You’ve studied the mocks. You know who has the most draft capital. You’ve researched the trade scenarios, decided which teams want quarterbacks and wondered who would be dumb/brilliant enough to draft a running back in the first round.
So I’ll say/scream/shout: IT’S TIME FOR SOME ANSWERS!!
As the hours before the start of the 2017 NFL draft in Philadelphia melt into minutes, let’s fire off predictions for Round 1. This will flow at a rapid pace, which is good, because it means I don’t have to explain myself if I don’t want to.
Sorry. We’re all snarky after 11 months of draft prep.
1. A running back will be drafted before a quarterback
Boom. Someone — perhaps the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 4 — will select LSU’s Leonard Fournette or Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey before North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson or any other quarterback is drafted. This will be a rare occurrence. Since 2007, the average spot of the first quarterback off the board has been 2.9. Quarterbacks have gone at No. 1 and No. 2 overall in three of the past five drafts. But it ain’t happening this year. There are too many good running backs, regardless of the risk in taking them high, and there is almost no consensus on the quarterbacks.
2. Defensive players will dominate the top five
It’s easy to envision Texas AM defensive end Myles Garrett going No. 1 overall to the Cleveland Browns, followed by some combination of LSU safety Jamal Adams, Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore, Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas and/or Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen within the top five. This again would be an exceptionally rare occurrence. There have been only three defensive players selected No. 1 overall in the past 22 drafts (Courtney Brown, Mario Williams and Jadeveon Clowney), and three defensive linemen have been drafted among the top five only three times: in 1967, 1970 and 1984.
3. The state of college quarterbacking will be a talker
It’ll start right around the time when Trubisky is drafted not only in the top 10 but also quite possibly after a trade that costs his new team multiple draft choices. We’ll cry about how Trubisky started only 13 college games and wasn’t great in all of them. We’ll look further down the line and see that this is one of the least inspiring quarterback classes in recent memory — at least since, say, 2013 — and start muttering about the need for a developmental league.
Then we’ll realize that the only thing worse than drafting an uninspiring quarterback is having no quarterback at all. We’ll accept that as a reason for seeing anywhere between two and five quarterbacks selected before No. 32, and we’ll start planning the next-day pep rallies with alacrity. Consider it the Five Stages of Quarterback Grief.
4. You’ll hear “this is a defensive draft” 465 times during the draft
Also see Mel Kiper’s final Big Board, on which 11 of the top 14 players have “DL,” “CB” or “S” next to their names.
5. There will be lots of “reaching” — for offensive linemen
One of the sturdiest rules of draft analysis is to compliment teams for taking a tackle or guard in the first round. Those teams have resisted the urge to go for a less talented player at a flashier position, as the statute goes, and instead have made the kind of unemotional and smart picks that help football teams win football games.
That rule appears to have been flipped on its side this year. There is urgent need around the league for linemen, but the general consensus is that the 2017 class is exceptionally weak. The highest-ranked offensive lineman on Mel Kiper’s Big Board is Eastern Kentucky’s Forrest Lamp at No. 18. New rule: When someone drafts an offensive lineman Thursday night, it shall be declared a reach and a failure to take a more talented player at darn near any other position.
6. Neither Joe Mixon nor Gareon Conley will be drafted in Round 1
Mixon, from Oklahoma, is an exceptionally talented running back. Conley, a cornerback from Ohio State, was Kiper’s No. 18 overall prospect as recently as a few days ago. But Mixon was caught on video punching a woman, for which he pleaded guilty to assault, and Conley was accused by a woman of rape earlier this month.
You could argue that Mixon’s incident was adjudicated three years ago and that the accusations against Conley are unproven. But google “La’el Collins” and get back to me. (Short version: Collins, a likely first-rounder in 2015, fell out of the draft entirely after police sought an interview with him in connection with the death of a former girlfriend.)
7. John Ross isn’t the first-round lock he appears
Ross went No. 14 overall to the Philadelphia Eagles in the annually perfect ESPN NFL Nation mock draft. But here’s a secret: A few of us ran through some preliminary mocks before the real thing, and Ross slipped into the second round. After a while, that didn’t seem like such an outrageous idea.
We all know Ross ran the 40 in 4.22 seconds at the combine and that his receiving skills are real and not based purely on speed. But he has a relatively long college injury history for a potential first-round pick, including a torn ACL, a meniscus tear and a torn labrum, and that has generated understandable concern. Many teams would consider it a warning sign when a 188-pound player can’t stay on the field in college. That doesn’t mean Ross can’t be a great NFL playmaker. But the handful of teams that want a high-end receiver might trust Clemson’s Mike Williams and Western Michigan’s Corey Davis more.