For fans of the NFL draft, 12 months of speculation and waiting all come down to three days of excitement. For NFL scouts, coaches and general managers, nine months of work come down to three days of nail-biting and hair-pulling as they watch the players they covet come off the board.
The NFL draft is equal parts excitement and anxiety, but it's also the No. 1 area in which teams are built. Have a good draft class and your team is a playoff contender (see the Oakland Raiders' 2014 class as evidence). Have a bad draft and you're talking about a fired general manager and head coach, which can often mean years of wasted draft picks if the new regime changes schemes.
There is no substitute to getting it right on draft day, and now it's here. Two teams have already moved up the board to (most likely) secure franchise-changing quarterbacks, and the activity at the top isn't likely to be done yet. After we worked the phones and talked to scouts, coaches, players and general managers, the need and wants of those teams are starting to come into focus.
To prepare for draft weekend, we'll go team by team and look at the newest rumors from credible league sources—we're sharing vetted information that is both factual and logical—and note what we're hearing will happen when the picks start flying.
Scroll down for an interview with presumed No. 1 pick Jared Goff and one more set of first-round predictions before Thursday's seven-round mock draft.
The Scout's Report
Arizona Cardinals: Even with restricted free agent Tony Jefferson signing his one-year tender, I'm told by a Cardinals scout that they will target a defensive back in Round 1. The center position is one the Cardinals could target early, and the scout said the team fell in love with Alabama's Ryan Kelly. The scout and another team source both said they wouldn't be surprised if wide receiver Michael Floyd is used as trade bait to move up or add extra picks. That was the case last year, too.
Atlanta Falcons: Defense, defense, defense. Front-office executives in Atlanta expect a defensive end or linebacker at pick No. 17. With only five picks in the draft, I'm told by the same sources that the Falcons would move down in Round 1 if Darron Lee is already off the board. As a scout in Atlanta told me, "Scott Pioli always goes OL." It would be reasonable to expect a guard to come off the board in the middle rounds.
Baltimore Ravens: At pick No. 6 the Ravens have options, and I'm told by a coach that general manager Ozzie Newsome will stick to a "best available player" philosophy after reaching for a need in wide receiver Breshad Perriman last year. The Ravens have done their homework on Eastern Kentucky edge-rusher Noah Spence. If he's on the board in Round 2 (No. 36 overall), a position coach in Baltimore says he'd be the pick.
Buffalo Bills: A scout in Buffalo opted not to answer when asked about the Bills' interest in Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who has been linked to them by many around the league, including Sports Illustrated's Peter King. One thing is certain, according to the scout: The Bills are intent on adding at least competition for Pro Bowl quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Kevin Hogan (Stanford) is another name a front-office source with knowledge of the Bills' draft plans mentioned as a mid-round option. If the Bills go defense in Round 1, I'm told by the same front-office source that the scouting staff praised Alabama's Jarran Reed and consider him a fit there.
Carolina Panthers: The Panthers have been linked to pass-rushers throughout the draft process, but sources in the scouting room expect a defensive back to get the most attention in Round 1. Coaching staff sources in Carolina tell me the team has done heavy work on Ohio State wide receiver Michael Thomas; he may be a surprise Round 1 pick.
Chicago Bears: The Bears are said to love DeForest Buckner, according to a source on the coaching staff, but the Oregon defensive lineman won't be available at pick No. 11. Georgia's Leonard Floyd is the player highest on the board who is likely to be available, but the same coaching source said left tackle and cornerback will be priorities.
Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals have a reputation in scouting circles of drafting for need, and a coach on the staff expects a wide receiver to be the first-round need filled. Other areas that will get attention are defensive line and defensive back, likely in the top four rounds, according to the same coach.
Cleveland Browns: League sources expect the Browns to consider Jack Conklin from Michigan State at pick No. 8 as they try to replace Mitchell Schwartz. The Browns were "in love" with Myles Jack, according to a scout employed with the team this past season, but that may have changed with new information regarding his knee. A scout still employed with the team believes the Browns will be active in moving up and down the board, but the scout says the priority will be on defense.
Dallas Cowboys: Everything I hear out of Dallas' front office is that the team is locked in on Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey at No. 4 overall. If he is gone, a current Dallas player I spoke with who has knowledge of the draft board said Ezekiel Elliott is "100 percent in play."
