Five first-round story lines to watch
Some of the story lines to watch as the first round of the NFL draft unfolds tonight:
The character question
Predicting the draft positions of several prominent players is complicated by questions about character. Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett, left, is among those at the top of the list. He has talent but has caused so many questions about his reliability and dedication that many NFL decisionmakers are concerned about his preparedness to play the game's most important position. Also keep an eye on Colorado CB Jimmy Smith and Georgia DE/LB Justin Houston, who was reported this week to have failed a drug test at the combine.
The Patriots' switchboard
The phones will light up for New England. The team known for pulling the trigger on draft-day trades has three of the top 33 picks. Conventional wisdom suggests the Patriots' 17th, 23rd and 33rd picks could be in play if any of the second-tier quarterbacks begin to fall. Several teams might consider it a good deal to get Arkansas' Ryan Mallett, Washington's Jake Locker, FSU's Christian Ponder or Nevada's Colin Kaepernick in the late first round or early second round. The Patriots deal draft picks better than any team in the NFL.
How will labor uncertainty affect things?
The NFL still isn't open for business. So, while there are provisions for the draft during this work stoppage, the lack of a collective bargaining agreement means whatever trades are made will involve draft picks only. However, the fact that teams have so many needs to meet because they haven't had a chance at free agency means the trade market should be busy anyway.
The quarterback class
Auburn's Cam Newton, who is widely projected to be the No. 1 pick by Carolina (although not a lock), and Missouri's Blaine Gabbert, left, appear to be guaranteed early first-round picks. But beyond those two, there's as much uncertainty as ever in the quarterback class. We could witness a bit of a run at the position if teams such as Minnesota, Miami or Seattle are feeling desperate and are sold on the available prospects. But there's also a chance a group of first-round hopefuls could fall, perhaps out of the round altogether.
Where does Bowers bottom out?
Clemson DE Da'Quan Bowers was considered a lock for the top five when this predraft process began. But lingering concerns about the condition of his knee have prompted fears that an early first-round investment might be unwise. The projections for where his potential free-fall ends are all over the map. The final result has a direct impact on the Bucs, who are in the market for a pass rusher and could face a decision on whether to draft the tantalizing talent with their No. 20 pick.