Bryan Altman, CBS Local Sports

The most important day of the NFL season begins on Thursday night in Chicago as the NFL Draft finally gets underway. The draft is an opportunity for the worst teams in the NFL to acquire a player that can single-handedly change the fortune of their entire franchise and it’s a great opportunity for teams that are contenders to bolster their roster with young talent and keep within striking distance of a Super Bowl title. This year’s draft is already shaping up to be an interesting one in so many ways so let’s take a look at the five biggest storylines of the upcoming NFL Draft.

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1. Winston Or Mariota

While most appear to be firmly entrenched in the camp that says Jameis Winston will be the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft, nothing is certain until the pick is officially in Roger Goodell’s hands on Thursday night. Both FSU’s Winston and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota are worthy of the distinction of being the first overall pick but only one can claim the title.

In Mariota the Bucs will get a mobile passer known for his impeccable touchdown to interception ratio and his affable demeanor both on and off the field. Still, Mariota has been known to be skittish in the pocket and tries to use his legs a little bit too often to make a play.

Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Even though much of the negativity surrounding Jameis Winston has begun to fade, the questions will always persist about his temperament until he can prove it on the NFL level. As far as Winston as a quarterback and a leader of men on the football field, few holes can be poked in the 21-year-old quarterback’s resume.

Winston lead the Seminoles to an undefeated 2013 season and claimed the National Championship and Heisman Trophy that season. Additionally, scouts recognize that Winston has a monster arm and an uncanny feel for the position of quarterback.

He can make all the throws but can he keep his cool? It’ll be interesting to see where the Bucs go with this pick, but the safe money is on Winston. Still, the Bucs are still on the clock, and anything can happen between now and their first selection in a few days.

2. Thanks, But No Thanks, Roger 

One of the most memorable moments of the NFL Draft has always been the No. 1 overall pick and the subsequent first rounders coming up to the stage and greeting Roger Goodell while collecting their jersey from the commissioner. It’s unlikely that Goodell is staying up at night wondering why his party in Chicago isn’t going to be attended by top flight prospects, but this could be the start of a worrisome trend.

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Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota and Amari Cooper – all projected to be top 10 picks – have decided to stay away from the draft in Chicago and instead will be watching with their friends and families at their respective homes. It’s hard to blame the players who in all likelihood are avoiding lots of drama by staying home but it feels like the draft has lost some of its luster without tomorrow’s biggest stars.

One thing’s for sure, it’ll be interesting how the league and how future top prospects respond after this year’s draft.

3. Trades?

The most exciting words you can hear at the NFL Draft are “there has been a trade.” Well, maybe not so much after the fifth round but still, when it happens early on it’s exhilarating. This year a number of teams with top 10 selections have been reported to be “exploring” trading their pick.

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The Jets have the No. 6 pick and rumors have consisted of them trading up, down, and everywhere in between. The Chargers and Philip Rivers seem to be on the outs and they might look to trade him for a pick. Wouldn’t be the first time Rivers has had to deal with draft day drama.


Meanwhile the Titans might be a suitable partner for the Chargers as rumors have said that they may be content to run with second-year quarterback and 2014 sixth-round pick Zach Mettenberger. Then of course, there’s the wildly unpredictable Chip Kelly. Sure he has four quarterbacks on his roster, but would a trade to grab his college quarterback Mariota surprise anybody? I don’t think so.

4. The Other Quarterbacks

The search has been on, basically since 2001, for the next Tom Brady. Russell Wilson comes pretty close as a Super Bowl winner with a 36-12 regular season record after being a third-round selection in 2012. But the effect Brady has had on the NFL as a sixth-round pick has always put an extra spotlight on the other quarterbacks in the NFL Draft that might fit the bill.

Tom Pennington/Getty Images

This year’s candidates are Bryce Petty from Baylor, Garrett Grayson from Colorado State and Brett Hundley from UCLA. All three had impressive college careers but none are deemed to be higher than a second or third round pick. Still, their numbers have all been impressive and they all have potential.

Of the three, Petty is the highest rated of the three by most analysts while Hundley and Grayson all have their detractors and champions in the NFL community. These three guys will definitely be worth keeping an eye on as the draft unfolds this coming week.

5. Back To Chicago

It’s been 51 years but the NFL Draft has finally returned to Chicago. The last time the NFL Draft was held in Chicago was the 1964 NFL Draft, which was actually held in December of 1963. One of the most recognizable names from that year’s draft in Chicago was Roger Staubach, who was drafted by the Cowboys with the 129th pick in the draft. That gives Cowboys fans a good reason to get excited about the move back to the Windy City.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Other than Staubach, Bill Parcells was also selected in the draft by the Detroit Lions with the 89th pick of the draft while the hometown Bears took tackle Dick Evey with their first round pick.

Regardless of location, the draft always provides plenty of excitement and hope for the future for most teams. This year won’t be an exception and should be interesting from start to finish.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the NFL Draft was held in Chicago in 1965, not New York City.

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More from Bryan? You can email him or find him on Twitter @bcaltman.