After months and months of draft speculation over the airwaves and on countless websites, NFL teams will finally get down to actually selecting players Thursday (5 p.m. PDT) when the annual harvest of college talent commences at the Jerry Dome in Arlington, Texas.
Rounds 2 and 3 will be Friday, with the final four rounds taking place in rapid-fire fashion Saturday. The club that put itself in the best position to land a bundle of impact players is Cleveland, which has the first and fourth picks in the opening round and the first and third choices in the second round.
Also in great shape are New England, which has two firsts and two seconds, and Buffalo, which will pick 12th and 22nd in round 1.
Barring trades, teams that will be onlookers until Friday are Kansas City, which won’t pick until 54th overall in the second round, Houston at No. 68 in Round 3 and the LA Rams at 87 in the third.
The Browns are the first team since the 2000 Redskins to have two selections in the first four (second and third). In 1992, Indianapolis had the first and second picks, yet wound up with pedestrian career production from injury-prone DT Steve Emtman and LB Quentin Coryatt. There are no guarantees in this game.
Now to take a stab at how the early going could shake out in the 2018 selection process.
Cleveland: The Browns with the top pick almost surely will be going early for one of the top QBs, whether it’s Wyoming’s Josh Allen, USC’s Sam Darnold or UCLA’s Josh Rosen, but probably not Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield (they don’t need another Johnny Manziel-like soap opera). Then there’s Louisville lefty Lamar Jackson, who has been mentioned as the second coming of Michael Vick, which was meant as a compliment.
But will Cleveland draft/maestro John Dorsey, the new GM, use the first or fourth pick on a passer. After all he’s not desperate after trading for veteran Buffalo QB Tyrod Taylor. Whereas in the backfield, the team’s leading rusher the past three years, Isaiah Crowell, landed with the Jets, leaving Cleveland weak at the position.
With that in mind, the Browns should go for Penn State RB Saquon Barkley at No. 1 and then grab who’s left at QB three picks later. Barkley would wind up being the first running back selected No. 1 overall since another Nittany Lion, Ki-Jana Carter, was taken by Cincinnati in 1995.
The Browns will be back at the podium for the No. 4 pick and should take a QB. And no – matter who that is, fans know he can’t be any worse than the previous three Cleveland QB draftees – Manziel in the first round in 2014, Cody Kessler in the third in 2016 and DeShone Kizer in the second last season. Combined, they went 0-25 in their rookie years during their Browns careers. All have been cut or traded.
NY Giants: The G-men at No. 2 also are in need of rushing talent (thus, Cleveland grabbing Barkley early) and the eventual replacement for greybeard QB Eli Manning. The brash Rosen, who has been labeled by many the best passer of the incoming bunch, would seem best able to handle the bright lights of New York. But, the team should really be trying to give the soon-to-be departing QB another big weapon before he flames out. Therefore, the Giants could be all ears over a trade with the Patriots or Bills, who likely are hunting for QB talent, giving NYG two later picks in the round.
NY Jets: With Crowell in the fold, NYJ will also focus at No. 3 on getting one of the top QB prospects after having no luck with Baylor’s Bryce Petty and sack machine Christian Hackenburg in recent years. A big talent like Allen, 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, would be a nice choice until journeyman Josh McCown, 38, gets the permanent hook.
Denver: At 5, the Broncos should aim to boost to a pass rush and take N.C. State’s Bradley Chubb.
Indianapolis: At 6 the Colts have to like bulldozing Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson (6-5, 330) to aid a weak offensive line that would help protect QB Andrew Luck.
Tampa Bay is next pick at 7 and needs pass-rushing help in the worst way. That means N.C. State’s Bradley Chubb.
Chicago: At No. 8, the Bears would be wise to bolster their linebacking corps. Georgia’s Roquan Smith is widely considered one of the best of the bunch.
San Francisco: At 9, and with the WRs still on the board, the pick is Calvin Ridley, also of Alabama.
Oakland: At No. 10 and since only Cleveland created fewer takeaways than the Raiders in 2017, defensive help is in order. Iowa cornerback Josh Jackson looks good. He had eight interceptions last season.
Miami: At 11, the Dolphins could use reinforcements along the defensive line after losing Ndamukong Suh in free agency. A good choice would be Florida DT Taven Bryan, 6-4, 291.
Buffalo: If the Bills don’t move up, they will probably take Mayfield at No. 12. They also own the No. 22 pick and Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn is the guess here. He can play guard or tackle.
Washington: At 13, the Redskins allowed a league-high 134.1 rushing yards a game last season, so Washington Huskies DT Vita Vea (6-4, 347) would be the ultimate plug in the middle.
Green Bay: At 14, the Packers won’t be able to ignore the fact that Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick is still on the board.
Arizona: At No. 15 the Cardinals can enhance the secondary with Florida State safety Derwin James.
Baltimore: At 16 the Ravens are weak at TE and should be tempted by South Carolina’s Hayden Hurst, 6-4, 250, who has a supreme work ethic.
LA Chargers: With the 17th selection, they won’t miss a chance to grab the best offensive tackle available – Notre Dame’s Matt McGlinchey (6-8, 312).
Seattle: At 18 the Seahawks will like edge rusher Harold Landry of Boston College.
Dallas: At 19 the Cowboys would benefit from having Alabama DT Da’ron Payne, who won’t need much schooling to become an instant star.
Detroit: At 20, LSU RB Derrius Guice should thrive in Detroit.
Cincinnati: At 21, the Bengals should go with Texas Longhorns OT Connor Williams (6-5, 320).
New England: Following Buffalo’s second selection of the first round at 23, the Patriots won’t be able to resist Virginia Tech LB Tremaine Edmunds. The Patriots come up again at 31 and may look to first-team All-America center Billy Price of Ohio State.
Carolina: At 24, speedy Maryland WR DJ Moore could go here.
Tennessee: At 25, the Titans will do well to take Boise State LB Leighton Vander Esch.
Atlanta: At 26, Maurice Hurst (6-2, 292) of Michigan would help a depleted Falcons defensive line.
New Orleans: At 27, Penn State TE Mike Gisecki would fit in the Saints plans.
Pittsburgh: At 28, the Steelers should jump on Alabama LB Rashaan Evans.
Jacksonville: The Jaguars at 29 might just take a flier on Louisville QB Jackson as insurance in case Blake Bortles lapses into his old self.
Minnesota: Going 30th, the Vikes can fill a void in the secondary with UCF corner Mike Hughes.
Philadelphia: Finally, the Super Bowl champion Eagles complete the first round and look to replace RB LeGarrette Blount with powerful Georgia RB Nick Chubb (5-11, 228).
And just remember, draft evaluators often are way off target in their picks, especially at QB. For instance, the only two QBs to win five NFL titles didn’t go anywhere near the first round.
Bart Starr of Green Bay was taken in the 17th round with the 200th pick in 1956, behind four passers who never wound up playing a snap. And the Patriots’ Tom Brady famously went in the sixth round behind 198 other players in 2000, including the legendary QB Spergon Wynn.