As tempting as it may be, I'm not doing a mock draft less than a month from the first round getting underway. Too many moving parts, too many trades that could get completed, too many needs that could still be filled and far too much time to gather intel on what teams are truly thinking to wade into those waters yet.
But we are close enough to the big weekend that a few things are coming into focus. A few needs are so extreme they stand out. A few teams are falling in love with certain players. A few trends seem to be imminent. The trades that have already been completed portend other moves. So with that in mind here are a few things I could certainly see going down once the draft finally approaches. I guess you could call them fearless forecasts or something like that:
Browns kick it off with Sam Darnold
Sure, they could go in a different direction, but sometimes you just shouldn't try to over-think things. Darnold is pretty clean and super impressive and some of the other teams in line to select quarterbacks at the top of the draft just don't see John Dorsey passing on him. Yes, Josh Allen would fit a profile as well, but Darnold was more productive in a tougher conference and may be as close to the perfect package as you are going to get at this position in this particular draft.
Josh Allen doesn't get past the Jets
If the Giants select a quarterback second overall, then all the more reason that this will hold true. But even if it doesn't, the metrics – completion percentage aside – are very high and this kid has been impressing NFL teams the more time he spends around them and the Jets are among a handful of teams who were already super impressed by what Allen did in 2016. He won't have to wait long when Day 1 of the draft begins.
Bradley Chubb's floor is sixth overall
The more time you spend digesting this draft class, the more clear it becomes just how scant it is on proven pass rushers. And if NFL free agency teaches us anything, it's that you are more likely to land a former Pro Bowl QB on the open market than you are an elite pass rusher in his prime. So no way I see Chris Ballard – desperate to rebuild the Colts long-anemic defense – letting Chubb get past him. I still think he's gone by fourth overall if Dorsey keeps that pick, but six is the floor.
Somebody is trading for Baker Mayfield
He may be the best quarterback in this class and I don't believe he is going first overall. And I don't see him being a fit with the Giants even if they do go QB with the second pick and it might be too big of a gamble for the Jets, too, who as I noted I think may lean Allen. But there is too much here to like – off-field issues and crotch-grabbing aside – and with the Patriots and Bills and Cardinals among those focused on moving up for a QB, Mayfield could be the target. Perhaps the Broncos just keep their pick and take him, but I have a hunch he becomes the Patrick Mahomes of this draft, and ends up with his team via trade.
Mason Rudolph is going in the top half of the first round
Some teams are divided on just how well this kid projects to the NFL, but there are enough teams that like him enough that I see him being the fifth QB off the board … And far sooner than some would have projected. I continue to hear the Ravens – deep into this QB market with them able to untangle themselves from Joe Flacco's contract after 2018 – are high on Rudolph and I'm guessing he doesn't get by them with that pick. The question becomes has Arizona (pick 15, for now) or someone else already selected him? Personally, I'm more of a Lamar Jackson guy, but I'm becoming convinced that Rudolph beats him off the board. I've been maintaining for quite some time that six passers will go in the first 30 picks, and I continue to expect that to be the case.
The Panthers are taking a defensive back
Yes, receiver remains a need as well, but this is a tough first round to try to address that need. But the defensive backs crop is quite deep and they could end up accounting for a fourth of all first-round picks and I can't see the Panthers not getting in on that group. I can't tell you which one just yet - a safety like Justin Reid or a corner like Josh Jackson, perhaps - but this is one team-to-position pairing that is as crystal clear as it seems. Hard to see a pass rusher dropping who would make any sense.
Rashaan Evans just seems like a Steeler
As much as Ryan Shazier has hinted about hoping to play again, he faces some significant medical odds. Pittsburgh has to operate as if he may have played his last snap for them and Evans, a tough-minded, speedy, long, impactful prototype 3-4 inside linebacker just looks like the perfect fit. Given where the Steelers are drafting, this could end up being a match.
Odell Beckham, Earl Thomas traded by first day of draft
The Giants are not inclined to pay Beckham what the market will yield him elsewhere, and, likewise, Thomas is not in line to get another payday from Seattle at this point. Both teams are transitioning – if not rebuilding – and holding on to these star players won't make much sense. Beckham's holdout would be a mess for the Giants, and while Thomas won't fetch the first-and-third the Seahawks hoped for, he'll land multiple other picks.