CHICAGO (MEDIA GENERAL) – Football fans, rejoice! Months of speculation and rumor culminate this weekend with the start of the 2015 NFL draft.
Hundreds of young, elite football players will cling to their cell phones with hopes of hearing from NFL coaches and team owners, informing them of their bright futures with NFL franchises.
The draft kicks off tonight at Auditorium Theatre in Chicago with the first round. Rounds 2 and 3 will be drafted Friday, and the final four rounds will be finished Saturday. The draft will be televised live by ESPN and NFL Network.
Heading into football’s biggest offseason weekend, here are five storylines to follow, according to Kels Dayton, of sportzedge.com:
Who is drafted first: Winston or Mariota?
The last two Heisman Trophy winners figure to be the first two players taken in the draft, but scouts are split over which quarterback is going to have the better pro career.
Tampa Bay, which owns the No. 1 pick, is believed to be leaning toward Florida State’s Jameis Winston. He’s got a rocket for an arm, and some say a higher ceiling than Marcus Mariota, of Oregon. But he also comes with plenty of off-the-field issues, including a pending civil case against him related to allegations of sexual assault.
Winston’s talent is undeniable, but his maturity is a major issue. Still, Tampa Bay doesn’t want to be the team that passes up on a potential franchise QB. They likely will take him at No. 1.
Will someone trade up for Mariota?
Tennessee, which owns the No. 2 pick, needs a long-term solution at quarterback. But they’re not sure if Mariota is the answer. The Titans have been rumored to be shopping the pick, and teams like the Philadelphia Eagles, San Diego Chargers and Cleveland Browns have been in the mix.
Eagles head coach Chip Kelly coached Mariota at Oregon and runs an offense perfectly suited to his strengths. If he trades up to get him, you’ll hear about it — a lot.
The Browns have two picks in the first round that they can offer Tennessee, and the Chargers have proven star quarterback Philip Rivers. Which leads us to our next question…
Will a big name be traded?
Several stars have been rumored to be on the trading block, including Rivers and Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. If either of those guys are going to find new addresses this offseason, this weekend would be the most likely time for it to happen.
When will the first running back be taken?
Thanks to the emergence of the running-back-by-committee, the value of a top-flight back has plummeted. Gone are the days when the best college running backs would be among the top players chosen in the draft. In fact, the last running back to be taken in the first round was Alabama’s Trent Richardson, back in 2012.
That’s a stark difference from say, 2008, when five running backs were among the first 24 players chosen (Darren McFadden, Jonathan Stewart, Felix Jones, Rashard Mendenhall, Chris Johnson).
This year’s crop of running backs is pretty impressive by college standards, and includes some record-setters in Georgia’s Todd Gurley, Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, Indiana’s Tevin Coleman and Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah. So, where does that leave them?
Most draft analysts believe both Gurley and Gordon will buck the recent trend and be selected in the first round. Some mock drafts even have Gurley being taken in the top 10.
Where will Shane Ray land?
Early on, the Missouri linebacker was projected as a top-10 pick, and figured to be one of the feel-good stories of the draft after an ESPN documentary showcased his journey from a bad upbringing with an absent father (former NFL linebacker Wendell Ray). Shane broke Missouri’s single-season sacks record last year, erasing Wendell’s name from the record books.
But after being cited for speeding and possession of marijuana on Monday, Ray may find himself slipping on draft boards.
How far will he fall? Or will his talent outweigh his Monday mishap?