No running backs are expected to be taken in Round 1, but you never know ... (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Almost nothing ever falls according to plan at the NFL draft, so trying to decipher exactly which 32 prospects will be taken in Thursday's first round is a mountainous challenge.
It takes but one surprise pick (or trade) to begin pulling at the Round 1 thread. Keep an eye on these players as potential opening-round party-crashers:
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• Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State: Quarterback remains the obvious impact position in Round 1 -- if a QB goes in the top five, will it set off a run of picks at that position? Or will all the quarterbacks take a tumble deep into Thursday night and beyond?
Carr is the wild-card variable within the proceedings. He has been sitting behind Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel in the expected pecking order, but the closer to the actual draft we get the more likely it has become that Carr leapfrogs at least one of those prospects. A few rumors even have him as a potential top-five possibility, with Cleveland and Oakland as landing spots.
The brother of former No. 1 pick David Carr might create the most disruptive Round 1 scenario, should he ascend into the early picks. Once the draft drifts into the 20 range -- where teams like Arizona and Kansas City could consider a QB -- Carr could get the call, pushing one of those top prospects into Round 2.
• Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State: There will not be a running back picked in Round 1. There will not be a running back picked in Round 1. There will not be a running back picked in Round 1.
But ... what if there's a running back picked in Round 1?
The overwhelming consensus has been that it will not happen, both because of recent history (the first RB came off the board at 37 last year) and because a glance a this year's crop does not reveal any obvious Adrian Peterson-like stars. Still, in Hyde, Bishop Sankey, Tre Mason and others, there are RBs that will draw attention come Round 2. Which does not put any of those prospects too far off the prospective radar for a late Round 1 selection, even if the teams picking late on Thursday do not appear to have major holes at the position.
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• Dominique Easley, DT, Florida: The only thing keeping Easley from being discussed with Aaron Donald as the draft's top defensive tackle is the season-ending knee injury he suffered in 2013. Now that he is closing in on being 100 percent again, the Florida product might be able to convince some team he's worth the gamble.
Perhaps that will not happen before the dynamic Donald hears his name called at Radio City Music Hall, but there is a shot Easley comes off the board before Ra'Shede Hageman, Timmy Jernigan and the rest of the DTs. Right now, Easley is being penciled in as a prospect that only teams in pretty solid shape would take a shot on early -- New England, San Francisco, Seattle. A franchise needing interior D-line help might challenge that assessment, nabbing Easley and driving down some supremely talented tackles.
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• Lamarcus Joyner, CB/S, Florida State: A report Wednesday from Lance Zierlein indicated that CB Jason Verrett may be falling on draft boards "due to some medical concerns." (Verrett needed surgery on a labrum injury in March.) Could a dip for the 5-foot-10 corner open the door for another versatile-but-undersized DB?
Joyner has been a bit overlooked because of his height -- 5-8 -- but at Florida State he proved himself to be a legitimate defender. He can move around on defense, too, from out wide to slot corner to a safety spot, depending on the situation. Those abilities have drawn some Tyrann Mathieu comparisons during the draft process; while the Honey Badger hung around until Round 3, Joyner figures to be picked much higher than that.
Yet, his name has not been mentioned among the possible Round 1 CBs: Justin Gilbert, Darqueze Dennard, Verrett, Bradley Roby, Kyle Fuller and now even Stanley Jean-Baptiste. Is there room for one more?
• Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington: A year ago, the thought of Seferian-Jenkins lingering until Round 2 would have been an odd one. After a shaky season and a foot injury, the tight end stands as a longshot to jump into Thursday.
In his most recent mock, however, the NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah pegged Seferian-Jenkins as Green Bay's pick at No. 21 overall. That moved Seferian-Jenkins back ahead of Texas Tech's Jace Amaro, thought to be a fringe Round 1 guy himself. It also pushed Green Bay's hunt for defensive help into Round 2.
The Packers are a bit of a sleeper to take either a tight end or wide receiver in Round 1, as most have long expected them to address their defensive holes there. A Seferian-Jenkins pick at 21 -- or anywhere in the general vicinity -- would allow a Round 1 defender to hang around for another team to pluck.
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• Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin: C.J. Mosley and Ryan Shazier both appear to be destined for Round 1, with several teams in the market for heady linebackers who can get to the football. Borland fits that description as well, though he is not nearly as athletic as Mosley or Shazier. Might a team late in Round 1 give him a shot anyway?
Consider it possible. Odds are that Borland will not last long in Round 2 -- Washington at 34 and Cleveland at 35 both could use a sure-tackling linebacker. The Broncos are shopping for a player fitting that profile, too, as is Green Bay. The Packers may decide the 21st pick is too high for Borland, if Mosley and Shazier are off the board, but the ex-Badger still may shimmy into late Round 1.
With that, there would be one less option at linebacker, which is a thin position to begin with ... and a prospect with clear Round 1 talent would be pushed down into Friday's action.