Denver Broncos: Many expect Denver to select a quarterback, but a scout in the front office says general manager John Elway will draft the best player and won't let the biggest need dictate his choice. The scout mentioned safety Karl Joseph as someone the Broncos were high on.
Detroit Lions: Kelly is the top want from new general manager Bob Quinn, according to scouts who have worked with him in the past. Don't rule out a left tackle if Taylor Decker falls to pick No. 16. A coach I spoke to in Detroit said Riley Reiff isn't expected to return after his contract runs out next season.
Green Bay Packers: General manager Ted Thompson doesn't always stay on script, but everything coming out of the draft room in Green Bay points to defensive line and linebacker in the first two rounds. One name heating up from scouts with the Packers is Clemson safety T.J. Green. He's viewed as a hot candidate in Round 2 if he's on the board. The Packers love Alabama players, and according to the scouting source there, Reggie Ragland is viewed as a late first-round option.
Houston Texans: Sources in Houston on the coaching staff and in the front office have said all along that a wide receiver is likely to be the first-round pick. Keep an eye on Laquon Treadwell if he falls to No. 22, as I'm told the Texans love him. As for the most likely selection, the scout I spoke to said Will Fuller got his top grade at wide receiver.
Indianapolis Colts: The love for Alabama's Kelly is real, according to decision-makers I've talked to in Indianapolis. Sources on the coaching staff tell me they're not set on taking an offensive tackle at any point in this draft and instead expect to go center and edge-rusher in some order with the first two picks.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Jack is the name everyone mentions when you ask around the league. If he passes his medicals, he'll be the pick at No. 5, according to a front-office source. Joey Bosa is the top player on the board without a health risk, according to the same front-office source. There was a debate between Bosa and Ramsey among scouts.
Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs stick to a strict "draft ahead" philosophy, and looking at future free agents, a coach there says a nose tackle in Round 1 wouldn't be a surprise. Other areas of consideration, per the coach, are wide receiver and cornerback. The team would like to add a quarterback but may not be able to without a third-round pick, according to a scouting contact.
Los Angeles Rams: This may seem a formality, but I'm told by a source in the Rams' front office that they are taking Jared Goff at No. 1 overall. The same source said the Rams will focus on an interior lineman and a big wide receiver with their remaining selections.
Miami Dolphins: The team is enamored with Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott, and my front-office source says a trade up from No. 13 to get in front of Chicago at No. 11 is possible. The Dolphins are also expected to make a run at a cornerback early in this draft, per the same source.
Minnesota Vikings: It's no secret that the Vikings need a starting wide receiver, and a scout in the front office tells me they prefer TCU's Josh Doctson in Round 1. Minnesota scouts don't consider running back to be a priority in this draft class.
New England Patriots: The Patriots are a hard team to get solid info on, but one scout said strong safety could be targeted with one of their two Round 2 selections. Scouts familiar with New England's draft plans said the team will target a stand-up pass-rusher to replace Chandler Jones with one of the Day 2 picks.
New Orleans Saints: According to sources on the coaching staff in New Orleans, it's apparent the team wants to get bigger at defensive tackle and beef up against the run. Sheldon Rankins in Round 1 and a wide receiver in Round 2 is the current "best guess" from coaches. A Saints scout told me there was a big debate on Robert Nkemdiche and to not rule him out in Round 1.
New York Giants: General manager Jerry Reese has avoided the linebacker position in years past, but a front-office source said that could change this year. Ohio State's Lee and Georgia's Floyd are the names to watch. Offensive tackle is another area on which the Giants' source said the team could use a first-round pick. Conklin is the player my contact mentioned. The Giants would love for Myles Jack to be available, according to a coach I spoke with on staff.
New York Jets: The Jets are a true "best player available" team now, so don't expect a reach for a quarterback at No. 20 if they don't have that player atop the board. The Jets were an anonymous-source dream under the last regime, but good luck getting anyone in that building to talk now. Since general manager Mike Maccagnan put together a mix of young and veteran scouts to assist in his rebuilding efforts, led by his top lieutenant Brian Heimerdinger, they have locked down the rebuilding effort. All is quiet coming in Florham Park.
Oakland Raiders: A coaching source in Oakland said the Raiders would love Elliott to fall to them, but a realistic option is a big defensive tackle or left tackle of the future, per the same source. Two names to remember, according to the coach I talked to, are Chris Jones and Nkemdiche.
