Pretend for a moment that rock-solid NFL sources told you which 10 players would be selected first in the 2014 NFL draft. There would still be 3,628,800 possible orders within the top 10.
The reality is much more complex than that, because there could easily be 15 or 20 players under strong consideration within the top 10. So the next time you're tempted to mock someone's mock draft, cut them some slack. The possibilities really are almost endless.
I've cut down my list of pre-draft questions to eight, and consulted with league insiders in putting together some answers. We'll begin with a question that is a hot topic every draft season, and then look at the quarterbacks. They're the most volatile variable in this draft, and they could help determine whether a shift in thinking is underway.
1. Which highly rated player could fall further than anticipated?
Quarterbacks are always candidates, because teams without needs at the position will not draft one early in many cases. That is how Aaron Rodgers lasted into the 20s, allowing the Green Bay Packers to snag him in the 2005 draft. Chance also plays a role. It would be possible for a player ranked fifth on every team's draft board to "fall" outside the top 10 or even the top 20 if many different players filled the top four spots on teams' boards. That would be an extreme example, but it gets at just how many combinations exist. Conversely, 31 teams could rank a player outside the first round, but if the team picking 10th has him rated as a top-10 selection, that player could go 10th overall.
We're left to point out reasons why a certain prospect might "fall" without knowing what the teams atop the draft order think about him in relation to other players. It's a guessing game, but in addressing the original question, I'm interested to see what the teams picking near the top of the draft think about Buffalo outside linebacker Khalil Mack. He could be a natural fit for the Jacksonville Jaguars with the No. 3 pick because his size and skills project well to the "Leo" role in head coach Gus Bradley's defense.
On the other hand, I've heard two people, one a GM and one a head coach, raise questions about Mack based on what they value.
• Concern No. 1: Mack was a small-school player, and he projects only as a 3-4 outside linebacker (not a 4-3 defensive end); his lack of pure speed could hurt him against NFL athletes with superior length. While a player such as Von Miller beats opponents with outstanding edge speed, thereby allowing Miller to harness his power, Mack is more powerful than he is fast. The idea is that length offsets power in the absence of great speed, at least when it comes to offensive tackles taking on pass-rushers at the NFL level.
• Concern No. 2: "He is a really good player, but the concern is that he is a see-ball, get-ball player better-suited as an outside 4-3 guy who rushes and drops occasionally but struggles in coverage," the head coach said. "If they projected him as a stand-up rush guy, teams could take him a lot higher, but I don't know. He would make me nervous."