With the NFL draft less than a week away, analysis will start to pick up around the football world.
And while we attempt to figure out what common sense tells us what could happen, common sense itself dictates that we have no idea what will actually go down come Thursday night.
From the at least half a dozen teams targeting reigning Heisman winner Marcus Mariota to the unknowns at wide receiver, there are so many different factors that will play major roles in how the first round shakes up.
Here are 10 bold predictions for the upcoming 2015 NFL draft.
1. Three Wide Receivers in the Top 10
Amari Cooper, Kevin White and DeVante Parker will all be off the board by the time the Minnesota Vikings pick 11th overall on Thursday night. In what order? Well, that’s left up to individual interpretation. I personally have Cooper, Parker and White in that order.
The earliest that any of these receivers will go off the board is No. 3 overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars, at which point the Oakland Raiders, Washington Redskins, New York Jets, Chicago Bears and St. Louis Rams could all look wide receiver. Heck, if Dorial Green-Beckham didn’t have his major off-field issues, he would’ve been a top-10 pick.
2. New Orleans Saints will Select Brett Hundley at 31
Remember when those of us who projected EJ Manuel to go in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft were thought of as crazy? That seems like ages ago. Unlike the 2013 draft, there is a clear-cut order here—Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota—then everyone else. Depending on who you ask, that third quarterback is either Brett Hundley or Bryce Petty.
Unless the Cleveland Browns decide to go quarterback in the first round for the third time in four drafts, there’s going to be a flurry of teams who aren’t looking at quarterback picking from 12-30. This means that the New Orleans Saints, picking at 31 due to the Jimmy Graham trade, would be the most logical landing spot for the third signal caller. In this, Hundley makes the most sense.
No one is questioning the UCLA product’s talent, but he’s about as raw as Colin Kaepernick was coming out of Nevada in 2011. The ideal scenario for Hundley would be to sit behind an established veteran like Drew Brees for a couple years. It also helps that the Saints acquired this additional pick in the Graham deal. They can still use the 12th pick on defense.
3. Character Concerns will Play a Major Role in the First Round
Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory and Oklahoma wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham are both top-10 talents in this draft. Yet, due to different off-field issues, both will likely see a rather large dip down the draft board when Thursday comes calling.
The biggest things here outside of perceived character issues is that both of the positions these guys play are absolutely stacked. There are seven first-round caliber EDGE rushers in the draft. This will limit the play Gregory gets due to his positive marijuana test at the combine. As it relates to Green-Beckham, he’s likely the most-talented receiver in the entire class. However, there are about nine other receivers who could be selected on Day 1.
It would seem that Gregory’s high-water mark is the Atlanta Falcons at seventh overall. If not, he could see a slide down to the high 20’s where pass-rush needy teams like the Cincinnati Bengals and Arizona Cardinals could take a chance on him.
The San Francisco 49ers view Green-Beckham as the second-best receiver in the class behind Amari Cooper. They also added a high character receiver in the form of Torrey Smith to go along with all-around good guy Anquan Boldin. That would seem like an ideal fit for the Missouri and Oklahoma castoff. Though, general manager Trent Baalke—known for value picks—would probably engage in trade-down talks. If not San Francisco at 15, there’s a good chance Green-Beckham falls completely out of the first round.
4. No Offensive Linemen in the Top 10
The last time an offensive tackle failed to go within the top-10 picks was back in 2005 when the Saints selected Jammal Brown 12th overall. This is a scenario that could very well repeat itself come Thursday. Depending on who you ask, Iowa’s Brandon Scherff is the best offensive lineman on the draft. Interestingly, some view him as either an elite guard or an above-average tackle. Ereck Flowers, La’el Collins and Andrus Peat are also in the conversation to be first off the board.
When looking at the teams selecting in the top 10, there’s a reasonable possibility that no offensive linemen will go before the Vikings select at 11. Picking any of those aforementioned players would be seen as a major reach in the top five, which is an indication that the New York Jets at six would be the first team potentially looking at the line. However, the belief in New Jersey is that this team is either going quarterback or defense with that pick. This then leaves the Chicago Bears, Atlanta Falcons, New York Giants and St. Louis Rams as remaining top-10 options. While the first three listed above do have a need along the offensive line, all three have more immediate needs on the other side of the ball.
