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6 NFL draft predictions that will surprise you early

Twists and turns happen every year: players sliding out of the first round, big trades, and kickers getting picked early. Here are a few curveballs to watch for on draft night.

North Carolina v Miami Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

By now you’ve seen countless mock drafts predicting that Myles Garrett is going No. 1 overall, and quarterbacks like Deshaun Watson and Mitchell Trubisky getting taken off the board quickly.

Yet every year, there’s a curveball that most don’t see coming into the late April gathering where NFL careers begin. In 2005, Aaron Rodgers fell all the way to No. 24 to the Green Bay Packers, which ended up being quite the steal. Last year, linebackers Jaylon Smith and Myles Jack fell out of the first round completely because of injury concerns.

A surprise of that nature is bound to happen in the 2017 NFL draft. It’s tough to say what these might exactly be, but we decided to give our best guesses as to what we might see later on this month.

Zane Gonzalez will get drafted in the second round

Gonzalez made a bajillion field goals during his time at Arizona State. Or 96. Either way it was a record-breaking amount, and he kept on going by tying the record for field goals at the Senior Bowl.

During the broadcast, NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah reported that a scout of more than 20 years said Gonzalez has the highest grade of any kicker he’s ever scouted — yes, even higher than Roberto Aguayo, who was a second-round pick last year.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were laughed at for the selection, and it didn’t get better when Aguayo struggled as a rookie and missed four of the first seven field goals of his career.

Will that convince every other team to steer clear? Doubt it.

Having a bad kicker is a frustrating problem to deal with, and Gonzalez looks about as safe as a kicking prospect gets. Aguayo had the yips as a rookie, but there’s a good chance Gonzalez has never had his heart rate go above 100 beats per minute in his life.

Should a team take him in the second round? Absolutely not. He’s a kicker. But they’re gonna do it anyway. — Adam Stites

Texans trade with the Jets to draft Mitchell Trubisky

The Houston Texans need a quarterback. They were (maybe) hoping that quarterback was going to be Tony Romo, but he decided to retire and replace Phil Simms as CBS’ lead game analyst. It would have been a nice “win-now” piece for Bill O’Brien’s team, but instead, Houston is left with Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden.

Assuming the Texans don’t make a move before then (hello, Colin Kaepernick), they could trade up if they feel Trubisky is the guy. The Texans hold the No. 25 pick in the draft and could swap that, along with Alfred Blue (or maybe some combination of late-round picks) to the Jets for the No. 6 overall pick. The Texans would get their quarterback of the future, but the swap would also benefit the Jets.

Right now, Matt Forte is their No. 1 option in the backfield. Forte will be turning 32 this season, which is old for an NFL running back. Adding the 25-year-old Blue, who averaged 4.2 yards per carry last season, would take a load off Forte and give the Jets another weapon in the backfield. With the No. 25 pick, the Jets could likely take DeShone Kizer or Pat Mahomes. - Harry Lyles Jr.

Derek Rivers will be the first non-FBS player selected

There’s a strong group of small-school players ready to make their mark in the NFL in 2017. Eastern Washington wideout Cooper Kupp, Villanova defensive lineman Tanoh Kpassagnon, and Ashland tight end Adam Shaheen are among the unheralded high school recruits ready to earn a paycheck playing on Sundays.

The best of the group is Youngstown State alum Derek Rivers. Rivers, a 6’4, 250-pound pass rusher, was a third-team All-American last winter after recording 14 sacks and helping lead the Penguins to the FCS Championship Game. His legend only grew at the NFL Combine, where he ranked among the top defensive linemen in four quite different events — the 40-yard dash (4.61 seconds!), bench press, vertical leap, and three-cone drill.

Rivers was a big fish in a small pond, but he has the athleticism that will ensure his pocket-collapsing edge rush remains potent at the next level. Plus, with two seasons under Bo Pelini on his resume, scouts know he’s used to getting screamed at repeatedly. With pass rushing at a premium in the NFL, he’s in line for a premium pick in the NFL draft — though don’t sleep on Kupp or Kpassagnon. - Christian D’Andrea

Some poor quarterback we think is a 1st-rounder will be a 3rd-day pick

It’s not a good draft class for teams in need of a quarterback for the future. Still, the next few years will really decide if Mitchell Trubisky, Deshaun Watson, DeShone Kizer or Patrick Mahomes II are the savior some franchise is looking for. But at least for now, it doesn’t look great.