Philadelphia Eagles: Carson Wentz will be the pick at No. 2 overall (no surprise), but my sources in Philadelphia's front office said the team wants to add at least one receiver and running back with its remaining selections. Speaking of running backs, I'm told it wouldn't be a surprise to Eagles scouts if they went quarterback and then running back with the team's first two picks. Louisiana Tech's Kenneth Dixon was mentioned as a possibility.
Pittsburgh Steelers: A contact on staff in Pittsburgh said the team is not set on a cornerback in Round 1 and that it could draft Karl Joseph, depending on his medicals. The Steelers will not be moving Landry Jones for draft picks, according to my source. They value him more than ever after his play last season.
San Diego Chargers: I'm told by a decision-maker in the front office that Laremy Tunsil, Buckner and Ramsey are the favorites to be picked at No. 3 overall. The same source said the Chargers view tackle, defensive end and free safety as their biggest needs.
San Francisco 49ers: At pick No. 7, expect the 49ers to go toward the trenches unless they can move up to get Ramsey, according to my front-office source. Names to consider for the 49ers are Tunsil, Buckner and offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley. I'm told by the same source that Jack has been moved to the team's "sub-board," which means he wouldn't play in 2016. In other words, he's basically off their radar. General manager Trent Baalke needs to win now, and that's why my contact believes the 49ers are a candidate to move back up into Round 1 and may try to send Colin Kaepernick as trade capital to do so.
Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks are being oddly quiet this season after talking fairly openly last year. Information isn't flowing from the Pacific Northwest. One scout I met on the road did say they viewed Kelly as a Round 1 player but that he's not expected to be there for them at No. 26.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The word around the league is that Tampa likes Stanley, but the team fears he won't be there. A source on the team said pass-rusher and wide receiver were considered the top needs on the roster.
Tennessee Titans: After Tennessee traded down from the No. 1 overall pick, the current buzz from scouts with the Titans is they're eyeing a move back into the top 10 to get a right tackle. League sources expect the Cleveland Browns to consider Conklin from Michigan State at pick No. 8, so the Titans could be trying to get ahead of them.
Washington: At pick No. 21, scouts tell me general manager Scot McCloughan would love to land Kelly. Scouts I've spoken with from the team believe defensive line is a high priority but said to not rule out a big wide receiver in Round 1.
5 Names to Know
5. Defensive Lineman Chris Jones, Mississippi State
The name moving up boards the fastest is Chris Jones, the big defensive tackle from Mississippi State. Teams in search of a "combo" defensive tackle—basically a three-down player who can stop the run and rush the passer from a 3-technique—are falling for Jones' athletic upside. He dominated in flashes in the SEC but has been inconsistent at times. However, he's starting to look like a Round 1 lock.
4. Wide Receiver Chris Moore, Cincinnati
Don't be surprised if Chris Moore is drafted before a lot of the "name" wide receivers in this class—even guys like Tyler Boyd and Leonte Carroo. Teams I've talked to love his upside and speed after the catch, and Moore has the reliable hands to be seen as an instant contributor as an "X" receiver.
3. Defensive Back T.J. Green, Clemson
For months Mackensie Alexander, or even Jayron Kearse, looked like the top defensive back from Clemson. But as the draft nears, it's T.J. Green who is getting the most buzz from teams. He's big (6'2") and fast (4.34 speed) and has sold teams on the idea that he could play free safety or cornerback. He's kind of like a poor man's Jalen Ramsey. A top-50 selection—and maybe even top-31—is possible.
2. Tackle Shon Coleman, Auburn
Shon Coleman has beaten cancer and most of the pass-rushers in the SEC, but a knee injury suffered late in the year likely kept him from being a top-40 pick in the draft. Don't sleep on him on Day 2, though. Coaches and scouts love him, and if general managers are willing to be patient with his torn MCL, he could be a starting left tackle soon.
1. Edge-Rusher Yannick Ngakoue, Maryland
The name isn't easy to pronounce ("IN-gah-kway"), but it is one you want to remember on Day 2 of the draft. After Ngakoue's stellar pro-day workout, one scout called me from the field and said to move him up my board (he was already in Round 2). Ngakoue is one of the better stand-up rushers in a class that is light on the position, and he figures to be a top-75 selection.
