While my colleagues and I do our best to offer a projection of what the draft's first round might look like, we all know there could be some surprises when the real deal gets underway on April 30. Things happen each year in the draft that few, if anyone, saw coming, and 2015 should be no different.
So, what eyebrow-raisers might take place this time around? Here are five potential first-round surprises. These aren't predictions for what will happen. It's simply a look at five outcomes that would defy conventional wisdom and, at the same time, aren't completely inconceivable.
1. Leonard Williams slides out of the top six
I'm among those that believe Williams is the No. 1 prospect in the draft, but might he slide a bit in Round 1? Most everyone expects the Buccaneers to take Jameis Winston at No. 1. What if Marcus Mariota goes No. 2 (to the Titans or a team that trades up)? The Jaguars (No. 3), Redskins (No. 5) and Jets (No. 6) all are consistently linked to the top edge rushers available, and most expect the Raiders (No. 4) to take a wide receiver. Could Williams, an interior defensive lineman, fall all the way to the Bears at No. 7, who would most likely jump at the chance to pick him? I don't think Williams will fall that far, but it's not implausible.
2. Browns trade up to No. 2 to land Marcus Mariota
The Browns have the ammo to make a move with two first-round picks (No. 12 and No. 19). They also have plenty of uncertainty at quarterback, even after taking Johnny Manziel in the first round a year ago. What if the Browns decide they're tired of searching for an answer under center and view Mariota as the solution to their problems? Sure, there's been some speculation that Mariota could slide out of the top 10. Why trade up if he could be waiting for them at No. 12? Well, there's also been plenty of speculation that Mariota won't last past No. 2. To ensure they land him, perhaps the Browns go all in and move up to No. 2 in a deal with the Titans, who are said to be open to dealing, if the price is right. The Browns should have as good a feel as any team for Mariota's abilities, as their quarterbacks coach, Kevin O'Connell, spent about six weeks preparing Mariota for the draft earlier this offseason, before he was hired by Cleveland.
3. Saints draft a quarterback
Saints head coach Sean Payton knocked down rumors that the Saints were considering trading up for Marcus Mariota, but he hasn't said they won't draft a quarterback. Mariota and Jameis Winston are considered the only two quarterbacks worthy of a first-round selection this year. However, what if there's a QB who has Payton's eye this year that he believes he can groom to one day succeed Drew Brees? The Saints have the 31st overall pick (acquired from Seattle in the Jimmy Graham trade). Perhaps that's the spot where the third quarterback is picked. We've seen quarterbacks go higher than expected before. Could the Saints make it happen this year for someone like UCLA's Brett Hundley?
4. Six wide receivers go in the first round
Five wide receivers came off the board in the first round last year as part of a class at the position that could go down as one of the best of all time. This year, I have five wide receivers coming off the board in my latest first-round projection, but given the desire teams have for more offense and the success of the 2014 WR class, it's well within the realm of possibility that a sixth WR goes in Round 1, which would be the most to go in the first round since 2009. The first-round WRs in my mock are Alabama's Amari Cooper, Louisville's DeVante Parker, West Virginia's Kevin White, Arizona State's Jaelen Strong and UCF's Breshad Perriman. Colleague Lance Zierlein has those five WRs coming off the board before pick No. 20 in his latest mock. If those five come flying off the board that fast, would the WR-needy Ravens go for a pass-catcher like Ohio State's Devin Smith at No. 26?
5. Lions take a running back
The Lions might have bigger needs on defense, but running back is certainly an area where they could use some help. Detroit has had only one 1,000-yard rusher in the past decade (Reggie Bush in 2013), and they're trying to make do with Joique Bell and Theo Riddick at running back for now. I don't think Georgia's Todd Gurley, my No. 1-ranked RB, will be available when the Lions are on the clock at No. 23, but the No. 2 back in the draft, Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon, might be. Detroit already has a potent offense, but adding Gordon would take some pressure off of Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson and could make the unit even more explosive as it tries to keep pace with the likes of the Packers.