Draft day is here. Just a few hours until players in living room's across the country begin hearing their name called in some way fashion or another.
This draft will certainly be different than in from the past. It will look and sound a bit strange, coming to us live from the homes of general managers and players. But the process itself won't change all that much, and the first round is starting to come into better focus, as it always does this time of year.
I try to approach the mock draft a couple of different ways before locking in on my best guesses. Part of that includes trying to get a feel for which prospects are definite first-round picks, something I am still working on, and getting a handle on which position groups are likely to fill a certain number of picks in the opening round.
Which brings us to today's exercise. Precisely that.
This is not trying to come up with the entire first round, as the cumulative number of these over/unders is not aimed at equaling 32 or anything like that. It's about laying out where the pressure points are within each position group, how much first-round supply and demand there is, and where things start to get interesting. Will teams be more willing to reach at certain position groups? There are clearly not 32 players worthy of a true first-round grade available, which will lead to a run as always on those always in shortest supply (left tackles and pass rushers come to mind), and the inevitable reach for quarterbacks will impact the final 32 names that are called as well.
Here is how I see things shaping up:
There are going to be four selected in the first round for sure, Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert are all shaping up as top 10 picks. Jordan Love is a bit more of a mystery though I can't see him getting past New England. The question becomes whether or not a team trades up or grabs Jacob Eason somewhere late on Thursday night. I don't expect it at this point, but a lot could change in the next two weeks and you can't entirely rule it out for sure.
Running backs: .5
Another free agent cycle amplified the issues with paying running backs big money, or over-drafting them. They are everywhere and they will flood the mid-rounds of this draft, too. Could someone snag a JK Dobbins or D'Andre Swift or Jonathan Taylor? Sure, they could. As the talent gets thin deep in the first round, a team or two might want to go that route and take the best RB in the draft, in their estimation. But there is not a ton of pressing need at the position and I would by no means guarantee at this point any specific back is taken, let alone project more than one. Again, could certainly happen but I can't bank on it.
Tight ends: .5
Weak crop all around, further offset by the fact this is arguably the best and deepest wide receiver crop ever. If there is a truly hot tight end right now, I haven't heard much about it. Too many other positions to sort through. Tight ends won't start really coming into focus until Day 2.
Wide receivers: 4.5
There are probably seven at least worthy of being among these top 32 picks, but that is unlikely as many teams will be content to try to grab that last remaining OT, DT or EDGE late in the first round, knowing that receiver options will abound deeper in the draft. Perhaps the receiver run that is expected to get hot and heavy in the low teens will lead to six or more going in the top 32 picks in total. Right now I feel like I'd go with five. Which five remains to be seen, though we know CeeDee Lamb, Henry Ruggs and Jerry Juedy will all be gone before pick 20.
Offensive tackles: 6.5
Much like quarterbacks, need almost always results in teams being more willing to gamble and project future performance when it comes to these guys. There are never enough to go around. You can bank on three going, at least, in the top 10 picks, and four in the top 14. So by the middle of the first round Jedrick Wills, Tristen Wirfs, Andre Thomas, Mekhi Becton are gone. I continue to hear a very strong buzz about USC's Austin Jackson as the fifth tackle and I also believe Houston's Josh Jones will be a first-round selection. Could another tackle sneak into the top 32?
Interior offensive linemen: .5
This looks a lot like the tight end group. Not many true blue chip guys coaches or scouts are banging on the table for on Day 1. The center who is getting the most buzz is Michigan's Cesar Ruiz, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him go in the first five picks or so of the second round depending on how the board shapes up.
Edge rushers: 2.5
I figure teams do what they have to do to secure some of this talent on the first day, though this group is riddled with players with injury concerns and/or lack of true high-end production. After Chase Young goes in the top three, things get real murky. K'Lavon Chaisson will go, and someone from the group of AJ Epenesa, Terrell Lewis and Zack Baun probably goes, but your guess is as good as mine.
Defensive tackles: 3.5
Derrick Brown is a top 10 pick and Javon Kinlaw won't be that far behind. From the next tier, Neville Gallimore, Marlon Davidson and Raekwon Davis are the apple of some DL coaches eyes. There are some big, athletic, powerful frames in this group and too much potential for some to resist.
Isaiah Simmons is a top 10 pick. Patrick Queen and Kenneth Murray have been popping up in the first round in mock drafts all winter long. And I figure at least one of them does get the call Thursday night. Jayden Brooks from Texas Tech is someone teams are all over for his speed and freakish wingspan and ability to motor all over the field.
I have been all over Southern Illinois safety Jeremy Chinn as a first-round talent since before the combine and I really like his chances to go in the 20s somewhere. The were some injury concerns with LSU Grant Delpit, but his recent virtual Pro Day workout should help. Xavier McKinney could end up going pretty high we well. Honestly, some execs I talk to could see no safeties in the first 32.
This is a very intriguing class, but teams see these prospects differently and there does not seem to be much consensus as to whom the top five corners are. There is usually a run on them, but once you get beyond Jeff Okudah, Kristen Fulton, Jaylon Johnson and CJ Henderson things get murky. AJ Terrell and Trevon Diggs are in this mix, among others, though part of me wonders if teams see the depth and variance in this group and opt to snag other positions of need in the first round.