The 2018 NFL Draft is almost here, bringing an end to speculation and setting the stage for second guessing.
The nature of the draft invited controversy — before, during and after.
Before commissioner Roger Goodell officially opens the draft and puts the Cleveland Browns on the clock, let’s predict some of the biggest stories likely to happen. Not all will prove true, hence the name bold. But each reflects ongoing buzz in the scouting community.
Here is the countdown:
–10. Baker Mayfield is the Browns’ choice at No. 1 overall.
Projecting a two-time walk-on (Texas Tech, Oklahoma) to be the No. 1 overall selection of the NFL Draft is bold, indeed, but I’m told it could happen. The more likely scenario has Cleveland taking Southern Cal’s Sam Darnold or perhaps even gambling on the upside of Wyoming’s Josh Allen, but the reigning Heisman Trophy winner has his share of supporters on this staff.
–9. Record-tying six QBs drafted in the first round.
Regardless of which one is taken first, 2018 will prove to be the Year of the Quarterback when six — Mayfield, Darnold, Allen, Josh Rosen, Lamar Jackson and Mason Rudolph — are selected in the opening round. That happened only once before — the vaunted 1983 class that ultimately produced three Hall of Famers (John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino) along with Todd Blackledge, Tony Eason and Ken O’Brien.
–8. Ozzie Newsome’s final first-round pick? Louisville QB Lamar Jackson.
Newsome, 62, is set to retire after the 2018 season, making this his last draft as general manager for the Baltimore Ravens. Well known for sticking to his board and selecting players who slipped farther than expected, Newsome could be tempted by Jackson’s upside and comforted that before signing off, he helped find the quarterback of the future.
–7. More running backs than receivers are taken in the first round.
Four running backs — Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, LSU’s Derrius Guice and the Georgia tandem of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel — each received first-round grades from at least one NFL team, sources tell me. That does not necessarily mean all of them will make the first 32, but the position has much better top-end talent than receiver and offers more of an immediate impact. Only two receivers — Alabama’s Calvin Ridley and Maryland’s D.J. Moore — are thought likely to be selected in the first round this year, which would match 2010 for the lowest total since zero went in the opening round 10 years ago.
–6. Bills ultimately elect NOT to trade up.
It was widely presumed that when general manager Brandon Beane traded left tackle Cordy Glenn to the Cincinnati Bengals for the No. 12 overall pick, that gave Buffalo the draft currency to move up for a quarterback. With so many talented passers available, and more holes along the offensive line than initially anticipated after the retirements of guard Richie Incognito and center Eric Wood, Beane may find it better to stand pat and replenish the roster.
–5. Seahawks trade All-Pro FS Earl Thomas to the Cowboys.
The Seahawks avoided using the term “rebuilding,” but the roster and coaching turnover warrant that description. If unable to generate much interest in their first-round pick (No. 18 overall), GM John Schneider may have little choice but to auction off Thomas. The culmination of the long-rumored deal with Dallas almost makes too much sense not to happen — and not just because the idea of making a splashy trade while hosting the draft is a very Jerry Jones thing to do. The Cowboys have a need at safety and, with Dez Bryant out of the picture, they have salary-cap space to handle Thomas’ contract. Thomas is a Texas native and infamously lobbied Jason Garrett to bring him to Dallas after the Cowboys’ loss to the Seahawks last year. It doesn’t hurt that the Cowboys also employ former Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard as its primary secondary coach. Dallas would likely have to give up a couple of picks for Thomas, with its second selection this year — No. 50 overall — the anticipated primary return.
–4. Leighton Vander Esch and Kolton Miller are trending up.
The draft can’t come soon enough for most, but Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and UCLA left tackle Kolton Miller are enjoying the elapsed time as their stock is rising almost every day. Terrific workouts at the Combine certainly helped. Once viewed as potential top 50 picks, each is now considered a first-round lock.
–3. Defensive tackle Maurice Hurst Jr. and wide receiver Antonio Callaway slip out of the first round.
Unlike Vander Esch and Miller, Hurst and Callaway are watching their stock tumble at the worst possible time. Their issues are not on the field, but there are indeed issues. There was the heart condition discovered at the Scouting Combine that sent Hurst back to the University of Michigan. Teams have mixed feelings, but he is no longer a sure-fire first rounder. Callaway’s problems are behavioral. His track record of criminal activity is enough to remove him from boards for many teams, with some choosing to do so only after meeting with him at the Combine. There, Callaway admitted to teams that he smoked marijuana six weeks before the workout. He since looked out of shape at Florida’s Pro Day and fired an agent who, reportedly, invited Callaway to live with his family in an effort to help keep the dazzling receiver and returner out of trouble.
–2. The first Combine snub to be drafted is Southern Miss FS Tarvarius Moore.
Every year, there are dozens of players drafted into the NFL who were not invited to the Scouting Combine. This year’s top Combine snub is Moore, a 6-foot-1, 199-pound free safety who wowed the scouts at the Golden Eagles’ Pro Day on March 29 with a 4.32-second time in the 40-yard dash, a 38.5-inch vertical jump and an 11-foot, 1-inch broad jump — all of which would have been among the tops for safeties tested at the Indy Combine. Undersized defensive tackles Poona Ford (Texas) and P.J. Hall (Sam Houston State) are other candidates who could hear their names called early Saturday.
–1. L.A. Rams select linebacker Shaquem Griffin in the third round.
Appropriately enough, the best story of the 2018 NFL draft heads to Hollywood, where the Rams could use Griffin’s infectious attitude and selflessness to inspire a defense filled with talented but surly teammates. The Rams own the 87th overall pick, which if used on the UCF standout would give him bragging rights over his twin brother, Shaquill, a cornerback the Seahawks selected 90th overall last year.