There is uncertainty surrounding most, if not all, of the top-10 picks in this year’s draft. The prospect pool is deep but difficult to get a bead on—boards figure to vary wildly from team to team. This is also the first draft in which compensatory picks can be dealt, giving teams even more wiggle room in trade talks.
Add it all up, and Round 1 stands to be wild on Thursday night.
As is always the case, the weeks leading up to the draft are dotted with rumors of teams looking to trade down. That chatter can lead to the misconception that everyone wants to move back ... and no one wants to come up.
The truth is that teams exploring trade-up deals do not want to tip their hands and also have limited knowledge of when their opportunities may arise. One surprise pick, and suddenly the whole board changes.
So, where will the trades occur, and which teams could be most anxious to find a higher draft slot? The following takes a pick-by-pick jaunt through Round 1, asking whether a team is more likely to move up or down the board at each position during Thursday night’s festivities.
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1. Cleveland Browns: The Mitchell Trubisky buzz lingers as Thursday night approaches, but this pick remains likely to be Myles Garrett. Either way, the Browns aren’t moving. They can take the top prospect available or swing for the fences at QB.
More likely to trade ... down. Because that is how numbers work.
2. San Francisco 49ers: New San Francisco GM John Lynch has made no secret about his willingness to discuss a move down the board. Unless he’s in love with Trubisky or Deshaun Watson, such a move would be prudent.
More likely to trade ... down. Assuming the Browns go Garrett, what happens with this pick will set the tone for all of Round 1.
3. Chicago Bears: The Bears aren’t going to leapfrog San Francisco, so if they have their sights set on a specific player (QB or otherwise), they’ll be crossing their fingers until they go on the clock.
More likely to trade ... down. Unless a team really bowls over Chicago with an offer, this is a stay-and-pick spot.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jacksonville is not in a position to turn down talent, but the premier options here are going to be at defensive line, safety, cornerback and QB—not necessarily spots Jacksonville is desperate to upgrade. The Blake Bortles conundrum does add some intrigue.
More likely to trade ... down. This spot and San Francisco’s at No. 2 are the ones to circle early. There definitely could be action.
5. Tennessee Titans (via L.A. Rams): Any team in the top 10 that doesn’t need a quarterback can dangle its draft position to those teams that do. The Titans, obviously, are set with Marcus Mariota.
More likely to trade ... down. Tennessee has another first-round pick but is without a second-rounder. Sliding back a few spots could help add one.
6. New York Jets: If Trubisky or Watson is on the board here (or the Jets really love Patrick Mahomes), there will be some difficult conversations in the war room. New York has too many needs to package picks for a climb up.
More likely to trade ... down. This spot has become the subject of significant trade speculation, in large part because it’s within reasonable range for Cleveland (pick 12) and Arizona (pick 13) to reach if either team wants a QB.
7. Los Angeles Chargers: Which player might entice the Chargers to climb the ladder? Malik Hooker? Jonathan Allen? Don’t rule out San Diego going all out to land a top defensive talent—GM Tom Telesco traded up early in the 2015 (Melvin Gordon), 2014 (Jeremiah Attaochu) and 2013 (Manti Te’o) drafts.
More likely to trade ... down. All that said, the Chargers might be able to stay put and get Hooker, or drop back a few picks and address their O-line in a more reasonable range.
8. Carolina Panthers: The extra second-round pick the Panthers acquired by shipping Kony Ealy to New England make them a potential trade-up team. They’re different than some of the other top-10 teams, because their 2015 Super Bowl run hints that mere tweaks—rather than a total overhaul—could get them back to the promised land.
More likely to trade ... up. If they have Fournette atop their board, getting ahead of Jacksonville is a must. But Jamal Adams, Solomon Thomas, Jonathan Allen or Malik Hooker all could nudge Carolina toward an aggressive move, too.
9. Cincinnati Bengals: In scenario 1, there is a run on quarterbacks early, which pushes defenders and skill-position guys into Cincinnati’s lap. In scenario 2, the QBs start slipping within the top 10, so the Bengals can generate some leverage for a trade back.
More likely to trade ... down. It would be an about-face for this Bengals front office to make a top-10 power move on Thursday.
10. Buffalo Bills: Who knows what will happen here. The Bills are working with a new coaching staff, a GM who may not even be involved in the draft process and a roster with several clear needs (receiver, cornerback, safety, offensive tackle ... QB?).
More likely to trade ... down. This really could head any direction. Figuring out exactly whom the Bills would target in a trade up is tough, so the lean is that they would prefer the extra draft capital a trade down would bring.
11. New Orleans Saints: Christian McCaffrey could deliver massive production in New Orleans’ scheme, but momentum has him moving into the top 10. The Saints also could use pass-rushing help, so guys like Thomas or Allen have to be on the radar if they fall into a reasonable range.
