Fact or Fiction: Making Sense of Latest Buzz from the NFL Draft's Lying Season

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistApril 21, 2019

Fact or Fiction: Making Sense of Latest Buzz from the NFL Draft's Lying Season

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    The NFL draft's lying season has been supremely entertaining for fans who normally have a slog of a wait before the big event arrives.

    Weeks of smoke screens between the NFL combine and the draft have somehow matched a rumor-filled free-agency period that featured blockbuster trades of players like Odell Beckham Jr. and Antonio Brown.

    Buzz around the NFL draft can come from all places. Teams and player reps are dishing it in an effort to nudge things in their directions. Experts and fans are doing the same via positional analysis, rankings, mock drafts and more.

    Everyone involved is trying to sit in an advantageous position when one of the most important events in sports starts, and it can be difficult to discern what's real and what's fake. Let's take a closer look at the latest buzz.

         

Seven Tight Ends Drafted Over Opening Two Rounds: Fact

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Quarterbacks and defenders have dominated casual discussion of the 2019 class.

    That leaves a stellar tight end group in the background—but the NFL isn't doing the same.

    Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports offered an interesting perspective on this year's tight end prospects: "Half the league is legitimately doing serious work on tight ends in this draft, either as projected starters or No. 2 types. I could see seven of them going in the first two rounds."

    This one has fact written all over it. Reliable targets who can exploit matchups and shake free to help quarterbacks are big pieces of the chess match in the NFL right now. That's why Cincinnati keeps rolling the dice on Tyler Eifert and why Green Bay went after Jimmy Graham last season. This year's free-agent class was mediocre too.

    It starts at the top with the Iowa duo of Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson. The former is a big-play threat who can change games, and the latter is a more well-rounded player who can start right away. Irv Smith was a standout at Alabama. Jace Sternberger from Texas A&M is a bit of a hybrid player who can put up big numbers.

    Josh Oliver from San Jose State has big upside, and Dawson Knox and Kaden Smith flashed good film at big-time programs Ole Miss and Stanford, respectively.

    That's seven names almost assured to come off the board in the first two rounds. The draft might be defensive-minded, but coaches still see the value in drafting long-term safety blankets or mismatch creators to help passers.

Dwayne Haskins Will Plummet Down the Board: Fiction

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    Alika Jenner/Getty Images

    Dwayne Haskins is the target of this year's negative rumblings at quarterback.

    The 6'3", 231-pound passer from Ohio State has had a ho-hum draft process and won't attend the event. The latter news has turned some heads but doesn't mean much—some guys just don't want to be on stage.

    Still, buzz of a stock decline has made the rounds. NFL.com's Lance Zierlein offers an example: "After speaking with a few different teams, I definitely get the feeling that Dwayne Haskins' draft stock was more media-created than team-driven. I see Haskins falling on draft day, and I think the chances are increasing that he is not the second QB off the board."

    For months, Haskins has been the favorite to the New York Giants at sixth overall in mock drafts, and there isn't any reason to think that should change. He's a prototypical quarterback in every aspect, and the rest of the passer class is so-so. He threw for 4,800-plus yards and 50 scores last year while completing 70 percent of his passes. He likely would have hit those numbers again next year with the Buckeyes, and everyone would have been drooling over him as the top overall pick.

    While it's somewhat concerning that he was only a starter for one season, it isn't a deal-breaker. Teams aren't going to let Haskins' upside fall out of the top 10, not in a league where guys like Blake Bortles have come off the board third overall.

Cardinals Already in Negotiations with Kyler Murray: Fact

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    Alonzo Adams/Associated Press

    It is good for the NFL and fans if the first overall pick isn't revealed before the broadcast airs.

    The pick could already be decided, though.

    In the background, the Arizona Cardinals could be ironing out the details on a contract with their choice—which is likely Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray.

    ProFootballTalk's Mike Florio brought up this idea because Murray's agent, Erik Burkhardt, went with Murray on his visit to the Cardinals:

    "It would make sense for the Cardinals to want to get Murray signed to an agreement that includes a no-baseball clause before putting his name on the first 2019 draft card. … If Murray ends up signing a contract at the time he's picked, the negotiations leading up to that deal are something that everyone will keep quiet until the moment Burkhardt produces the final draft from his briefcase in the green room."

    Given the MLB angle, there would certainly be something for the two sides to work out ahead of time.

    The Cardinals aren't going to pass on a Heisman Trophy winner with a rare skill set, especially if new head coach Kliff Kingsbury wants him. The fact they invested a first-round pick in Josh Rosen a year ago is a bit unfortunate, but it also gives them leverage to add more draft assets this year. Murray is the probable pick, so the fact that both sides could be talking shop behind the scenes seems obvious enough.

Raiders Aren't Considering a First-Round QB: Fiction

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    Trying to nail down what Jon Gruden and the Oakland Raiders will do next doesn't have any worthwhile comparables.

    The trades of Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper spoke this unpredictability into existence. The front office then spent massive money on Trent Brown and added a controversial player like Vontaze Burfict just to keep people guessing.

    The Raiders hold three first-round picks and figure to use one on a signal-caller, but not everyone is on board with the idea.

    Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review-Journal said it would be a "shocking pivot" for the Raiders to draft a quarterback in the opening round, adding: "Behind the scenes, the option has appeared remote at best."

