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These five hinges will determine the path of the 2018 NFL Draft

It’s going to be an interesting 72 hours in Big D...

Louisville QB Lamar Jackson throws a pass against Syracuse in 2017
Louisville QB Lamar Jackson throws a pass against Syracuse in 2017

The Los Angeles Rams aren’t going to be involved early on in the 2018 NFL Draft barring an unforeseen change to their current draft order. Without a pick in the first 86 selections, Rams fans are going to have to sit and wait and see what develops over the first two rounds in a draft headlined by the firepower of the QB class.

Here are the five major hinges that will shape the draft.

The Cleveland Browns second first-round pick at #4

I still see the first three picks of the draft to be some trio of quarterbacks. With the Browns, New York Giants and New York Jets opening the draft, I’d lean toward some combination of USC QB Sam Darnold, UCLA QB Josh Rosen, Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield and Wyoming QB Josh Allen filling out those first three picks.

Cleveland’s second pick? No clue.

They could, like in Mocking the Draft’s Dan Kadar’s latest mock, go with Penn St. RB Saquon Barkley as seems to be the popular consensus. The could trade down, an option popular with the CBS Sports crew as many of whom see the Browns trading down with the Buffalo Bills. And I suppose you could just apply the “field” tag here for the host of other picks they could make aside from Barkley. But if they, as assumed, grab their new franchise QB with the first overall pick, they’re in position to change the course of the draft at #4.

The opportunity to jump the Miami Dolphins at #11

The Dolphins at 11, the Bills at #12 and the Arizona Cardinals at #15 are all good landing spots for whichever QB slides out of the top 3 picks along with Louisville QB Lamar Jackson. Which of course puts pressure on the Bills and Cardinals to leapfrog the Dolphins if there’s a QB that they’re sincerely committed to. It’s just a question of how much the Oakland Raiders would be asking for at #10. Obviously the cost for the Cardinals would be the greatest in asking new Head Coach Jon Gruden to move back five picks, but if the Cards think there’s a QB that they can lean on for the next decade, that cost would be well worth it.

A position run in the second half of the first round

Whether it’s defensive tackle, offensive line or cornerback, I could see a position run coming once you get past Arizona. Barring a shocking development (and every year we see shocking developments, so take it FWIW), Washington DT Vita Vea, Notre Dame G Quenton Nelson and Ohio St. CB Denzel Ward will already be gone by 16. The first offensive tackle of the draft, whomever that ends up being, could also be gone. So once the second prospect at one of those positions comes off, the pressure for every other team with a need there ratchets up considerably.

The Atlanta Falcons down at #26 sorely need defensive tackle help. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see teams poaching the position board before they’re on the clock. The New England Patriots are major players for a left tackle now at #23 with the Rams’ first-round pick via the trade for WR Brandin Cooks. If they use it to grab a replacement for LT Nate Solder who left in free agency to join the New York Giants regardless of whether they take the first tackle of the draft or the second (and anything beyond that would obviously mean the run on left tackles is already on), that could kickstart a run on tackles in the final picks of the first. And once we hit the Carolina Panthers at #24, I could see a cornerback being in the mix pretty much every other selection.

The first five picks of the second round

The first round’s early run goes (as of now...) Browns-Giants-Jets-Browns. The Indianapolis Colts were sitting at #3, but the Jets moved up to get a new franchise QB with the Colts still hoping for QB Andrew Luck to return to health.

The second round’s early run? Browns-Giants-Browns-Colts-Colts. The Browns got that third pick of the round from the Houston Texans for QB Brock Osweiler (woof) while the Colts got the Jets’ second-round pick from the first-round swap.

How this quintet plays out? No clue. We’ll have to see what happens in the final 16 picks of the first, but I’d be a little surprised if all five teams stay pat here. Bear in mind, this is how we lead off Friday which means teams will have the rest of Thursday night to mull over whatever happens and then all of Friday to consider if there are any prospects they need to get into these early picks to get. There are always a few first-round “locks” that get unlocked into Day 2. So I wouldn’t be put off at all if we kick off the second round with a trade or two.

Oklahoma St. QB Mason Rudolph

A year ago at this time if you had asked me if there was a player out of the state of Oklahoma that could go #1 overall, I would have told you there was a QB that could be called and it wasn’t Baker Mayfield. Mayfield’s prolific, Heisman-winning final season in Norman had propelled him near the top of many mock drafts, but I wouldn’t count out Rudolph as a guy NFL front offices fall for. For any team that’s looking at Josh Allen as a potential top pick based on his build and measurables, you’d have to think Rudolph will be an attractive quality as well with the production that Allen is lacking from his resume. In the final two seasons, Rudolph threw for 8,995 yards (just less than 346 passing yards per game) with 65 touchdowns to just 13 interceptions.

With the top five picks of the second round being held by teams that should have their starting QB situation settled by the time they’re on the clock on Day 2, Rudolph could be a late first-round selection. He could also get pushed into the second where I think he’ll have a ton of suitors many of whom will be better suited to support him than the teams picking early on in the rounds due to having performed very poorly as a whole in 2017. Should Rudolph still be on the board in the second round barring a trade, I wouldn’t see a fit for him until the Dolphins at #42 overall. And once you get to that point in the second, you have some pretty decent teams that would offer a great landing spot for him.

Less than three weeks remain until the Browns are on the clock with the #1 overall pick. How do you see the early action playing out? What major prospects, teams or picks do you think will determine the course of the first-round and then the action thereafter?