Mock drafts are often based on educated guesswork. A writer tries to digest months of information and put puzzle pieces together to correctly predict the decisions 32 general managers will make with 10 minutes to call their shots.
Sometimes that means trying to remember the particulars of a late-night, drink-induced conversation at the Senior Bowl or Scouting Combine (pro tip: excuse yourself for the restroom and type like a madman on your notes app). Sometimes it means sifting through information to discern what's real and what's been planted for misinformation.
If you cover the draft for a living, your hope in late April is that enough people told you the truth (or at least hinted at it) that you'll get some picks right. Because a mock draft is 100 percent based on information and luck.
You can be told the Cleveland Browns want a quarterback. But unless you know it's Baker Mayfield, not only do you miss that pick, but the domino effect has started as well, and you're going to be swinging and missing all the way down the board.
With three weeks to go before the Arizona Cardinals are officially on the clock, what is the information saying about the top five picks?
It's screaming that the dominoes are lined up and ready to fall.
1. Arizona Cardinals
Prediction: The Arizona Cardinals will draft Kyler Murray.
This is the worst-kept secret in the NFL and has been since early January. During that time, when I was on the road for three weeks covering the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, Senior Bowl and Super Bowl, I had numerous conversations with scouts, coaches and executives from many teams. All were saying the same thing—Kliff Kingsbury wants Kyler Murray.
That news heated up at the NFL Scouting Combine where there was open talk that current quarterback Josh Rosen would be traded.
One AFC executive told me this week the Cardinals have received at least two offers for Rosen but want to "save face" and get as close to a first-round pick as possible. Said the exec: "They're hoping the closer to the draft we get, some team is going to realize they will miss out on [Dwayne] Haskins or [Drew] Lock ... or just remember that Rosen is better than either of them ... and pony up a late first-rounder."
Barring a last-minute change from team president Michael Bidwill, Murray will be the pick. This is something every contact I have in the NFL agrees on.
2. San Francisco 49ers
"Don't overthink this s--t. If [Nick] Bosa is on the board, the Niners are picking Bosa." A rival scout who has deep connections to Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers told me that this week when I checked in on league happenings. Like the Murray-to-Arizona talk, this isn't new.
You might be wondering why the 49ers would trade a 2020 second-rounder for Dee Ford and then draft another defensive end at No. 2 overall. There are a few reasons, based on conversations with scouts and coaches in San Francisco.
A. The 49ers got Ford on what amounts to a one-year deal. If he balls out in 2019, they keep him and he plays out his contract. If he struggles like he did in 2015 and 2017, they let him walk.
B. The team is making subtle changes to the defense that matter a lot personnel-wise. Kris Kocurek joined the team as defensive line coach and plans to use more of a Wide 9 alignment up front. That means kicking the edge-rushers out wider than they were deployed in the 4-3 Under base defense of last season.
Kocurek's defense, which used Cameron Wake and Robert Quinn last year in Miami, needs two athletic players coming off the corners. Bosa isn't just a value—he's a need and a fit.
3. New York Jets
The first two picks of the 2019 draft seem set in stone, but the New York Jets' No. 3 overall selection is where the class could pivot.
The Jets could easily stay in this spot and draft Kentucky's Josh Allen, who is the more athletic version of the free-agent edge-rusher the team missed out on when Anthony Barr re-signed with the Minnesota Vikings. The depth chart is screaming for an outside pass-rusher, and Allen fits that mold perfectly.
There is also a strong chance the Jets auction this pick off to the highest bidder—most likely a team that is attempting to trade up for a quarterback just in case the Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers or New York Giants want one following this pick.
The Jets would be willing to do something the Giants weren't in the 2018 draft: make a crosstown trade that would let Dave Gettleman's team move up from No. 6 overall to the No. 3 spot to draft a quarterback. Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan would also be smart to listen if the Denver Broncos (No. 10 overall) or Washington Redskins (No. 15 overall) wanted to come up for a passer.
In a world without trades, this pick would be Josh Allen. Even in a world with trades, it might be if the Jets can't find a suitable trade partner.
