After four full months of ongoing steps in the NFL Draft process and built-in narratives of the ebbs and flows of scouts’ opinions, the NFL Draft is finally within sight. And while there are plenty of unknowns and unpredictable outcomes, a few storylines rise to the top as the featured attractions for both casual and avid NFL draft followers.
From where will the quarterbacks land to who will gamble on Joe Mixon to whether or not Jabrill Peppers goes in round one, there are plenty of storylines that should keep you intrigued in the days leading up to the first round and throughout draft weekend. Here are the key ones to know as the NFL Draft approaches.
Does Kirk Cousins, Jimmy Garoppolo, Richard Sherman, and/or Malcolm Butler get traded?
Draft day trades for players such as these are rare, but each has been mentioned frequently in the build-up to the 2017 draft and clear suitors have emerged. Kirk Cousins and the 49ers have been often discussed, and with the second overall pick as trade bait, the Redskins seem like they could replace him with the passer of their choosing. Jimmy Garoppolo’s trade talk has died down a bit, but what if a team gets desperate after missing out on their desired quarterback in the draft? This is certainly something that will be brought up on the NFL Draft broadcast.
Richard Sherman is reportedly on the block, with the Patriots as a potential suitor. Malcolm Butler and the Saints have been linked in the past, but you can be sure the Patriots have spoken to more than one team to drive up interest. Both cornerbacks could fetch second-round picks (or more) during the draft.
It’s unlikely any of these players are traded during the draft, but the foundation is set for talks to continue during draft weekend.
Who will trade up for Mitch Trubisky?
Since Trubisky declared early for the 2017 NFL Draft, he’s been the favorite to be the first quarterback taken. More teams have him ranked as their top-rated quarterback than any other passer in this class. With that interest, and multiple teams in the top half of the first round in need of a quarterback, it’s become a question of “how high” for Mitch Trubisky.
The odds-on favorite, since February, has been the Buffalo Bills. They were one of the teams that helped advise him on the process of declaring early, and their interest hasn’t waned. Their owner, Terry Pegula, even traveled to North Carolina to meet with Trubisky. How high will they have to go to secure him? Most in the league think at least the top five picks. The Tennessee Titans are at No. 5 overall, and are looking to trade down.
Will Patrick Mahomes be a top 15 pick?
Initially, you’d think a quarterback with reckless arm talent, a 5-7 final season record, and hailing from Texas Tech’s offense wouldn’t be considered a high draft pick. But Patrick Mahomes is special. His arm talent is on par with Matt Stafford and prime Brett Favre, and he’s impressed teams during the draft process character-wise and at the whiteboard. He’s emerged as a viable top-15 quarterback and the top quarterback on more than few NFL team boards (which I’m not surprised about).
But will he go there? Based on my discussions around the league, I believe so. The Bears could opt to take him at third overall, the Jaguars and Jets have shown interest, and the Saints, Browns and Cardinals all need “quarterbacks of the future” between picks 11 and 13. Plus, Kansas City covets him and may consider offering a lot to trade up. With six or seven teams in demand of Mahomes’ upside, the gunslinger may go much higher than most are projecting right now.
Where will Deshaun Watson land?
The most experienced and productive quarterback of the 2017 class’s top tier, Deshaun Watson’s draft stock has been a frequent headline in NFL Draft news since his victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide in college football’s National Championship game.
He’s had a roller-coaster of a “draft season,” going from possible top-10 pick, to potentially falling out of round one, to now a favorite among executives to be the first passer taken, according to NFL.com. My guess? If he’s not the Bears pick in the top-10, he could be in for a draft day slide not unlike Teddy Bridgewater back in 2014.
Fournette vs. Cook vs. McCaffrey: Who goes where?
The trend of passing on first-round running backs has already faded. Todd Gurley was the 10th pick in 2015 and Ezekiel Elliott won rookie of the year after being drafted fourth overall last year. This year, Leonard Fournette will join them as a top-10 selected running back, with the Jaguars at No. 4 and Panthers at No. 8 (or in a trade up) as his most likely destinations.
Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey is the next man up, with the Panthers (if they miss on Fournette) and the Eagles at No. 14 being his two most likely destinations. And as for Dalvin Cook, the Florida State standout who is ranked atop some NFL teams’ draft boards, may fall out of the first round due to character concerns. But the Colts, Redskins, Bucs and Giants all will strongly consider him in the middle-to-end of round one.
Where will Joe Mixon get drafted?
If not for his caught-on-camera striking of a woman during his time at Oklahoma, Joe Mixon would be in the mix for a high first-round grade from NFL teams. While some will entirely stay away (the Ravens being one of them, for obvious reasons), many others are ready to take the PR hit and snatch up a top-end talent.
His past is impossible to defend, but NFL teams care far more about recidivism in these violent acts than punishing players by demoting their draft grades. And for at least 10 teams, Mixon is worth the risk that his past is behind him and he’s greatly matured. Right or wrong, he’s a likely second-round draft choice. Some of the most likely teams: Jaguars, Bengals, Panthers, and Colts. Don’t expect him to be waiting long on Friday night to hear his name called.
Does fan favorite Corey Davis fall out of Round 1?
After three tremendous years of production at Western Michigan, receiver Corey Davis has become one of the faces of the 2017 draft class. His MAC dominance and fan (and media) excitement has made him one of the most beloved prospects in this year’s draft.
But do NFL teams agree? Not quite. Teams generally really like Corey Davis, but few, if any, feel he’s deserving of a first-round grade. By the end of the first round, few teams have “first round” graded players available, and there’s a strong chance that towards the end of round one, he’ll be the best player available for a lot of teams. He hasn’t run the full slate of NFL Combine drills during the process and teams wonder if he’s a truly special, top-20 worthy talent, or just a really good receiver that can be a integral part of their offense’s success. NFL draft fans should be prepared for a Corey Davis fall on draft day, with him possibly falling out of the first-round.
How high (or low) does Jabrill Peppers go in Round 1?
Jabrill Peppers was highly discussed as a Heisman contender throughout last season because of his play as a safety, linebacker, punt returner and running back for the Michigan Wolverines. But his do-it-all value and tremendous versatility has turned into questions about what, if any, his true NFL position will be.
As a 5-foot-11, 216-pound defender, he’s a bit too light to play linebacker and hasn’t shown the ideal ball skills (just one career interception in his three-year career) to be a complete safety. He doesn’t appear to be a clear fit for any team in the NFL, but that hasn’t stopped some teams from valuing him highly. The Redskins, Bucs, Dolphins and Texans all have interest, but with his national respect, name recognition and a tremendous highlight reel, he could quietly be a favorite for any number of teams. Or he could slide all the way out of the first round.