Every draft there are a few teams that control the whole thing, either by owning a dominant amount of draft picks or by their positioning in each round, which can create chaos with a single selection. In this year's draft, in a class that doesn't look overly deep, there are three teams already poised to run the show when Roger Goodell takes the stage in Arlington, Texas, to kick off the 2018 NFL draft.
Cleveland Browns — The Browns front office has decided in years past to trade down from high draft picks in order to acquire lower future picks. They also traded for Brock Osweiler's contract in order to secure a second-rounder from the Houston Texans. Because of this, the Browns have five selections in the first two rounds and a dominant 12 overall picks.
The Browns have a ton of needs heading into the offseason, which would make owning six picks projected to be in the top 65 and the No. 1 overall selection quite the haul for the franchise. The biggest question will be who is making the picks and coaching the players. Will Hue Jackson and his 1-26 record in Cleveland be out? Will Sashi Brown and his analytics department be making the picks after failing to build a team?
For better or worse, the Browns will own this draft.
San Francisco 49ers — The San Francisco 49ers are currently projected to select No. 2 overall, which definitely helps a team control the draft, but John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan also have nine total selections to continue their rebuild with.
When looking at the 49ers' ability to control the draft, you have to remember the team crossed off its biggest need by trading a second-round pick to the New England Patriots for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. The 49ers, drafting No. 2 overall, can now sell the pick to the highest bidder hoping to draft a quarterback, or they can sit tight and draft the best player on their board. That sounds similar to last year, when they traded back from No. 2 overall and let the Chicago Bears draft Mitch Trubisky.
Lynch and Shanahan could decide to go with the best player available and draft running back Saquon Barkley (Penn State) to give Garoppolo a dominant back to build the offense around. On the other hand, if a team like the New York Jets wants to move up from a projected No. 8 overall and throw in a second-rounder and change to do it, the 49ers have to listen.
Because they're the most likely team to trade out of a high draft pick, the 49ers can control the 2018 class.
Buffalo Bills — The Buffalo Bills are sitting pretty in the early stages of the 2018 draft with six picks in the first three rounds (including four in the top two rounds) thanks to trading down in the 2017 class and the decision to move established starters like Sammy Watkins.
Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane are widely respected by NFL scouts and executives, but the duo must resist the urge to draft defense only and look instead to fix the quarterback position, shore up the offensive line and continue to add to the defensive line.
After trading out of the chance to draft Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson last year, the Bills front office must be thorough in evaluating the available quarterbacks in this year's class. The team is currently projected to draft No. 21 overall but own the Kansas City Chiefs' first-rounder (projected at No. 19 overall) and could combine those selections to move up to grab a quarterback if there is a run on the position.
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Here's what else is going on this week:
- Top five matchups to watch in Week 14
- Updated Senior Bowl attendees
- Top-ranked offensive tackle declares for the draft
- The exodus from the University of Texas
- Stick to Football Episode 34: Christmas gifts for every team, Eric Ebron interview
The Scout's Report
• Texas left tackle Connor Williams announced this week he will declare for the 2018 NFL draft and skip the team's bowl game. Williams, who missed all but five games due to a knee injury this season, was the preseason No. 1 offensive tackle on my board. He's still in that position assuming the knee checks out. Williams has to be in play for the Indianapolis Colts, Chicago Bears and New York Jets.
• I reported this week that sources with the University of Texas football team told me linebacker Malik Jefferson and safety DeShon Elliott would also declare for the 2018 draft and are not expected to play in the bowl game. Jefferson tweeted a denial, but my sources are adamant that both have told coaches they're leaving.
• Fox Sports writer Bruce Feldman tweeted he wouldn't be surprised if University of Washington defensive lineman Vita Vea were drafted in the top five picks of the 2018 draft. Vea (6'5", 340 lbs) has the rare ability to get off blocks and beat double-teams, but he hasn't shown himself to be a great pass-rusher in college. He's a late first-rounder on my board.
• LSU linebacker Arden Key is hurt. Again. Key will undergo finger surgery after already working through shoulder and knee injuries this year. After gaining nearly 40 pounds over the break and taking a leave of absence from the team following the end of last season, Key has major on- and off-field question marks.