More likely to trade ... up. The Saints have five picks in the top 103, and three within the top 42. That’s the type of setup that allows a team to explore.
12. Cleveland Browns (via Philadelphia): We saw last season how much the current Browns regime values draft picks. This is a little different case, though, because Cleveland already boasts a young roster and has 11 selections at its disposal.
More likely to trade ... up. Garrett plus a QB has been the assumed dream scenario for the Browns. They have the means to wind up with multiple top-10 picks.
13. Arizona Cardinals: Coach Bruce Arians said at the league meetings, per AZCardinals.com’s Kyle Odegard, that his team’s likely 2018 comp picks could set the stage for trade-up possibilities this year. Did Arians mean in Round 1?
More likely to trade ... up. A 2018 comp pick probably isn’t pushing Arizona from No. 13 into the top 10, but it’s still a move the Cardinals could make if they want their QB of the future. A trade down wouldn’t be a surprise either, though.
14. Philadelphia Eagles (via Minnesota): The Eagles pulled the trigger last draft to go get Carson Wentz. It’s hard to see GM Howie Roseman making another big move on Day 1 this time around, but a tumbling Allen or Thomas could be worth it.
More likely to trade ... down. The beauty of this draft is that, on paper, there does not appear to be a ton of separation between mid-Round 1 and Round 2 prospects. That’s not so great news for a team picking mid-Round 1.
15. Indianapolis Colts: Owner Jim Irsay said “we wouldn’t hesitate to trade down,” and GM Chris Ballard said “we need more [picks],” so the question is if you’re willing to take anyone at his word this time of year.
More likely to trade ... down. The Colts’ comp picks don’t kick in until Round 4 and they have no picks in Rounds 6 or 7.
16. Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens reportedly tried to move up to No. 4 last draft for Jalen Ramsey. The recent trade of Timmy Jernigan to Philadelphia, which netted Baltimore a 25-spot improvement in Round 3, may have set the wheels in motion for GM Ozzie Newsome to go hunting again this year.
More likely to trade ... up. A cornerback still could be in the cards, but a trade up for a pass-catching weapon—be it Corey Davis, Mike Williams or TE O.J. Howard—makes a lot of sense, if the board drives those players out of the top 10.
17. Washington Redskins: The 49ers’ No. 2 pick looks like a pivot point early in Round 1; the Redskins’ slot at 17 could fill the same role for the back half of the draft. If fewer than three QBs are gone by this point, and Washington does not want a QB itself, it’ll be time to get on the phone with the likes of Houston and Kansas City.
More likely to trade ... down. “Hey, Houston, that quarterback you ordered is in stock if you want to come pick it up.”
18. Tennessee Titans: This is pick No. 2 for the Titans in Round 1, so if they have a clear target for Thursday night, he should be in their possession already by this point. And without a second-round pick, they don’t have the means to move back into the top half of the opening round.
More likely to trade ... down. In addition to QB, this could be a spot targeted by teams needing help up front. Tampa Bay, Denver, Miami and the Giants all could take an offensive lineman.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: No guarantees when it comes to the draft, but the Buccaneers very well could find themselves with ample options at both offensive tackle and defensive end, plus Dalvin Cook could be available here. Had they not added DeSean Jackson via free agency, a move for a receiver could be on the table, but there’s no real need now.
More likely to trade ... down. Tampa Bay could use a right tackle itself, but teams have to be viewing Denver as a likely landing spot for one of the top O-linemen (Garett Bolles, Ryan Ramcyzk, Forrest Lamp, Cam Robinson). That makes the Broncos a team some GM might want to get in front of on Thursday night.
20. Denver Broncos: Hard to keep track of the draft speculation this time of year, but there have been recent rumblings about Denver trading up—not for an OT, but for Christian McCaffrey.
More likely to trade ... up. We’re now drifting into the teams that might view themselves as a piece or two away from 2017 contention. If that’s the case, a move up to fill a void is understandable.
21. Detroit Lions: The Lions need a couple of weapons on offense, but they also likely have to hit both DE and CB at some point in this draft. If things go even remotely according to plan in Round 1, there could be terrific value at both spots further down the board.
More likely to trade ... down. Can’t rule anything out with GM Bob Quinn cut off the Belichick tree, but an extra pick plus a defensive piece would make for a strong Round 1.
22. Miami Dolphins: By this range, many of the trade-up possibilities have to do with which players slide a bit in Round 1. Guys like Reuben Foster or Jonathan Allen could give the Dolphins a boost where they are in need of one. The problem is, they’re shy on picks—the Dolphins aren’t up in Round 3 until the compensatory spots, and they are out of Round 4 entirely.
