For all that we talk about the draft for months on end, it never ends up living up to that hype. We spend months consuming mock drafts, freaking out over official visits, and projecting potentially outlandish trades that don’t mean anything when draft day comes. The NFL has found its own way of staying relevant all year long, and that reason is what we now call draft season. For months, fans wish and wonder about what might happen on that one magical night. It makes sense. We’re all told endlessly that smart teams build through the draft, and that one great draft can remake a franchise; it creates hope for even the most lost of teams. The league knows that this hope is a powerful thing, and because of it, fans stay tuned for the months that in all actuality are relatively dull and meaningless.
But, alas, those meaningless months of waiting are over, and draft week is upon us. The haziness of the past few months is starting to become a bit clearer as teams finalize their boards and plot out their plan of attack for when they enter the war room this weekend. While a year ago fans awaited fireworks at the top of the first round, this year those blockbuster trades have occurred in the weeks directly preceding the draft. This has diffused some of the wild speculation that only draft season brings about, but until Roger Goodell steps to the podium on Thursday night, fan’s imaginations will continue to run wild. Today we’ll look at some of the critical points of the first round, where the insider buzz is suggesting players will end up, as well as some players that could be on the move.
The Rams had to trade up for a quarterback. While the team spent years waiting on the health of Sam Bradford, or lack of thereof, they build a stalwart defense and running game through the investment of high draft picks on an annual basis. They had too much talent on their roster to ever pick high enough to land a quarterback, and they were never going to achieve anything but mediocrity with the hodgepodge of cellar dwellar that the team trotted out at the position each year. With the ammunition they had acquired in the Bradford trade, a move to Los Angeles, and the slowly slipping job security of Jeff Fischer and Les Snead, this was the year that they had to do it. Expect the team to take Jared Goff here. NFL Insider Mike Silver, who is particularly familiar with the Rams, among others, has reported that the team prefers Goff and plans to take him with the first pick. It makes a lot of sense, as Goff is a sound, polished quarterback that will put the team in position to win more quickly than with Carson Wentz. The team doesn’t need a quarterback to carry their roster, just someone who can supply league average play and distribute the ball to Tavon Austin and Todd Gurley.
The Eagles are taking Wentz. Howie Roseman strongly suggested that the team already knows who the Rams are taking. The team reportedly is in love with Wentz and believes that he can become a top-flight quarterback. It seems as if the team is trying to recreate the glory days of the Andy Reid era after Chip Kelly’s wild ride with the hiring of his protegee in Doug Pederson. When the team hired Pederson, Owner Jeff Lurie raved about Pederson’s emotional intellgence, reminiscent of the Ried era. In Reid’s first draft, the team selected their quarterback of the future in Donovan McNabb, who would sit and learn behind the teams established quarterback, who, coincidentally enough, was Doug Pederson. In this scenario, Pederson is Reid, Bradford is Pederson, and Wentz is McNabb. Whether or not giving up so much draft capital was the right decision for a team with holes holding them back far more than the quarterback position is debatable.
Don’t expect Bradford to go anywhere. The Eagles are already on the hook for $11 million for Bradford next season regardless of whether or not he’s on the roster. The team likes the idea of sitting Wentz for a year, so regardless of how unhappy Bradford is, he’s not being traded unless a team makes a huge offer for him.
The Chargers are the real winners of the trades. At the third pick, the Chargers have the option of filling two of their biggest needs with the two best players in the draft, Jalen Ramsey and Laremy Tunsil. Ramsey would provide a replacement for Eric Weddle and could immediately breath life into a viciously below average defense. Tunsil would give an aging Philip Rivers the protection that he sorely lacked last season. Based on report at this point, Ramsey would be the favorite to go here. DeForrest Buckner could be a dark horse candidate to land here. The team could also be a candidate to trade back if someone wants to come up for one of these elite talents.
Ezekiel Elliott could be in play as early as the fourth pick. Jason Cole reported this past week that Jerry Jones is lobbying for the team to take Elliott here. Jones’ power of the team's draft choices, however, has decreased in recent years, most notably illustrated in the 2014 draft when he fought for the team to take Johnny Manziel. The Dolphins also are strong candidates to land Elliott. After letting go of Lamar Miller, the team has a gaping hole at the position. Miami is one of the most aggressive teams in the league, and reports this past week suggest that they are interested in moving back into the top ten to take Elliott after trading out with the Eagles. The Browns, Giants, Bears, and Raiders could also be in play as well.
The Titans are looking to trade back into the top ten. After trading back with the Rams, the Titans have more than enough ammunition to move around in the draft as they please, with three second round picks this year. Although they could likely have the choice of the two second-tier tackles, Jack Conklin and Taylor Decker, at fifteen, the team is strongly rumored to be inquiring about moving back into the top ten. If Tunsil slips past the Chargers, he could easily slide to the Ravens at six. All it would likely take for the Titans to move back up ahead of the Ravens in parting with just one of their second round picks, and they could land the player they always wanted with the first pick and have leftover picks to burn. Ronnie Stanley could also be a target for them.
William Jackson is flying up teams boards. Teams have fallen in love for Jackson’s size and physical style of play. At this point, it would be shocking if he fell outside of the top twenty picks. Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller reported that many teams picking in that range prefer him to Vernon Hargreaves.
Expect a run on receivers. With the Rams trading up, there aren’t many landing spots left for LaQuan Treadwell in the top twenty, unless the Giants select him. The Redskins, Texans, Vikings, and Bengals, who all pick consecutively, are all strong contenders to select a receiver early. Two of these teams, the Redskins and Bengals, reportedly have Michael Thomas ranked as the top player on their boards. There is an outside chance that Treadwell could even fall out of the first round all together. Josh Doctson, Will Fuller, and Corey Coleman are also in play here.
Paxton Lynch should go on Day One. With the top two quarterbacks now locks to go 1-2, Lynch is now receiving strong consideration from other quarterback needy teams. Don’t be surprised if he ends up going in the top twenty picks, as quarterbacks have a funny way of flying up boards as draft day comes closer. With the Bills, Jets, Chiefs, Cardinals, and Broncos all being rumored as potential landing spots, it’s unlikely that Lynch falls out of the first round.Jaylon Smith is the Draft's biggest wild card. For months, April 15th has been circled as the day that Smith’s second set of medical reports were released. These reports were conflicting and inconclusive, leaving the question of when Smith could return and whether he could ever be his former self in the air. When healthy, Smith is a surefire top five talent in the class. Expect the unexpected here.