• Eli Manning is out and Geno Smith is in for the New York Giants. Why didn't the team put third-round pick Davis Webb in? One team source I spoke with this week said Webb needs more reps in practice after being QB3 and inactive all season up until now.
• University of Miami running back Mark Walton will declare for the 2018 NFL draft, as first reported by Neil Stratton. I spoke to Walton's agent this week, and he's excited for Walton, who missed time this season with an ankle injury suffered in October, to get back onto the field and work out for predraft testing.
• Sam Darnold squashed any rumors he would return to USC in order to bypass playing for the Cleveland Browns when speaking to reporters after practice this week. Darnold may ultimately stay in school and not enter the 2018 draft, but the Browns won't be why.
5 Matchups to Know
5. Stanford vs. USC
Will this be Darnold's last regular-season game? USC's redshirt sophomore quarterback could parlay a strong finish against Stanford and a bowl game performance into a decision to enter the 2018 draft. We'll also be watching top players Harrison Phillips (defensive tackle, Stanford), Uchenna Nwosu (linebacker, USC) and Bryce Love (running back, Stanford).
4. TCU vs. Oklahoma
This will be Baker Mayfield's last regular-season game, and against a tough TCU defense, he'll get another shot to secure both his Heisman candidacy and his rising draft stock. Mayfield's chief protector and pass-catcher—left tackle Orlando Brown and tight end Mark Andrews, respectively—are expected to declare for the 2018 draft and are key names to watch.
3. Georgia vs. Auburn
This game has major College Football Playoff implications but also is a massive dream game for scouts. Georgia is loaded at running back and linebacker, while Auburn has one of the nation's most exciting players in Kerryon Johnson, a nasty run-blocker in Braden Smith and a quarterback on the rise in Jarrett Stidham.
2. Miami vs. Clemson
The ACC title game is full of talent, and a lot of it comes on the defensive line. Miami has RJ McIntosh and Kendrick Norton, while Clemson has Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins and Austin Bryant. If you like defensive line play, those five all look like potential top-75 picks. The best player on the field, sophomore Dexter Lawrence, won't be draft-eligible until 2019.
1. Ohio State vs. Wisconsin
A game that may end with a score of 13-10 will be a slugfest but a great matchup between the Wisconsin offensive line and the Ohio State defensive line. Defensive linemen Sam Hubbard and Dre'Mont Jones are expected to declare for the draft and could boost their stock this weekend in Indianapolis. On the other side, Wisconsin left tackle Michael Dieter is one to watch as he clears lanes for freshman running back Jonathan Taylor.
10. New York Giants co-owner John Mara was asked by reporters this week if head coach Ben McAdoo's job is safe. He replied, "There's no guarantees in life." Ouch. McAdoo should be out at the end of the season, and general manager Jerry Reese should be going with him. There's no way Mara, who is considered one of the best owners in football, can look at the roster and the play of the team and feel confident in either man to lead this squad through a rebuild.
The Giants' handling of Eli Manning is bad enough to stain a reputation that's among the best in the league, but keeping McAdoo and Reese on after this season would be one of the worst moves possible. The only way to turn this around is to blow it up and start over with a new general manager, a new head coach and now a new quarterback.
9. The Jimmy Garoppolo era starts for the 49ers this weekend, so what should we be watching for? The Niners are 1-10, so let's not expect Garoppolo to come in and win the final five games. This is a bad team with average talent at running back and wide receiver and a below-average offensive line. Garoppolo won't see much protection against a fierce Chicago Bears pass rush, either.
What I'll be watching for is poise, an ability to handle the play calls and accuracy on the throws he makes. We saw a tiny glimpse of that last week when Garoppolo replaced an injured C.J. Beathard for two throws (one a touchdown), but now begins the 49ers' true evaluation of him as the quarterback of the future.
8. Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon is expected to be active and play this weekend against the Los Angeles Chargers—his first action since 2014. On the field, I'll be looking forward to seeing Gordon against Casey Hayward and to see how rusty he looks coming off suspension.
The key for Gordon is to stay sober and out of trouble. In a Sports Illustrated profile released this week, Gordon talked about selling marijuana in college and making $10,000 a month, carrying a gun as a teenager and once again went in-depth about his struggles to stay sober.
