As the free agency frenzy winds down, the football world’s attention turns towards the NFL Draft, which will be held April 27-29 in Philadelphia, PA. After a wild offseason and a draft class with few sure-thing prospects, a number of questions are looming before the NFL’s annual crapshoot.
What will the Cleveland Browns do with the first overall pick?
For nearly everyone who somewhat pays attention to football, the answer to this question is obvious: take Texas A&M DE Myles Garrett. Garrett showed off his freak athletic ability with next-level performances at both the Combine and at his pro day, and was a consistent pocket disruptor this past fall. With just DE/OLB Emmanuel Ogbah (six) the only Brown to surpass three sacks in 2016, their pass rush needs bolstering. However, Cleveland management’s decision-making has been questionable seemingly since Jim Brown was in the backfield. Reports out of the city have stated that their decision is down to Garrett and North Carolina QB Mitch Trubisky. While the Browns have next to nothing of value at the most important position on the field, Trubisky would be a reach. An accurate passer with the ability to make plays on the ground, Trubisky is held back by his limited experience competing at the college level. Cleveland also possesses the 12th overall pick, and while Trubisky could be gone by then, Clemson’s DeShaun Watson or Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes would likely be available. A third scenario would be for the Browns to trade the pick, and is a considerable possibility. Cleveland’s overhauled front office showed a propensity for trading back in last year’s draft, and could do so again this year in order to snag more picks or even a player like New England QB Jimmy Garoppolo.
What will happen with the veteran running backs still on the market?
An emerging storyline is the suspected comeback of the man known as “Beast Mode” after his surprising retirement two years ago. While Seattle still owns his rights, Lynch is expected to make up for the departure of Latavius Murray by signing with the Raiders despite a contract snag earlier this week. Additionally, aging greats Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles are still available, and this could influence the landing spots of the heralded running back draft class. As many as five running backs have the talent to be taken in the first round of the draft, though the availability of premier rushers in free agency could depress their value. Whether or not a RB-desperate team will pursue that position in the draft or in free agency will likely depend on each team’s needs. Look for teams such as the Giants and Panthers to pursue Peterson, Charles or LeGarrette Blount in the days leading up to the draft, as they’re close to contention and don’t depend on running backs as much as other teams. On the other hand, the Colts and Buccaneers are likely to target players such as Dalvin Cook, Leonard Fournette or Christian McCaffrey in the draft, as they will try to help out their young franchise quarterback with a promising backfield mate.
How will the availabilities of Kirk Cousins and Richard Sherman influence the draft?
With two of the league’s top players at their positions supposedly available through trade, it will be interesting to see its effects on the draft. Cousins signed a non-exclusive franchise tag this year, making it his second consecutive year playing under the tag as the Redskins continue to drop the ball in contract talks with their franchise signal-caller. The Pro Bowler has been linked in trade talks with the 49ers since the winter, as new head coach Kyle Shanahan has made his intentions clear about not starting a rookie quarterback. San Francisco owns the 2nd overall pick in the draft, and would almost certainly have to deal it and more in order to get Cousins, which would create a number of ripple effects throughout the league. If the Redskins feel confident in one of the draft’s suspect quarterback prospects with the #2 pick, don’t be surprised if that deal goes down. Sherman’s availability, on the other hand, is a newer development, and seems to be on the trade block due to his costly contract. The leader of Seattle’s fearsome Legion of Boom secondary, trading away Sherman would be a shock to a team that was expected to be a dynasty after dismantling Peyton Manning’s Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. Cornerback is this draft class’ most loaded position group, and if a team like the Saints traded for Sherman, it would help out the corner-needy teams drafting at the back end.
What will happen with Joe Mixon?
The Oklahoma running back is possibly the most enigmatic prospect in the draft, impressing scouts at his pro day despite not being invited to the Combine after a much-publicized video of Mixon punching a women emerged. Despite the altercation occurring in 2014, Mixon was only punished after the video was released online, a curious development that is reminiscent of Ray Rice’s continued exclusion from the league even as arguably worse acts of violence committed by Greg Hardy and Josh Brown resulted in short suspensions. Regardless, in Mixon’s case, his off-the-field baggage has caused teams to take him off their boards entirely, while others have him ranked as a first-round prospect. At 6’1” and 226 pounds, but with a 4.43 forty-yard dash, Mixon is a touchdown threat every time he touches the ball. Look for a team that has overlooked character concerns in the past to take a chance on him in the second round, the usual landing spot for first-round quality players with baggage. Kansas City could be in the market for a running back after Jamaal Charles’ departure, and their selection of Tyreek Hill despite past run-ins with the law paid off for them in a big way last year.
What in the world are the Texans going to do about their quarterback situation?
Houston was pinning their Super Bowl hopes on the arm of Tony Romo after dealing away the disappointing Brock Osweiler in return for giving away their second round pick. However, Romo’s surprising decision to retire shocked many in the football world, and now Houston needs to find an adequate signal-caller in order to capitalize on their rapidly closing window of opportunity in the AFC South. Head coach Bill O’Brien has unconvincingly stated that Tom Savage will be the starter for the defending division champs in 2017, though Savage has been either unspectacular or injured in his brief NFL career. Houston owns the 25th pick of the first round, and could take either DeShaun Watson or Patrick Mahomes with that pick. However, if past drafts are any indication, they will probably need to trade up in order to land one of the two. But with the Titans closing in on them quickly, the Texans need to be in win-now mode. Free agents Jay Cutler and Colin Kaepernick would be band-aids, and could come at a significant cap hit. An interesting option would be to swing a deal for either Jimmy Garoppolo or Kirk Cousins, but to do so would sacrifice an unimaginable amount of future draft picks or players.