4. Oakland Raiders
When we packed our bags and left the NFL Scouting Combine, much of the thinking around the league was that the Raiders would draft linebacker Devin White from LSU if the team struck out in free agency at the position. Turns out, the Raiders came out swinging with trades and signings while crossing off many perceived needs.
With the signings of Brandon Marshall and Vontaze Burfict, the Raiders bought themselves time at linebacker. This frees the team up to draft the best player on the board and the one it really wanted all along: Alabama's Quinnen Williams.
Just last week, a highly connected personnel executive hinted the Raiders could still select White at No. 4 overall, but that Williams was the more coveted of the two. That's where the smart money is right now.
So why are the Raiders working out quarterbacks? It's obvious. They're hoping someone trades up to No. 3 overall to select a quarterback, which will push Quinnen Williams to them.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Out goes Kwon Alexander, in comes Devin White. That's the plan as far as folks across the NFL know it.
Alexander, who was coming off a torn ACL and entered free agency, signed a huge deal with the San Francisco 49ers that the Buccaneers were never going to match. Better to get younger, healthier and cheaper through the NFL draft. And they will based on current intel from a number of NFL scouts and decision-makers.
The Bucs might get connected to a quarterback or pass-rusher in the next three weeks, but everyone agrees that if Quinnen Williams is off the board, general manager Jason Licht will go with a can't-miss prospect in White. The risky pick of Vita Vea last year didn't produce immediate dividends in Year 1.
The Scout's Report
• Mississippi State defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons would have had a top-five overall grade on my big board before an ACL injury suffered during training, but multiple NFL scouts and decision-makers told me this week they still expect the pass-rushing lineman will be a top-20 pick.
• Ole Miss' D.K. Metcalf took over the world with a shirtless photo and then a blistering 4.33-second run in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, but don't let that fool you into thinking he's a lock to be the first receiver drafted. A top-level scout said Metcalf could see competition from teammate A.J. Brown or Oklahoma's Marquise Brown for the WR1 spot.
• Jonah Williams from Alabama is a favorite blocker in this class for many, but there has been a season-long debate about his NFL position. As has happened for months, a scouting friend pointed out that ranking Williams at guard or center as opposed to tackle will be in line with how NFL clubs see him.
• The Detroit Lions could be on the move from pick No. 8 overall based on GM Bob Quinn's comments in an interview with NFL Network's Ian Rapoport on the RapSheet and Friends podcast. Quinn stated: "I always like draft picks, so if we can move back a little bit, a couple spots, and pick up another pick, I think ... the depth of this draft, from the late first to the third, there's a lot of really good players in there. If I could ever move back a few spots, get a really good player in the first round and add another pick, I think that's something that'd be great. People out there listening, I'm open for business."
• The Jacksonville Jaguars are doing a lot of work on offensive linemen in this predraft process, and many executives and scouts around the league believe that interest is true. My next mock draft will reflect this, with the Jaguars once again selecting Florida's Jawaan Taylor at No. 7 overall.
• Two AFC East teams are doing their homework on defensive linemen. The Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills have both been linked to defensive tackles and edge-rushers through top-30 visits and workouts this spring. The Bills, at No. 9 overall, could be an ideal landing spot for Houston's Ed Oliver, and Miami at No. 13 is a possible destination for Montez Sweat of Mississippi State.
