The NFL Draft is one of the most exciting offseason events in sports, where teams can completely change the course of their future over the span of three short days. This year in Dallas, the draft will make history, being held in an actual football stadium for the first time ever. Similar to the annual NBA Draft, there’s always a ton of intrigue as to where the top prospects will land. But what sets teams apart are the picks they make on days two and three.
We turn to mock drafts far and wide and eat up rumors like candy looking for any tidbit to help affirm our beliefs of what we think is going to happen – and then the draft actually starts and usually our mind is blown. Last year the Bears shocked everyone (including their own head coach at the time) when they decided to trade a haul of picks to move up and select their quarterback of the future, with the Chiefs following suit. The point is that none of us really know what’s going to happen. I don’t proclaim to have the answers you seek for the upcoming draft, and anyone who does is simply wrong, but I can make sure you are as prepared and informed as possible ahead of what will surely be an exciting night.
While I can’t accurately predict the first round, I can at least tell you where each and every NFL team’s head is at, and what potential scenarios could play out come draft time. Let’s start with the quarterback-needy teams. I don’t believe all the smoke screens that Browns GM John Dorsey has thrown out there about them taking Allen, Mayfield, or Barkley. In my mind, they’ll most likely take Darnold and then take the next best player available at #4, or trade back. The Giants need to take a successor at some point as Eli continues to age, but they seem intent on letting that need go unfilled for another year. I think the Giants view Darnold as too good to pass on, and if he does indeed go first overall, I think they’ll take Barkley. Their GM Dave Gettleman has called him a “near perfect prospect.”
From that point it gets a bit murkier. The Jets, Bills, Cardinals, Broncos, and Dolphins have all been cited as teams that need a franchise quarterback. The Jets seem like they want Mayfield, and I honestly think that’s a good fit if it comes to fruition. The Bills have been linked to Allen and are almost certainly going to trade up to get someone. That leaves Rosen, who in my opinion is the best in the class. I can’t figure it out for the life of me, but no one team has really been linked to him. I think he’s in play for the Jets at #3, and if not I actually think Elway pulls the trigger on him. There has been a lot of chatter about the Broncos moving down but I would have to think Elway really likes what he’s seen from Rosen on tape.
The teams that get left out in the cold are probably going to be the Dolphins and the Cardinals. The Cardinals simply don’t have the capital unless someone falls and the Dolphins similarly aren’t in a precarious situation to trade up either. Keep in mind too that both of these teams have quarterbacks and are probably content to wait a year rather than trading the farm for the third or fourth best QB in the class.
Alright, I’ll admit that was a lot. The quarterback position hasn’t been as cut and dry as it has been in year’s past and I think the fogginess behind it is the most intriguing storyline of the draft. However, there are other teams that could make interesting picks as well. The Lions at #20 are interesting to me and I think they could take Derrius Guice. They haven’t had a running game in a long time and I think he could improve their team dramatically. As Mike Mayock would say, “He’s a good downhill thumper.”
Potential trade-down teams at the top of the draft are the Buccaneers and the Bears. They seem like good partners with the Bills when Buffalo inevitably trades up to get their quarterback. A couple other teams I could see trading down or even out of the first round entirely are the Seahawks, Vikings, and Eagles. The Seahawks basically have to trade down, as they don’t pick again until #120 in the fourth round! The Eagles are in a similar pinch after their first pick as they won’t be on the clock again until #130. On the other hand, the Vikings don’t necessarily have to trade down like the others, but if GM Rick Spielman doesn’t see a player he loves, they’ll trade back and accumulate some more capital.
This year’s quarterback class has been touted as one of the best in years, and as the evaluation process has gone on, it seems like pundits have backed off of that claim more and more. In my eyes, there are two franchise guys in this draft – Sam Darnold from USC and Josh Rosen from UCLA, with Rosen being my favorite of the two. Anyone else is a huge gamble. I like Baker Mayfield and the fan in me wants to see him go to the New York Jets at #3, but anyone who takes him is gambling he is going to be an exception to the height rule, since he only stands about six feet tall. The only franchise quarterbacks that have been able to overcome their height are Drew Brees and Russell Wilson. Then you have Josh Allen, who wowed everyone at the combine with his arm strength, yet couldn’t complete more than 56% of his passes at Wyoming in the Mountain West conference. He’s the most inaccurate quarterback prospect in the last three years, throwing 16% of his passes off target. Basically with him, you’re betting he’ll be an exception to the rule that inaccurate college quarterbacks will become accurate in the NFL (one heck of a gamble in my opinion).
