It's December, that special time of year when it becomes NFL draft season. And we're officially less than 150 days until the festivities get underway in Philadelphia. So, in what has become an annual tradition, we are here with a quick, 25-question primer to get you going.
1. Is this draft better on offense or defense?
Kiper: This is a defensive draft. It's incredibly strong there -- 15 of my top 25 prospects are defenders, including eight of the top 10. And it's deep too, with pass-rushers and defensive backs galore. On offense, this draft is lacking in premier talent at positions that are usually picked in the top five: offensive tackles and quarterbacks. There just isn't much there.
2. Who are the quarterbacks we'll be talking about on the first night of the draft?
Kiper: There's really only one guy right now, and he might not even enter the draft. That's North Carolina's Mitch Trubisky, a fourth-year junior who is in his first season as the starter. Trubisky has thrown 28 touchdown passes to only four interceptions, but he's still green -- with another year of seasoning, he could be the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft. He's not ready to play right away in the NFL.
I don't see any other first-rounders in the group. Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer, a third-year sophomore, has to go back to school. Clemson's Deshaun Watson has taken a step back this season. Underclassmen Luke Falk and Patrick Mahomes could use another year in school, and they don't project as first-rounders.
I wouldn't say it's likely, but there's a chance no quarterback goes in the first round. The last time that happened was 1996.
3. Would you go so far as to call this a bad QB class, Todd?
McShay: I'll say this: It's not a great year to be drafting early and needing a quarterback. There's some depth (depending on how many underclassmen declare), but I don't see any elite prospects among those I've reviewed so far. My top five quarterbacks are all underclassmen -- and I hope most of them return to school (Watson, my No. 2 QB, has already declared). Mel is right, Kizer needs another year. Trubisky has only 12 starts. Miami's Brad Kaaya can continue to get bigger/stronger. Falk comes with too many questions ranging from system to frame.
4. Which prospect-to-player comparison do you think is most spot-on?
McShay: Dalvin Cook and Chris Johnson. The Florida State RB has the speed, suddenness and big-play ability that Johnson had when he was still in his prime. Cook has 15 touches of 25 yards or more this season, tied for second among Power 5 running backs.
5. If you had to put your money behind one guy from this class to be the NFL's next great pass-rusher, who would it be?
Kiper: There's no question it's Texas A&M's Myles Garrett, who is No. 1 on my Big Board. He has everything teams want in a premier edge rusher. At 6-foot-5, 265 pounds, he's going to be a star. Others to keep an eye on: Alabama's Tim Williams and UCLA's Takkarist McKinley. All could go in the top 10.
6. What should the Browns do with the first pick: best player or best QB?
Kiper: The Browns have too many needs. It has to be the best player, and as I mentioned above, there's no surefire top quarterback in this class. Cleveland needs everything. No way should the Browns reach for a quarterback in this draft.
7. Dallas hit a home run last April -- how do they hit another one next April?
McShay: Not sure it's possible for the Cowboys to have a draft that's anywhere near comparable to last year. They'll be selecting in the latter half of the first round as opposed to No. 4 overall -- and they found a fourth-round quarterback who's currently 11-1. If they could find one difference-making edge rusher, that'd be a win for Dallas.
8. By the time it's April, Mel, who are people going to be saying, "Oh, Kiper loves that guy!"
Kiper: It's Alabama's Reuben Foster. He could be the best of the stellar group of Crimson Tide inside linebackers to be picked in the first round recently (Rolando McClain, Dont'a Hightower and C.J. Mosley). Foster is a complete player. Top five isn't out of the question, which is rare for an ILB. He's that good.
9. How about you, Todd?
McShay: LSU safety Jamal Adams. He hasn't gotten a ton of love nationally, but he's one of the most complete players in this draft class. He has everything you want -- intelligence, toughness, ball skills and explosive tackling ability. Plus, he's a really good leader.
10. Which prospect has helped his stock the most this season?
Kiper: McKinley has gone from just a guy to a potential top-10 pick, and it's all because of his ability to rush the quarterback. The former junior college transfer had 10 sacks for the Bruins this season after just seven in his first two years. He's not huge (6-foot-2, 240 pounds), but his speed off the ball is fun to watch.
11. Which prospect has hurt his stock the most this season?
McShay: This is a tough one. Oklahoma cornerback Jordan Thomas really struggled at times in coverage this season, and Georgia running back Nick Chubb wasn't himself coming off his season-ending injury in 2015. Chubb had a solid final few weeks to the regular season, but his best performance since his 222-yard opener against UNC was against Louisiana-Lafayette (108 yards on 16 carries). It will be interesting to see if Chubb returns to school or if he makes the leap, despite his struggles this season. Thomas should absolutely return to school.
12. If my team needs a ______, we're in luck in this draft.
Kiper: Pass-rusher. The class is littered with talented rushers -- for both a 3-4 and 4-3 scheme. The next-deepest positions: tight end and center.
