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These five hinges will determine the path of the 2019 NFL Draft

Here’s what will shape the course of the draft this year.

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Houston Cougars DL Ed Oliver waits between plays against the Oklahoma Sooners, Sep 3, 2016.
Houston Cougars DL Ed Oliver waits between plays against the Oklahoma Sooners, Sep 3, 2016.
Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

The 2019 NFL Draft starts tomorrow in Nashville. While the Los Angeles Rams aren’t scheduled to get involved until the 31st overall pick, anything could happen.

But our team aside, here are the five things that will shape the early course of the draft.

Sorting through the quarterbacks

Nothing dominates early draft activity or motivates trades up more than quarterback prospects. While at this point we’d all be surprised if the Arizona Cardinals don’t take Oklahoma Sooners QB Kyler Murray with the 1st overall pick, there are plenty of other QBs of note.

Ohio State Buckeyes QB Dwayne Haskins is likely the next man up, but whereto is anyone’s guess. Could the Oakland Raiders go for him at #4? Would that motivate anyone to trade up to the #3 spot to poach him?

Where does Missouri Tigers QB Drew Lock land? In this week’s Monday mock from Mocking the Draft’s Dan Kadar, Lock precedes Haskins at #10 to the Denver Broncos with Haskins a pick later to the Cincinnati Bengals. Duke Blue Devils QB Daniel Jones comes a half dozen selections later to the New York Giants at #17. That’s their second pick of the round, so their first pick at #6 could also be where they take Eli Manning’s successor.

Those four seem to be the conventional wisdom’s top tier, but things always get wacky on draft day. Could any of the other QB prospects reach into the first round? You could make a case for five of the teams in the final six picks including the Rams but not the Kansas City Chiefs to be in play for a quarterback in the draft. While the Rams could well get their backup QB of the future this draft, I don’t think any of us think he’s coming via the 31st overall pick. Nonetheless, there could well be a similar situation to the top of the draft with QB-interested teams to either pick on themselves or motivate a trade from the early 2nd round to come into Thursday’s proceedings.

West Virginia Mountaineers QB Will Grier, Auburn Tigers QB Jarrett Stidham, Boise State Broncos QB Brett Rypien, Northwestern Wildcats QB Clayton Thorson and Buffalo Bulls QB Tyree Jackson will all factor somewhere. Perhaps they’ve got a suitor lined up late in the first?

Regardless, the need to fill the top of depth chart for teams at the sport’s most important position remains the biggest driver in the draft every year.

Who will redshirt DL Jeffery Simmons?

In the 2016 Fiesta Bowl in what would be his final game with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, LB Jaylon Smith tore his ACL and LCL. It was a brutal ending to a fine career that threw his draft status into disarray. While he was considered by many to be a top-16 pick in terms of talent, his injury saw him fall all the way into the second round to be picked 34th overall by the Dallas Cowboys.

In early February this year, Mississippi St. Bulldogs DT Jeffery Simmons tore his ACL in a pre-combine workout. Often lauded as a top-10 talent, Simmons is likely destined for a similar fall. Smith has turned into one of the NFL’s brightest young backers being named PFF’s breakout player for 2018. Has that prompted less of a fall for Simmons this year? Worth noting here that Kadar had the Rams taking Simmons in that final Monday mock I mentioned earlier.

Assuming Houston Cougars DT Ed Oliver is off the board in the first half of the first round, expect to hear Simmons name bouncing around thereafter.

The Oakland Raiders, New York Giants, Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers

Each of these teams have multiple picks in the first round with the Raiders owning three such selections. How they use them, or package them in trades, will obviously chart the first round’s course. But with the Giants needing a QB1 and the Raiders reportedly being open to a new one, they’ll certainly have a stranglehold on the proceedings.

The whackadoo picks after #20

Every year once we get past the first half of the first round or so, things tend to get predictably unpredictable. Last year saw two running backs unexpectedly come off late in the first with a back-to-back center position run as the Baltimore Ravens traded up to close things out by taking Lamar Jackson.

What will the the surprise moves be this year? I mentioned the possibility of a quarterback or two mixing things up late in the first. What about this cornerback class? Kadar’s mock had three first-round cornerbacks all coming at 20 and later. Which edge rusher will see their draft stock plummet? Throughout mock draft season, we’ve seen about 12 first-round candidates at the edge. And who the hell knows how NFL teams will sort through these offensive line prospects.

It’s the NFL Draft. Expect the unexpected.

The Washington Drafters

Washington is the worst-run franchise in the NFL. Not sure what they’re cooking up, but it’s going to look, smell and taste awful.