More likely to trade ... down. A trade up could happen in the right scenario, but restocking the Day 2 and 3 draft choices might be preferable.
23. New York Giants: GM Jerry Reese has said that the Giants would be aggressive in the right circumstance—McCaffrey, an offensive tackle or possibly a falling Howard could fit the bill. Of course, Reese hasn’t traded up on Day 1 in his 10 years as the Giants’ general manager.
More likely to trade ... down. “Up” is the correct answer given the Giants’ needs and how the board could fall. “Down” is the safer bet with Reese at the helm.
24. Oakland Raiders: The Raiders could be tempted by a skill-position player at 24—say, Dalvin Cook or John Ross. Should finding a cornerback be the goal, though, the Raiders definitely could slide back a few picks and still get an immediate starter.
More likely to trade ... down. Would Kansas City want to find its way in front of Houston for Mahomes, Watson or DeShone Kizer? Start thinking about the San Franciscos and Chicagos of the world again, too, should those teams pass on QB early in Round 1. The mid-20s is where those teams would be looking to climb from the top of Round 2.
25. Houston Texans: How many potential starting right tackles will be off the board by the time Houston picks, if it stays put? How many quarterbacks will be gone? A passive approach might not pay off the way the Texans hope.
More likely to trade ... up. If Houston has a QB in mind that it believes could help take the current team deep into the playoffs, it has to go get him.
26. Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks traded down from this exact spot last year, falling back to No. 31 so Denver could take Paxton Lynch. Seattle added picks 31 (Germain Ifedi) and 94 (Nick Vannett) in that deal. Certainly, this franchise is among the obvious targets for teams eyeing an earlier pick.
More likely to trade ... down. Kansas City is a possible QB landing spot, so the Seahawks have a natural trade chip built in to any talks.
27. Kansas City Chiefs: We’ve talked a lot about quarterbacks and linemen and the skill positions. Let’s discuss linebackers. Without question, Kansas City could consider moving up to draft Alex Smith’s eventual replacement, among other things. But its defense also could use a plan for post-Derrick Johnson life. The Lions, Bucs and Giants—at picks 21, 22 and 23, respectively—all could look linebacker.
More likely to trade ... up. Be it on offense or defense, the Chiefs should be able to justify a climb of several spots. Having a pair of third-round picks could help facilitate that.
28. Dallas Cowboys: Team VP Stephen Jones said in a recent interview with 105.3 The Fan that the depth of this draft class could make it so “that I don’t think we necessarily have to push the move-up button.” Therein lies the challenge for any team hoping to move back, though: the amount of talent available in Rounds 2 and 3 will make it trickier to part with draft picks.
More likely to trade ... down. The Cowboys have to feel like Super Bowl contenders headed into the year, but they’re lacking multiple pieces on defense. They’d benefit from an extra Day 2 selection, rather than a pick in the top 25.
29. Green Bay Packers: There are prospects Green Bay would love to get its hands on, including linemen like Forrest Lamp and edge rushers like Charles Harris. But Ted Thompson has been the GM since 2005 and has never traded up in the first round.
More likely to trade ... down. One of those teams picking near the top on Day 2 probably could find its way into this spot by tossing in something like a fourth-rounder. Aside from the first-round contract, and the fifth-year contract option that comes with it, the Packers would not find much of a gap between a late Thursday or early Friday spot.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers: Again, which players wind up waiting than expected Thursday night? One of the top pass rushers? Foster? Davis? The Steelers have notched double-digit wins each of the past three seasons and played in the AFC title game a year ago. They should be thinking about their dream Round 1 prospect.
More likely to trade ... up. A game-changer on defense could put Pittsburgh over the top in the race to catch the Patriots. The sleeper option for a trade up: quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger is already thinking retirement.
31. Atlanta Falcons: The only differences between the Atlanta and Pittsburgh discussions are that a) the Falcons made it to the Super Bowl last season, and b) the Steelers have eight picks (four in the first three rounds), while the Falcons have just six. The latter point could tie Atlanta’s hands a bit, but again ... if the right guy is sitting there in the 20s, go get him.
More likely to trade ... up. GM Thomas Dimitroff famously went all-in to land Julio Jones at the 2011 draft. He won’t hesitate if he spots a prospect within range.
32. New Orleans Saints (via New England): The Saints currently hold five picks between spots 11 and 103, so everything is on the table. Float one of those Day 2 spots to move up from 11 or 32? Sure. Drop from 32 into the second round to add even more capital? Makes sense.
More likely to trade ... down. The aforementioned fifth-year contract option for Round 1 picks is a highly coveted piece when it comes to QBs. The Saints could use that to their advantage by dropping back a few picks.