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AP photo by Steve Luciano / The NFL draft kicks off Thursday night in Las Vegas, and your guess might be as good as those of the so-called experts when it comes to predicting the early part of the first round this year.

So the NFL draft starts Thursday night. I love the draft. Someone pinch me. I'm giddy.

The mock drafts have come fast and furious this week, and the projections this year feel more and more like guesses than ever before.

First, that has a lot to do with the lack of that surefire QB1 atop the board. Last year was easy. Trevor Lawrence was pegged as the No. 1 overall pick since his junior year. At Cartersville High School.

The year before that, quarterback Joe Burrow was also pretty locked in after his historic run as a senior at LSU.

(Side question: As much as I loved what Cam Newton did at Auburn, it's really pretty simple for me that the two best single-season performances from a college football player is a conversation about Burrow's final year at Red Stick, Barry Sanders' mind-bending numbers at Oklahoma State or the year Derrick Thomas had 12 million sacks at Alabama. Thoughts?)

But without that surefire QB1 atop the board — and without a slew of teams clamoring to move up to pick a quarterback in the top three — the early parts of round one could be the most unpredictable in years. Which seems especially fitting, because the truth of this entire process is that gauging which players will translate into Sunday stars after being Saturday superstars is harder than ever.

How hard?

Every player deemed the best at his position across the current NFL landscape ranges from selections taken early in the first round (Jalen Ramsey at cornerback) to the middle of the first round (Aaron Donald at defensive tackle) to late in the first round (Aaron Rodgers at quarterback).

Then start looking at the other positions. Heck, look at these numbers from Pro Football Focus regarding which players graded out as the best in their position in 2021, and the draft status will shock you.

Quarterback: Tom Brady, sixth round

Running back: Damien Harris, second round

Wide receiver: Davante Adams, second round

Tight end: Mark Andrews, third round

Offensive tackle: Trent Williams, first round

Offensive guard: Zach Martin, first round

Center: Creed Humphrey, second round

Defensive end: Myles Garrett, first round

Defensive tackle: Donald, first round

Linebacker: Micah Parsons, first round

Cornerback: Ramsey, first round

Safety: Kevin Byard, third round

So there are as many selections from outside the first round ranked atop their positions as there are first-rounders, and exactly one No. 1 overall choice (Garrett) on the list. Hmmm, maybe that's why teams are dealing draft picks for proven players these days.

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AP photo by George Frey / Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd lines up for a play during a home against Colorado in November.

Titans outlook

With all the draft scuttlebutt, well, the Tennessee Titans are all over the board. That's part of being a good team — it's easy to forget Tennessee finished the regular season 12-5 and was the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs — and partially due to a draft that is deeper rather than star-studded.

DraftKings odds have the Titans leaning heavily toward an offensive lineman with their first pick at No. 26 overall. I can see that, especially in a draft in which there are a bevy of big bodies ready to make an impact.

If someone such as Kenyon Green from Texas A&M or Bernhard Raimann from Michigan is still on the board that late in the first round, that's smart. And sensible. But it also would be wise to target a legitimate defensive difference maker, and a guy like Utah's Devin Lloyd comes to mind.

Lloyd may be the best true linebacker available this year. And if last year's draft showed us anything, the impact Parsons had on the Dallas Cowboys' defense was almost immeasurable. But if the Titans are truly about to part ways with A.J. Brown, picking a wide receiver makes a lot of sense as well.

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AP photo by Marcio Jose Sanchez / LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. warms up before a road game against UCLA last September.

Falcons outlook

There are a million mock drafts out there, and they make weather forecasting look like an exact science.

There are lots of reasons for that. There is the intersection of need and availability. There is the cavalcade of smokescreens so dense it makes the Vatican think there's a Papal decision looming. And then there are just poor decisions, which sadly feels like where the Atlanta Falcons are headed.

And before we go much further, the one and only mock draft I truly pay attention to is from Pro Football Focus, folks who do amazing analytical work on America's Game played at the highest levels. Plus, their mock draft is not done trying to peg or predict. It's gleaned off what the writer is hearing in his discussions around the league. And the takeaways are kind of staggering.

First, it projects the Falcons taking Liberty quarterback Malik Willis with the No. 8 overall pick. Oy vey. Hey, by all accounts Willis was a star making the rounds during the interviews, but guys, we're not looking for someone to sell insurance or date your niece. Yes, Marcus Mariota is not the long-term answer. And yes, with five picks in the first two days — Atlanta has four picks Friday, two each in the second and third rounds — a QB makes sense early. But not Willis, or at least not there.

This team has too many holes to spend the No. 8 overall pick — in the Pro Football Focus mock draft, Willis goes eighth and Derek Stingley goes to the Seattle Seahawks a pick later — on a complete QB coin flip.

So who would I like to see the Falcons select at No. 8? Glad you asked. Pull up a clipboard.

First, I think Kyle Hamilton is a monster. The Notre Dame safety can make a difference on every down. I love Stingley, too, and believe the former LSU corner — who got bored at the end of his college career — would have been a top-three pick after his freshman season. And if the Falcons can find someone who wants to trade up, make that move and cross your fingers that Georgia defensive lineman Jordan Davis is still on the board.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com and read columns like this one each weekday morning in the "5-at-10" at timesfreepress.com.

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