The NFL Draft is just a month away as the first round kicks off on April 27. Most of the work has been done up to this point – the Senior Bowl, Scouting Combine, pro days – but there is still plenty of scouting still to be done.
We still don’t know who the top quarterback is, where he’ll go, or how many signal callers will go in the first round. We still don’t know which direction the Browns will go with their first two selections, nor do we know how many trades will go down on the first night of the draft.
Put simply, there’s still a lot for us to learn until the big day comes, but there are several questions we can attempt to answer at this point in time. Here are 11 of the biggest questions leading up to the draft.
How many quarterbacks will go in the first round?
The top tier of quarterbacks is set: Deshaun Watson, Mitchell Trubisky, DeShone Kizer and Patrick Mahomes. Each one is intriguing in his own way, but they all come with flaws. That being said, three will go in the first round, and it could easily be all four.
Trubisky and Watson are near locks to go within the first 32 picks, knowing how desperate teams are for quarterbacks. Some believe Kizer is the top quarterback in the draft, which will undoubtedly vault his name into the first-round discussion, possibly in the top 10.
Mahomes is the least likely to go on Day 1, but teams like the Cardinals and Saints have already held workouts for him and could be looking for future replacements for Carson Palmer and Drew Brees.
In the end, I think Mahomes slides just barely out of the first round, but the other three come off the board on Thursday night.
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Which positions are this draft class strongest in?
As a whole, this class is extremely deep. Some believe it’s one of the best groups in the last decade. From a positional standpoint, there is plenty of depth at several spots.
Running back, safety, cornerback, edge rusher and tight end are all looking to be very strong groups of players. Starters at those positions can be had on Day 3, simply based on the fact that some really good players will be pushed down draft boards as a result of the depth.
There’s a long list of great prospects beyond the obvious names like Leonard Fournette, Jamal Adams, Marshon Lattimore, Myles Garrett and O.J. Howard. Those guys are all blue-chip talents, but they’re certainly not the only elite prospects.
On the other hand, this isn’t a great class when it comes to quarterbacks, offensive tackles or wide receivers. Sure, there are some good names heading those units – Deshaun Watson, Mike Williams, John Ross, Mitchell Trubisky – but the overall depth isn’t great.
Where will Joe Mixon be drafted?
No one truly knows how each team will view Mixon. He’s a first-round talent, but his character concerns will push him out of the top 32 picks.
Some teams will view him as a second-rounder, while many others will have him completely off their boards. One thing’s for sure, though: He’s generating plenty of interest from teams around the league.
He’s already met with more than half the NFL, most of which visited at his Oklahoma pro day, including teams such as the Bengals, Saints, Raiders and Chargers. Cincinnati could use a running back and has looked past off-field issues before, while the Lions have a clear need for one, too.
Ultimately, it’ll come down to a team being comfortable with his character concerns. Someone in the second round will take a chance on him and hope he’s changed since that horrific incident. He won’t go any later than the third round.
Will Jabrill Peppers be a top-15 pick?
Ah, one of the most polarizing prospects in the entire draft. Some love him, some have no idea where to play him, and others think he’s overhyped. I personally think he fits as a strong safety in today’s NFL, but his ball skills and coverage ability are serious question marks.
After all, he did have just one interception at Michigan, and it was on a tipped pass.
He has all the athleticism in the world to succeed in the NFL, it’s just a matter of finding a place to play him. His versatility should be viewed as a plus. He can be a safety, linebacker, running back and punt returner.
Despite his ability to play several positions, I don’t think he’ll be a top-15 pick. It’s just too difficult to find a fit for him in that range. The first team that makes some sense is Buffalo at 10, but I don’t think they’d reach for him. There are far more teams toward the back half of Round 1 that make better sense for him, such as the Packers, Cowboys, Lions and Chiefs.
Who are the best second-tier wide receivers?
You’re probably familiar with the top wideouts in this class: Mike William, Corey Davis, 40-yard-dash record-holder John Ross. They’re all going to be first-round picks, but what other receivers are worth keeping an eye on?
Zay Jones was a one-trick pony in college, but he had a good Combine and could go in the first round. Cooper Kupp is an intriguing slot guy who lacks top-end speed, but has good hands and quickness. Chris Godwin out of Penn State has a chance to sneak into the first round, too, after he tested well at the Combine.
JuJu Smith-Schuster is a guy who can make plays in the middle of the field, but his consistency is a bit of a question mark, as is his straight-line speed.
In the end, it could easily be Curtis Samuel being the fourth receiver off the board, drawing comparisons to Percy Harvin for his versatility. A team could fall in love with his athleticism and speed, pushing him up draft boards.
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What will the Browns do in the first round?
This is a two-part question, considering the Browns have two picks in the first 12 picks.
At No. 1, I fully expect them to take Myles Garrett out of Texas A&M. He’s too much of a can’t-miss prospect for the Browns to pass on him in favor of a quarterback. Garrett is widely considered to be the best player in this class, boasting franchise-altering potential.
