With the caveat that the hours leading up to the NFL Draft are filled with misdirection, subterfuge and utter baloney, here’s a look at the latest rumors and buzz leading up to the 8 p.m. Eastern kickoff Thursday in Arlington, Tex.
On the final morning before the NFL draft, multiple reports suggested Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield could be Cleveland’s choice with the first overall selection.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter wrote Thursday morning that the pick remains a secret, but that “there is a mounting belief” from rival head coaches and general managers that the Browns will take the former Oklahoma quarterback. NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah’s final mock draft, published Thursday morning, also had Mayfield as the No. 1 overall selection.
“I’ve long said Sam Darnold should be the pick here, but the latest buzz has Mayfield landing at the top,” Jeremiah wrote.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. also slotted Mayfield No. 1 overall, calling that “all the talk” in the NFL and saying Mayfield could be ready to compete for the starting job immediately.
Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller went over Mayfield’s history, noting that he was seen as “a Day 3 prospect” last summer. “Wherever he’s drafted tonight, and it might be 1st, he should be damn proud of his success and his climb,” Miller wrote.
“Everyone I am talking to in the NFL [hears] the Browns will take Mayfield but all of them cannot believe it’s true — same with me,” wrote former Browns general manager Michael Lombardi.
Cleveland.com Browns beat writer Mary Kay Cabot wrote Wednesday that the Browns had narrowed the choice to Mayfield or Josh Allen; Thursday morning, she reported that the Mayfield buzz “is getting strong,” and that one league source said Browns staffers were pointing to Mayfield as the likely pick. On the scene at Browns HQ, the NFL Network’s Steve Wyche says GM John Dorsey isn’t divulging any secrets — he hasn’t “even told my wife,” he said — but all signs point to a quarterback and not to any surprises (taking a non-quarterback, trading down from No. 1, etc.).
Two other prominent draft analysts, though, hadn’t budged. NFL.com’s Mike Mayock continued to list Darnold as the top pick, writing that he still believes “Sam Darnold is the future of the Cleveland Browns’ franchise.” ESPN’s Todd McShay also continued to list Darnold first. Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal, meanwhile, says Mayfield’s camp has yet to hear anything from the Browns, though he has two NFL sources telling him that “they sense Mayfield will be the top pick.”
As for Cleveland’s No. 4 pick, Ulrich says the Browns “are definitely interested in trading down,” though they would want a significant haul in return.
Mayfield, who won the Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma, remains polarizing for both his behavior and his height (just under 6-foot-1), but others are taken by his production and his leadership. He was the first player in FBS history to throw for at least 14,000 yards and rush for at least 1,000.
Movin’ on up (or down)?
We’re likely to see some juggling of the draft order as teams strive to get the player they want. The Saints, for one, have “made plenty of calls about making a big leap up from pick No. 27,” NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport reports. “Could be due diligence in case a certain player (perhaps a QB) falls. But they will be well-prepared to move tonight if it comes down to it.”
Times-Picayune columnist Jeff Duncan posits that New Orleans Coach Sean Payton is not “going to sit idly during this draft,” though he thinks they would rather move up to select a pass-rusher than a quarterback. There’s one sticking point, however: The Saints don’t have a second-round pick this year, having surrendered it to get Alvin Kamara in last year’s draft, so any trade to move up this year will have to include players or future picks.
Another team to watch is the Dolphins, who hold the No. 11 pick but perhaps would move up to snag one of the top quarterbacks available. But what would that mean for Ryan Tannehill, who will be returning from a season lost to a knee injury? According to the NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, team officials already have told Tannehill that he will be their starter in 2018 even if they draft a quarterback. Even so, the writing perhaps could be on the wall for the eighth overall pick of the 2012 draft.
Giants Coach Pat Shurmur, meanwhile, told reporters Thursday that he’s “planning on picking at number two,” with Rapoport speculating that they aren’t getting much in the way of trade offers to move down and that they really would rather stay there anyway.
Will old tweets hurt Josh Allen?
It was not clear Thursday what impact the racially offensive tweets written by Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen as a high schooler would have on his draft status.
“I don’t think anyone can tell you,” an official with one NFL team said. “I think everyone is working through that right now.”
