The sport that never sleeps is ready for its biggest night of the offseason.
No more mock drafts, no more combines and no more bizarre questions for prospects to figure out how to answer as the NFL Draft is ready to kick off from Philadelphia tonight at 8 p.m. ET.
As is always the case with the NFL Draft, try as we might to glean some insight into how teams are thinking and who might end up where when it’s all said and done, we really don’t know much more today than we did months ago after the NFL season ended.
As a result, we enter tonight’s draft with a handful of questions that we’re seeking answers to.
With the Cleveland Browns on the clock, let’s take a look at some things to watch for tonight as the 2017 NFL Draft gets underway.
1. Who will be the new face of the Cleveland Browns franchise?
The road to redemption for the Cleveland Browns starts tonight… as it has in late April oh so many times of the last few decades. But for real guys, this is the year!
The Browns not only hold the first pick of the 2017 NFL Draft, but they have the 12th pick as well and could shore up two key positions for the foreseeable future before we’re even midway through the first round.
The consensus No. 1 overall pick in this draft is edge rusher/DE Myles Garrett, who scouts seem to have pegged as being as much of a sure thing as any prospect we’ve seen in the draft in recent years.
Still, Cleveland — as they have since the Bernie Kosar days — needs a quarterback.
Could they opt for Mitchell Trubisky from North Carolina? Or perhaps Deshaun Watson out of Clemson with the No. 1 pick?
Or will they grab QB at No. 12?
Sooner than later, all will be revealed.
Cleveland, you’re on the clock. No pressure.
2. Who is the first quarterback off the board, and when will they go?
While Trubisky is the consensus No. 1 prospect at the quarterback position, who the top dog is at the position has been a consistent point of debate amongst most in the know. Deshaun Watson has also made his case thanks to his national championship victory and impressive college career, while Pat Mahomes from Texas Tech and even Davis Webb from California could be taken much higher than many expect.
If Cleveland doesn’t take a QB at No. 1, the 49ers (No. 2), Bears (No. 3), and New York Jets (No. 6) could all snag a quarterback. Beyond them, it’s the Buffalo Bills at No. 10, and then the Browns at No. 12 once more.
At least one of the QBs mentioned above will be taken by the No. 12 overall pick. Who and when, that’s anybody’s guess at this point.
3. How far will Gareon Conley fall?
While the rape allegations surrounding Conley are still just that at this point — allegations — the former Ohio State Buckeyes cornerback has already opted to skip appearing in person at the NFL Draft and NFL teams have to be looking at Conley differently than they did a week ago.
Conley was widely considered the No. 2 cornerback in this year’s draft behind teammate Marshon Lattimore. Some even had Conley going ahead of Lattimore early in the first round.
The unfortunate reality of the situation is that the uncertainty surrounding the allegations will ultimately hurt Conley significantly in terms of compensation depending on how far he falls.
On the flip side, if Conley is innocent as he says he is, a team might get him at a bargain price if he does indeed slip. The question is, which team will risk taking Conley, who could find himself mired in litigation for the foreseeable future.
Regardless of how this turns out, the allegation will hang over Conley’s head and follow him around until it’s cleared up, for better or for worse.
Last year, video of projected Top 5 overall pick Laremy Tunsil circulated of the offensive tackle smoking out of a gas mask-styled bong just minutes before the start of the draft. While Tunsil did slip, his talent eventually won out over the perceived backlash, and he went No. 13 overall to the Miami Dolphins.
4. When will Joe Mixon be taken?
While the “jury” is still out regarding Conley, NFL teams have all the evidence they need regarding former Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon.
Mixon was caught on video striking a woman at a bar and knocking her unconscious, breaking her jaw and cheekbone in the process. Mixon pleaded guilty to assault after the incident in July 2014 and was suspended for his freshman season but didn’t serve any jail time and was instead sentenced to 100 hours of community service.
While legally, the issue is behind Mixon, the stain of the brutal video remains and many teams have gone so far as taking Mixon off of their draft board.
However, Mixon is considered to be one of the most talented running backs — maybe the most talented — in this year’s draft, which as we all know, can supersede almost anything for talent-desperate teams.
Mixon will be drafted, and it could even happen in the first round Thursday night.
5. Trades, anyone?
The first round of the NFL Draft is pretty much rife with trades and trade speculation. Last year it was the Los Angeles Rams and the Philadelphia Eagles that made splashes by trading with the Tennessee Titans and the Cleveland Browns, respectively, for the No. 1 and 2 overall picks to draft Jared Goff and Carson Wentz.
All told, there were four trades made in the Top 10 picks of the draft and this year we could see a similar number of trades transpire.
The Jets at No. 6 have stated their desire to move down in the draft and acquire more draft picks and teams in the Top 10 will certainly be faced with offers as teams lower down the draft board realize they’ll have to move up to snag a player they like.
This year’s draft also features a lot of depth at key positions, meaning teams will be especially eager to trade out of their higher picks to accumulate more late-round selections as there should be plenty of talent throughout.