It’s at No. 12 where things get interesting for the Browns. Do they go quarterback, assuming the top guys are still on the board? It’s possible. Will they continue to build the defense with a cornerback or safety? Also very possible, especially if a guy like Malik Hooker falls into their lap.
If the Browns don’t trade for Jimmy Garoppolo, I’d expect them to go Garrett with the first pick and a quarterback at 12 – if their guy is still there. Deshaun Watson would be a good fit for Hue Jackson’s offense, as would Mitchell Trubisky.
I think their desperation to find a quarterback will pull them away from top defensive prospects with their second pick.
Which players have the biggest injury red flags?
Every draft has players who come with injury concerns. This class has several.
Jake Butt, the tight end from Michigan, suffered a torn ACL in the Orange Bowl, likely forcing him to miss all of his rookie season. He’s undoubtedly the guy with the biggest question mark, seeing as he’ll probably have to “redshirt” his rookie season.
Two cornerbacks who were potential first-round picks suffered significant injuries at their pro days. Sidney Jones injured his Achilles, while fellow cornerback Fabian Moreau tore his pec on the bench press.
It’s unclear when each player will be back on the field, but teams shouldn’t expect much from their rookie seasons, knowing they’ll probably miss all of training camp.
On a less serious level, Malik Hooker, Marshon Lattimore and Jonathan Allen all have minor injury concerns. Hooker underwent surgery on a torn labrum and a hernia, forcing him to miss the Combine. Lattimore has had recurring hamstring injuries. Allen, one of the top defensive linemen, has battled shoulder injuries in the past, and teams may be concerned that they’ll hinder him at the next level.
Corey Davis is also a guy who’s dealt with injury issues recently, most notably in his ankle.
Who will be the first quarterback taken?
It’s highly unlikely a quarterback goes first overall as they have in six out of the past eight years. However, someone has to be the first quarterback taken, and that player will likely be Mitchell Trubisky.
Although he’s inexperienced, he’s probably a bit safer than Deshaun Watson or DeShone Kizer. Trubisky seems to fit better in Kyle Shanahan’s scheme, and the 49ers hold the No. 2 pick in the draft. The Bears could also make him their selection at three, while the Jets, picking sixth, have a need at quarterback, too.
He’s no sure thing to be the first quarterback off the board, but it seems as though teams view him more highly than they do Kizer or Watson.
Which teams are most likely to trade in the first round?
There are always going to be trade on the first night of the draft, as well as some that will come before it kicks off. The Browns are likely to hold onto the first pick, but I can see them trading the 12th pick to the Patriots for Jimmy Garoppolo. By the same token, they could also use that selection – as well as their bevy of Day 2 picks – to move up from No. 12 to nab a quarterback in the top 10.
The Jaguars could be looking to move down from the fourth pick, which would be a good target for Cleveland. The Titans made a handful of trades last year, and GM Jon Robinson has made it clear he’d be open to doing the same this time around, possibly moving down from No. 5.
Jets GM Mike Maccagnan said recently that he’s looking to acquire more picks, so a trade down from No. 6 could be in the works. They have a number of holes to fill, so adding additional draft picks would be wise.
Toward the bottom of the draft, the Cowboys and Packers – two frequent traders – may be looking to add ammunition by dropping out of the first round, although that would strip them of a fifth-year option for their top pick.
Is this class stronger on defense or offense?
Defense, and it’s not even close. As I previously mentioned, this class is loaded at cornerback, safety and edge rusher. Add in the fact that there are several dynamic linebackers in Reuben Foster, Raekwon McMillan, Hasson Reddick and Zach Cunningham, and this class is bound to be littered with defenders in the first round.
That’s not to say there aren’t good players on offense, but this isn’t the year to need a quarterback, offensive lineman or wide receiver. If you need a running back, you’re in luck, but we all know how devalued that position has become.
We could easily see 20 of the first 32 picks being defensive players, and it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising. The NFL is geared toward the offense, but teams are now realizing you need elite athletes to keep up with today’s offensive playmakers.
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Will the Patriots be without a first-round pick for the second year in a row?
Last year, the Patriots were stripped of their top pick as a punishment for the Deflategate fiasco. This year, they voluntarily gave up their first-rounder in order to land Brandin Cooks.
A prior trade for Kony Ealy cost the Patriots their second-round pick, eliminating them from Round 2, too. They’re now slated to make their first pick at 72, which brings into question whether it’ll stay that way.
It won’t, and here’s why.
The Patriots have two golden trade chips in Jimmy Garoppolo and Malcolm Butler. There are conflicting reports about whether they’ll trade Garoppolo, but Tom Brady told Robert Kraft he wants to play for six to seven more years, so Jimmy G serves them little purpose. As a result, they could work a trade with the Browns for their first-round pick (and more).
On the other hand, Butler can be moved in a couple different ways. The Saints can choose to sign him to an offer sheet, which the Patriots have the opportunity to match. If they don’t, the Saints could get Butler by surrendering the 11th overall pick to New England. Or, they can agree to a trade with the Patriots for less compensation, which can be made after Butler signs his tender.
Regardless of how it happens, the Patriots will find their way back into the first round, and could potentially find themselves with two picks on the first night of the draft.