It’s certainly not like 2012 when Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III went off the board with the first two picks, followed by Ryan Tannehill later in the top 10 and then Russell Wilson early in the third round. It’s not even like the last two years when quarterbacks went No. 1 and 2.

No, this year the Cleveland Browns look set to go in a direction other than quarterback with the No. 1 pick, and the San Francisco 49ers seem likely to take another position too with the No. 2 pick. This, despite the fact that both teams are much in need of quarterbacks to build around.

But when the crop of quarterbacks doesn’t have a top talent to go after early, sometimes we have the tendency to create one anyway.

In 2010, there was a consensus in mock drafts that Jimmy Clausen would be a top-10 pick before he surprisingly fell to the second round. The same was true for Geno Smith in 2013, although there were rumblings of a potential fall in the days before the draft began.

Smith looked to be the headliner of a weak crop of quarterbacks with Matt Barkley, Tyler Wilson, and Ryan Nassib all getting talked up as potential first-round picks at one time or another. Instead, only EJ Manuel landed in the first round and Barkley, Wilson, and Nassib all stayed on the board until the fourth.

Trubisky looks like the safest bet to be a first-round pick in 2017, but would it really be that surprising if teams passed on Kizer, Mahomes or Watson until far later than we believe like in 2013? I don’t know which one it’ll be, but my guess is Watson — the national champion who isn’t particularly great at anything except winning.

All I’m saying is don’t take the invite and sit in the green room, guys. It’s a trap! — Adam Stites

One of the top three edge-rushers will fall out of the top 10

Mock drafts have loved Myles Garrett, Solomon Thomas, and Jonathan Allen over the past few months, but I have a hunch one of these three superstars will fall out of the top 10 when it comes to draft night.

Last year, the world saw several players fall down the draft board in the first round, most notably Laremy Tunsil, Paxton Lynch, Robert Nkemdiche and Laquon Treadwell. Other predicted first-rounders like Myles Jack, A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed and Reggie Ragland fell out of the first round entirely.

While players who aren’t graded as highly by mock drafters (think Taylor Decker, Keanu Neal, and Artie Burns from last year’s class) come off the board, I expect one of these three players — more likely Thomas or Allen — to drop past the 10th overall pick.

What helps this argument is the notion that many teams in the top 10 either don’t need a pass-rusher early on or haven’t historically taken an edge-rusher when near the top of the board.

The 49ers, Bears, and Jaguars feel like teams who have invested enough at the edge position over the past couple of years — there’s even an argument that the same can be said of the Browns, who have been frequently tied to Garrett in mocks. Others may feel like they have bigger needs elsewhere — the Titans, Jets, Chargers, and Bills fit the bill here.

This leaves the Panthers and Bengals, who have both traditionally avoided selecting defensive ends high in the draft — Carolina hasn’t taken a defensive end in the first round since selecting Julius Peppers in 2002, while Cincinnati hasn’t taken one since selecting Justin Smith in 2001.

I’m not saying it happens, but don’t be surprised if Garrett, Thomas and/or Allen fall out of the top 10. — Connor Howe

The Rams trade up to draft Leonard Fournette

The Rams already have Todd Gurley in their backfield, so it wouldn't make sense for them to trade up in the draft to select Fournette. However, Los Angeles has a history of curveballs in the draft, not to mention making big-time trades.

Should Los Angeles draft a running back when it already has one? No, but that hasn’t stopped the Rams in the past from using inordinate amounts of draft capital on the position.

In 2012, they used a second-round pick on Isaiah Pead and a fifth-rounder on Daryl Richardson while they still had Steven Jackson on the roster. Pead and Richardson failed to live up to expectations the next season after Jackson left, so they started Zac Stacy, a fifth-round pick in 2013. Stacy had a good year, falling 27 yards short of 1,000 rushing yards in only 12 starts.

The next year, the Rams drafted Tre Mason in the third round. He eventually secured the starting job and finished the season with 765 yards in 12 games. They seemed to be all set at running back, but in 2015 the Rams used the 10th overall pick to select Todd Gurley, who went on to eclipse 1,000 yards in his rookie season and win the Offensive Player of the Year award.

However, Gurley regressed in 2016, frustrated by the team’s “middle school offense” under former head coach Jeff Fisher. Gurley still deserves to be the team’s bell cow because of what he’s shown he can do and the team’s investment in him. That could’ve been said about Mason and Stacy.

The Rams have a history of drafting running backs they don't need under general manager Les Snead (who’s been the GM since 2012). Could it happen again? — Kaleel Weatherly


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