Months of speculation and guesswork come to an end, mercifully, as the NFL draft kicks off on Thursday night. Which leaves us just enough time for one last crack at figuring out what will go down in Philadelphia this weekend.
Rather than take y’all down the mock draft rabbit hole again, though, here are 10 bold (or at least bold-adjacent) predictions for draft weekend:
1. There will be a record-setting number of QBs drafted within the first three rounds.
The current standard is seven, matched several times, the last coming in 2012. That draft featured the 1–2 tandem of Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, plus Ryan Tannehill at No. 8 and Brandon Weeden at No. 22. Brock Osweiler (Round 2, pick No. 57 overall), Russell Wilson (Round 3, 75) and Nick Foles (Round 3, 88) rounded out the opening three rounds.
The exact fate of this year’s QB class remains up in the air—Mitchell Trubisky or Deshaun Watson could touch off a run with the top three picks, or the position could go ignored deep into Round 1. But Trubisky, Watson, Patrick Mahomes, DeShone Kizer and rising-for-whatever-reason Davis Webb all have their sights set on the opening 32 picks.
What will push the number of early-round QBs toward double digits, though, is the sheer number of teams—even beyond those desperate for a starter—that could be looking. Teams like Pittsburgh, New Orleans and the Chargers all need to put in place plans for the future some point soon.
Pitt’s Nathan Peterman, Miami’s Brad Kaaya and Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs all could be Day 2 selections. Also in the mix are wild cards like Virginia Tech’s Jerod Evans and Ole Miss’s Chad Kelly.
Are all of those prospects worthy of landing in the top-100 range? Not really, relative to the talent of this class. But the game’s most important position is approached with more desperation than other spots.
2. There will be more Day 1 trades than there were in 2016.
Six is the number we’re looking for here.
Technically, there were eight Round 1 trades made last year, but three of those (Philadelphia-Miami, Philadelphia-Cleveland, Los Angeles-Tennessee) occurred before the actual draft night. Five deals went down while teams were on the clock in the opening round, starting with the Titans’ move up to No. 8 for Jack Conklin and wrapping with the 49ers moving from 37 to 28 for Joshua Garnett.
Four of this year’s first-round picks already have changed hands: Tennessee and Cleveland added extra selections via the ’16 trades, while Philadelphia (Sam Bradford) and New Orleans (Brandin Cooks) each acquired a Round 1 selection via trade since.
There’s still much more to come. Teams up and down the 2017 board are hunting for trades down, but that does not mean there will be no teams willing to move up. The quarterbacks will drive most of those conversations, as usual—both within the top 10 and at the tail end of Round 1.
3. The 49ers will select a quarterback ... somewhere between picks 28 and 32.
The forward-thinkers out there already are looking ahead to 2018, when Kirk Cousins probably will become a free agent and the draft class could feature the likes of Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Josh Rosen. In other words, the 49ers could be using Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley as “bridge” QBs without knowing what lies on the other side of the water.
But it’s a dangerous game to go the wait-and-hope route, especially at the quarterback position. Should the 49ers have the opportunity to add someone capable of competing with, or learning from, Hoyer and Barkley, they’ll take him in this draft.
Just don’t expect it to happen at No. 2. Sure, new GM John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan could use that pick on, say, Trubisky. For a roster in need of such a drastic overhaul, though, nabbing an elite defensive talent early and circling back on QB later could be the better play. It wouldn’t cost much for San Francisco to jump from pick 34 into the bottom of Round 1, where Kizer or others could be waiting.
4. Haason Reddick will be taken ahead of Reuben Foster.
NFL teams scare pretty easily come draft time. Be it off-the-field issues or injuries, any little hiccup in a player’s evaluation can make it much more difficult for a front office to justify spending Round 1 resources on him. So, Foster—with a combine dismissal and diluted-sample drug test to his name, plus shoulder rehab in progress—has provided reason for pause.