5. New York Giants will take Amari Cooper if he Falls to Nine
This isn’t all too crazy. Giants general manager Jerry Reese values his big board more than any other executive in the NFL. He’s not going to just sit back and take a player at a position of need to fill a hole, especially when a much higher-ranked player at a different position is on the board. As we mentioned above, offensive line is a need. However, there aren’t many experts out there who would have any of the top-five players along that unit anywhere near Cooper in terms of overall value.[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”22″ bg_color=”#1e73be” txt_color=”#dd3333″]A wide receiver group consisting of Cooper, Odell Beckham Jr. and Victor Cruz would be downright scary for opposing NFC defenses.[/mks_pullquote]
The other thing to factor into the equation here is Eli Manning. It’s obvious that the Giants have committed to him to finish out his career where it started. Why not give him as many weapons as possible?
6. Minimum of Five First-Round Trades
Heck, there could be three or four trades in the top 10. Teams such as the Tennessee Titans, Oakland Raiders, Washington Redskins and St. Louis Rams are said to be contemplating moves up and/or down the first round. While we will cover Tennessee’s pick a bit below, it’s also important to note that teams outside the top 10 have been rumored to be considering a move up. Those squads include the San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles. This doesn’t even take into account the possibility of a squad picking atop the second round looking to move into the bottom of the first. This happened last year when the Minnesota Vikings moved up to select former Louisville signal caller Teddy Bridgewater.
7. Bay Area Teams will be Wheeling and Dealing on Thursday
If Leonard Williams is off the board at four, the expectation has to be that general manager Reggie McKenzie and the Raiders will look to move down. The idea here is to still acquire one of the top pass catchers in the draft while picking up additional picks. Some of this is dependent on where Marcus Mariota lands, but I can envision a scenario where the Raiders move down with the Jets at six or Bears at seven to pick up a top-end receiver and an additional second-round selection.
On the other side of the bay, the San Francisco 49ers are in a much different situation than in previous drafts. They are picking in the first half of the initial round, something that the organization doesn’t anticipate to happen from here on out. This affords a talented team the ability to exhaust a couple picks to move up for that one target player at a need position. Of course, this is where Alabama’s Amari Cooper comes to mind. Should the wide receiver fall outside of the top-five, the expectation has to be that general manager Trent Baalke will look to pull the trigger on a move up. Former USC defensive tackle Leonard Williams is also someone to keep an eye on in a potential move-up scenario.
8. Three Running Backs in the Top 40
From 2009-2012, 10 running backs went in the first round. In the two drafts since, zero have gone on the first day. There are numerous reasons for this. First off, the running back position has become devalued around the NFL in recent seasons. Second, there just hasn’t been a ton of top-end talent at this position as of late.
The latter scenario changes big time with Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon and Georgia’s Todd Gurley expected to go somewhere within the top-25 picks. If that’s an eventuality, it would leave about 15 picks for the third running back to go off the board. Teams such as the Baltimore Ravens (26), Dallas Cowboys (27), Indianapolis Colts (29) and New England Patriots (32) could make it three running backs in the first round. While that’s highly unlikely, there are some running back-needy teams selecting at the top of Day 2, including the Oakland Raiders and New York Jets.
9. Tennessee Titans will not be Picking at Two
Whether it’s a team looking to move up for Marcus Mariota or potentially looking to steal Leonard Williams from other squads in the top five, the Titans are going to receive a couple solid trade offers. We keep on hearing Philip Rivers trade rumors, but that seems highly unlikely.
It’s more plausible that Tennessee moves down from two in order to “help” another squad acquire the right to select Mariota. Considering the ample amount of teams interested in the Oregon product, it just makes too much sense for a deal to go down Thursday evening.
10. Adrian Peterson will be Traded
It has become abundantly clear that Peterson does not want to be back with the Vikings. And in reality, this might be good news for the team. It might be time for Mike Zimmer and company to move on from the Peterson era and start completely anew with Teddy Bridgewater as the face of the franchise.
If Minnesota decides to call Peterson’s bluff, it could cause a whole host of issues, including drama where drama really isn’t wanted. In addition to this, the draft might be Minnesota’s last chance to acquire some value for the 30-year-old future Hall of Famer.
Photo: USA Today Sports