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The 2018 NFL draft is set to take place in Dallas, Texas, one week from today. This has the potential to be the most exciting draft in many years, and it all comes down to the most difficult position in sports to fill: quarterback.
To set the scene, there are four quarterbacks in the pool considered to be consensus first-rounders: Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen and Baker Mayfield.
However, none of these slingers are seen as slam-dunk first overall picks like Andrew Luck or Matthew Stafford were.
However, given the number of quarterback-needy teams and the relative dearth of talent at other traditional ‘high pick’ positions (left tackle and all non-Bradley Chubb pass rushers), it is not inconceivable that these four consensus quarterbacks could be drafted within the top five picks.
As quarterbacks currently stand, this is a breakdown of how I think most front offices would feel about their current signal-caller on the field and their propensity to spend a high-round draft pick on a different one next week.
No quarterback need (18): LA Rams, San Fran 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears, Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, Oakland Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs, Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans.
Of course I’m assuming that Andrew Luck and Deshaun Watson return in 2018.
Current quarterback but underperforming (four): Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins.
Current quarterback but end-stage or, as I call them, a ‘bridge quarterback’ (nine): Arizona Cardinals, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants; LA Chargers, Denver Broncos, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots and New York Jets.
No quarterback at present (one): Buffalo Bills. Technically, yes, they do have AJ McCarron, but come on.
Therefore there are 14 teams that would potentially select a quarterback in the first two rounds.
The unique topography of this draft comes at a line between the Denver Broncos at five and Indianapolis Colts at six.
If one of the ‘big four’ slips past Denver, Indianapolis would be the obvious trade partner for teams looking to get ahead of other potential ‘trade-down’ teams like the Chicago (eighth pick), San Francisco (ninth pick), Raiders (tenth pick), Miami (11th pick) and Buffalo (12th pick… currently).
The first spark has been lit on the buyers front by the New York Jets, who have moved from six to three by giving up three second-round picks to Indianapolis.
The other obvious move-up candidates are Buffalo, who have no quarterback (see above) and Arizona, who are now stuck in a division with an injury-prone Sam Bradford and with the LA Rams, Seattle and San Fran, who are set at quarterback for the next five to ten years.
While Buffalo have the capital (picks 12 and 22) to move up this year, Arizona (15th pick) would require multiple first-round picks to leapfrog Denver.
I don’t see the LA Chargers, Pittsburgh, New England or New Orleans making a play for a quarterback – at least not through a big trade – as these teams are all very much in ‘win now’ mode with a fading elite quarterback.
The general thought is that Cleveland will take a quarterback with either the first or fourth pick of the draft. The New York Jets will definitely take a quarterback with the third pick. That’s about all we know.
The most rational thing for Cleveland to do is take their preferred quarterback first and the best player available/trade the fourth pick.
It’s at the second pick, belonging to the New York Giants, where things could start getting crazy.
As the Jets are taking a quarterback at three, a team in desperate need for a quarterback must get to one or two.
If Cleveland doesn’t move, that leaves the Giants as the only path. Will Buffalo make a big move to get their quarterback at pick two? Would Arizona pull the trigger?
Or maybe the Giants coerce the Jets into moving to two to ensure their preference in a franchise quarterback? Maybe the Giants stand at two and take Eli Manning’s heir anyway.
Maybe they take Saquon Barkley or Bradley Chubb and suddenly Cleveland at four or Denver at five have their phones running off the hook. That scenario alone dictates that the Giants should trade out and back up if they want to take a non-quarterback at two.
This explosion of phone calls will be even louder if Cleveland goes full Browns and take Saquon Barkley at one. The Big Bang would look like a firecracker.
So the backroom deals are no doubt well underway, with general managers contacting each other wondering what it will take to move up.
In-principle trades will be quasi-agreed, conditional on all sorts of permutations regarding who has been taken and who is left.
Of course the conservatives might win – overall pre-draft evaluations might say that none of these quarterbacks are worth the premium picks, that they all have their flaws, they’re not worth the bust risk et cetera.
But maybe, just maybe, things get crazy. The fear of missing out sweeps through the draft and multiple teams are calling the Giants wanting their pick for whatever it takes.
The explosions in the first hour of the draft next week in Dallas could shape the NFL for years to come.