Reddick, on the other hand, has been flawless throughout the pre-draft process. That’s not enough on its own to cause a shift in the linebacker pecking order, but Reddick’s versatile game also fits the modern NFL. He can help a team as a chase-and-tackle linebacker, an edge rusher and in coverage.
Foster is an exceptional talent—maybe even the second-best defensive prospect in this class behind Garrett. However, his shaky past couple months combined with Reddick’s rise sets the stage for a flip Thursday night.
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5. There will be three tight ends selected in Round 1.
I asked my editors how bold they wanted these predictions to be, and the answer was “BOLD.” So, here ya go.
O.K., maybe this isn’t an earth-shattering call, but most of the Round 1 buzz has been limited to two tight ends: O.J. Howard and David Njoku. This drops in a third, Evan Engram.
It’s contingent on a few things happening: Howard goes off the board in the top 10 or so, Njoku follows him somewhere in the 20–23 range, and the Mike Williams–Corey Davis–John Ross trio at wide receiver avoids a collective fall. In that scenario, teams toward the bottom of Round 1 thinking playmaker would have to consider Engram.
6. The Patriots’ first pick will come at least 15 spots earlier than it’s currently scheduled.
Thanks to their earlier wheeling and dealing, the Patriots do not have a selection in the draft’s first two rounds—their first-rounder went to New Orleans for Cooks, their second to Carolina for Kony Ealy. The pick they received back from the Panthers, No. 72, stands to be their opening salvo.
That’s a long time for Bill Belichick to sit and wait.
Instead, count on him to keep tabs on which favored prospects might be there in the 50–60 range, in the back half of Round 2. The Patriots could package their two third-rounders (72 and 96) or that 72nd choice and a future pick to move up. They also, in pure Belichick fashion, could formulate an offer that ships out a third-rounder plus a veteran player. Which player is anyone’s guess, but it wouldn’t be the first time Belichick has pulled a rabbit from his hat.
7. Joe Mixon will be a top-50 pick.
There will be teams that want absolutely nothing to do with Mixon. There also will be teams that think he deserves a second chance in general, and a fresh start in the NFL (a stance that has quite a bit to do with how talented Mixon is). This is part of the challenge for any front offices weighing the Mixon conundrum: If he’s going to be in the NFL anyway, why shouldn’t it be with us?
Talent-wise, there is little question Mixon belongs among the first-round names in this draft. Waiting on him until Round 2 will buy his team a little buffer, both financially and from a p.r. perspective.
By that point, though, his talent constitutes a value. Think about the teams that will be picking toward the top of each round—most need significant infusions of talent.
8. So will Sidney Jones.
This is an entirely different case than that of Mixon, yet Jones is a draft mystery in his own right. Looking like a lock to be in Round 1, he tore his Achilles during Washington’s pro day and is in the midst of a recovery timeline that puts his rookie season—at least the start of it—in doubt. How long it takes him to get back to full speed (and if he ever will get back to full speed) is an answer NFL teams won’t know headed into the weekend.
The thing is, when healthy, he was arguably a top-15 prospect in this draft. Even in a deep cornerback class, Jones’s length and physical nature on the outside stand out. He’s a perfect fit for an NFL secondary.
9. The Jets will trade Sheldon Richardson during the draft.
New York could be active early in Round 1—its pick at No. 6 is expected to be on the table for any team wanting to come up. Might GM Mike Maccagnan pull off a fairly sizable move later, as well?
He figures to try. Richardson has been rumored to be on the trade block for what feels like ages, and the Jets’ best hope at this point may be to swing him for a Day 2 pick. Richardson’s contract (one year left at almost $8.1 million) remains an obstacle, but Maccagnan will be motivated this weekend to make something happen.
10. Mr. Irrelevant will be ... Air Force safety Weston Steelhammer.
The Broncos actually hold the final two picks of this year’s draft, Nos. 252 and 253 overall. The prediction here says that with that 253rd choice, they tab a local kid in Steelhammer, who finished his Air Force career with 18 interceptions.