Feels like the Jaws theme baby -- cause we're getting closer and closer.
Round 1 is coming up fast, but before we get to close, I want to plant a flag or two. Round 1 always carries some surprises, and I'm here to call my shot on who sneaks in that we never saw coming; who goes somewhere we never thought he might; and who falls out entirely.
Remember, these are "too-early" predictions -- so if I get them all wrong, it's totally excusable; and if I get even one half-right, I'm a genius. Win-win.
1) Darnell Savage is the first safety off the board
If I could actually write out a nuanced hot take (oxymoron?), it'd be "the first safety off the board won't be Chauncey Gardner-Johnson or Nasir Adderley" but that's not nearly as spicy, so here we are: Savage is SAF1.
When I look at the first round, the first spot I see as a potential safety is Seattle at 21. Next is Philadelphia at 25. Sure, teams like Green Bay and Houston might also have needs at the position, but I think other gaps are far more pressing.
So if we're circling those two teams as potential safety selections, we can look to Top-30 visits and see a common thread: both Philly and Seattle have pulled Savage in for a longer look, along with Gardner-Johnson and Virginia standout Juan Thornhill.
We should acknowledge that weird stuff goes down with Round 1 safeties. Deriwn James wasn't supposed to fall to 17; Terrell Edmunds wasn't supposed to sniff Round 1. In 2016, both Karl Joseph and Keanu Neal popped into the teens unexpectedly. We tend not to have a great bead on how the NFL views the safety class, and this year is no different.
Savage has been a huge riser throughout the process, and has the physical attributes to play free safety, great tape as a nickelback, and a nasty demeanor that coaches will love. Seattle can really zig when others zag with their early-round picks -- don't be shocked if Savage is the move.
2) Drew Lock is QB2; Dwayne Haskins is QB3
We gotta start with starts. They matter to NFL teams, whether or not you like it.
Lock is a four-year starter in the SEC; Haskins is a one-year starter in the Big 10, which hasn't exactly produced great NFL QB talent in recent years. That's going to register to teams, especially traditionalist GMs who like to see the ebbs, flow, and developmental arc of a college quarterback.
We step next to scheme fit, ever the elusive determinant. Lock and Haskins are both incomplete players, though I personally prefer Haskins by a wide margin, and their strengths are rather opposite. Haskins is a strong pocket-passer with nice crispiness through his progressions and good short/intermediate accuracy; Lock is a good improvisational player with a pretty deep ball.
Teams who want to push the ball downfield have a tenable leg to stand on in the Lock>Haskins department. When we're talking vertical throws, Lock has Haskins beat.
While the media is much more on Haskins than Lock, the NFL has remained high on Lock even through a rocky 2018 and lackluster Senior Bowl. If teams are split (Denver at 10, Bengals at 11, Miami at 13) on Lock v. Haskins, we could very well see them go back-to-back or within a couple picks. The possibility for Lock to be the first of the pairing is almost a coin flip.
(And how fun would it be if Jon Gruden -- who got a long look at Drew Lock at the Senior Bowl -- took him at 4 overall?)
3) 4 EDGE rushers go in the Top 6
This one honestly isn't that spicy. It goes like this.
1) Nick Bosa is for sure going Top-3. That's one.
2) Josh Allen is for sure going Top-5. That's two.
3) The Giants are drafting an EDGE at 6 if Devin White isn't available
4) The Bucs are taking Devin White at 5. So that's three.
5) ...what do we expect from the Raiders?
The way I'd expect to see it right now would be Bosa at 2 to San Fran, Allen at 3 to the Jets, and Montez Sweat at 6 to the Giants.
The Raiders are the huge wildcard here. They could go after Michigan "EDGE" Rashan Gary with four overall, buying into the unbelievable traits and believing they can suss more production out of the underwhelming top recruit.They could completely flip the script and go after Florida State EDGE Brian Burns, pairing bendy Arden Key with the bendier Seminole and winning with explosiveness on both sides.
They could also go for a slew of other players. It's total chaos, predicting the Raiders' draft strategy. But if they're current strength at DT turns them off of Quinnen Williams and Ed Oliver, then EDGE at 4 is strongly in play (assuming they have a player ranked that high).
And Bob's your uncle. Four EDGEs in the first six selections.
4) Sneaky late 20s guys
These are some players I think might wiggle their way into the back end of Round 1 that perhaps aren't getting mocked there regularly.
- Michigan EDGE Chase Winovich
- Ohio State WR Parris Campbell
- Alabama State OT Tytus Howard
- NC State iOL Garrett Bradbury
And the converse: those guys I regularly see in Round 1 mocks who I think are more likely Day 2 selections
- Notre Dame iDL Jerry Tillery
- Arizona State WR N'Keal Harry
- Alabama RB Josh Jacobs
- Georgia CB DeAndre Baker
5) No trades in the Top-5
So, we'll start here: there really isn't too much trade-back buzz in the Top-5 as of yet. I still think Arizona would trade back out of No. 1 overall for the right price, letting some other team rock with Kyler while they continue to develop Josh Rosen. We know the Jets at 3 also want to potentially recoup some lost capital from their Sam Darnold acquisition by moving back.
But most of the trade-back buzz I've heard concerns picks outside of the Top-5: Giants at 6, Lions at 8, Miami at 13. Interesting.
The driving force behind all Top-5 trades is the elusive franchise quarterback -- and, outside of Murray for some teams, I'm not sure there's much of a franchise feel around Lock or Haskins -- at least, not a strong one (see Bold Prediction No. 2).
Furthermore, the teams who could be targeting those QBs are teams like Denver (10), Cinci (11) and maybe Miami (13). If they aren't sold on the franchise potential of these QBs -- and, crucially, if they don't think other teams are sold either -- they won't be as aggressive on the trade market to get up to an early pick. We could see them slow play it.
As we well know, you have to trade up to draft a quarterback -- a common refrain. But the trade-up doesn't have to be huge, especially in this class with how the board is falling. If the Cardinals do indeed take Murray at 1, I'd imagine the Jets do their best to move back, but don't get much run.
And we clear the Top-5 with no trades at all.