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14 NFL draft rumors and how much we believe them

Never count out the possibility of catastrophic failure by the Browns.

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

As the 2017 NFL draft approaches, teams across the league are preparing the final version of their evaluation boards. Some players, like Patrick Mahomes and Haason Reddick, keep rising. Others, like Teez Tabor and DeShone Kizer, have seen their stock plummet. And some, like Jabrill Peppers, are nearly impossible to gauge.

One man gathering insight on all these moves is ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay. On Tuesday, he released his latest list of pre-draft rumors. They range from mundane to shocking, but none is so outlandish as to be dismissed outright. Here’s a look at what McShay had to say and how likely each of his reported rumors seems:

1. Three quarterbacks will be drafted in the first round — and maybe a fourth, depending on how teams feel about Davis Webb.

Likelihood? Six of 10

This would be the unfortunate intersection of a quarterback-hungry league and a weak crop of passers. Mitchell Trubisky, Deshaun Watson, and Mahomes have emerged as the most desirable of the bunch, but none looks like a bonafide building block for a struggling franchise. The scarcity of their position may push them into the first round, but teams could exercise patience when it comes to flawed prospects.

The bigger revelation from McShay’s rumor may be that another quarterback has usurped Kizer’s place in the pecking order. The Notre Dame product was once thought to be neck and neck with Trubisky and Watson as the draft’s top passer. Now, he may struggle to crack the top five.

2. Character issues could cause Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster and Florida State tailback Dalvin Cook to slide down draft boards.

Likelihood? Nine of 10

Foster’s horrible, terrible, bad, no-good combine started with him failing a drug test and ended prematurely after he got into a shouting match with a hospital worker. Cook has been accused of battery and cited for mistreating puppies. With a greater eye on off-field problems than ever before, they are likely to slide to a draft spot that fails to match their immense talent.

3. The Browns might not take Texas A&M standout Myles Garrett with the No. 1 pick.

Likelihood? Two of 10

Cleveland’s talk of not selecting the consensus top prospect in the 2017 NFL draft looks like a smokescreen — especially after the former Aggie started following a handful of Browns on social media. Still, you can never count out the possibility of Cleveland surprising everyone to make a universally-panned move.

4. The Jets may be feigning interest in Trubisky to drive up a bidding war for their No. 6 pick.

Likelihood? Five of 10

It would be smart for New York to trade down to restock a depleted roster, but one of its biggest needs remains quarterback. Trubisky may well be the man to stand atop a depth chart that currently features Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg, but a little gamesmanship could only help the franchise. The Jets could get a better player than Trubisky at No. 6, but not a better passer. The bargain they’ll have to weigh is whether or not a potential haul for that pick would be worth passing up a shot to select the 2017 draft’s first quarterback.

5. The Cardinals or Chiefs will make sure Mahomes won’t slip out of the first round.

Likelihood? Eight of 10

Mahomes’ massive arm has helped him rocket up draft boards in recent weeks — he’s the kind of athletic specimen who was destined to raise his stock in private workouts. He’s gone from third-round pick to potential first-rounder after impressing scouts in passing drills, at one point even launching a football 78 yards to cap off his pro day. It would be no surprise to see him snapped up Thursday night.

6. Teams that don’t need a quarterback for 2017 prefer Watson, while teams with a black hole behind center prefer more traditional-upside guys like Trubisky and Mahomes.

Likelihood? Eight of 10

Watson doesn’t have the arm of Mahomes or the mechanics of Trubisky. Instead, he’s got a national championship. All the dual-threat passer did at Clemson was win, and a solid showing at the combine proved he can make NFL-level throws. However, like every other passer in this draft class, he’s a big risk.

Teams in dire need of a quarterback have to be more conservative with their risk, and that’s why they’d lean toward a player like Trubisky or Mahomes who have higher ceilings. Teams with the luxury of letting Watson play without immense expectations would have the liberty to allow him to develop at his own pace.

7. The Panthers really like Christian McCaffrey — enough to take him over Leonard Fournette with the No. 8 pick.

Likelihood? Five of 10

Even with Jonathan Stewart back in the fold, Carolina needs a tailback. The Panthers will have their pick of the litter at No. 8, where McCaffrey, Fournette, and Cook should all be available. But would they want McCaffrey over Fournette, the burly back who could be a generational talent thanks to his ability to run like a cornerback at 240 pounds?