13. What about offensive line: Is there a cornerstone blindside protector in this draft?
McShay: This is not a great offensive tackle class. Alabama's Cam Robinson is my top-ranked offensive tackle (No. 15 overall), but I wouldn't classify him as a cornerstone blindside protector. There are more right tackles and offensive guards -- such as Wisconsin's Ryan Ramczyk and Western Kentucky's Forrest Lamp -- in this class than there are true left tackles.
14. Leonard Fournette is the most talented running back prospect since when?
McShay: Adrian Peterson in 2007. Yes, Fournette has some durability concerns (an ankle injury has hobbled him all season), but the same was said for Peterson when he was leaving Oklahoma.
15. Which teams could target Fournette?
Kiper: Running backs have been devalued, but I'd be surprised if Fournette slipped out of the top eight. Not many of the teams projected to pick there need a RB, so why not Cleveland? Fournette is that good, and the Browns could do much worse than a plug-and-play, three-down back. Maybe it's Carolina, who has aging backs. The Panthers have bigger needs, though. It might have to be a team that likes Fournette enough to trade up. Maybe Philadelphia for the second straight season. Maybe the Lions or Giants, who are among the worst running teams in the league.
16. Who are the guys we'll all be calling "freaks" after the NFL combine?
McShay: Myles Garrett is the top all-around physical freak in this class. He'll test off the charts for a pass-rusher. Two others: UCLA outside linebacker Takkarist McKinley and Virginia Tech tight end Bucky Hodges. McKinley has elite speed for an edge guy; Hodges, a former quarterback, is long, fast and athletic.
17. Which school will be this year's Ohio State and dominate the early rounds?
Kiper: Five Alabama prospects make my newest Big Board, including four in the top 13. I have the Tide with the top offensive tackle, top inside linebacker, top two outside linebackers, and second-best defensive end and tight end. They also have the best punter in the draft, plus some players who will go in the mid-rounds. One school that is going under the radar: Florida. While the Gators lost to Alabama in Saturday's SEC title game, they have an outside shot at four defenders being picked in the first round.
18. Who's the underclassman who could use another year of development?
McShay: All of the underclassman quarterbacks (see above). Texas A&M wide receiver Ricky Seals-Jones, too.
19. What about the underclassman with nothing left to prove to NFL scouts?
Kiper: LSU's Leonard Fournette. There's only so much tread on the tires of running backs. He's going to be a star on day one.
20. Who are the best pass-catchers in this draft for teams in need of more weapons?
McShay: The tight end class is unusually strong with Alabama's O.J. Howard (No. 23), Michigan's Jake Butt (No. 26) and Hodges (No. 32) all in the Top 32 right now. All three are legit weapons in the passing game. The wide receiver class isn't so strong at the top. Clemson's Mike Williams is the only wide receiver in my top 15, but there's plenty of depth in the middle rounds. USC's JuJu Smith-Schuster, LSU's Malachi Dupre, Washington's John Ross, Virginia Tech's Isaiah Ford, Western Michigan's Corey Davis and Eastern Washington's Cooper Kupp could all be top-60 picks.
21. This is the year of the ______.
Kiper: Third-year sophomore, potentially. Michigan linebacker/safety Jabrill Peppers, Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey and Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore are all draft-eligible sophomores on my latest Big Board. Then there's Stanford defensive end Solomon Thomas, Oklahoma offensive tackle Orlando Brown and Ohio State safety Malik Hooker, plus two from Notre Dame: quarterback DeShone Kizer and guard Quenton Nelson. Some of these guys will likely return to school, but some won't. The talent level here is incredible.
22. Who's going to catapult up boards like Carson Wentz did last year?
McShay: Washington wide receiver John Ross could be an early pick if he leaves school -- and runs as fast as expected. I'm also interested to see if the two Ohio State defensive backs Mel just mentioned (Lattimore and Hooker) decide to return to school for a second season as full-time starters, or if they bolt after the upcoming playoff. Both need more game experience, but both are very talented.
23. Do the Jets have a QB starter currently on their roster? Should they reach for one early?
Kiper: I don't think so, but the Jets shouldn't draft a QB early just to get one. They just took Christian Hackenberg in the second round last year -- 84 spots ahead of Dak Prescott, by the way -- and they need to try to develop him to see if he has a future. He needs major, major development, though, and that takes time. He's almost certainly not the guy in 2017. New York might be better off surveying the backup market. Tony Romo or Jay Cutler, maybe? How about Mike Glennon?
24. The Panthers could be drafting in the top 10 without a need at quarterback. What holes should they look to fill?
McShay: Offensive tackle, defensive end, wide receiver and running back are the top needs that come to mind. The latter three positions all have some depth in this class.
25. Which team needs to hit a home run in this draft?
Kiper: C'mon, it's Cleveland. The Browns haven't won a game! They have to get some talent, and luckily for them, they have the picks to do it (including two in the first round). The Browns have to hit on some stars in the second year of their total analytical approach. One more that's interesting: Tennessee, which is on the cusp of being really good. The Titans have two first-round picks -- they have the Rams' pick from the Jared Goff deal -- and they could use one of those to beef up their secondary.