Draft night is finally here, the visits and workouts and months of analysis and evaluation are about to end. The puzzle that is theis starting to come into better focus. It's just a few hours until go time.
Before settling on a mock draft (which I invariably want to toss up and throw into a trash can within an hour of finalizing it) one of the exercises I go through involves sorting through the first round by position. The goal is to identify the absolute locks to go on Thursday night and then also assess how many total players at each position, should everything fall into place, have at least a legit chance to go in the first round.
Once you get beyond 18-20 players who most evaluators I've chatted with believe will be going in the first round no matter what, there is not much consensus about this group. In any draft, there are always a large number of players who seem poised to go somewhere from 25 to 40-ish, based on how the board falls and need. At this point in the process, it's my goal to have a list of no more than 40-odd names for the inevitable 32 selections.
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Of course, one trade and the entire first round can start tilting in another direction, and one team being an outlier on one particular player – for better or worse in terms of his draft status – can send things in a direction few may have prepared for. Still plenty to sort out, but here's a look at the players I believe have a strong chance to comprise the first-round class:
Quarterbacks – 5 locks; 6 possible
So we all can agree at this point that Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield and Josh Rosen are the top four QBs off the board, in some order. The QB cards have been held closer to the vest than any draft in recent memory, but that could begin to change this week as trade talks heat up and certain teams perhaps have to tip their hand a bit in order to consummate a trade. Between Lamar Jackson and Mason Rudolph, well, beauty is very much in the eye of the beholder but I would wager a hefty sum that at least one of those two is gone Thursday night and all six going in the top 32 wouldn't shock me at all.
Running backs – 1 lock; 2 possible
If I was doing a mock today I would have Saquon Barkley as the only running back going in the first round. Maybe another one sneaks in, with my best bet there being Derrius Guice. But ultimately I foresee a run on backs at the start of the second round with many of the teams who take a quarterback in the first round also have a heavy need for a running back as well. Too much prevailing demand at other positions for me to truly expect more than one back going on Thursday.
Wide receiver – 0 locks; 3 possible
I can't proclaim that Calvin Ridley or D.J. Moore or Courtland Sutton will definitely go on Thursday. For me to declare someone a lock I have to have heard a lot more specific info about a certain team being all-in on one of these guys at a certain position. Too many teams with no dog in this fight (i.e. they aren't taking one high) have told me it's a stretch to put a first round grade on them. Arizona, Baltimore, Dallas and Seattle are just a few of the teams that have to at least seriously consider taking one high. But there are enough legit scenarios that could play out without any of them going to. If I was doing a mock right now I'd probably have Ridley in – even though teams I trust believe Moore is the best of this bunch – but I'm still wavering.
Tight ends – 1 lock; 2 possible
This is pretty similar to the receiver situation in that teams with the most pressing need, by and large, would prefer to be able to trade down in order to grab a pass catcher rather than doing it at their current spot. And I don't think it will be easy at all to trade down in the second half of the first round unless someone is grabbing a quarterback. But New Orleans, for one, has a very pressing need right now and I don't think Hayden Hurst gets past them. Dallas Goedert has a very real chance to be called on Thursday, too.
Offensive line – 5 locks; 7 possible
This is far from a stellar group, but need alone could result in them comprising roughly a fourth of the first round. Quenton Nelson is a potential Hall of Famer, and his Notre Dame teammate, Mike McGlinchey may have to wait a while but he's going to go Thursday. I am thoroughly convinced that Arkansas center Frank Ragnow is going in the first round despite little fanfare, and I'd pencil in Iowa center James Daniels and UTEP guard Will Hernandez as well. Georgia guard Isaiah Wynn has a good shot to go late first round. Connor Williams (Texas) is in the mix, too.
Defensive end/edge – 3 locks; 6 possible
Slim pickings here my friends. This is not the draft for dominant pass rushers. Bradley Chubb goes somewhere in the top six picks and Marcus Davenport is likely gone by the middle of the first round and Harold Landry somewhere in the bottom third of the round, I suspect. Then it gets really murky. Josh Sweat has a shot to go late first round and has been a late riser. Lorenzo Carter could sneak in as well.
Defensive tackle – 3 locks; 4 possible
If Maurice Hurst did not have a heart condition I'd be going with four locks at this position. But that situation, despite him being cleared to work out at his pro day, etc., it is certainly a factor teams have to weigh. Vita Vea won't make it to the middle of the first round and Da'Ron Payne won't make it into the 20s and I doubt that Taven Bryan gets to pick 30. Those three have fairly concrete floors given how seriously some teams covet them.
Linebackers – 4 locks; 4 possible
This group seems pretty cut and dry to me. I haven't picked up any names of late or gotten the sense there is some under-the-radar linebacker who isn't showing up in mock drafts. Tremaine Edmunds and Roquan Smith will end up in the top 10. Leighton Vander Esch won't get past the teens and I can't see Rashaan Evans not going in the first round, too. I wavered a bit on including him as a lock but ultimately went with him and he still looks like a perfect fit for the Steelers.
Corners – 3 locks; 5 possible
This position group is a lot like the quarterbacks – perceptions and evaluations are all over the map. Could be there is someone I haven't heard much about who slips in here. I still have work to do at this position but I know Denzel Ward is going very high, and Josh Jackson and Jaire Alexander won't be all that far behind and then there is a cluster of guys, two of whom may still get the call Thursday night. That tier includes Mike Hughes, who gets a boost from some teams because of his return skills, and Isaiah Oliver and Donte Jackson are liked by some teams more than others. My gut is four corners end up going.
Safeties – 2 locks; 5 possible
I have a hard time seeing more than four safeties going. I actually don't see more than three going. But I could make a legit case for five of them and can't tell you exactly which would go where, yet. Minkah Fitzpatrick and Derwin James are going very high in this draft. I continue to hear there are teams late in the first round who are very high on Terrell Edmunds and Justin Reid; I believe one of those two ends up in the first round and Ronnie Harrison is under consideration in the late first round as well.
So that brings us to 27 locks out of 32 picks. We'll find out in a few days how accurate I was at this stage of the process. And at this point I'm going with 44 names on my possible list. Bring on the draft.