30 days, six recurring storylines until draft

The draft is still one month away, but several storylines will be constant until the first round starts.

We’re 30 days away from draft day and the countdown is on. During the opening night of the draft, 32 players will have their NFL dreams become a reality. But until then, there are going to be recurring storylines that will dominate the headlines in the days leading up to the Tampa Bay Bucs hitting the clock.

Here are six storylines that won’t play out until April 29, but will be on the minds of fans, coaches, general managers and owners in the coming days and weeks.

Who Grabs M&M? – There’s little question that, barring something unforeseen, quarterback Jameis Winston is going to be the first pick of the draft. But, where does Oregon QB Marcus Mariota go? Tennessee head coach Ken Whisenhunt has said that if the Titans take him, he will be the Day One starter. But there aren’t many who are convinced Mariota can make an instant transition to the pro-style offense after playing in a gimmick shotgun offense in college. But he isn’t short on suitors. The Jets have been mentioned prominently as a team with an interest, but there have been rumors that a handful of other teams might consider trading to get ahead of the Jets. Stay tuned because this storyline won’t go away any time soon.

Bad Boys, Bad Boys, What Ya’ Gonna Do? – Winston has come with his off-field red flags, but he’s a franchise-type talent that can overcome off-field bad behavior. But what about the other guys that some teams will devalue? Wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham had a “three strikes” scenario at Missouri and was sent packing. Randy Gregory seemed like a lock to go in the top five to 10 picks, but a positive marijuana test at the Combine could have teams dropping him significantly because players know they’re going to be drug tested at the Combine and there’s no good reason for a positive test. Both have the freakish ability to be top-10 picks, but their respective red flags could see them drop … perhaps precipitously.

Born To Run – The last time a running back was drafted in the first round was three years ago, when Cleveland made a trade with the Vikings to land Trent Richardson, who is on his third team in two years. Since that draft-day debacle, the NFL has set consecutive records for the latest the first running back in the draft has been selected – Giovani Bernard at No. 37 in 2013 and Bishop Sankey at No. 54 last year. There are two running backs that are in the first round discussion – Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon and Georgia’s Todd Gurley. Will one of them break the streak this year? Will both? Will neither? We’ll have to wait until opening night of the draft to find out.

Living On the Edge – For decades, they had a term for college pass rushers that often played defensive end in college, but weren’t viewed as pure defensive ends in the NFL. They called them ’tweeners. Typically, it’s a derogatory term – a player too small to take on 320-pound offensive tackles and too bulky to handle running backs and tight ends in coverage as outside linebackers. In the last couple years, a new term has come in vogue – edge rusher. He can be a defensive end. He can be a linebacker. He could be either depending on the system in place with a specific team. The term has been there, but perhaps never has it applied more than in this year’s draft, where the same player is viewed as a defensive end by some scouts and a linebacker by others – a list that includes Dante Fowler, Randy Gregory, Vic Beasley and Bud Dupree. While quarterbacks will be the talk of the opening hour of the draft, it may be the year of the edge rusher by the time Day One ends.

Wide Left – There has been a historical problem for wide receiver draft classes that are exceptionally deep with talent. If there are enough of them, teams will avoid taking one in the first round, convinced that there will be quality receivers available in the second round. While it likely won’t adversely impact the draft stock of Amari Cooper, Kevin White and DeVante Parker all the much, guys with potential first-round grades like Dorial Green-Beckham, Breshaud Perriman, Jaelen Strong, Devin Smith and Phillip Dorsett may end up on the board a lot longer than they might be expecting. It’s happened before with deep wide receiver classes and the Class of 2015 is deeper than most.

Da Ya Think I’m Sexy? – There are certain picks that are viewed “sexy” picks – the guys who prompt fans to buy season tickets and buy jerseys. Offensive linemen don’t historically create a spike in putting butts in seats, but when you look at how championship teams are built, you rarely see a Super Bowl champ that doesn’t have a dominating O-line. Talent up front comes at a price – often a first-round pick. When all is said and done in the first round, as many as six first-rounders could be offensive tackles – Brandon Scherff, Andrus Peat, La'el Collins, Erek Flowers, T.J. Clemmings and D.J. Humphries. It may not send fans running to NFL Shop, but they could be critical component pieces for building a championship team.


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