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2017 NFL Draft: QB questions overshadow vast depth elsewhere

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If the 2017 NFL Draft buzz seems a little muted, it is not for lack of game tape. Team personnel evaluators have been saying for months that this class boasts a depth of talent that makes coaches and general managers salivate. Immediate starters will be found well into the middle rounds, they believe, and the group is particularly strong at defensive back, running back, edge rusher and tight end.

The only real problem with this class -- unless you're in the market for an offensive lineman, where this group is weak -- is it is being judged through the prism of our own quarterback myopia.

Nothing gives a face and personality to the draft like quarterbacks and the maneuvering to get to the best ones. Last year's entire draft -- and the subsequent long-range hopes for the involved teams -- were shaped by the pre-draft trade from the Rams to get the top overall pick, and then the blockbuster deal by the Eagles to get into the second overall spot, all before the teams picked Jared Goff and Carson Wentz in order.

Goff and Wentz didn't start the evaluation season last year as the consensus top two picks, but they slowly rose up draft boards, propelled not only by a better airing of their upsides, but also by team desperation. That hasn't happened to the same degree so far this year and it's obviously not because teams are any less needy for franchise quarterbacks. It is simply that this group of signal callers has failed to convince anyone that any of them could step in to play well immediately.

NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah doesn't have a quarterback in the top 20 of his latest mock draft and the feeling around the league is that no matter who the first quarterback off the board ends up being -- North Carolina's Mitchell Trubisky seems to have a step on Clemson's Deshaun Watson in most estimations -- he would be well-served by at least a year of apprenticeship.

None of that means that a quarterback won't go very high -- perhaps even first overall -- when the draft opens Thursday night, and that lends the proceedings an air of unpredictability. Such is the quandary confronting the Cleveland Browns, who have traded away much of their most recent talent in anticipation of this moment. Subscribing to the theory that more draft picks give you better odds in the NFL's biggest game of chance, the Browns have accumulated 11 picks, including five of the first 65. This could be a franchise-direction-changing haul -- if the selections are executed with success.

That is a big if, and it is where the lack of conviction about the available quarterbacks becomes an acute factor. Sashi Brown, the Browns' executive vice president of football operations, essentially took the air out of any hopes that Cleveland could make a trade for Jimmy Garoppolo during the draft, when he responded to a question last week about whether he could envision a draft-day deal for a veteran quarterback with a flat "no."

At least that much seems certain. Brown disputed a recent report by the Cleveland Plain Dealer that there is a split in the Browns' building over whether to take pass rusher Myles Garrett or Trubisky, which did little to quell the idea that the pining for a quarterback could overwhelm common sense in Cleveland and beyond.

It is telling that NFL Network's Mike Mayock said in a conference call last week that if he were the Browns, he would take Garrett with the first overall pick, but not even move up from the 12th spot to get Trubisky, who started just 13 games in college. If they stand pat, the Browns could watch as another quarterback-needy team picking before 12 takes Trubisky. There are plenty of teams in need -- the 49ers with the second overall pick, the Bears at three, the Jets at six, maybe the Bills at 10. This is a particularly intriguing decision for the Jets, who have considerable needs that line up better with the strong suits of this draft (safety, corner, edge rusher) -- but who also must weigh the potential of Christian Hackenberg, on whom they used a surprisingly high second-round pick just last year, against their own projections for this year's quarterbacks.

"Most of this quarterback class should be later down the line, whether it's first round or second round," Mayock said during the conference call. "However, I think the only wild card before [the Browns pick 12th] is the Jets at No. 6. I don't think Buffalo's going to take one at 10. They might. The Jets at six, I think is a huge reach for any quarterback.

"But if they fall in love with somebody, they've got to keep swinging because they've done the same thing Cleveland has -- they've drafted a bunch of quarterbacks and none of them have panned out. You've got to keep swinging. So if you get past [the Jets] at six, I think it's clear sailing till 12 unless somebody tries to get up ahead of Cleveland."

The Browns and quarterbacks, for better or worse, will dominate the draft. But what the draft might lack in surefire QB quality, it will make up for in interesting decisions involving marquee names.

Will there be a cascade of trades down from the very top of the draft order? What will the Patriots, who currently don't have a pick in the first or second rounds but who have aggressively tinkered with their roster this offseason, be up to, especially with cornerback Malcolm Butler, who could be traded? Is running back Marshawn Lynch on the Raiders' roster by the end of the week? What owner signs off on drafting running back Joe Mixon, whose stock has risen dramatically in the last few months as he has sought to mitigate the effects of an ugly 2014 video that showed him punching a woman, breaking several bones in her face? Where does Christian McCaffrey, the running back/receiver/returner who has rocketed up mock drafts, get picked and are running backs making a comeback in this league?

The rest of the draft is about to be on the clock, even if the quarterbacks need more time.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.

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