It’s that magical 72-hour bacchanal of high hopes and crushed dreams, as scores of young men from around the country anxiously await the news that they’ve been chosen to be a millionaire. At the same time, fans in Cleveland, San Francisco, Chicago, Jacksonville, and elsewhere pray that a draft-day miracle will deliver their beloved team from irrelevance. But before that, we must all huddle around and boldly predict with unwavering certitude what will transpire, claiming to somehow understand the thought processes of men who do things like make Johnny Manziel and JaMarcus Russell first-round picks, while letting the likes of Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman fall to the fifth round. Here’s how the top 10 picks are gonna play out. No, seriously.
1. Cleveland Browns: In the 15 seasons since they last made the playoffs, the Browns have started 15 different quarterbacks, and in none of those seasons has a single QB managed to start all 16 games. The last time they picked a QB in the first round, they got themselves Johnny Manziel — let’s not readjudicate that mess. So they pretty clearly need a QB, but given that there doesn’t seem to be a sure-fire stud available, it looks like they’re gonna take Texas A&M defensive lineman Myles Garrett. Unless of course someone comes calling with an offer they can’t refuse in exchange for the top pick.
2. San Francisco 49ers: Like the Browns, a team in tear-down more — kinda goes with the territory at the top of the draft — and the changes started at the tippity-top with a new GM, former Buccaneers safety John Lynch, and a new head coach, Kyle Shanahan, who last year was the mastermind behind the historically great Falcons offensive. Of course he’s also the guy whose offense stood idly by while the Patriots engineered the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, and who briefly lost his playbook just days before the big game. You don’t hire a guy like Shanahan and then take a defensive player, but, again, there’s no top-flight QB on offer. So look for the Niners to trade down for more picks and see if they can’t get North Carolina QB Mitch Trubisky, who’s much more in the mold of a Matt Ryan than the other top passers in the draft, further down.
3. Chicago Bears: Chicagoans would be hard pressed to choose which makes them happier: the Cubs’ World Series win or the end of the Jay Cutler Era. Backups Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley both signed with the Niners, leaving the cupboard exceedingly bare. Look for the Bears to grab DeShaun Watson, who just led Clemson to a national title. Watson passed for over 10,000 yards in just two and a half seasons, and had a TD/INT ratio of 2.8. That’s unless they trade for New England’s Jimmy Garoppolo.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars: New head coach Doug Marrone recently said of starting QB Blake Bortles, “we need to build his foundation from the beginning,” which while hardly a vote of confidence, seems to suggest they’ll give him one more chance. The Jags’ running game was a mess last year, with their two leading rushers, TJ Yeldon and Chris Ivory, combining for just 904 yards, 4 TDs, and 3.7 ypc, making LSU running back Leonard Fournette highly attractive. Fournette’s junior year was marred by injury, limiting him to 129 carries in 7 games, but he still managed 843 yards and 8 TDs. Oh, wait, the Jags just traded for Carlos Hyde (217 carries, 988 yards, 6 TD), so scratch Fournette, which means Alabama’s Jonathan Allen is their man at DE.
5. Tennessee Titans (from Los Angeles Rams): Cornerback Marshon Lattimore out of the Ohio State University is the consensus pick for the Titans, who managed to go 9-7 last season, despite giving up the most passing yards of any team in the league. Lattimore ran a 4.36 at the combine, and his 6-foot frame combined with his 38.5-inch vertical jump makes it hard to go over the top on him.
6. New York Jets: With a host of QB candidates already signed and poised to battle it out for the starting job, the Jets should use the draft to fill one of their other holes, and none was bigger than their secondary, which allowed opposing QBs to rack up a TD/INT ratio of 3.75. Jamal Adams out of LSU is the best strong safety on the board.
7. Los Angeles Chargers: The gods are punishing Philip Rivers for something, though it’s not clear what. The Chargers went 5-11 last year, with 4 of their losses by 3 points or fewer. Rivers hurt the team with his 21 interceptions, partly a product of a ton of pressure from pass rushers. But Rivers has plenty left in the tank, and the Chargers have a pair of talented receivers and a pretty good running back. However, as bad as their D was, some fresh blood on the O-line could be a huge help. Quenton Nelson of Notre Dame could be a good fit, he gave up zero sacks and just one QB hit last season. That said, #7 seems awfully high for drafting him, so maybe they trade down.
8. Carolina Panthers: Given how the team’s fortunes plummeted with the departure of Josh Norman, it’s easy to suggest the Panthers need a new CB. Or would they be better off getting more protection for Cam Newton, whom opposing pass rushers treated like a pinata last year? The Panthers have already brought in help on the O-line, and really need for the league to do their part to police cheap shots and late hits. LSU’s Tre’Davious White should provide the help they need at cornerback, he allowed a completion percentage of just 41.7, and is a good enough athlete that he also returned 68 pitns for 688 yards and 3 TDs in three seasons.
9. Cincinnati Bengals: I know what you’re thinking: How does this moron have Solomon Thomas slipping all the way to #9? Given what a foolish errand this whole process is, you may as well roll the dice. Thomas is a beast, lots of folks have him #2 on their draft board, but how often are guys drafted in order of perceived talent? And how often do guys live up to their hype?
10. Buffalo Bills: They’re prepared to take another shot with Tyrod Taylor at QB, but the wide receivers corps was gutted by free agency, meaning Mike Williams out of Clemson would be a great fit. He’s 6’4”, 218, and strong like bull.
Highlights from previous NFL Drafts are available on-demand on NFL Network.
Round 1 at 8pm ET
Rounds 2 & 3 at 7pm ET
Rounds 4 through 7 at 12pm ET