The Schein Nine  

 

Marcus Mariota, Shane Ray head up burning NFL draft questions

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Typically, around this time of year, general managers are only lying when their lips are moving. And seeing how the 2015 NFL Draft is wackier and more wide open than most, who knows what to believe?

Yes, uncertainty abounds in the final days before NFL teams go on the clock in Chicago. Here are nine burning questions to ponder:

1) What will the Tennessee Titans do at No. 2?

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This has been a major topic all offseason. And earlier this month, rumors surfaced about a potential Philip Rivers-to-Tennessee deal involving the No. 2 pick. About that ...

A couple weeks back, I wrote about how the San Diego Chargers have zero interest in trading Rivers, and rightfully so. In that column, I quoted three different general managers that supported this opinion, with one simply stating, "This is all being driven by Rivers." Yes, I believe Rivers is pushing this rumor. And thus, I don't believe the Bolts actually will look to get it done. You can never say never in the NFL, but if the Chargers felt the need to trade Rivers, wouldn't they truly shop him? If Rivers were on the block, interest certainly would not be limited to the Nashville area.

So, realistically, three possible scenarios are in play with the No. 2 pick. Here they are, most likely to least likely, from my perspective:

» Tennessee could select Mariota. I think this is very possible. As I've written before, the Titans' coaching staff isn't in love with Mariota, but the higher-ups are aching to spice up an anonymous roster. I think the higher-ups could win out here. And I also think Mariota could end up being a very nice selection for the franchise.

» Tennessee could trade out of the pick. Titans coaches have expressed confidence in Zach Mettenberger. They could swap the pick for a bunch of draft currency. Two potential trade-up candidates: the Cleveland Browns (still without a franchise quarterback) and Philadelphia Eagles (yes, the Chip Kelly/Marcus Mariota thing -- it's impossible to completely dismiss).

» Tennessee could stay put and pick Leonard Williams. This seems less likely than the prior two scenarios. Not that I don't like Williams -- just think the Titans would seek either an upgrade at QB or a treasure trove of picks.

2) If not at No. 2, where will Marcus Mariota be selected?

If the second pick of the draft comes and goes ... and Mariota is still on the board? The next question becomes, how long does the Oregon product last?

Well, he won't get past the New York Jets at No. 6, but I think it's a major long shot he falls that far. The Washington Redskins, who hold the No. 5 pick, plan to pick the best player available, even if it's a quarterback. At least that's what new GM Scot McCloughan said at his press conference on Monday.

So, even if he doesn't go second, Mariota is not in line for an Aaron Rodgers-style slide.

3) How far will Shane Ray fall?

Ray just opened up draft week in ignominious fashion. Pulled over Monday at 5:46 a.m. for speeding and failure to drive in the right lane, the Missouri pass rusher was cited for misdemeanor possession of up to 35 grams of marijuana. Bad timing for a drug offense? Yeah, to say the least.

For much of the pre-draft process, Ray was viewed as a first-round lock and likely top-10 pick. But last week, news of a potentially serious foot injury went public. And now this foolishness, just days before draft night.

Ray knows he screwed up. In a statement obtained by NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport, the 21-year-old said, "I'd like to apologize to my Mother, Fans and prospective NFL teams for my poor judgement Monday morning. I am embarrassed and realize there are consequences for my actions."

Yes, there are consequences -- the question is, how dire will they be? Colleague Albert Breer reported that Ray failed a drug test early in his Mizzou career, but that NFL teams were willing to overlook that past transgression. Monday's incident, according to Breer, changes the complexion of Ray's file.

Right before he's about to begin his professional life, Ray has a major error in judgement. Can he truly be trusted? Can a team justify taking him early on Thursday night? Not the type of questions a prospect wants surrounding him on draft week.

That said, Tuesday on my SiriusXM Radio show, "Schein on Sports," Atlanta coach Dan Quinn raved about Ray's game and said the pass rusher is "absolutely" still on the Falcons' board. Just a reminder: Atlanta picks eighth.

Suddenly, Ray has become one of the biggest subplots of Thursday night.

4) How healthy is Todd Gurley?

After tearing his ACL last November, Gurley checked out fine at the NFL Scouting Combine medical recheck earlier this month. And this week, Dr. James Andrews texted Ian Rapoport about Gurley's status: "Great worker. Highly motivated, right on track for full recovery!"