7. Draft Board Riser: Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson. The junior was behind Kamryn Pettway on my board when the season started but has since become the go-to weapon in the Tigers offense and a legit Heisman candidate. As a prospect, Johnson has the size (6'0", 212 lbs) and speed to be a starter in the NFL next season.
6. Draft Board Faller: LSU edge-rusher Arden Key. As outlined above, Key's injury history and time spent away from the team in 2017 are alarming. At one point, Key was ranked in my top 10, but now he's looking like more of a second-rounder.
5. Draft Board Sleeper: Grambling running back Martez Carter. It's a deep running back class so you might not have heard of Carter yet. He's a speedy back with outside run talent, hands and ability as a return man. Don't be surprised if he's this year's Tarik Cohen.
4. Which underclassmen are declaring for the 2018 NFL draft? The list is small right now, but each week it'll be updated before the January 15 deadline. Note: Only those players confirmed, not rumored, are listed here.
• RB Mark Walton, Miami (Fla.)
• OT Connor Williams, Texas
3. We're down to the final five games of the NFL season. Here's a look at the draft order as December starts.
1. Cleveland Browns (0-11)
2. San Francisco 49ers (1-10)
3. New York Giants (2-9)
4. Denver Broncos (3-8)
5. Indianapolis Colts (3-8)
6. Chicago Bears (3-8)
7. Cleveland (from Houston Texans 4-7)
8. New York Jets (4-7)
9. Miami Dolphins (4-7)
10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7)
11. Los Angeles Chargers (5-6)
12. Cincinnati Bengals (5-6)
13. Arizona Cardinals (5-6)
14. Oakland Raiders (5-6)
15. Dallas Cowboys (5-6)
16. Washington (5-6)
17. Green Bay Packers (5-6)
18. Baltimore Ravens (6-5)
19. Buffalo (from Kansas City Chiefs 6-5)
20. Detroit Lions (6-5)
21. Buffalo Bills (6-5)
22. Jacksonville Jaguars (7-4)
23. Tennessee Titans (7-4)
24. Seattle Seahawks (7-4)
25. Atlanta Falcons (7-4)
26. Los Angeles Rams (8-3)
27. Carolina Panthers (8-3)
28. New Orleans Saints (8-3)
29. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-2)
30. Minnesota Vikings (9-2)
31. New England Patriots (9-2)
32. Philadelphia Eagles (10-1)
2. The first wave of Senior Bowl attendees have been announced, and so far, this group looks good.
- TE Adam Breneman, UMass
- LS Tanner Carew, Oregon
- TE Tyler Conklin, Central Michigan
- C Austin Corbett, Nevada
- OT Tyrell Crosby, Oregon
- DE Marcus Davenport, UT-San Antonio
- CB Duke Dawson, Florida
- LB Garret Dooley, Wisconsin
- DE Kylie Fitts, Utah
- FB Dimitri Flowers, Oklahoma
- RB Royce Freeman, Oregon
- WR Michael Gallup, Colorado State
- TE Dallas Goedert, South Dakota State
- S Trayvon Henderson, Hawaii
- TE Chris Herndon, Miami (Fla.)
- DL Maurice Hurst, Michigan
- CB Danny Johnson, Southern
- CB Taron Johnson, Weber State
- DT Justin Jones, North Carolina State
- CB Michael Joseph, Dubuque
- WR Allen Lazard, Iowa State
- LB Darius Leonard, South Carolina State
- LB Mike McCray, Michigan
- WR Anthony Miller, Memphis
- CB Siran Neal, Jacksonville State
- LB Uchenna Nwosu, USC
- OT Brandon Parker, North Carolina A&T
- OT Timon Parris, Stony Brook
- OG Skyler Phillips, Idaho State
- WR Jaleel Scott, New Mexico State
- CB Chandon Sullivan, Georgia State
- TE Ian Thomas, Indiana
- P Johnny Townsend, Florida
- CB D'Montre Wade, Murray State
- RB Akrum Wadley, Iowa
- OG Sean Welsh, Iowa
- OG Isaiah Wynn, Georgia
1. Stick to Football Episode 34 is ready for download—and if you haven't already, go ahead and subscribe and leave a five-star review!
This week, Connor and Stephen Nelson fill in for me and gift every NFL team their ideal Christmas present. Stick around for an interview with Detroit Lions tight end Eric Ebron and listeners' questions in #DraftonDraft.
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.