    This is Gruden and the Raiders, though. Given their erratic moves, it wouldn't come as much of a surprise to see them package all three picks to move up and get the passer they want.

    Derek Carr isn't a bad starter by any means. He completed nearly 70 percent of his passes last year and threw for 19 scores while taking 51 sacks. He's got Antonio Brown to spam the ball at now.

    But a trio of opening-round selections gives the Raiders the flexibility to take another shot at the most important position while also getting blue-chip players at areas of need—or the best players available. The best player available could also be a passer with their second or third first-rounder if one falls down the board.

Loaded Defensive Class Is Holding Up Key Free Agents: Fact

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    NFL free agency is still alive and well—and a little strange right now.

    Numerous big names are sitting on the open market. On paper, teams could sign starter-level players, and presumably at a discount. Ndamukong Suh, Ziggy Ansah and Muhammad Wilkerson are still out there.

    That may be by design.

    Here's what a scout told Peter King of NBC Sports:

    "There's a reason why so many capable defensive linemen haven't been signed in free agency. Allen Bailey, Corey Liuget, Muhammad Wilkerson, Ziggy Ansah, Ndamukong Suh—well, Suh is because of money, I assume—are all guys who teams would want. But if you can draft a guy for a quarter of the money, or less, you'll do that. And if you don't draft one of the good defensive linemen, then you go back and see what the price on some of these veterans is."

    Granted, other factors play into this as well. It is hard to say what kind of contract Suh wants at this stage of his career. Ansah is recovering from injury.

    But the loaded 2019 class is playing a big role. The following prospects are superb top-32 options who can play on the line or edge:

    • Nick Bosa
    • Quinnen Williams
    • Josh Allen
    • Ed Oliver
    • Montez Sweat
    • Brian Burns
    • Clelin Ferrell
    • Jeffery Simmons

    Suh and Co. will have to keep waiting.

Broncos Won't Take QB at No. 10: Fiction

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The Denver Broncos have been frequently linked to quarterbacks during the draft process, both by fans and analysts of the front office's actions.

    Yet according to Yahoo Sports' Charles Robinson, the Broncos could avoid the position at No. 10.

    That is hard to imagine, and a team that is considering a passer in the top 10 might spread a rumor like this to discourage others from trading up in front of it.

    The Broncos, after all, keep failing under center with John Elway in charge. He's drafted the following quarterbacks since joining the team in 2011: Brock Osweiler, Zac Dysert, Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch and Chad Kelly.

    Elway's latest move is bringing on 34-year-old Joe Flacco, who lost his status as Baltimore's franchise quarterback last year because a rookie was propelling the team to wins. He completed 61.2 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions in nine games.

    Picking 10th, the Broncos are in prime position to get a prospect they can groom behind Flacco. Addressing other areas would be nice, but the Broncos can't afford to pass on a first-round quarterback. If they are as ready to compete as the Flacco addition suggests, they won't be in position to find a blue-chip successor again.

D.K. Metcalf Will Be a Top-15 Pick: Fact

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    The NFL isn't going to let a player like D.K. Metcalf fall very far.

    By most conventional logic, he probably should. He was never the biggest producer on his college team. His agility numbers in testing were questionable. As a whole, receivers have a brutal transition to the pros, as shown by a number of recent draft picks, and this class isn't superb.

    Bleacher Report's Matt Miller agrees but also offers up an interesting note: "Metcalf should be a Round 2 player, but no one I've spoken with will disregard rumors that the Buffalo Bills or Green Bay Packers could make him a top-15 pick."

    And there lies the problem: What Metcalf could be is too hard to pass up. Better testing and more production would have been nice. But he has plenty coaches can't teach thanks to a 6'3", 228-pound frame and a 4.33-second 40-yard dash.

    Raw, unpolished—whatever descriptions observers want to throw at Metcalf, it only takes one pro coaching staff to think it can unlock his upside. A team like the Buffalo Bills makes sense. They could hope to get the most out of young quarterback Josh Allen while he and Metcalf grow together over the coming years.

    Metcalf won't escape the top half of the draft.

Bengals Are Unlikely to Take First-Round QB: Fiction

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    Gary Landers/Associated Press

    The Cincinnati Bengals are one of the more perplexing teams in the draft process.

    At face value, they have a franchise quarterback with Andy Dalton. But they also have a new head coach for the first time in 16 years, and Zac Taylor might want to get his own guy.

    ESPN's Katherine Terrell provided an interesting response to the possibility the Bengals draft a quarterback: "I'm not going to totally rule out the thought. Bengals of course say Dalton is their guy, but they ruled out an extension this year (which isn't surprising, usually they only do extensions in the last year), implying he needs to prove it. So while I say unlikely, not impossible."

    The idea the Bengals will shy away from a quarterback and stick with Dalton reeks of a smoke screen. They may hope a defensive draft will push a prominent signal-caller to their selection at No. 11.

    After all, the Bengals aren't considering an extension for Dalton this offseason. He's not in a contract year yet, but team owner Mike Brown was adamant that Dalton has to prove himself. Taylor himself has said they will consider everything at No. 11, though that can be filed under the same "what else would he say?" umbrella as his vocal support of Dalton since arriving in the Queen City.

    Like others mentioned here, it is hard to imagine the Bengals pass on a quarterback because there is an outside chance they won't be in such a good position to draft one again.