videoSANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Before San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch decided to step out of the broadcast booth and into his new job, he wanted to be sure plugging the leaks out of Santa Clara was a reasonable goal.

It's why Lynch's candidacy for the job was shrouded in secrecy and, as we head toward Thursday night's NFL draft, the purpose of that so-called strategic transparency the Niners have adopted under Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan has become more obvious.

At this late stage of draft season, the first few picks are usually fairly easy to decipher. But that's not the case this year, especially in San Francisco, where the 49ers hold the No. 2 overall pick.

Even as the Cleveland Browns reportedly debate the merits of Texas A&M pass-rusher Myles Garrett and North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, the Niners' draft plans have been extremely difficult to nail down.

Make no mistake, that's by design.

"I’m proud of the process," Lynch said. "I’m proud of the discipline. There’s a lot of people and a lot of assumptions being made. I feel real confident that those are exactly that -- assumptions -- because nothing has left this building. It’s that time of year."

The Niners' ability to operate in relative secrecy and keep pundits guessing at such a lofty spot in the draft order is the product of three things.

First and foremost, it's the result of Lynch's no leaks edict. After he was hired, Lynch admitted in a radio interview that he asked the Niners to keep his candidacy for the job quiet. He wanted to see if the 49ers could keep things buttoned up, knowing there are times to be open and honest and times (such as the draft) to keep everything within the walls of Levi's Stadium.

It was a test the Niners passed, and after Lynch agreed to come on board, he made it clear he wanted to be as transparent as he could without giving away competitive secrets. Lynch has been readily available to media in the run-up to the draft and has publicly acknowledged visits with prospects, evaluated a number of players he has been asked about and regularly offered philosophical ideas on how the Niners intend to rebuild. He even started a personal Twitter account which he has used a few times to confirm signings of free agents or moves the team has made.

Despite the rampant speculation about what the Niners might do with the No. 2 pick, Lynch has comfortably gone to sleep at night in the belief that any rumors about the team's plans have not come from within the building.

“I use the word assumptions," Lynch said. "It’s what people do. They try to gather [intel], but I know that, I don’t know obviously, but like I said, I think the discipline out of this building’s been excellent. And so, I think that’s what they are, they’re assumptions rather than, I think in each situation it says sources. I don’t know who those sources are because there’s only a few people that know, and so we feel real good about that.”

Even if one wanted to make an educated guess as to the Niners' plans -- and there are many, present company included, who have tried -- it's a task made all the more difficult by the fact that Lynch and Shanahan have no track record running a draft. Some teams have a reputation for valuing upside, others focus more on production. Some teams believe you shouldn't draft certain positions early and can find help at that spot later on. The examples are endless, unless you're trying to figure out the 49ers.

Sure, Shanahan has coached long enough that some ideas are likely to carry over in his first draft. For example, it would be a surprise if the 49ers took LSU running back Leonard Fournette with the second pick considering the Shanahan family's long and storied history of turning late-round or undrafted running backs into stars.

But even that can't be completely ruled out because Lynch adds an even more unpredictable element as the guy in charge after never working in a personnel department. Adding more intrigue is just how the decision will be made if the Niners don't come to a consensus.

"I’m not trying to cop out, but it’s going to be collective," Lynch said. "Kyle and I made a commitment early on that we’re going to come into this thing, and we figured out our own way to have our tiebreaker. It’s not something that we’ve just kind of put aside, and come Thursday night like, ‘What do you want to do?’ ‘I don’t know. What do you want to do?’ We’ve got a plan. I can tell you that.”

The final part of the equation is a draft that doesn't appear to have many obvious choices at the top. Aside from Garrett, some scouts believe there's not much separation between the next 10-12 players in terms of talent. Because of the Niners' lengthy list of needs, there's legitimately not a position outside of special teams that can be completely ruled out in trying to figure out which direction they'll go. So while names such as Stanford defensive end Solomon Thomas, Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore and LSU safety Jamal Adams have been consistently linked to the Niners, it wouldn't be a surprise if Lynch and Shanahan throw a curveball with their first pick.

For now, Lynch is comfortable enough to say the Niners have narrowed it down to two or three options. Until the Niners announce the name of that first-round pick, that's likely to be the most definitive declaration he provides.

“I think we tried to create an environment that’s collaborative, where people can be confident in sharing their opinions, and we had strong opinions, and they didn’t always agree, but we’ve gotten to a point where there’s consensus," Lynch said. "Ultimately, it will be Kyle and I together making those decisions."

The Baltimore Ravens could take a wide receiver with the No. 16 overall pick Thursday in the first round of the NFL draft, and Steve Smith has a strong opinion on whom to consider.

"There are some guys in the draft that you can't pass up if you have that opportunity," Smith told the Ravens' website in Philadelphia on Wednesday. "My personal opinion, in the first round, there are only two guys that distinguish themselves in that manner: Corey Davis and John Ross."

Davis and Ross are record-setters. Davis set an FBS mark with 5,278 career receiving yards, and Ross ran the fastest 40-yard time in NFL combine history (4.22 seconds).

The notable exclusion from Smith was Mike Williams, who is considered the No. 1 receiver in this draft by ESPN's Todd McShay. He produced 98 catches for 1,361 yards and 11 touchdowns for national champion Clemson.

"I don't believe Mike Williams is a guy that you reach for at [No.] 16 because I don't think he really changes anything in a way you want to change them," Smith said. "If you say Mike Williams is a big target, but he's not running a 4.21. Corey Davis has that big-play potential. He knows how to play the game. He runs excellent routes. Those are the two guys I think that if you have the opportunity to get, you don't walk past."

A five-time Pro Bowl player, Smith is 12th in league history with 1,028 receptions and seventh with 14,697 receiving yards. He retired at the end of the 2016 season, and Baltimore hasn't added a receiver since.

Dallas' Travis FrederickAndrew Dieb/Icon SportswireThe Cowboys' last first-round trade netted them All-Pro center Travis Frederick in 2013.

