Every NFL fan’s favorite offseason day has finally arrived, and networks and analysts alike have been in full throat with predictions and mock drafts. Some are credible, most are not, but nearly all are guaranteed to be wrong, in varying degrees. I don’t have the statistics, but I would wager it’s tougher to accurately predict the first round of the NFL draft than it is to fill out an NCAA Tournament bracket. In short, you may think you know, but you don’t. And neither does anyone else.
Our beloved AFC North teams have been telegraphing various draft scenarios since the 2020 season ended; some were resolved in free agency, but currently, NFL teams largely depend more on the draft to provide solutions, rather than depend on mercenary contributions. “Home-grown talent”, as it’s congenially referred to, allows teams to instill some loyalty in drafted players, yet still control their movements until their first foray into free agency. There’s also the obvious advantage of drafted players being eminently cheaper than free agents.
Nothing’s changed for the Bengals lately, as most speculation still has them selecting OT Penei Sewell or WR Ja’Marr Chase at #5 overall, although the tone of this piece seems to favor Chase, primarily due to his relationship with Bengals QB Joe Burrow, last year’s #1 overall selection. The Bengals haven’t tipped their hand, nor should they. Trading out of the #5 spot remains a real possibility for the Bengals, who have far too many needs to depend on a single first-round pick.
The Steelers have been linked to Alabama RB Najee Harris with the 24th pick for some time, given their obvious need at the position, but given how rarely RBs are selected in the first round these days, other guesses are certainly welcome. C Creed Humphrey has been mentioned by some for obvious reasons, as has LB Zaven Collins, who seems to be garnering an underground following of sorts in Pittsburgh due to his size (6’5″, 270 lbs.) and range (he can actually cover some TEs). Regardless, the Steelers often fall back on the proverbial “best player available”, especially if their desired target(s) are no longer on their board. No one should be surprised if they produce a few head-scratchers early; it’s what they do, and they presumably know what they’re doing, even if you don’t.
The Browns haven’t picked this late (#26) in decades, and it wouldn’t surprise many if they simply traded out of the first round completely. Oddly enough, with nine picks, the reverse may happen here, with the Browns packaging a few picks and trading up to secure a desired prospect. The Browns’ roster is largely complete, with some minor holes still remaining at LB and DT, so who could blame them for leaping a few slots to grab an impact defender? One guy who knows, but probably has few other things on his mind at the moment is Browns GM Andrew Berry, who welcomed his third child into the world today, of all days. Congratulations, Andrew! Browns fans surely hope you can stay focused tonight.
Like the other AFC North teams, the Ravens’ needs have been well documented, and Ravens GM Eric DeCosta has been typically reticent about offering details. There’s little question regarding what the Ravens want – starting-level OT, WR or S are among the positions discussed most frequently this offseason – but who eventually fills those roles is a matter of complete guesswork for fans. Like Pittsburgh, the Ravens are often prone to selecting the “best player available”, which has resulted in a few gems (RB J.K. Dobbins) and busts (S Matt Elam) along the way. With nine picks overall, including #27 and #31 via trade, coupled with a marked willingness to trade down, the Ravens have flexibility; something they’ll need a lot of tonight.
Remember; tonight, we’re all winners. Tomorrow…well…
Good luck to your team. Be well.