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Ten Thoughts on NFL Draft

A rundown of the latest news, notes and rumors flying around Chicago, including why Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch is flying up the board and when injured Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith will get picked

1. I think the player who benefited the most by the two trades up the board by the Rams and Eagles—besides Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, of course—may very well be Paxton Lynch. Quarterbacks being drafted at No. 1 and No. 2, as is expected, could pull up the rest of the position group. And for many teams, Lynch is next in line. He’s a developmental quarterback, but we could see him go in the Top 20. The Saints, with the No. 12 pick, are looking for a long-term successor to 37-year-old Drew Brees and haven’t seen much yet from Garrett Grayson, last year’s third-round pick. The Jets, at No. 20, are without a short-term or long-term quarterback answer, and they’ve shown a lot of interest in Lynch. GM Mike Maccagnan attended Memphis’ September win against Cincinnati and the team brought in Lynch for a pre-draft visit.

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2. I think the theme of this year’s draft might be the quarterback reach. It’s possible four, or even five, quarterbacks will be drafted in the first round, but I doubt that any team has that many quarterbacks with first-round grades. A cautionary tale is 2011, when four quarterbacks were drafted in the first round. Five years later, only one, Cam Newton, is still a starter for the team that drafted him. Two, Jake Locker and Christian Ponder, are out of the league. The kicker is that outside of the QB position, that was one of the best first-round classes in recent memory. So if a team reaches for a QB, it could be bypassing a J.J. Watt or Robert Quinn.

3. I think how much the long-term prognosis for Myles Jack’s knee affects his draft stock depends greatly on the team. Jack told The MMQB earlier this month that his surgery last fall to repair his meniscus preserved the entire cartilage disk and in fact sutured it to the bone to prevent any future issues, but some teams are concerned he may need additional procedures on his knee down the road, possibly the tricky microfracture surgery. This is where a team’s current situation comes into play. Say you’re the Giants, sitting at No. 10, with a 35-year-old franchise quarterback. So what if you’re not 100 percent certain Jack’s knee will hold up past four or five years? That’s your window with Manning, and you have a desperate need now for a versatile linebacker like Jack. But for a team like Cleveland, at the start of a multi-year rebuild, securing a long-term building block in the first round might take priority.

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4. I think, speaking of the Browns’ rebuild, they would love to trade down again in the first round. They want, more than anything else, good value wherever they pick. Taking Lynch at No. 8, for example, would not be a value-driven pick.

5. I think Doug Pederson’s love of Carson Wentz has a lot to do with his three seasons as Alex Smith’s offensive coordinator in Kansas City. Two of Smith’s best traits are: 1) his intelligence and 2) his athleticism—and willingness—to create plays with his legs, both of which added wrinkles to the Andy Reid West Coast offense that Pederson will be bringing back to Philadelphia. Wentz excels in both of those areas. By the way, if Sam Bradford gets the exit he’s asking for, Andy Benoit’s excellent film-room piece shows why Wentz may be pro-ready enough to step in and play—even if that wasn’t the original plan with him making the jump from FCS program North Dakota State.

A devastating knee injury took Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith from Top 5 prospect to Day 3 consideration.

A devastating knee injury took Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith from Top 5 prospect to Day 3 consideration.

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6. I think I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that Jaylon Smith will be drafted in the fourth round. The former Notre Dame linebacker was a probable Top 5 pick if he hadn’t been hurt, but the nerve damage accompanying the torn ligaments in his left leg clouds his recovery prognosis. Two evaluators with two different NFL clubs shared a similar organizational practice for players like Smith, i.e. premier talents with serious injuries from which they may or may not be able to recover: They take them off the board for the first three rounds. Think about it like this—what’s the first round where, if you cut the player drafted in that round, it’s not seen as a huge miss? The fourth round. Here’s a corollary: Marcus Lattimore, the former South Carolina running back with nerve damage in his dislocated knee, was drafted by the 49ers with their fourth-round compensatory pick in 2013. He was never able to play in the NFL, but the gamble the Niners took wasn’t at a giant cost.

7. I think I would be shocked if the Bills drafted a quarterback in the first round. Rex Ryan already hand-picked his quarterback in Buffalo, Tyrod Taylor, and he’s not looking to undercut that. In fact, if there isn’t a top-shelf pass rusher left on the board at No. 19, I could see the Bills using their top pick to get Taylor some help around him, either a right tackle or a speedy wide receiver (maybe Notre Dame’s Will Fuller or Baylor’s Corey Coleman). That would take some attention off Sammy Watkins, like Percy Harvin was supposed to do last season.

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8. I think if Ezekiel Elliott is picked in the Top 10, it will be because a team is intent on filling a need. Elliott is a well-rounded back who can plug in and play—it helps that he’s good at picking up the blitz—but many NFL evaluators don’t see him as a unique talent. “A solid guy, but not a difference-maker,” one coach said. Still, many around the league expect his floor is No. 13, where the Dolphins pick. And to think, just a year or two ago, we declared the running back a devalued position!

9. I think the hardest position to slot in this year’s draft might be cornerback. FSU’s Jalen Ramsey is the consensus top talent, but behind him, preferences vary widely between Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves, Ohio State’s Eli Apple, Houston’s William Jackson III and Clemson’s Mackensie Alexander. The depth at the position is good news for cornerback-needy teams who pick late in the first round, like Pittsburgh and Kansas City.

10. I think the Jets are lucky that time is running out for trading franchise player Muhammad Wilkerson. Deals on draft night come together too frantically to be able to work out a trade and long-term deal for Wilkerson on the fly. But we’re talking about a guy who was one of the steals of an excellent 2011 first-round draft class. Defensive linemen who do as many things as Wilkerson does are hard to come by, and the Jets can’t be sure that either Sheldon Richardson or Leonard Williams can fill that role. Figure out a long-term deal and be glad this is one trade that wasn’t consummated.

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