FRISCO, Texas -- Where has Trader Jerry gone?

“Well, apart from they’ve got my phone cut off and Jason has his foot on my right foot and Stephen has his foot on my left foot, apart from that, not at all,” Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said of coach Jason Garrett and executive vice president Stephen Jones.

Since taking over the Cowboys in 1989, Jerry Jones has made 64 draft-day trades.

His last deal? The Cowboys gave up a sixth-round pick in 2016 to select tight end Geoff Swaim in the seventh round of the 2015 draft.

The last time Jones made a trade involving the first-round pick came in 2013, when he moved down from No. 18 to No. 31 with the San Francisco 49ers. The Cowboys ended up with All-Pro center Travis Frederick. At the time, the pick was panned by many who saw Frederick as a middle- to late-round pick.

In 2012, Jones made a bold move up from No. 14 to No. 6 to select cornerback Morris Claiborne, who carried the highest grade for a corner the Cowboys have had since Deion Sanders. In five seasons, Claiborne recorded four interceptions, and he signed with the New York Jets as a free agent this offseason.

As the Cowboys sit with the 28th pick in the first round this year, Jones isn’t anticipating a grand move up to select a generational defensive player or a big move down to acquire more selections to help a defense that needs pass-rush, cornerback and safety help.

“This is a real good year for staying put,” Jones said. “I don’t know if it’s because we need so many good football players or because there are some good football players there, especially in those early rounds.”

The Cowboys live in a never-say-never world when it comes to listening to other teams about making deals. A year ago, the Cowboys frantically attempted to trade back into the first round to take Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch. They were close to a deal with the Seattle Seahawks, who ultimately made a deal with the Denver Broncos when the Cowboys were reluctant to give up their third-round pick.

“I also believe in a draft like this, our team where we are, if there’s a player there that you like, that you like him a lot, you need to take him,” Stephen Jones said. “Historically, as you trade backwards, inevitably you end up with lesser football players.”

The value in staying put is knowing a good player will be there when you pick. The Cowboys were out of offensive-line options when they moved down in 2014, with Frederick their last first-day starter left to pick. Their good fortune was rewarded by the play of Frederick, who has not missed a game and was named to the Pro Bowl in each of the past three seasons.

“Everybody says, 'Are you really going to stick with the best player on your board,' and it just so happens that in this particular draft, there’s a good chance that some of the best players on our board are going to be at positions we get pointed out to as a team that needs this, needs that,” Stephen Jones said. “I think those positions are going to be there for us and be there in a good way.”

The Cowboys’ needs are almost exclusively on defense. Of their 28 pre-draft visitors, 26 were on the defensive side. Ten were defensive ends, including Charles Harris, Taco Charlton and T.J. Watt, who could be first-round options. Twelve were cornerbacks, including potential first-rounders in Marlon Humphrey, Adoree' Jackson, Kevin King and Tre’Davious White.

For Jerry Jones, the draft is a study in the art of the deal almost as much as the art of evaluating players.

The skill and acumen he used in drilling for oil has played a role in his approach to the draft. For the sure thing, he will make the big gamble. If there is some uncertainty, then trading down and getting more options makes sense.

That’s how the Cowboys operated early in Jones’ tenure. In Jimmy Johnson’s five seasons as coach (1989-93), the Cowboys made 15 draft-day trades. The first trade came on April 23, 1989, with the Los Angeles Raiders, exchanging second-round and sixth-round picks for picks in the second, third and fifth rounds. The second-round pick turned into fullback Daryl Johnston.

In 2008, the Cowboys made six trades during the draft, their highest total in Jones’ tenure.

Three times they have not made a trade, including twice in Garrett’s run as coach (2011 and 2016). Maybe Garrett really is stepping on Jones’ right foot.

“That’s just happenchance,” Jerry Jones said. “We’ve certainly kept our options open and entertained.”

You've studied the mocks. You know who has the most draft capital. You've researched the trade scenarios, decided which teams want quarterbacks and wondered who would be dumb/brilliant enough to draft a running back in the first round.

So I'll say/scream/shout: IT'S TIME FOR SOME ANSWERS!!

As the hours before the start of the 2017 NFL draft in Philadelphia melt into minutes, let's fire off predictions for Round 1. This will flow at a rapid pace, which is good, because it means I don't have to explain myself if I don't want to.

Sorry. We're all snarky after 11 months of draft prep.

1. A running back will be drafted before a quarterback

Boom. Someone -- perhaps the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 4 -- will select LSU's Leonard Fournette or Stanford's Christian McCaffrey before North Carolina's Mitchell Trubisky, Clemson's Deshaun Watson or any other quarterback is drafted. This will be a rare occurrence. Since 2007, the average spot of the first quarterback off the board has been 2.9. Quarterbacks have gone at No. 1 and No. 2 overall in three of the past five drafts. But it ain't happening this year. There are too many good running backs, regardless of the risk in taking them high, and there is almost no consensus on the quarterbacks.

Christian McCaffreyThomas Boyd/AP PhotoRunning back Christian McCaffrey is the No. 6 overall prospect on Mel Kiper's final 2017 Big Board.

2. Defensive players will dominate the top five

It's easy to envision Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett going No. 1 overall to the Cleveland Browns, followed by some combination of LSU safety Jamal Adams, Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore, Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas and/or Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen within the top five. This again would be an exceptionally rare occurrence. There have been only three defensive players selected No. 1 overall in the past 22 drafts (Courtney Brown, Mario Williams and Jadeveon Clowney), and three defensive linemen have been drafted among the top five only three times: in 1967, 1970 and 1984.

3. The state of college quarterbacking will be a talker

It'll start right around the time when Trubisky is drafted not only in the top 10 but also quite possibly after a trade that costs his new team multiple draft choices. We'll cry about how Trubisky started only 13 college games and wasn't great in all of them. We'll look further down the line and see that this is one of the least inspiring quarterback classes in recent memory -- at least since, say, 2013 -- and start muttering about the need for a developmental league.

