By Frank Pingue
(Reuters) – After months of study and speculation, teams will desperately try to land a knockout punch when they replenish their rosters with the best college players at this week’s NFL Draft on the beloved “Rocky Steps” in Philadelphia.
While the pivotal and popular quarterback position does not feature an obvious can’t-miss prospect this time around, the NFL’s decision to take its annual draft outside for the first time could prove just as much as a lure for viewers.
All picks will by announced on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art that were made famous by Sylvester Stallone in his first turn as fictional boxer Rocky Balboa, who used them as part of his training regimen.
The three-day extravaganza, the biggest event of the NFL’s offseason, begins Thursday and is loaded with defensive talent but is also expected to form a running backs class that could go down as one of the all-time greats.
The Cleveland Browns are widely expected to use the first overall pick on Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett, considered by some to be the best defensive end prospect to enter the draft since Hall of Famer Bruce Smith.
Cleveland are also reportedly interested in New England Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and could part with any of their NFL-high 11 draft picks and perhaps another in 2018 to land him.
The San Francisco 49ers have been open about their desire to trade down from the second overall selection — where experts feel they would take Solomon Thomas, a defensive end out of Stanford — but are reportedly also strongly considering taking a quarterback with the pick.
According to NFL Network, the 49ers have done plenty of research on the draft’s top quarterbacks, highlighted by North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson.
The Chicago Bears are expected to grab safety Malik Hooker out of Ohio State third overall while the Jacksonville Jaguars, who hold the fourth pick, could fill their need for a running back by taking LSU’s Leonard Fournette.
The Tennessee Titans, barring a trade, will round out the top five picks and may opt for a true number one receiver for Marcus Mariota by taking Mike Williams out of Clemson, considered the top wide receiver in the draft.
Rounds two and three will be held on Friday while the final four rounds will be on Saturday.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto. Editing by Steve Keating.)