I have followed the NFL Draft as closely as anyone for practically my entire life. It's something I have always loved. As a long time Buccaneer fan, the draft was really one of the few things I had to look forward to because the team was so bad for so long.
But this draft is different and it's different because of the mystery and intrigue regarding the teams, players, and potential trades.
Never before can I remember a draft with so many unknowns. Simply, there are a heck of a lot more questions than answers.
Houston, you are on the clock
In my mind there is absolutely no doubt, none whatsoever, who the top prospect is in this draft. Hands down it's defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. He's the best non-quarterback to enter the NFL is quite some time.
That doesn't necessarily mean he will be a Texan when it's all said and done. Clowney is best suited to play in a 4-3 defense, where as Houston's scheme is a 3-4. Speculation has be rampant that the Texans will draft and trade Clowney or make a deal before their selection and trade back and out of the pick.
There's also that screaming need of a quarterback in Houston. If you are coach Bill O'Brien can you really justify taking a signal caller at the top spot over Clowney? What quarterback do they really covet and when is the appropriate time to make that selection?
Then again, if the Texans don't plan to spend a first round pick on a quarterback and wait until later in the draft, why not take Clowney and make it work? You already have arguably the game's best defensive linemen in J.J. Watt. Pair the two together and figure out a solution.
The NFL has become a pass happy league and the best way to combat that is to try and crush the quarterback. Remember, they are in a division where they are chasing after the Colts and their outstanding young quarterback Andrew Luck.
What the Texans ultimately do with the very first pick could certainly set the tone of the entire first round.
I expect there to be an abundance of trades within the first round, as teams move up and move back. Who could be the dance partner of Houston? Certainly there's talk about the Falcons moving up to land Clowney or outside linebacker Khalil Mack. Atlanta could also trade back in an effort to find a better spot to take tight end Eric Ebron.
Don't be surprised if the Raiders move out of the fifth spot if wide Sammy Watkins is off the board. Then you have the Bills, who would love to have Watkins or wide receiver Mike Evans. They could move up. Then again, they could trade back a few spots and get a guy like offensive tackle Zack Martin.
Another team on the move could be Tampa Bay. They have several huge needs. They are also in a great spot at No. 7, where they could certainly fill a huge hole with a great player. Then again, the Bucs only have six picks. I think they look to trade back, pick a wide receiver at their new spot and add a pick or two. Their phone could also be ringing wildly, as there could be at least three teams that covet defensive tackle Aaron Donald. The Giants, Bears and Cowboys may have to get inside the top ten to have a chance to draft him.
St. Louis and Minnesota are two teams that have been known to wheel and deal in the first round. That trend could continue.
I just mentioned the first 16 teams picking. What about the back half?
Perhaps no team has more trade ammunition than San Francisco. They have 11 picks, including a staggering six of the top 100. The 49ers could certainly dangle some enticing picks to teams ahead of them for the player(s) they covet, depending on how far up they want to move.
We all know Miami is desperate for offensive linemen. They are currently in the No. 19 hole and chances are the big four offensive tackles are all gone by the time they are on the clock. Do they reach and take an offensive tackle there, take the best available, or move up or back? That's going to be an interesting team to watch tonight.
Kansas City is another team that could be willing to move back simply because they don't have a second round selection and have needs at receiver and offensive guard.
And here's something interesting to chew on; there are a handful of teams that need a quarterback – Jacksonville, Oakland, Cleveland, Tampa Bay, Minnesota and Tennessee. If they bypass on a quarterback with their first round selection do they move back into the first round at the back quarter of the draft?
We all know that the Browns could certainly take a quarterback at No. 26. But if the others have this strategy of trading back into the round, who will their trade partners be? It's the better teams in the NFL, who have franchise type quarterbacks already. These elite teams are in great position to add picks and better their rosters in this deep draft if they were to trade positions with quarterback needy teams.
A stunning fact
Did you know that there have only been three quarterbacks drafted in the first round that played high school football as a quarterback from the state of Florida?
It's true and one of the most mind blowing stats, especially considering the sheer number of elite players the Sunshine State has produced. Think about that number for a second.
Who are the three? It's John Reaves, Daunte Culpepper and Tim Tebow.
This great game has evolved. It's now a pass happy NFL. Three, four and five receiver sets are the norm on any given down. For most teams, it's running back by committee.
Further proof of how far the game has grown; look at what should occur tonight. As many as eight wide receivers could be taken in the first round (although I am not quite so sure I see the number that high when it's all said and done).
Compare that to the running back position. There isn't an Adrian Peterson in this year's crop but there are still some pretty darn good running back prospects that just a few short years ago would have likely been selected inside the top 32. I don't expect any to be picked tonight. In fact, I did a three round mock yesterday and only had one (Tre Mason) going in the first two rounds. That's not necessarily an indictment of this crop, rather the direction of today's game.
The irony here is that the NFL is a copy cat league. Everyone wants to throw the ball all over the field. But two big reasons why Seattle won the Super Bowl were their defense and running back Marshawn Lynch.
Gil Brandt says…
I don't think there is anyone I have more respect for when it comes to the NFL and the draft than the legendary Gil Brandt. For those that don't know Brandt, he spent nearly 30 years in the Dallas front office in player personnel.
Brandt has had quarterback Johnny Manziel as his top rated player for this draft and said on Monday he believes Manziel will be selected somewhere in the top five.
Obviously, Manziel has been one of the huge talking points going into today and we shall see if Brandt nailed this one or not.
Keep an eye on the beef
Don't be surprised if four offensive tackles are taken among the first ten picks in Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews, Taylor Lewan and possibly Zack Martin. That's speaks volumes for the talent this quartet has. Robinson and Matthews are a given. Lewan being drafted inside the top ten is probable. The wildcard here is Martin.
If Buffalo doesn't move that could possibly be their pick at No. 9. Martin doesn't have the upside as the other three but he can play every position across the front. That versatility enhances his value tremendously. And he's pretty darn good.
But you just never know. Trades can happen and maybe there will be an early run on a few quarterbacks, pushing some players back.
They have to wait
Washington and Indianapolis do not have a first round pick tonight. The Redskins are still paying for Robert Griffin, III in the pre-draft trade they made with the Rams in 2012. Meanwhile, the Colts traded last season for Cleveland running back Trent Richardson.
Teams to watch
There are eight teams with 10 picks or more over the course of this draft - St. Louis (12 ), New York Jets (12), San Francisco (11), Houston (11), Jacksonville (11), Cleveland (10), Atlanta (10), and Dallas (10).
San Francisco has six picks of the top 100 while Cleveland has three of top 35 and five of top 106.
The Colts have the fewest picks at this point with five.