Then we'll realize that the only thing worse than drafting an uninspiring quarterback is having no quarterback at all. We'll accept that as a reason for seeing anywhere between two and five quarterbacks selected before No. 32, and we'll start planning the next-day pep rallies with alacrity. Consider it the Five Stages of Quarterback Grief.

4. You'll hear 'this is a defensive draft' 465 times during the draft

See above.

Also see Mel Kiper's final Big Board, on which 11 of the top 14 players have "DL," "CB" or "S" next to their names.

5. There will be lots of 'reaching' -- for offensive linemen

One of the sturdiest rules of draft analysis is to compliment teams for taking a tackle or guard in the first round. Those teams have resisted the urge to go for a less talented player at a flashier position, as the statute goes, and instead have made the kind of unemotional and smart picks that help football teams win football games.

That rule appears to have been flipped on its side this year. There is urgent need around the league for linemen, but the general consensus is that the 2017 class is exceptionally weak. The highest-ranked offensive lineman on Mel Kiper's Big Board is Eastern Kentucky's Forrest Lamp at No. 18. New rule: When someone drafts an offensive lineman Thursday night, it shall be declared a reach and a failure to take a more talented player at darn near any other position.

6. Neither Joe Mixon nor Gareon Conley will be drafted in Round 1

Mixon, from Oklahoma, is an exceptionally talented running back. Conley, a cornerback from Ohio State, was Kiper's No. 18 overall prospect as recently as a few days ago. But Mixon was caught on video punching a woman, for which he pleaded guilty to assault, and Conley was accused by a woman of rape earlier this month.

You could argue that Mixon's incident was adjudicated three years ago and that the accusations against Conley are unproven. But google "La'el Collins" and get back to me. (Short version: Collins, a likely first-rounder in 2015, fell out of the draft entirely after police sought an interview with him in connection with the death of a former girlfriend.)

7. John Ross isn't the first-round lock he appears

Ross went No. 14 overall to the Philadelphia Eagles in the annually perfect ESPN NFL Nation mock draft. But here's a secret: A few of us ran through some preliminary mocks before the real thing, and Ross slipped into the second round. After a while, that didn't seem like such an outrageous idea.

We all know Ross ran the 40 in 4.22 seconds at the combine and that his receiving skills are real and not based purely on speed. But he has a relatively long college injury history for a potential first-round pick, including a torn ACL, a meniscus tear and a torn labrum, and that has generated understandable concern. Many teams would consider it a warning sign when a 188-pound player can't stay on the field in college. That doesn't mean Ross can't be a great NFL playmaker. But the handful of teams that want a high-end receiver might trust Clemson's Mike Williams and Western Michigan's Corey Davis

AP Photo/Carlos OsorioCould Corey Davis be the Ravens' next premier pass-catcher?

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Every year, Baltimore Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta puts his first-round prediction in an envelope.

That tradition probably took longer to complete this year than any other.

This has the makings of being the most unpredictable first round in recent years, so it's difficult to project what will happen at the Ravens' No. 16 overall pick. The increase of medical issues and character concerns adds more question marks as to what direction these teams will go.

Here are some first-round possibilities for Baltimore:

Wide receiver: A majority of the mock drafts has the Ravens bringing in a big-play weapon for quarterback Joe Flacco. The most popular choices are Clemson's Mike Williams and Western Michigan's Corey Davis. Another potential candidate is Washington's John Ross. Of the seven teams picking before Baltimore, there are four who could select a wide receiver: the Cincinnati Bengals (No. 9), Buffalo Bills (No. 10), Arizona Cardinals (No. 13) and Philadelphia Eagles (No. 14). It almost feels like it will be a coin flip as to whether the Ravens will get a chance at their targeted wide receiver.

Offensive line: No one should be surprised if Baltimore decides to address an offensive line that lost two starters this offseason. Right tackle Rick Wagner signed with the Detroit Lions in free agency, and center Jeremy Zuttah was traded to the San Francisco 49ers. In a weak offensive line class, the Ravens probably would only take either Western Kentucky guard Forrest Lamp or Alabama offensive tackle Cam Robinson in the first round. Lamp, the consensus No. 1 offensive lineman in this draft, is projected to play guard or center in the NFL. Robinson, who is perhaps the most gifted blocker, can be an immediate starter at right tackle.

Big surprises: Luck often plays a big part in the draft, and the Ravens remember several instances when a top prospect slides right to them. In this draft, the Ravens are looking to see if Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen (Todd McShay's No. 5 prospect), Alabama inside linebacker Reuben Foster (No. 8) and Temple inside linebacker Haason Reddick (No. 11) will fall. There are concerns about Allen's surgically repaired shoulders, Foster's red flags and Reddick's lack of size (237 pounds). Allen could go as high as No. 3 to the Chicago Bears or No. 5 to the Tennessee Titans. The other potential teams interested in Allen include the Los Angeles Chargers (No. 7) and the Bengals (No. 9). Foster and Reddick could get selected by the Bengals, Bills, New Orleans Saints (No. 11), Arizona Cardinals (No. 13) or Indianapolis Colts (No. 15).

Trading down: The general feeling is there's not much difference between prospects No. 10 and No. 50. With only seven picks and plenty of holes in the starting lineup, the Ravens likely would prefer to trade back in the first round to get better value on their selection and accumulate more picks. The best scenario for that to happen involves quarterback-needy teams. If Mitchell Trubisky and Deshaun Watson get drafted in the top 15 picks, it will put more pressure on a team to move up to secure its quarterback. If the Ravens fall back, they should be able to land a quality pass-rusher (such as UCLA's Takkarist McKinley), offensive lineman (Lamp or Robinson) or cornerback (Alabama's Marlon Humphrey or Washington's Kevin King) later in the first round.

