Examining the NFL Draft with two weeks to go

The NFL Draft is now just two shorts weeks away. That said, there is still a great deal of jockeying and subterfuge set to take place between now and April 25.

As teams continue to finalize their draft boards, we examine the key headlines before the first pick is announced.

Trades have caused a shake-up and will continue to do so

For a perennial cellar dweller attempting to rise to the top of their division, hoarding draft capital is never a bad strategy. That’s precisely what the Oakland Raiders and New York Giants have done, holding three and two first-round picks, respectively.

In addition to the No. 4 overall pick, the Raiders hold the No. 24 and 27. The war chest of picks didn’t come without gutting their roster of their two best players though, having traded Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears and Amari Cooper to the Dallas Cowboys in 2018.

However, the payoff for those trades is on the horizon. With three first-round picks, the Raiders are set to make a huge splash in advance of their move to Las Vegas.

The Giants meanwhile hold the No. 6 overall pick. They acquired the No. 17 selection from the Browns in the Odell Beckham Jr. trade. New York is seemingly straddling the fence between rebuilding and contending, but two first rounders no doubt help their future aspirations.

The first round is the most heavily scrutinized, but trades have found their way into day two as well. Five teams — the Kansas City Chiefs, Indianapolis Colts, Philadelphia Eagles, New England Patriots and Houston Texans — hold two second-round picks. With the defensive depth available in this draft, these picks hold incredible value if either of these teams wants to move into round one.

Quarterbacks will run the show in round one

This year’s draft class features an ocean of top-flight defensive talent, but the talk of round one will revolve around the quarterbacks.

As was the case in 2018, this draft features a sizable crop of mid-tier quarterbacks. Kyler Murray and Dwayne Haskins are the two top passers in the draft, but both have serious question marks. Add in Drew Lock, Daniel Jones and Ryan Finley, and it’s a draft short on a “can’t miss” signal-caller.

Still, it’s not outside the realm of possibilities that four or perhaps all five of the quarterbacks are drafted in the first round.

Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen and Lamar Jackson were all selected in the first round in 2018. Only Mayfield showed he can be the face of a franchise. It was only the second time five passers were selected in the first round.

2018 cemented the emerging paradigm that, as the NFL becomes a pass-oriented league, it’s essential to stake your claim to a quarterback. In all likelihood, the same will happen in 2019.

Mysterious Murray heads west, but where?

In spite of conflicting reports, Kyler Murray is still the odds-on favorite to land with the Arizona Cardinals as the No. 1 pick. New head coach Kliff Kingsbury heaped praise on Murray while he was still coaching at Texas Tech. Given that the new head coach is looking to wipe the slate clean (and in the process possibly trading Rosen), Murray seems to be the pick for Arizona.

There’s still one more team in the mix for Murray though, and that’s the Raiders. Oakland has the capital to move up and snag Murray if they desire. Head coach Jon Gruden’s relationship with incumbent quarterback Derek Carr is fractured at best. Murray would offer the passing guru a shot at molding a quarterback of his own.

The Oklahoma product’s skill set is breathtaking. With the Sooners, Murray posted video game numbers with over 5,362 yards of offense and 54 total touchdowns. Skeptics argue that his height and Big 12 background will hinder him in the NFL, but if he’s going anywhere, it’s Arizona or Oakland.

Don’t sleep on the defense

As mentioned before, quarterbacks will hog the headlines. That said, the legacy of this draft will be its defensive talent.

As teams become pass-happy, the key prerogative for opposing defenses will be rushing the passer. Luckily for defensive coordinators, this class is loaded with elite pass rushers capable of fitting into multiple schemes.

Edge rushers Nick Bosa and Josh Allen are locks to succeed at the next level. Both have an uncanny ability to get to quarterbacks. Allen racked up a whopping 17 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss in just 13 games this past year for Kentucky. Meanwhile, Bosa shut down his collegiate career after injury. Still, he is no less in contention to be selected in the top five.

Bosa and Allen are only the tip of the iceberg. Defensive linemen Quinnen Williams, Montez Sweat, Ed Oliver and Rashan Gary are all likely to hear their names called in the top 15. The common denominator among all of them is an ability to disrupt the backfield.

(Non-NDSU) FCS names to monitor

Since the turn of the century, only three FCS products have been drafted in the first round: Carson Wentz, Mike Iupati and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. That group could add a fourth name this year in Delaware’s Nasir Adderley.

Adderley was a sensation at the Senior Bowl, where he had five tackles and an interception. The display showcased the size and ball skills that have Adderley as one of the top defensive backs in the draft. Adderley suffered a hamstring injury running the 40-yard dash at his pro day, which may push him to the second round.

Joining him at the Senior Bowl was Khalen Saunders of Western Illinois. Saunders was a devastating force on every play for the Leathernecks at defensive tackle. He posted 42 solo tackles, 6.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss in 2018 — all in just 11 games. At 6-foot, 324 pounds, Saunders has Damon Harrison written all over him.

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