5 Questions with Jared Goff, California
Jared Goff's wait on draft night won't be a long one. He's expected to be the No. 1 overall pick and won't last any longer than No. 2 overall if he somehow gets by the Rams (I'm hearing he won't). The man who turned around Cal football sat down with me this week to talk ball and get to the bottom of our Royals-Giants rivalry.
Miller: We're going to start with a hard question first, OK? You're a San Francisco Giants fan. I'm a Kansas City Royals fan. Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, I'm sitting behind third base when Alex Gordon rips a triple. Should he have stopped or gone for home?
Goff: Well in hindsight he obviously should have gone for home. Since they ended up losing, I'm sure if he could go back in time they would have thought he should've gone home. But when he was standing on third with two outs, I was worried. He probably would've been thrown out at the plate, though.
Miller: The offense at Cal takes a lot of heat from fans and experts. What's the one thing people don't seem to understand about your role in the "Bear Raid"?
Goff: In regard to what I was in charge of, I could do whatever I wanted. Literally. I could change a run play to a pass play. I could change one run play to another run play. I could do whatever I wanted. And I was probably doing at least one thing on every play—whether it was changing the snap count, or up at the line of scrimmage where I was changing the protection, or whether it was changing a route combo and flipping them around, I was doing probably at least one thing on every play. I had a lot of responsibilities and had to be on top of stuff when I was out there.
Miller: What type of role did you have in the game-planning each week? Did they let you help with that?
Goff: Oh yeah. I was a big part of that. They'd ask me what I wanted to do. I'd watch the tape of what [the opponent's] defense did and throw out ideas, and they'd bounce ideas off me. I was very involved with it.
Miller: The last time I saw you—at the Super Bowl—you had added weight. Now you look huge. How much weight have you put on, and what's your ideal playing weight?
Goff: I'm like 220 now. I'll probably play this year at 225. I was like 185 my freshman year, like 195 my sophomore year. I played this year around 205 or 210. So I put on like 15 pounds since the season has been over.
Miller: Here's the one everybody wants to know—have the Rams hinted either way at what they're doing at No. 1 overall?
Goff: (Laughs) Oh, we'll see. I'm not allowed to talk about anything.
The Big Board
Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network has a great line that I'm going to borrow for this time of year—mock drafts are what he hears, rankings are what he sees. I've tried for years to explain the difference, and nothing comes as close as that one sentence.
This one-round mock draft—and Thursday's seven-round mock—are based on what I'm hearing from teams and players. This is not what I would do as a general manager of each team. As always, one trade can mess up the whole thing, so I've not predicted any movement, even though I'm sure we'll get some activity Thursday night.
|Updated Round 1 Mock Draft|
|1. Los Angeles (via Tennessee)||QB Jared Goff, California|
|2. Philadelphia (via Cleveland)||QB Carson Wentz, North Dakota State|
|3. San Diego||CB Jalen Ramsey, FSU|
|4. Dallas||RB Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State|
|5. Jacksonville||DE Joey Bosa, Ohio State|
|6. Baltimore||T Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss|
|7. San Francisco||DL DeForest Buckner, Oregon|
|8. Cleveland (via Philadelphia)||LB Myles Jack, UCLA|
|9. Tampa Bay||T Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame|
|10. New York Giants||LB Leonard Floyd, Georgia|
|11. Chicago||EDGE Shaq Lawson, Clemson|
|12. New Orleans||DL Sheldon Rankins, Louisville|
|13. Miami (via Philadelphia)||CB Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida|
|14. Oakland||DL Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss|
|15. Tennessee (via Los Angeles)||T Jack Conklin, Michigan State|
|16. Detroit||T Taylor Decker, Ohio State|
|17. Atlanta||LB Darron Lee, Ohio State|
|18. Indianapolis||C Ryan Kelly, Alabama|
|19. Buffalo||QB Paxton Lynch, Memphis|
|20. New York Jets||EDGE Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky|
|21. Washington||DL Andrew Billings, Baylor|
|22. Houston||WR Will Fuller, Notre Dame|
|23. Minnesota||WR Josh Doctson, TCU|
|24. Cincinnati||WR Corey Coleman, Baylor|
|25. Pittsburgh||CB William Jackson III, Houston|
|26. Seattle||T Germain Ifedi, Texas A&M|
|27. Green Bay||LB Reggie Ragland, Alabama|
|28. Kansas City||WR Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss|
|29. Arizona||CB T.J. Green, Clemson|
|30. Carolina||DE Kevin Dodd, Clemson|
|31. Denver||FS Karl Joseph, West Virginia|
8. NFL Network's Albert Breer updated the status of Myles Jack's knee in a series of tweets this week and has many asking what's next for the talented UCLA linebacker. Here's what I know:
- Jack has been removed from the main board of at least one team drafting in the top 10, according to a scout there. But that doesn't mean he's off every board or even most boards.