The Atlanta Falcons, stacked with young talent coming off a Super Bowl run, don't have to go into the NFL draft totally desperate.

They do, however, need to keep their focus on available pass-rushers with the draft set to begin Thursday night.

Haason ReddickBrian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsCould the Falcons trade up to grab Temple's Haason Reddick, who brings appealing speed?

The Falcons enter the draft with the 31st overall pick in the first round. While some believe they should target either a defensive back or a potential starting right guard, securing an impact pass-rusher opposite reigning NFL sacks leader Vic Beasley Jr. is expected to be first priority, no matter how tempting straying to another position might be.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn recently said between five and eight edge rushers in this year's draft class will have immediate impacts. The best is Myles Garrett, who should be the No. 1 overall pick by the Cleveland Browns. Then comes Solomon Thomas from Stanford. Alabama's Tim Williams, with off-the-field issues, has been taken off the Falcons' draft board. And Michigan's Taco Charlton hasn't exactly drawn serious interest from Atlanta during the draft process.

That would leave at least four players as potential difference-makers on Day 1. That group of four likely includes Temple's Haason Reddick, Tennessee's Derek Barnett, Missouri's Charles Harris and UCLA's Takkarist McKinley, all of whom are ranked among the top 24 of ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay's top 300 prospects.

Reddick, a do-it-all player, could be a top-10 pick. If he's in the top 15, maybe the Falcons could swing a deal to land his toughness and versatility. A report circulated Wednesday night that the Browns might be willing to trade down from the 12th overall pick, with the top pick also in hand. And the Falcons seem willing to trade up, if the deal is reasonable.

The 6-foot-1, 237-pound Reddick would fit nicely in the Falcons' system as either an inside or outside linebacker as well as at edge rusher, despite being a little undersized. Reddick's 4.52 speed in the 40-yard dash makes him that much more appealing for a coach in Quinn who emphasizes being fast and physical.

The 6-3, 259-pound Barnett doesn't have the same type of speed (4.88), but his film shows a player who knows how to use his hands and his leverage. He's more of a straight-line rusher. Barnett is likely to be another player the Falcons would have to move up for, based on his top 15-20 projection.

The 6-3, 253-pound Harris might be the most polished rusher of the four. He has a quick first step and great lateral quickness. There are mixed reviews on whether he goes in the top half of the first round or falls to where the Falcons might be able to snatch him. Harris, who like Reddick and Barnett had a private workout with the Falcons, said he could envision himself rushing alongside a great player such as Beasley.

The 6-2, 250-pound McKinley is the wild card of the group, coming off shoulder surgery. He has speed and is relentless, although he still has to develop as a pure pass-rusher. The injury history could scare some teams, but the Falcons could afford to take a chance with a player who could end up being dynamic while playing opposite Beasley.

If the Falcons strike out on all four of those edge rushers, then maybe the likes of safety Jabrill Peppers from Michigan or Western Kentucky offensive lineman Forrest Lamp will look more appealing. Lamp is expected to be off the board well before the 31st pick. Peppers' stock is uncertain after he tested positive for a dilute sample at the combine, although the Falcons did not take Peppers off their draft board after that news surfaced.

Reggie McKenzie, Jack Del RioBen Margot/APIn 1985, both Reggie McKenzie and Jack Del Rio were hoping to be selected in the NFL draft.

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- For Jack Del Rio, the phone rang in the third round, Bum Phillips' disembodied voice on the other side telling the USC All-American linebacker he was chosen by the New Orleans Saints with the No. 63 overall selection of the 1985 NFL draft.

This came after defensive back Donnie Elder went to the New York Jets, before defensive back John Hendy went to the San Diego Chargers. After 10 other linebackers were drafted.

For Reggie McKenzie, a less-heralded linebacker from Tennessee, the call from then-Los Angeles Raiders defensive coordinator Bob Zeman did not come until the 10th round, 275th overall, after offensive lineman Duval Love went to the Los Angeles Rams and before the Raiders picked defensive back Albert Myres. McKenzie was the 39th linebacker selected.

"I got drafted way later than Jack," McKenzie cracked last week. "It was almost bedtime for me, but I couldn't sleep at all."

After sharing that 1985 draft as players, McKenzie and Del Rio will share their third straight draft as Raiders general manager and coach, starting tonight, and the two old linebackers figure to be just as defensive in their picks.

"Way to make us seem old," McKenzie said with a laugh. "We were kind of kidding about some of that stuff in the draft room…with the scouts. I always tell stories about 'Back in the day.' The draft has come a long way but the excitement never changes. I can remember like yesterday.

"The excitement to play football as a job, I still feel that adrenaline to be a part of football at this point in my life. Time has flown by. Thirty-two years, that's a long time, but it doesn’t feel like that. It's a great feeling to be a part of it still and to see young men like that ... we kind of know what they're going through so we can share stories. It's a fun time, I still feel it. It's a great feeling."

McKenzie played four seasons with the Raiders, starting his first two seasons, while Del Rio played just two years for the Saints before going to the Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings in an 11-year career.

"Your life is getting ready to change," Del Rio added. "You're headed somewhere. Sometimes you go to a place where you are familiar with the market. Sometimes you go where you have no idea. Your family and your friends follow you on your journey. It's an exciting time for these young men.

"It's a lot of fun for us as we evaluate them and see how they do. Their lives are about to change dramatically."

With less than 24 hours before the Pittsburgh Steelers draft, here are a few things I've heard or observed heading into the weekend:

Off the edge: There’s a good chance the Steelers take an outside linebacker in the first two rounds. A few people I’ve talked to with teams selecting later in the first round sense the Steelers will bolster the defense in the first round, either with pass-rush or defensive-back help.

One pass-rush option is UCLA's Takkarist McKinley, who was one of the team’s top-30 visits during the pre-draft process. But there’s a strong feeling he won’t be available when the Steelers come up at No. 30 in the first round. McKinley (6-foot-2, 250) is slightly smaller than third-year linebacker Bud Dupree but has a similar speed (4.59 40) and high motor.

