (12th) and California RB Jahvid Best (30th) all went in the first round. That has a chance to happen this year, as LSU RB Leonard Fournette is expected to go in the Top-10. Florida State RB Dalvin Cook could join him or fall into the teens and Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey could join him in the middle to the end of the first round. This is one of the deeper running back drafts in recent memory and it should show with three backs going in the first round for the first time since 2010.
6) Will this be the highest that a tight end is drafted in the first round since the 1970 merger? – ESPN’s First Draft gave me a great nugget while listening to their podcast. Alabama Howard TE O.J. Howard does not have much chance to be the highest selected tight end in NFL Draft history. That honor goes to Houston TE Riley Odoms, who went fifth overall to the Denver Broncos. In recent years, Maryland TE Vernon Davis (2006, 6th) and Miami TE Kellen Winslow II (2004, 6th) were the highest selected tight ends in the NFL Draft.
Alabama TE O.J. Howard is a physical freak at the tight end position. He is a 6’ 6” and 251 lb., but he can run the 40-yard dash in 4.51 seconds and he has a 30” vertical jump. He was not heavily involved in the Alabama offense, but he should be the first tight end off the board, but I think he goes somewhere between 10th (Buffalo) and 18th (Tennessee). It is going to be hard for a team to take a tight end in the Top 10 of the NFL Draft with all the other elite prospects that play more important positions.
However, I think it is possible that three tight ends could go in the first round, which is a major upgrade over years past. In 2015, Minnesota TE Maxx Williams was the first tight end taken in the second round and in 2016, Arkansas TE Hunter Henry was the first one off the board early in the second round. This year, there could be five tight ends in the draft that are better prospects than Williams, so it is good to see a quality tight end draft again.
7) How high will Washington WR John Ross go in this Draft? – There is always that one player that amazes at the NFL Combine that makes you wonder how high his stock will rise. Nobody questioned that Ross was a first round talent. Ross had 81 receptions for 1,150 yards and 17 touchdowns, so he has plenty of game tape that makes him worthy of a first round pick. The NFL Combine just added to the intrigue, as he broke RB Chris Johnson’s NFL record for a 40-yard dash, running that event in 4.22 seconds. Somebody is going to select an absolute burner in this draft.
As for the wide receivers, this is not an overwhelming class, but there is some good talent to be found. Clemson WR Mike Williams and Western Michigan WR Corey Davis are bigger targets that should go in the first round. It is a better class than last year, but there are not any receivers that are likely to go higher than the 10th pick to the Buffalo Bills.
8) Who will be the player that slides out of the first round? – The obvious answer is Washington CB Sidney Jones. He was going to be a Top-20 pick in this draft, but he tore his Achilles Tendon during his Pro Day and he will now likely be a late Day 2 or Day 3 selection. That is an absolute horrific outcome for a player that had been moving up the boards during the NFL Draft evaluation process.
Another cornerback that I think could drop out of the first round is USC CB Adoree’ Jackson. There is some debate about whether he will go in the first round or the second round, but I think he is going to be closer to a third round prospect than a first round prospect. He did run his 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds, but it probably needed to be faster, given that he is only 5’ 10” and 186 lb. It is going to be almost impossible for him to cover elite receivers on the outside at that height and weight, which means that his future in the league is probably at the slot cornerback. It is going to be hard to justify using a first round pick on a slot cornerback.
9) Can the Tennessee Titans draft their way into playoff contention? – I think the team I am the most interested in coming into this draft is the Tennessee Titans. The Titans won four of their last five games of the 2016 season and had QB Marcus Mariota not broken his leg in Week 16, they may have made the playoffs. They are a (9-7) team from last year that is on the rise and they have the 5th, 18th, 69th and 82nd picks in this draft. The fifth pick should be an opening day starter, as could the 18th pick. The other two picks could give them solid depth.
The big weakness for the Titans last year was pass defense, their 4,307 yards passing allowed ranked 30th in the NFL. If they are able to add LSU S Jamal Adams or Ohio State CB Marshon Lattimore with that fifth pick, that should be an immediate upgrade to their secondary. There is also speculation they could add Alabama TE O.J. Howard, which would give them another weapon on offense and one of the best two tight end formations in the league with veteran TE Delanie Walker still a very good player. There are a lot of exciting things going on in Tennessee and this draft could put them back in the playoffs in 2017.
10) Do the Kansas City Chiefs go with a quarterback in the first round? – The Chiefs had a dream season last year, going (12-4) and earing the second seed in the AFC. They won five of their last six games and the emergence of WR Tyreek Hill gave them a dangerous offense in the second half of the season. They scored 29 points or more in four of those last six games and they were finally supposed to compete for the Super Bowl. Instead, they lost at home in the Divisional Round to a Pittsburgh team that kicked six field goals. QB Alex Smith was 20 for 34 with just 172 yards passing, one touchdown, one pick and a QB rating of 69.7. There have been many Chiefs fans that are hoping they can find a new quarterback and Smith becomes a free agent after the 2018 season.
It could make a lot of sense for the Chiefs to add a quarterback in this draft and start developing him for the future. Smith had only 3,502 yards passing, 15 touchdown passes and a QB rating of 91.2 last year, so it was not like he was lighting up the scoreboard prior to the playoff dud. I think a lot of what the Chiefs do is going to depend on how many quarterbacks go early in the draft. This is not a Green Bay Packers situation from 2005, because Smith is not as good as Packers QB Brett Favre. However, if one of the first round quarterbacks slides to the end of the first round, the Chiefs may have to do what the Packers did that year and draft a quarterback in the first round. The Chiefs can only hope that quarterback is as good as Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, the pick the Packers made at the end of the first round that year. If the Chiefs do that, there will be a quarterback controversy in Kansas City, especially if Smith does not play well to start the season.