- A coach on a team picking in the 20s told me Jack "may be OK" but that they had also put him on their sub-board—a secondary board where injured players go.
- It only takes one team, and there's a strong possibility Jack will still be a top-10 selection.
7. Jaylon Smith would have been the No. 1 player on my board before the knee injury he suffered in the Fiesta Bowl. USA Today's Tom Pelissero has a must-read on Smith's injury—he admits he'll likely sit out 2016—and how the Cowboys' team doctor sees his rehab.
I've asked every contact I have where Smith should come off the board, and no one has offered a straight answer. My best guess? Round 3 in the latter half of the round where a more stable franchise can invest in his future.
6. It seems like most people expect there to be a run on quarterbacks at the end of the first round, but I'm not sold on that idea. Are the Buffalo Bills really going to draft Christian Hackenberg at No. 19, as has been rumored? I don't see it. The same goes for Connor Cook to Denver.
Every year a team reaches for a quarterback too early, though, and it shouldn't surprise anyone if the 49ers or Jets try to get back into the first round for a quarterback—whether it's for Paxton Lynch, Hackenberg or Cook.
What should happen versus what will happen is always tough to determine. On my updated big board, there's no way a team should trade up for Cook or Hackenberg, as they both came in as late third-round values.
5. As teams set their draft boards, that information gets out to people like me. Here are the late-risers as I talk to scouts and coaches:
- Javon Hargrave, DL, South Carolina State: The latest buzz has Hargrave as a Round 2 fit for 4-3 defenses thanks to his interior pass-rushing skills.
- Ryan Kelly, C, Alabama: Kelly was a solid top-50 prospect until I started breaking him down for the NFL Draft 400 series. I moved him to the first round, but there's now talk he could go in the top 20 overall.
- Chris Moore, WR, Cincinnati: As mentioned above, Moore's name is heating up with Round 2 talk.
4. The defensive line class is so deep this year, and some have asked me if I expect a run in the late first round because of that. My instincts say the opposite—general managers will wait to select a defensive lineman because they know there is value there. Why reach for Andrew Billings in Round 1 if you can get Kenny Clark in Round 2? There isn't a huge drop-off from the first round to second round this year, which sets teams up well to wait on defensive linemen.
Something I've written about before is stacking picks—looking at what effect your Round 1 pick has on the talent in the class in each round after the fact. Teams that use the stacking philosophy will see defensive line as a better Round 2 option.
3. One of the most frequent questions I see on Twitter about this draft class is how the top two quarterbacks—Jared Goff and Carson Wentz—rank compared to last year's class.
On my grading scale, Goff and Jameis Winston tied with a 7.50 grade. Marcus Mariota came in next with a 7.20 with Wentz an even 7.20. By comparison, this class is very close to last year's but with better depth. Where last year saw a huge drop-off to No. 3 quarterback Brett Hundley (5.75), Paxton Lynch has an early-Round 2 grade at 6.90.
2. A lot of people asked this week how next year's class is looking. Throughout the college football season, I don't check ahead on film to freshmen and sophomores, but the 2017 class appears to be deep at running back and linebacker.
Next year's quarterback class could be good, but it depends on underclassmen Brad Kaaya (Miami) and Deshaun Watson (Clemson) continuing to develop. Both have the tools to mature into legitimate first-round passers in another season or two.
So, if you're a Browns or Jets fan and worried about getting a quarterback of the future next year, it could be a good year, depending on the development of two ACC passers.
1. If you're looking for scouting reports before or after the draft, our NFL Draft 400 series is where you want to be. The series profiles the top 400 players in the class in a position-by-position format. Each player is graded, ranked and scouted with complete reports and testing numbers included.
- Running Backs
- Wide Receivers
- Tight Ends
- Offensive Tackles/Offensive Guards/Centers
- Defensive Linemen
- Edge Defenders/Linebackers
- Free Safeties/Strong Safeties
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.