Takkarist McKinleyJoe Robbins/Getty ImagesThe Steelers see a high-motor prospect in Takkarist McKinley, but there's no guarantee the UCLA pass-rusher will still be available when they pick at No. 30.

The pass-rush depth in this draft is solid, so the Steelers can take the best player available in the first, regardless of position, figuring the Day 2 pass-rushers are capable. Think Youngstown State’s Derek Rivers, Auburn’s Carl Lawson, Houston’s Tyus Bowser or Alabama’s Tim Williams. Last year, the Steelers scoured the earth for cornerbacks because they had no choice. This year, the roster has more balance.

Playmaking help: With Alabama’s O.J. Howard expected to fall off the board early in the first round, Miami’s David Njoku could come into play in the late first. The Steelers like the tight-end depth in this class but could opt for more refinement. Njoku is ultra-talented but considered raw as a receiver. Two evaluators have told me he’s a bit unnatural as a receiver, which is a concern.

If the team had the choice between Njoku and, say, Western Michigan receiver Corey Davis, I believe Davis would be the pick.

A few other playmaking options I like for the Steelers for various points in the draft: Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram, East Carolina receiver Zay Jones, Clemson tight end Jordan Leggett, Penn State receiver Chris Godwin, Texas A&M receiver Josh Reynolds.

Washington DB flavor?: Can’t help but think a Washington Huskies player has a decent chance to end up in Pittsburgh. Corner Kevin King has the size (6-foot-3, 32-inch arms) and hybrid skill set the Steelers coveted in recent high picks Ryan Shazier and Sean Davis. He limits opponents' big plays, too. Safety Budda Baker, who visited the Steelers this month, is a fierce competitor in the open field, which might help offset his 5-foot-9⅝ frame.

If the Steelers really want to get weird, they can take freak athlete safety Obi Melifonwu. Coordinator Keith Butler could get creative with Meliwonfu’s 6-foot-4 frame.

Phones ringing: The Steelers typically stay put with their first-round pick, but with several teams looking to trade back in a deep but not top-heavy draft, the Steelers could field a few calls in both directions. Some reports have Cal quarterback Davis Webb sliding into the late first round. Though that might happen, I don’t sense the Steelers are getting many calls about him from teams looking to move up.

The QB: Don’t expect Pittsburgh to force this. This quarterback class is far from perfect. The Steelers will look for value; if a high-upside stash option falls to Day 2 or 3, they'll consider that. I don’t expect them to make a quarterback splash unless the situation is right.

The Steelers haven’t tipped their hand on this position. I do believe the intrigue in Patrick Mahomes is genuine, and that he’d be fairly high on their list of quarterback prospects.

The Philadelphia Eagles' brass has gone over about eight scenarios for how the first 13 picks could play out in front of them during the first round of the NFL draft Thursday night. According to executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman, each results in a celebration when the Eagles get on the clock.

"One thing I know, when we make a pick at 14 with the way our board looks right now, we're gonna all be high-fiving," Roseman said.

There's a whole lot of uncertainty about how this first round is going to unfold. How many quarterbacks will go in the top half? Are the Browns going to go nuts and take a quarterback first overall? How many running backs are going early? Will teams be trading in? For whom? With so many variables, it's difficult to know exactly which players will be available for the Eagles. And honestly, that's part of the fun. They could go in a number of directions depending on how it all shakes out.

Here are some likely targets that could elicit the front-office high-five regardless.

Derek BarnettAP Photo/Michael Conroy, FileDerek Barnett broke the Tennessee sacks record held by former Eagles star Reggie White.

Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee

Barnett finished his career at Tennessee as the school's all-time sacks leader, passing former Eagle and first-ballot Hall of Famer Reggie White. There are some concerns about whether his skill set will fully transfer to the NFL level. He has a number of supporters, however, including former Ravens and Eagles scout Daniel Jeremiah, who evoked the name of Terrell Suggs when talking about the production-versus-measurables debate surrounding Barnett. I can see former Baltimore scout Joe Douglas, now Eagles vice president of player personnel, liking what Barnett brings to the table as well.

John Ross, WR, Washington

The lightning-fast receiver has fans inside the building. There are injury concerns, however. He has had surgery on both knees and, more recently, on his right shoulder to repair a torn labrum. That's obviously going to factor into a team's thinking when weighing whether to take him in the first round. We changed our selection from Gareon Conley to Ross in the NFL Nation mock draft after reports surfaced that Conley is facing rape accusations. Fresh off an 18-touchdown season and possessing 4.22 speed in the 40, perhaps Ross is an enticing enough prospect to roll the dice on, whether that be at No. 14 or potentially after trading back in the first round.

Mike Williams, WR, Clemson

We heard Williams' name connected to the Eagles early in the pre-draft process, and then again late. Williams (6-foot-4, 218 pounds) has No. 1-receiver potential and could be a big, reliable target for Carson Wentz for years to come. There are some questions about his ability to separate. It's also worth asking whether having him on the same roster as Alshon Jeffery is somewhat redundant. The counter-argument is that the duo would present unique matchup concerns for the opposition. Bottom line, Williams could be good value at 14, and it wouldn't be a surprise here if he were the pick.

Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan

Our favorite receiver in the class. The NCAA's all-time leader in receiving yards (5,285), Davis caught 97 passes for 1,500 yards and 19 touchdowns this past season. Ankle surgery prevented him from participating in the scouting combine, so there's some uncertainty about his speed. Perhaps that's enough to knock him down a few slots in the draft. If so, Davis (6-foot-3, 209 pounds) could represent serious value.

Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford

I've gone through much of the pre-draft process with the belief that at least one member of the Eagles' brass wants McCaffrey, and that he will probably be taken before the 14th overall selection. Still feel that way. If the Eagles want to walk away with McCaffrey, they'll probably have to trade up.

Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama

Unless the Conley situation gains clarity in short order, the risk might be too great in the first round. Humphrey's stock is all over the place, but he is being slotted in this area by some. The Eagles need to guard against reaching for need, but if they think Humphrey is legitimate and aren't worried about his ability to play the long ball, this could be a fit.

LB Reuben Foster, Alabama

He is widely considered a top-five talent in the draft. There is at least a chance he falls, and if he does, the Eagles will have to be comfortable with the question marks that have popped up around Foster of late.


Kevin King, CB, Washington

The range we heard for King (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) a little while back was 20-35. Assuming that holds true, the Eagles might be able to jump back several spots and still land King, who had two interceptions and 13 passes defensed this past season. Roseman explained that teams are willing to move back when multiple players from their wish list are still on the board. Perhaps it works out that way Thursday night.

Charles Harris, DE, Missouri

Opinions vary on just how high Harris, a new-to-the-game pass-rusher with a crazy spin move, will go. There could be teams looking to slide into this range for a QB. If so, the Eagles might feel better about moving a few spots back if Harris is a viable option.

After months of buildup, it's here: the NFL draft, the most anticipated day of the year for success-starved New York Jets fans.

Here are 10 things you need to know:

1. The Jets could draft a first-round Buckeye for the second consecutive year: either cornerback Marshon Lattimore or safety Malik Hooker, both of whom played with linebacker Darron Lee in 2015. Picking sixth, the Jets' choice could come down to the two former Ohio State standouts.

Lattimore was the choice in our ESPN NFL Nation mock draft Tuesday night, but that was then. This is a fluid business, folks. By Wednesday, Hooker was seen in some league circles as the Jets' preferred and most realistic choice with the sixth pick, as I previously reported.

Malik HookerZach Bolinger/Icon SportswireSafety Malik Hooker doesn't come with some of the health concerns attached to fellow Ohio State defensive back Marshon Lattimore.

Both Lattimore and Hooker would fill big needs, but the Jets might regard Hooker as the safer pick based on the medicals. True, he's recovering from January surgery to repair a torn labrum (hip) and a sports hernia, but he should be fine by training camp. Hooker doesn't have a prior injury history, unlike Lattimore, who has had hamstring issues and required surgery in 2014. Lattimore was injury-free last season, but recurring soft-tissue injuries are worrisome. Dee Milliner flashbacks, anyone?

2. Hooker is a ball-hawking safety who can turn turnovers into points. "The reincarnation of Ed Reed," one opposing scout told me. Can anybody remember the last time the Jets scored a defensive touchdown? It was 2013, when Antonio Allen picked off Tom Brady. Hooker would change that. He would also allow Calvin Pryor to play strong safety, his natural position.

3. The Jets really like LSU safety Jamal Adams, probably more than Hooker and Lattimore, but there's only a slim chance that Adams will last until the sixth pick. If Adams falls, it would be akin to Leonard Williams' mini-tumble to No. 6 in 2015. If a quarterback is picked in the top five, that could push Adams to the Jets.

4. The big question is: Will the Jets draft a quarterback at No. 6? I spoke to people from four teams, and they all said they'd be surprised if the Jets made a call for a signal-caller. Presumably, the No. 1 quarterback on their board is North Carolina's Mitchell Trubisky, but I wouldn't be surprised if he's gone. The hunch is that the Cleveland Browns will take him, either with the top pick or in a trade up with their other first-round pick (No. 12). The Jets like Clemson's Deshaun Watson, but at sixth? That would be a stunner.

5. The Jets are interested in trading down to accumulate extra picks, but any deal is probably contingent upon Trubisky's being available at No. 6. Dropping down in Round 1 would be almost historic. The Jets have traded up several times over the years, but the last time they moved back with a high pick in the first round was 1997, when Bill Parcells was calling the shots.

6. If they trade down, the sweet spot would be in the 10-to-15 range, where they could have a shot at Alabama tight end O.J. Howard, Temple linebacker Haason Reddick or Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams. Any one of them would be an immediate contributor.

7. It's all quiet on the Sheldon Richardson front. Barring an attractive, 11th-hour offer, the Jets will keep Richardson and his $8.1 million salary, which is causing teams to shy away from the talented but twice-suspended defensive lineman.

8. Personal favorites? I'd have no issue if the Jets picked LSU running back Leonard Fournette. Yes, the position has been devalued in recent years, but Fournette is a special talent. Adams and Hooker would be solid choices, along with Howard. Lattimore has elite talent, but he scares me because of the hamstring history.

9. The Jets were inept when defending the deep ball. Here's a mind-blowing stat: They allowed opponents to complete 43 percent of passes that traveled at least 20 yards in the air, which was 30th in the league. That's why Hooker or Adams would immediately upgrade the defense.

10. Chances are, it'll be another defensive pick. The Jets haven't used a first-round pick on an offensive player since quarterback Mark Sanchez (2009). Their past eight first-round picks have been defensive players, three more than any other team since 2010 (the Jets had two first-rounders in 2013).

Brandin Cooks and E.J. GainesDilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesWith New England having traded the No. 32 overall pick for Brandin Cooks, comparing Cooks to whomever the Saints select might be the highlight Thursday for Patriots fans.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- As anticipation and excitement builds in many locales for Thursday night's first round of the NFL draft, the New England region falls into a different ho-hum type of category for the second year in a row.

No first-round pick. No major buzz.

But unlike 2016, when the Patriots didn't have a selection as a result of the NFL's penalties for Deflategate, the team's absence from the first round this year is by its own doing: trading the No. 32 overall pick to the New Orleans Saints for wide receiver Brandin Cooks.

So this will be part of the fun Thursday night when the final pick of the first round rolls around, and the question can be asked: Who would you rather have here, Cooks or (insert prospect name)?

That's the same outlook the Arizona Cardinals adopted last year after acquiring defensive end Chandler Jones from the Patriots for a second-round pick.

