The hours leading up to the 2011 NFL Draft are proving that the landscape around the league is still very unsettled.
Without the normal free agency period, teams have holes to fill and are unsure about which of their own players are returning. The quarterback position and the number of teams in need of help at it -- especially at the top of the draft -- could drive the way the first round unfolds. On the flip side, defensive and offensive line are both considered to be very strong.
Here are 10 storylines to keep in mind as the first-round approaches (starting Thursday at 8 p.m. ET on NFL Network):
1. Newton's body of work
While the average quarterback coming out of college has around 1,000 throws to evaluate, Cam Newton has only 292 career attempts. Ron Wolf, the former Packer GM, said, "There's enough tape to evaluate him." Others are leery of the lack of experience.
2. When do teams move on QBs?
There are two quarterbacks -- Newton and Blaine Gabbert -- with first-round grades. While the rest of the class sits with second- and third-round grades, can teams afford to wait that long? Look for a few teams to reach up into the bottom of the first round to take quarterbacks.
3. The power brokers
There is little doubt that Bill Belichick and his Patriots can control this draft with six picks in the top 92 overall. Belichick has been fielding calls for weeks and expects things to heat up even more in the hours leading up to the draft. I expect the Patriots to deal picks No. 28 and 33 for better ones next year.
4. Will a running back go in Round 1?
It has been a long time since there wasn't a running back taken in the first round of the draft, and some think it will happen this year. I think Mark Ingram will hear his name called in the first round, but if he gets past Miami at No. 15, who knows how far he slides.
5. Backbone of the draft
There's a chance 12-14 defensive linemen could go in the first round. One coach near the bottom of the round said, "I struggle to take the 10th best defensive lineman instead of the best player at another position." Belichick offered another view, "In a few years, we will judge the 2011 draft by the success of the defensive line picks."
6. Don't expect movement at top
One general manager, who would love to get into the top five, told me he doesn't think there will be any movement with the early picks. The top players are all worth taking, and the idea that the league might have a rookie wage scale makes them even more attractive to the teams holding those picks.
7. At least one first-round surprise
Every draft has a curveball that no one saw coming. A year ago, it was defensive lineman Tyson Alualu with the 10th overall pick. This year it could be a guy like WR Jonathan Baldwin or any number of players. I had one smart NFL man tell me there will be one shocker. Go over the players today and see if you can figure out who it is.
8. Love for Round 2
The smart play in this draft is to get multiple second-round picks. When the names start coming off the board in the second round, it is going to have a first-round feel to it, because teams that jumped into the first round for quarterbacks will only push good players into the next round. The Patriots already have two picks in the round, and could wind up with three or four.
9. Defense over offense early
It looks like the first round could have 18 defensive players and 14 offensive players selected. Look for the second round to go the other way with a big run on wide receivers.
10. Strange order of events
General managers and coaches are entering a draft process for the first time without free agency being conducted first. One coach was stressed most over not knowing about his own restricted free agents. In years past, restricted free agency ended the week before the draft. This time around, teams aren't sure what veterans they will be able to re-sign before the draft. A position that seems fine now, could change if players leave when free agency begins.