The NFL Draft on Thursday night will help determine the futures of many a franchise. Nearly as important, it will provide bragging rights for the very best mock drafters.
It could be a challenging year: “I think that this is going to be a very, very wild ride when it comes to draft night,” said Bucky Brooks of the NFL Network.
Here’s a look at what the top mockers are seeing and saying this year.
WHO IS GOING FIRST?
We still don’t know.
The Browns have the top pick and have not revealed which way they will go. That’s unusual.
“You usually know,” said Walter Cherepinsky of the mock draft site Walter Football. “The last time we really had no clue was in 2013,” when the Chiefs were undecided between tackles Eric Fisher of Central Michigan and Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M. (They took Fisher.)
That doesn’t mean the Browns are unable to make a decision.
“The Browns have made up their minds,” said Robbie Esch of the draft site the Huddle Report. But they do not have a clear incentive to announce it.
“There’s really no need to get it out now,” Esch said. There is also no need to start negotiations now with the player they select, because of the rookie salary cap. Esch noted that because the Browns also have the No. 4 selection, it is in their interest to keep the other high pickers guessing.
It is almost certain however, that the Browns will take a quarterback, a troublesome position for them over the years. In this Year of the Quarterback there are several good candidates, especially Sam Darnold of Southern California and Josh Allen of Wyoming.
“Darnold is my No. 1 guy,” said Mike Mayock of the NFL Network, “Because I think he can beat you from both inside the pocket and outside the pocket.”
“Josh Allen may be the top guy,” Esch said. “Darnold is the most accomplished; Allen is the best athlete.”
Most sportsbooks have Darnold as the odds-on favorite, followed by Allen. The quarterback who doesn’t go No. 1 might well go No. 3 to the Jets.
LET’S SEE THOSE MOCKS
Here are the key predictions of some of the more prominent selectors, as of Tuesday. Barring trades, the top teams right now are the Browns, Giants, Jets, Browns again, and Broncos
>> Mel Kiper and Todd McShay, ESPN
1. Browns: Allen
2. Giants: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn St.
3. Jets: Darnold
4. Browns: Bradley Chubb, DE, N.C. State
5. Broncos: Rosen, QB, UCLA
11 (Dolphins). Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
15 (Cardinals). Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
>> Peter King, Sports Illustrated
6 (Colts). Allen
21 (Bengals). Jackson
>> Tom Fornelli, CBS Sports
15 (Cardinals). Rosen
27 (Saints). Jackson
>> Jason Owens, Yahoo:
11 (Dolphins). Mayfield
12 (Bills). Jackson
>> Robby Esch, Huddle Report:
12 (Bills). Mayfield
28 (Steelers). Jackson
>> Walter Cherepinsky, Walter Football:
5. Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
23 (Patriots). Rosen
27 (Saints). Jackson
WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER QUARTERBACKS?
Two others are getting a lot of pre-draft buzz. “Baker Mayfield is moving up,” said Esch of the Oklahoma player. There are mock drafters who feel he has climbed all the way into the top 5.
Josh Rosen of UCLA is the other top quarterback. Once considered a sure top-5 pick, he has drifted downward a bit according to many mock drafts.
“He is the most natural thrower in the draft,” said Mayock, “but he reminds me of Sam Bradford,” a reference to his supposed lack of durability.
Cherepinsky has him going all the way down at No. 23, while others still have him as a top-5 pick.
WILL SOMEONE TRADE UP FOR A QUARTERBACK?
Trades are among the hardest aspects of Draft Night to forecast. But trading up to get a quarterback has a recent history. In 2016, the Rams acquired the No. 1 from the Titans to get Jared Goff, and the Eagles got No. 2 from the Browns to get Carson Wentz. Teams like the Bills (drafting 12th) and Cardinals (drafting 15th) are in the market for a quarterback this year and could trade up to get one.
What should they be willing to offer? “I would sell the farm for Sam Darnold,” said Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network. As for another top quarterback, Rosen, “I would probably sell the tractor and some yard tools for Rosen, and that would be the difference there.”
WHO’S TRICKY TO PICK?
You would think that a Heisman Trophy winner would be easy to evaluate. But the Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson is tough to slot in.
“He’s the most intriguing and hardest to place,” Mayock said. “His upside is so high, I wonder if someone is going to try to get him in the first 10 or 12, 13, 14 picks. If he starts sliding into the 20s, you’ve got all these really good football teams with what I call a secondary quarterback need.”
“That would be the best place for him to go.”
Most drafters have him going somewhere between No. 12 and the end of the first round. The BetDSI sportsbook has the over/under for his draft slot at 17.5.
WHO IS THE TOP RUNNING BACK?
For a while there, running backs were a cold commodity in the draft, and there were those who faulted the Cowboys for taking one at No. 4 in 2016. That player was Ezekiel Elliott.
“When they took Elliott high, then went 13-3, people saw it,” Esch said. That has led to a renaissance for the stock of running backs.
This year’s best is clearly Saquon Barkley of Penn State, and he may go as high as No. 2 to the Giants.
He reminds Cherepinsky of Leonard Fournette, who went to the Jaguars at No. 4 last year: “Barkley is more than just a running back. It’s what he does in the passing game.”
WHO ELSE COULD GO HIGH
“There are three elite non-quarterbacks in the draft,” said Cherepinsky. He was referring to Barkley, Bradley Chubb, a N.C. State defensive end, and Quenton Nelson, a Notre Dame guard. Chubb in particular has mock drafters excited.
“Easily the best front-seven disrupter in a weak class of them,” said Peter King of Sports Illustrated. That makes him a top-5 guy for sure. King has him going to the Browns at No. 4.
That’s a puzzling spot in the draft.
“The biggest question is what the Browns are going to do at No. 4 if Barkley is not on the board,” Cherepinsky said. “They could pick Chubb, but that’s a lot of 100 million dollar contracts in a few years. Barkley would be ideal because running backs don’t make as much.”
Head-scratching over the Browns is a draft day tradition.
“I think it’s going to be a crazy draft,” Jeremiah said. “Having a team like Cleveland with two picks in the top four makes it fun.”