"I'll be so happy when the second round comes in, I’ll put Chandler Jones’ name in. There isn’t going to be anyone on that board close to him," Arizona coach Bruce Arians said in March 2016 after the trade.

The Patriots might as well do the same thing Thursday night with Cooks, who was a first-round pick of the Saints in 2014 (No. 20 overall).

In late March, Robert Kraft said, "Since I’ve owned the team, the only player that could make an impact like that at wide receiver was Randy Moss. [Cooks] doesn’t have his height, but it looks like he has his speed. I think that’s complementary to what we have on the team, and I’m excited about enjoying this.”

Cooks, for his part, is getting into the spirit of professional sports in the region as he attended Wednesday night's NBA playoff game between the Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics at the TD Garden. When initially shown on the large videoboard above the court alongside teammate Stephon Gilmore, there wasn't a noticeable reaction from the crowd. But when Cooks and Gilmore had their names added under their image, the Garden roared.

Meanwhile, Gillette Stadium is expected to be quiet Thursday night. Reporters have the option to watch the draft from the stadium, but with the Patriots (first selection currently at No. 72, early in the third round) highly unlikely to be swinging a trade to move back into the first round, there isn't expected to be any formal media access or interviews.

If anything, it would be timely for Cooks himself to be center stage, because Thursday night will represent what the Patriots surrendered to acquire him.

Broncos say they've regained their edge this offseason

April, 26, 2017
Apr 26

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Chasing a title as opposed to defending one has given the Denver Broncos a boost of energy.

A year ago the Broncos were defending their Super Bowl 50 win, but the hangover from that championship might have taken away their edge. They say they've found it this offseason with a new coaching staff and some motivated veterans.

Logan Bowles/USA TODAY SportsChris Harris Jr. said the Broncos haven't lacked energy during offseason workouts.

“You can definitely feel that juice,” cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said after Wednesday’s minicamp practice. “Everybody has a little pep in their step.

"Maybe because it’s new coaches, you’ve got a clean slate, you’ve got an opportunity to start over. Definitely last year it was a little bit lax on our part coming off that Super Bowl, but I think we’ve got it back up.”

Denver’s run to winning the Super Bowl was keyed by the NFL’s No. 1 defense. Last year it slipped to fourth overall, and despite being one of the elite units it wasn’t able to compensate for the 27th-ranked offense. The Broncos missed the playoffs with a 9-7 record.

The players want to get back to the top, and it started with this week’s camp.

“I feel our urgency is there,” cornerback Aqib Talib said. “I don’t think our urgency was there last year. We were kind of in recovering mode the whole offseason. Our urgency is there. That’s where it starts.”

Despite the departure of coordinator Wade Phillips, the defense remains mostly intact. Defensive backs coach Joe Woods took over for Phillips, which has allowed the unit to have a similar feel.

“Obviously it’s different with coach Woods coaching, but we emphasize some similar stuff that we emphasized in last year’s defense,” linebacker Von Miller said. “Our defense is a lot more simple. Our defense before was simple, but I think this year with some new pieces and a new coach, we’ll be able to run a whole lot smoother.”

One of the bigger changes on defense was the retirement of linebacker DeMarcus Ware. The Broncos will miss his leadership, but Miller said the unit will stay strong.

“We police ourselves in the locker room,” he said. “We know what a good practice looks like; we know what a bad practice looks like. Nobody has to come tell us. We have great coaches, so they’re going to stay on top of that as well. We have a great veteran core in the locker room and everything is able to run a whole lot smoother when you have those pieces in place.”

The bigger change in philosophy is on offense under coordinator Mike McCoy, who held the same position from 2010-12. He’s back after four years as the Chargers head coach and has already made an impression on the players.

“He’s very player-friendly,” wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. “He’ll talk to you, you can walk up and approach him and be able to ask him any question. He’s down to help. That’s what I like. So far, he’s been doing a great job.”

One of the many players pleased Joey Bosa arrived on the practice field this week for the Los Angeles Chargers was safety Dwight Lowery.

Not only did the 10-year veteran benefit from the edge rusher’s surprisingly dominant performance as a rookie last season, he expects more seasons like that from the Ohio State product in the years to come.

“I think he’s got Hall of Fame potential,” the usually reserved Lowery said. “And that’s after seeing him play just a couple games and seeing him practice. Just his size and physical attributes, he can be as good as he wants to be. And hopefully he makes the right decisions along the way and things of that nature. And hopefully he’s able to stay healthy throughout his whole career.”

Joey BosaTom Walko/Icon SportswireJoey Bosa is eager to see what changes new coordinator Gus Bradley will bring.

Bosa missed all of training camp last year due to a contract dispute over signing bonus money and offset language. On his first day of practice after signing his rookie deal in September, Bosa suffered a hamstring injury that forced him to miss the first four game of the season.

Even still, Bosa finished with 10.5 sacks in 12 games, earning Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. Bosa’s 10.5 sacks was tops among rookies last season.

Bosa finished the season with at least half a sack in the last six games, the longest streak by a Chargers’ player since Marcellus Wiley had sacks in seven straight games in 2001.

“You could argue if he had played those four games -- forget rookie of the year -- could he have been defensive player of the year if he plays those four games?” Lowery said. “We don’t know what he would have done had he played those four games.”

Last week, Chargers coach Anthony Lynn confirmed to reporters that Bosa had been working with his personal trainer in Florida away from the facility rather than attending voluntary workouts at Chargers Park, missing the first three weeks of offseason work.

Bosa told reporters on Tuesday that he notified the Chargers beforehand of his plans, and he promised defensive line coach Giff Smith when the team is on the field playing football he’ll be at Chargers Park for workouts.

“I just found a process that works for me that I used all last year, and it worked out pretty well,” Bosa said. “I want to continue climbing, continue getting better.