The Big Board
Our NFL Draft 400 series began rolling out April 2 with positional rankings, grades, scouting reports and pro comparisons. Throughout the process of putting final grades on players, the information can often change in a big way. Here's a new top 32 with some big changes:
1. Nick Bosa, EDGE, Ohio State
2. Quinnen Williams, DL, Alabama
3. Josh Allen, EDGE, Kentucky
4. Devin White, LB, LSU
5. T.J. Hockenson, TE, Iowa (up from 8)
6. Ed Oliver, DL, Houston (up from 7)
7. Rashan Gary, DL, Michigan (down from 6)
8. Josh Jacobs, RB, Alabama (down from 5)
9. Jonah Williams, OT, Alabama
10. Jeffery Simmons, DL, Mississippi State (up from 12)
11. Devin Bush, LB, Michigan
12. Montez Sweat, EDGE, Mississippi State (down from 10)
13. Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma (up from 14)
14. Brian Burns, EDGE, Florida State (up from 15)
15. A.J. Brown, WR, Ole Miss (up from 18)
16. Greedy Williams, CB, LSU (up from 19)
17. Noah Fant, TE, Iowa (up from 20)
18. Byron Murphy, CB, Washington (up from 26)
19. Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State (down from 13)
20. Jawaan Taylor, OT, Florida (down from 16)
21. Taylor Rapp, S, Washington (down from 17)
22. N'Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State (down from 21)
23. Garrett Bradbury, OC, NC State (down from 22)
24. Christian Wilkins, DL, Clemson (down from 23)
25. Clelin Ferrell, EDGE, Clemson (down from 24)
26. Cody Ford, OG, Oklahoma (up from 27)
27. Johnathan Abram, S, Mississippi State (up from 28)
28. Trayvon Mullen, CB, Clemson (up from 34)
29. Marquise Brown, WR, Oklahoma (up from 30)
30. David Montgomery, RB, Iowa State (up from 36)
31. Rock Ya-Sin, CB, Temple (up from 32)
32. D.K. Metcalf, WR, Ole Miss (down from 30)
6. NFL Draft 400
Our NFL Draft 400 series, which gives rankings, grades, scouting reports and pro player comparisons for the top 400 draft prospects each year, has kicked off with our running back and wide receiver series. Check here each week for the links.
5. Draft capital
Having the most picks doesn't always equal the most success in a draft class, but the more lottery tickets, the better the odds, right? On the flip side, what about the teams with the fewest chances to win? Here are 2019's least draft-rich teams.
Dallas Cowboys: 6 selections
New Orleans Saints: 6 selections
New York Jets: 6 selections
San Francisco 49ers: 6 selections
Tennessee Titans: 6 selections
Chicago Bears: 5 selections
Seattle Seahawks: 4 selections
4. Stock up
An important part of being a draft analyst is owning up to misses and explaining what we learn from them. Transparency is key when asking readers to trust your opinion. So, transparency time.
When watching Clemson defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence early in the season and using notes from the 2017 season, I wasn't a fan. He looked like an impossible task for ACC interior linemen, of course, but would those skills translate? I wasn't sure. After receiving a full catalog of game tape and time to catch up, I'm impressed.
It would be lazy to call Lawrence a nose tackle, even if that's where he lined up at Clemson and might be where he plays often in the NFL. He has pass-rushing skills and is able to penetrate and reset the line of scrimmage with quickness, length and strength.
Teams running both 3-4 and 4-3 schemes could benefit from Lawrence, who I like better than last year's first-rounder Vita Vea.
3. Stock down
Watching more of Dexter Lawrence meant getting caught up on another Clemson underclassman in linebacker Tre Lamar. The results weren't good.
Lamar is an impactful run defender at "Mike" linebacker, but he lacks the range and lateral agility to excel as a three-down linebacker in the NFL. Five years ago we would have talked about him as a "thumper" linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, but today's game requires speed that he simply doesn't have.
Lamar was a blast to watch as a college player, but his NFL game has holes that will keep him out of the first two days of selections.
2. Sleeper of the week
Jordan Brown, an FCS third-team All-American, is the name to know at cornerback this week.
The South Dakota State prospect has size (6'0", 201 lbs), speed (4.51s) and great agility. He's able to compete on 50-50 balls down the field thanks to his length and leaping skills, which make him a potential CB1 on the outside of a defensive scheme.
There are inherent questions about the level of competition he faced at South Dakota State, but his traits should warrant a top-100 selection.
1. Stick to Football
We have three new episodes this week. On Monday, Mello, Connor and I gave you our latest Round 1 mock in "Mock Draft Monday" and a conversation with Georgia's Mecole Hardman. Wednesday's show featured our Winners and Losers of the draft process plus an interview with LSU's Foster Moreau.
On Friday, you get our Red Star Players and the latest draft buzz we're hearing three weeks out from the first pick. Check out the podcast and subscribe if you haven't already. We will also post a ton of behind-the-scenes content on our Instagram page.
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.