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Five pivotal slots in Round 1 that could change the direction of the 2024 NFL Draft

The first round of the NFL draft routinely takes an unexpected turn, thanks to a surprising selection or blockbuster trade that immediately renders all mocks obsolete. These dramatic events are what make this league's draft the most interesting offseason event in American sports.

When are the pivot points most likely to come in Round 1 of the 2024 NFL Draft, which is set to kick off on April 25 in Detroit? Below, I've identified five slots where the story of the draft could be written.

Quarterback Caleb Williams is the heavy favorite to be Chicago's pick at No. 1 overall, but it's still unclear which passer comes off the board at No. 2. Barring a leak of information in the coming days, Washington's in command of the draft until its pick is announced by Commissioner Roger Goodell.

New Commanders general manager Adam Peters could draw parallels between the skill sets and competitive natures of Michigan national champion J.J. McCarthy and Brock Purdy, the latter of whom Peters helped draft during his time in San Francisco. New Washington OC Kliff Kingsbury may love the quick delivery and dual-threat game of LSU’s Jayden Daniels, or the strong arm and physical stature of UNC's Drake Maye could entice the team into selecting him in the No. 2 slot. 

This is not an easy decision for the Commanders, and their choice not only determines the direction of their own franchise, but also the options for two more teams in line for the remaining top-tier prospects at the game's most important position.

I included the Cardinals' No. 3 pick on this list a year ago. Once again, they are the belle of the trade-market ball -- this time holding the No. 4 overall selection -- with a number of teams (most notably, the Broncos, Giants, Raiders and Vikings) potentially vying for a spot near the top of the draft to select a quarterback. General manager Monti Ossenfort has said the Cardinals are listening to offers for this coveted spot. 

If quarterbacks fly off the board in each of the first three selections on draft night, the Cardinals could very well take Marvin Harrison Jr. at No. 4. He’s the type of star receiver the team has searched for since future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald was last on the field in 2020. However, the possibility of gaining premium draft picks -- for this year and/or beyond -- to move down may entice Ossenfort. (It did last year.)

Swapping with the Giants would keep the Cards in the top six, still squarely in the mix for elite talent. If Arizona trades outside the top 10 with Minnesota (No. 11), Denver (No. 12) or Las Vegas (No. 13), don't be surprised if Ossenfort trades back up for the top prospect on his board -- as he did last year to select offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr. at No. 6 overall after initially trading down from No. 3 to No. 12. 

Chicago Bears

If the Cardinals do indeed trade back out of the top 10 -- a possibility we discussed just above -- there’s a scenario where Monti Ossenfort will be calling the Falcons at No. 8 and Bears at No. 9 if he’s looking to move back up. But in that reality, he likely will face competition from the Jets, Saints and others looking for a top receiver or edge rusher.

I'll go with the Bears’ No. 9 pick being a pivot point in this year’s draft, as they have made trades in two of the past three drafts, moving up nine spots for Justin Fields in 2021 and sliding down one spot last year so the Eagles could select defensive tackle Jalen Carter.

General manager Ryan Poles may choose to stand pat, but Chicago possesses just four picks in this year's draft, so allowing a team in the middle of the first round to trade into the No. 9 spot would net the Bears one or two much-needed mid-round selections. Even after a potential trade down, the Bears still could have access to edge rusher Jared Verse or several players with whom they've reportedly had top 30 visits.

The Vikings’ recent trade with Houston to move up from Round 2 to the 23rd overall pick puts them in the driver’s seat among the group of teams sitting outside the top 10 that are also looking at this year’s quarterback class, seeing how Minnesota already owned the No. 11 overall pick. AFC West rivals Denver and Las Vegas are likely looking into trades for top passers but would have to unload a large amount of draft capital to out-maneuver the Vikings and their two top-25 picks. 

Minnesota general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah acquired Houston's selection to maximize the team's options. In addition to trading up for one of the top four quarterbacks, the Vikings could stay patient and potentially select Bo Nix or Michael Penix Jr. at No. 11, or wait to see if either is available at 23. Adofo-Mensah could even trade down from 11 if the team doesn’t consider either of those passers elite prospects or if he receives a strong offer for the pick.

History has shown that teams with quarterback needs won't necessarily take one early in Round 1 if the player isn’t projected to be a high-quality starter. For example, the previous Vikings administration made that sort of decision in 2014, selecting linebacker Anthony Barr at No. 9 overall before trading back into the first round to select quarterback Teddy Bridgewater at No. 32. Adofo-Mensah and head coach Kevin O'Connell might face a similar dilemma, which is pivotal to the future of the franchise, as well as the flow of the entire first round.

Picks in the second half of Round 1 typically aren’t pivotal, but this feels like an exception. The Rams haven’t made a selection in the first round in the last seven drafts(!), since taking Jared Goff No. 1 overall in 2016. That's tied for the second-longest streak in league history: Washington went 11 years without making a first-round pick from 1969 to 1979, and then seven more years with no Round 1 selection from 1984 to 1990. 

This No. 19 pick's pivotal not only because of the news created if the Rams do indeed end the streak, but they could also become a trade partner like they were in 2019, when Los Angeles slid into the second round so the Falcons could draft offensive tackle Kaleb McGary. General manager Les Snead could also acquire a veteran performer in a pre-draft trade, like he did in a 2018 deal for receiver Brandin Cooks (receiving Cooks and a fourth-round pick in exchange for first- and sixth-round selections).

Snead has several potential options if he decides to stand pat, including finding a defensive tackle to at least partially fill the void left by Aaron Donald’s retirement

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