The comments on Allen’s Twitter account, written in 2012 and 2013, contained offensive language and racial slurs. They first were reported by Yahoo Sports.
Allen is part of a celebrated class of draft-eligible quarterbacks along with USC’s Darnold, Oklahoma’s Mayfield, UCLA’s Josh Rosen and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson. Allen has been widely regarded as a near-certain top-five selection Thursday night.
“This pretty much came out of nowhere,” said the NFL team official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic. “I don’t think anyone had a hint of this and I don’t think anyone believed there were any issues with him in terms of off-field stuff.”(Read more)
— Mark Maske
John Dorsey holds the key
Perhaps one man holds the key to the entire NFL draft this year, and it isn’t Roger Goodell or Jerry Jones.
That man is John Dorsey, the Cleveland Browns’ new general manager. He’s the latest to try his hand at rebuilding the franchise, and he is armed to the teeth with draft picks — nine of ’em over the seven rounds of the draft. Not only does he have a fistful of picks, he has the Nos. 1 and 4 overall and he claims that he hasn’t even told his wife his plans for that No. 1 pick. For good measure, he’s also keeping Coach Hue Jackson “out of the loop,” according to SI.com.
In an interview with the NFL Network’s Steve Wyche, Dorsey said no real legitimate trade offers have filtered in for the No. 1 pick and he did divulge that the team’s draft board has been finalized, with the ultimate authority for making the picks resting with him. Maybe the No. 4 pick will generate trade interest for a team in need of one of the top quarterbacks in the draft.
Cabot wrote Wednesday that the choice is “narrowing” to Baker Mayfield or Josh Allen. Cabot cites a top-level NFL personnel executive who “has been insisting to cleveland.com since the Senior Bowl in January that Dorsey will take Allen. “You can take it to the bank,” he said again this week.
Maybe, but Dorsey has a flair for the dramatic.
One scenario laid out by SI.com’s Peter King has teams clamoring to trade into the second and third rounds. “Let’s envision teams in the top half of the first round with potentially hugely valuable picks: Cleveland (with the number four pick), Denver (five), Indianapolis (six),” he writes. “There’s a reason in my mock draft I had Denver and Indianapolis trading down — because the value of quarterbacks is immense, and because the premium on second- and third-round picks in this draft is similarly big. That’s why if I’m the Broncos or the Colts (or the Bucs or Bears or Niners, if Josh Rosen falls down the first round more than we think), I’m asking for two or three lower picks rather than two higher ones.”
Quarterbacks are likely to be the picks in the early going, with ESPN’s Adam Schefter citing a general manager who said there is a “50 percent chance” that four quarterbacks would go in the top five. As he points out, that “would be a big help to top 10 teams not in the QB market.”
After Cleveland, the top five picks, barring a trade, will go to the New York Giants, New York Jets, the Browns again and Denver Broncos. Saquon Barkley, the Penn State running back, is expected to hear his named called somewhere in there. Still, it’s going to be tough to top Tuesday night, when his baby daughter, Jada Clare, arrived.
In his mock draft, The Post’s John Harris has the Giants taking Barkley at No. 2, with the Jets taking Mayfield.
Here’s the order for the first round Thursday night:
1. Cleveland Browns
2. New York Giants
3. New York Jets from Indianapolis Colts
4. Cleveland Browns from Houston Texans
5. Denver Broncos
6. Indianapolis Colts from New York Jets
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
8. Chicago Bears
9. San Francisco 49ers
10. Oakland Raiders
11. Miami Dolphins
12. Buffalo Bills from Cincinnati Bengals
13. Washington Redskins
14. Green Bay Packers
15. Arizona Cardinals
16. Baltimore Ravens
17. Los Angeles Chargers
18. Seattle Seahawks
19. Dallas Cowboys
20. Detroit Lions
21. Cincinnati Bengals from Buffalo Bills
22. Buffalo Bills from Kansas City Chiefs
23. New England Patriots from Los Angeles Rams
24. Carolina Panthers
25. Tennessee Titans
26. Atlanta Falcons
27. New Orleans Saints
28. Pittsburgh Steelers
29. Jacksonville Jaguars
30. Minnesota Vikings
31. New England Patriots
32. Philadelphia Eagles
Read more on the NFL draft from The Post: