For 20 teams, the mock draft season begins after this weekend, as fans turn toward the future of their franchise and frantically research the players they hope their team will draft and cultivate into superstars.
But hey, why not get started a little early? Let's take a look at my first mock draft of the year and break down one position in particular that I think could really shape the first round, the quarterback position.
First, to the mock.
|NFL Mock Draft|
|1||Tennessee Titans||Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss|
|2||Cleveland Browns||Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State|
|3||San Diego Chargers||Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida|
|4||Dallas Cowboys||Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis|
|5||San Francisco 49ers||Jared Goff, QB, California|
|6||Miami Dolphins||Myles Jack, LB, UCLA|
|7||Jacksonville Jaguars||Jalen Ramsey, S/CB, Florida State|
|8||Baltimore Ravens||A'Shawn Robinson, DE/DT, Alabama|
|9||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon|
|10||New York Giants||Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame|
|11||New Orleans Saints||Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss|
|12||Philadelphia Eagles||Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame|
|13||Detroit Lions||Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State|
|14||Chicago Bears||Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State|
|15||Buffalo Bills||Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor|
|16||Oakland Raiders||Leonard Floyd, DE/OLB, Georgia|
|17||Indianapolis Colts||Tre'Davious White, CB, LSU|
|18||St. Louis Rams||Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State|
|19||Atlanta Falcons||Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss|
|20||Pittsburgh Steelers||Su'a Cravens, S/LB, USC|
|21||Seattle Seahawks||Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State|
|22||New York Jets||Reggie Ragland, ILB, Alabama|
|23||Kansas City Chiefs||Jarran Reed, DT, Alabama|
|24||Minnesota Vikings||Michael Thomas, WR, Ohio State|
|25||Washington||Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona|
|26||Houston Texans||Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State|
|27||Green Bay Packers||Kenny Clark, DT, UCLA|
|28||Cincinnati Bengals||Adolphus Washington, DE/DT, Ohio State|
|29||Denver Broncos||Vadal Alexander, G, LSU|
|30||Arizona Cardinals||Jonathan Bullard, DE, Florida|
|31||Carolina Panthers||Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech|
|Selection order based on current standings and playoff seeds|
A lot of teams are in the running to select a quarterback. The Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago Bears, St. Louis Rams, Houston Texans and the Arizona Cardinals (Carson Palmer is getting up there in age) could consider a quarterback.
The Browns really are the pivot point of this draft. At the moment, I don't see them selecting another quarterback and giving Johnny Manziel—who took steps and improved this season—one more year to prove he can be a franchise quarterback. But it'd hardly be surprised if they went after a quarterback, either.
That leaves the Cowboys as the next team up. Paxton Lynch is more of a project than Jared Goff, but he also has huge upside. He's big, has a powerful arm and he's pretty athletic for a man of his size. The Cowboys could draft him, let him learn under Tony Romo for a few seasons and easily transition from Romo into another starting quarterback.
Given the talent the Cowboys have on the roster, they may not have another chance to draft a franchise quarterback with this much upside. They may not pass up the opportunity.
Goff—who is a more polished passer than Lynch now—likely wouldn't get past San Francisco at No. 5. And he's probably the safer choice, though he isn't without question marks, as Rob Rang of CBS Sports (via Ron Kroichick of the San Francisco Chronicle) noted:
“I don’t see an elite arm, but I do see the accuracy, anticipation and pocket movement to move past pressure and keep his eyes downfield,” Rang said. “Those three traits translate very well to the NFL.”
Rang acknowledged Goff must fight through skepticism about the spread offense Cal uses. That system relies on shotgun snaps and quick throws, but Rang noted how often Goff shifted safeties with his eyes and then threw to the other side of the field—a treasured skill in the NFL.
If Goff drops down to No. 12, the Philadelphia Eagles almost assuredly would select him if Sam Bradford isn't re-signed or the team doesn't make a trade for a quarterback. If Goff or Lynch don't drop to No. 12, however, the team could go the best player route over picking a quarterback, as the team has plenty of other needs.
Still, Connor Cook could shoot up draft boards. Of course, right now he's coming off a tough 38-0 loss to Alabama in his final college game.
While Cook struggled on a national stage Thursday night, his coach offered high praise of the fifth-year QB, per ESPN.com's Dan Murphy:
“I’ve seen him do amazing things as a quarterback,” head coach Mark Dantonio said. “Not a guy who’s thrown a lot of interceptions, doesn’t turn the ball over. He’s creative, and he’s played very, very well in huge games. So what’s he mean to our football program? He’s our quarterback that we’ve hung our hat on here for the last three years.”
Cook will certainly be playing on Sundays. He has the mentality to do so. No one will ever accuse Cook of playing scared, and I highly doubt he would slip past the St. Louis Rams, who have to feel the Nick Foles experiment was a failure.
That leaves one more name on my first-round board: Penn State's Christian Hackenberg. Honestly, I'm not sure Hackenberg is a first-round pick if his former coach, Bill O'Brien, doesn't make a push to bring him to Houston. He could sit behind Brian Hoyer initially, but Hackenberg has the skill-set to play in the NFL. Reuniting with O'Brien—who got the best out of him during their time together at Penn State—could be a very fruitful relationship for both of them.