“It’s nothing magical. It’s just training the right way. And I want to continue doing that. I think when it comes to your body you have to do what you think is right. It’s nothing against the team, it’s just what I think is right for my body.”

Bosa said he’s looking forward to moving back to end in a 4-3 =alignment after playing =end in a 3-4 scheme last season.

Bosa said he also looks forward to working with new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, someone he got to know during the draft process last year during a pre-draft visit with the Jacksonville Jaguars when Bradley served as the team’s head coach.

“He’s a deep thinker,” Bosa said about Bradley. “And with his positivity and obviously his football knowledge more than anything, we need a guy to come in and stay positive when you have 100 football players walking around -- not everybody is going to be in right mindset and positive all the time.

“But to have a guy like that that bring positivity and energy, along with being a really great coach, he can back all of that up.”

Lowery expects Bosa to ramp things up even more with a return to his more natural position.

“When you’ve got a guy like Joey Bosa or Melvin [Ingram] and you’ve got them stunting, and that stunt doesn’t work on a particular play, now you’re either taking them out of the run game, or it’s hard for them to stunt and then pass rush out of that position,” Lowery said. “So unless that stunt hits home and works, you’re really taking away some of your best players’ ability to get to the passer.

“For me with Joey in particular, you have a two-way go and just line up and beat the guy. I think he has enough tools and skills to just beat guys based on that.”

General manager Mickey Loomis said Wednesday that the New Orleans Saints “haven’t really had any discussion for quite some time” about trading for New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler.

Loomis didn’t completely rule out the idea. When asked whether Butler is still an option, Loomis said, “I don’t know that yet.”

But he added, “Look, he’s their player. So we’ll see how that evolves.”

Mickey LoomisChuck Cook/USA TODAY SportsSaints GM Mickey Loomis said he's still open to the idea of trading for CB Malcolm Butler, but that he hasn't had discussions with the Patriots "for quite some time."

It’s unclear what stalled the potential deal, which seemed almost imminent a few weeks ago. But those talks have cooled by all indications. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Monday that a deal was “highly unlikely.” And Saints coach Sean Payton said Tuesday that there is “nothing new.”

“Look, he's with New England, and I don't think anything's changed,” Payton said. "I don't see anything being imminent."

One possible reason the interest in Butler has died down: Payton said he believes this is the deepest defensive draft class he has seen since he became a head coach in 2006.

Among other highlights from Loomis’ pre-draft news conference Wednesday, he said he doesn’t know whether the Adrian Peterson signing will prevent New Orleans from drafting a running back, saying he believes there are “a lot of good running backs in this class.” But he said, “obviously all things being equal, we’d probably be less inclined to draft a running back.”

Loomis echoed what Payton and Mark Ingram said Tuesday about being confident there is enough room for both Ingram and Peterson in the Saints’ backfield.

“Look, we’ve always had multiple backs,” Loomis said. “You need multiple backs, and we’ve always used all the backs on our roster. So I think he and Mark will complement each other. We’ll see how that evolves, but we’re excited.”

Loomis was also asked about third-year receiver Willie Snead, who remains unsigned as an exclusive rights free agent. But he is not eligible to sign with any other team, and he has been participating in New Orleans’ offseason workout program.

Loomis said he doesn’t know whether a long-term deal will happen this offseason but said, “I don’t anticipate any issues with Willie going forward.

“I’m excited he’s here,” Loomis said. “I expect him to be on our team for a long time.”

It was telling that, when asked about his visit to the Philadelphia Eagles, Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster highlighted his time with the vice president of team security, Dom DiSandro, unprompted.

“He’s cool, man. I like him a lot,” Foster said. “He’s very, very good at his job. And I commend him for it.

“He was just looking for my past history. Do I have a background check? Do I need to worry about [anything]? I don’t have nothing, so he was cool with it.”

Reuben FosterScott Cunningham/Getty ImagesReuben Foster won the Butkus Award in his final season at Alabama.

The conversation surrounding Foster during the pre-draft process has been more about off-the-field question marks than on-the-field production. Considered one of the top players in this draft, teams have been exploring a couple of recent incidents to gauge the level of risk involved with taking him in the first round.

Foster was sent home from the combine after getting into an argument with a hospital worker during medical checks. He also tested positive at the NFL combine for a diluted urine sample, which he said was a result of excessive water intake while he was trying to get over an illness.

He sent out a letter to all 32 teams for the episode at the combine and has reached out individually to teams “numerous times” in recent weeks to try and clear up any misconceptions.

“And they feel kind of great about it,” Foster said. “But it’s just one thing after another with the media. And it’s crazy how you try to nip something in the bud and something else comes out.

“I’m a great guy, but everybody thinks I’m this bad guy that I’m not out to be. It’s pressure, but it’s not anything that we all haven’t dealt with. All I can do is just explain and move [forward] and just do my job and get the hearts of the fans or the hearts of anybody out there to change their perspective of what they think.”

The 2016 Dick Butkus Award winner (given to college football’s top linebacker), Foster racked up 115 tackles (13 for a loss) and five sacks his senior season. An athletic, instinctual player with a punishing finish, Foster (6-foot, 229 pounds) has drawn some comparisons to Carolina’s Luke Kuechly. He is a top-end talent and still could go in the top 10.

But, as ESPN’s Katherine Terrell reported, Foster was not invited to attend the NFL draft in Philadelphia because of the incident at the combine in March. And while he’s still hearing he’ll be taken in the first round, there remains some uncertainty as a result of how this pre-draft process has unfolded.

“I know what’s at stake. I know how seriously I need to take my job. Never failed a drug test at the University of Alabama. Never had an off-the-field [incident] that would lead me to getting suspended at Alabama. Never been suspended for a game. That should say a lot,” he said.

“I’m going to be so happy [when I’m finally drafted]. My agent might cry. I’ve put most of the pressure on him. ... I’m still hearing first found. I hope it doesn’t change. You know how Thursday gets.

“Just hoping nobody has this perception of me that’s not me.”video