McCaffrey had the better college career and combine showing. Fournette has the higher ceiling. Either one would give Cam Newton a much-needed weapon out of the backfield — though McCaffrey’s receiving skill could be the dealbreaker. This one is a toss-up for Carolina.

8. New Orleans could select McCaffrey with the No. 11 pick.

Likelihood? Two of 10

The Saints have more pressing needs than tailback, especially now that Adrian Peterson is officially a part of the roster. Mark Ingram is coming off his best season as a pro, and while McCaffrey could add value at several different positions — notably as a slot receiver and kick returner — there is a handful of defensive players who could have an even bigger impact at No. 11. If McCaffrey falls all the way to No. 32, it seems much more likely New Orleans would be his landing spot.

9. The Titans, Bears, and 49ers are all intent on trading down in the 2017 NFL draft.

Likelihood? Seven of 10

Trading down makes sense for the Bears and 49ers, two teams whose rosters need major overhauls. Moving back to pick up more selections in a draft loaded with defensive talent would help set the foundation for extensive rebuilds.

The Titans are in a different situation. Quarterback Marcus Mariota helped guide them to the brink of the playoffs last fall, and the team’s biggest need — defensive back — is a position of strength in this year’s event. Tennessee may well be looking to trade down and carry this year’s haul into the future. But a win-now roster may be better served by picking up a pair of elite prospects with the No. 5 and No. 18 picks on Thursday.

10. This draft seems to have more players with character issues than in years past.

Likelihood? Seven of 10

This isn’t really a rumor as much as it is an observation, but there’s some truth to it. Gareon Conley’s recent connection to a Cleveland sexual assault investigation only highlights this problem. Foster, Cook, and Peppers are just some of the potential first-round picks with red flags atop their scouting reports.

11. Ohio State safety Malik Hooker won’t be a top-five pick.

Likelihood? Eight of 10

Seems legit. Teams looking for a headlining safety may prefer LSU’s Jamal Adams, a complete safety who is equally dangerous against the pass and run. With other top prospects like Garrett, Solomon Thomas, Jonathan Allen, Marshon Lattimore, and the aforementioned quarterbacks all competing for top bill, it’s reasonable that Hooker slides to No. 6 or beyond -- but don’t expect him to make it to the back half of Thursday’s proceedings.

12. Temple’s Haason Reddick will be a top-15 pick — and possibly find a spot in the top 10.

Likelihood? Four of 10

Reddick, a former walk-on with the Owls, has had one of the draft’s biggest rises since putting the rest of this year’s linebackers on blast at the Senior Bowl. The Temple product continued to wow scouts at the NFL Draft Combine, showcasing the kind of athleticism that will make him a versatile threat at the next level. He’s certainly worthy of a first round pick ... but top 10?

Pegging Redding as a top-10 pick means he’ll earn a draft spot ahead of guys like Derek Barnett, Reuben Foster, Marlon Humphrey, Takkarist McKinley, and Charles Harris. Those are all Power 5 standouts whose track record of strong play against top FBS teams may prove too tempting to pass up. Top 15 is certainly more likely, but he’ll still have to leapfrog more established players to get there.

That’s not super unlikely — just look at how many dynamite defensive players a crop of mediocre quarterbacks is about to skip over.

13. Houston linebacker Tyus Bowser is likely to go much higher than expectedand possibly in the first round.

Likelihood? Six of 10

Bowser had 8.5 sacks in eight games last season then showcased his athleticism by testing out among the draft’s top linebackers in four of the five events in which he took part at the Draft Combine. If pass rushers start flying off the board early — and it seems likely they will — Bowser could get the call Thursday night.

14. Derek Barnett is divisive but seems destined to be a top 20 pick.

Likelihood? Nine of 10

This seems less like a hot rumor and more like a foregone conclusion. Barnett plays a premium position and grades out as one of the draft’s most athletic pass rushers. He may be one dimensional, but he’s a prospect with plenty of room to grow.

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