All of this is huge, considering Gurley's immense natural talent. On Monday, Greg Cosell joined me on NFL Network's "NFL Championship Chase: The Draft", and the NFL Films guru called Gurley "a top-three talent in the draft."

I know the NFL is a passing league in 2015, and I know running backs have been devalued in recent drafts, but this kid can do it all. And as we see in the playoffs every season, you still need to run to win.

I think Gurley goes in the top 12 and stars in the NFL.

5) Will Adrian Peterson get traded?

I've written about this situation many times this offseason. It's backwards that Peterson, who put himself in this position, is trying to drive the bus, saying he feels "uneasy" about returning to Minnesota.

Minnesota wants Peterson in the backfield again in 2015. Teddy Bridgewater and Chad Greenway reiterated these feelings on Monday. This makes perfect sense. The Vikings look like a very intriguing team in 2015, especially with Adrian Peterson back in the fold. Postseason play's a realistic goal.

If the situation's simply beyond repair and the Vikings have to move Peterson, I see him going to the Arizona Cardinals. The Dallas Cowboys are not in the mix, but the desert could be the perfect place for Peterson. Imagine Bruce Arians' squad with a true bell-cow back toting the rock. Scary.

Still, I'd be surprised if the Vikings truly felt the overwhelming amount of pressure that it'd take to move Peterson. Ultimately, I see him staying put.

6) How many receivers will be taken in the first round?

Last May, five wideouts came off the board in Round 1. With another loaded class at the position, how many receivers will go Thursday night?

Amari Cooper is special, and the Oakland Raiders should nab him at No. 4. Kevin White also will be a top-10 pick and will quickly make his presence felt on Sundays. DeVante Parker is a fantastic prospect who could sneak into the top 10, but will certainly be taken in the first half of the first round.

Beyond those three? I think Dorial Green-Beckham, Jaelen Strong, Devin Smith and Breshad Perriman could go in the first round, too.

Last year's epic crop could make it more likely that neophyte receivers get picked Thursday night. If I have to guess, though, I'll call it a draw with the 2014 class: five receivers in Round 1.

7) How good are the offensive tackles?

Solid, but not spectacular. And there's little consensus when it comes to ranking them.

I expect Brandon Scherff to go in the top 10, with the New York Giants being a perfect fit at No. 9. But this won't be a draft that features a top-five offensive tackle. In fact, Scherff might be more of a guard. I'd be stunned if more than one tackle is selected in the top 10 and there's no guarantee that more than two will come off the board in the top 15.

Andrus Peat, D.J. Humphries, T.J. Clemmings and Ereck Flowers are all solid Round 1 prospects, but there isn't a "can't-miss" guy in the bunch. Speaking of "can't-miss" ...

8) The edge rushers are intriguing, but how many are "can't-miss"?

After Dante Fowler Jr., I wouldn't use that label at all.

Ray has obvious question marks, as discussed above. Randy Gregory has off-the-field red flags, too. Vic Beasley has talent, but is a bit of a project. Bud Dupree is physically blessed, but his game's still raw.

Fowler should go in the top three to five picks. The other guys? I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't crack the top 10.

9) Which teams are most likely to deal?

If the Jets don't love one of the players available at No. 6, I could definitely see them trying to trade down. New GM Mike Maccagnan has plenty of needs -- wide receiver, running back, offensive line, pass rush -- and he could accumulate multiple high-value picks. Gang Green obviously could use a quarterback, but this class is pretty weak after the top two.

I think Chip Kelly wants to deal, because ... well ... have you seen what he's done this offseason? This is a man who's not afraid to make a move. And, as mentioned above, I'm still not ready to rule out the Mariota-Kelly reunion.

The Cleveland Browns, with two top-20 picks, are in position to move up. Two other teams to keep an eye on: New Orleans and Miami. The Saints have five picks in the top 78, so they can wheel and deal. Meanwhile, on the subject of wheeling and dealing, Mike Tannenbaum certainly isn't unfamiliar to such activity. Consequently, don't be surprised if the Dolphins move up from No. 14 to grab a wide receiver or Gurley.

And, as always, the Ravens could move down. If Ozzie Newsome isn't enamored with a player at No. 26, Baltimore could hit the ejector seat.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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