After the quarterbacks, I think there’s about eight or nine guys that are in that top tier of prospects. These are players that you think can be standouts on your team, perennial Pro-Bowlers, maybe even golden jacket recipients one day. For me, these are those players:
Quenton Nelson (G)- If ever there was a sure fire prospect, he’s it.
Saquon Barkley (RB)- If you thought Zeke and Fournette were good tailback prospects, wait until you get a load of this guy.
Bradley Chubb (ED)- Everyone loves him, and I think he looks good too. Maybe I’m not as obsessed as others, but he’s undoubtedly the best edge rusher in a shallow class.
Minkah Fitzpatrick (S)- I’m not sure why everyone seems to be off his bandwagon the past few weeks, but he’s outstanding. He can play safety, the slot, and even corner if you need him to.
Roquan Smith (LB)- Going to Mizzou, I saw a lot of him. He’s simply unreal, possessing blinding sideline-to-sideline speed. He’s the perfect prototype linebacker that today’s NFL seems to be attracted to.
Tremaine Edmunds (LB)- Another talented linebacker with speed, the most attractive thing to me about Edmunds is the fact that he’s only 19 years old! At a position that’s tough to excel at over 30, you could milk over 10 years of elite production from him.
Derwin James (S)- I’ve been pounding the drum for him for awhile, because as recently as the combine a lot of analysts didn’t have him pegged as a first rounder, which was mind blowing. Everyone has come around however; as the consensus is that he’ll go right around #10.
Denzel Ward (CB)- If any of these elite prospects will slip a little, I think it’s him because of his height. He’s only 5’10”, but he’s a freakish athlete. After a game or two into the college football season it was pretty clear to me that he was going to be near the top of the cornerback class.
Beyond this crop of talent, your team is by no means missing out if you can’t grab one of these guys. I think an important thing to keep in mind throughout the draft process is that these kids get nitpicked to death. Maurice Hurst for example was a surefire first rounder until an irregular EKG at the combine turned everyone off. Even though he’s since been cleared and it’s not an issue, that right there is enough for most teams to not take a chance on him with a first round pick.
There’s talent everywhere, so I wanted to list off a few more names that may or may not have their name called on night one because of one red flag or another, but looked extremely good on the field.
Arden Key (ED)- If he’s not a first round pick, it’s not for lack of ability let’s just say that. He’s a freak of nature with a rare combination of size and speed.
Mason Rudolph (QB)- I actually think he’s being underrated a little bit. His college numbers are impressive. This is a player I could see Belichick snagging at some point.
Courtland Sutton (WR)- People aren’t overly high on this receiver class, but with his explosive nature he has the most potential to become the next elite wide out of anyone in the draft.
Christian Kirk (WR)- Again, he may not hear his name called in the top 32, but he’ll undoubtedly become one of the top weapons out of the slot almost immediately. Think Golden Tate.
Rashaad Penny (RB)- When you hear analysts talking about the “depth” of this year’s runningback class, this is probably the guy they’re highest on. He could become next year’s Kareem Hunt – a true three down workhorse.
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (ED)- I had the chance to watch him through my work at Pro Football Focus and I think he could be a guy we look back on in a few years and say how good of a value pick he was.
Marcus Allen (S)- He maybe lacks the intangibles and certain traits teams need to see out of first round picks but I have little doubt that Allen will be a very productive NFL player.
I could name plenty of others, but for the sake of length those are the prospects I feel the strongest about. The depth of this year’s class is noteworthy and there will 100% be 4th and 5th round picks this year that turn into elite NFL players. Although I’ve put a bunch of research into the players this year, that doesn’t mean I know who’s going where. Regardless of who you root for, there are a million different scenarios that could play out and I think for football fans, the wonderment and speculation is one of the best parts.
Photo courtesy of Rich Barnes of USA Today Sports