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Sanchez and trades hold key to NFL draft flow

On a picture-perfect spring day in New York City, nine of the top prospects for Saturday's NFL draft gathered in Central Park for a youth football clinic.

It was their final day before embarking on the next stage of their athletic lives, and they all shared one thing in common: No one had a clue about what might happen on draft day.

"No idea," Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman said.

"I wish I knew," said Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford, whose agents are in talks with the Lions about becoming the first overall pick. There were strong indications Friday night he will indeed be Detroit's pick.

"Can't tell," USC linebacker Brian Cushing said. "Anything could happen."

>> Update: Jets trade up, draft Mark Sanchez

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With so few players considered "can't miss" by NFL scouts, this weekend's draft figures to be among the most unpredictable in recent memory. Two league sources indicated Friday that as many as seven of the top 10 teams are seeking to trade down, although it's uncertain just how many teams are willing to move up into the big-money slots.

The Jets, Redskins and Broncos have been rumored to be seeking a trade into the top 10 for USC quarterback Mark Sanchez, who might be the single biggest driving force as to what happens early on. The Patriots are said to be interested in moving into the top 10, although it won't be for Sanchez, because they've already got a franchise quarterback in Tom Brady.

Even the teams that might stay put are sending conflicting signals about what they might do. The Rams, at No. 2, have shown every intention of taking an offensive tackle to replace recently departed Orlando Pace.

So why, then, would they buy a plane ticket for Sanchez to arrive at the team's facility over the weekend? Do they really plan to draft him? Or is it a smokescreen to entice another team to trade up to the second spot?

The Browns, at No. 5, have alternately been linked to Sanchez, Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree and Missouri receiver Jeremy Maclin. The Raiders, at No. 7, appear enamored with Crabtree or Maclin, but there are suggestions that they'd consider Florida receiver Percy Harvin, who tested positive for marijuana at the scouting combine. Or will it be Maryland speedster Darrius Heyward-Bey?

Throw in the uncertainty surrounding veteran receivers Anquan Boldin of the Cardinals and Braylon Edwards of the Browns, and things could get even more interesting. The Cardinals are reportedly talking with the Titans about a deal for Boldin. The Cardinals denied a report that they had lowered their asking price for Boldin from first- and third-round picks. The Jets and Giants have shown an interest in Boldin, and the Giants previously expressed interest in Edwards.

"I think in this whole process, there are a lot of unanswered questions that we'll just have to wait on," said Cushing, a native of Park Ridge, N.J. "We're about to find out. It's an exciting time, and it'll be good to know once and for all what ends up happening."

While Stafford, Sanchez and Freeman are the cream of what's considered a solid but unspectacular crop of quarterbacks, this year's draft features a slew of quality offensive tackles, nearly half a dozen of whom could end up in the first round. There's a good possibility that Eugene Monroe of Virginia, Jason Smith of Baylor and Michael Oher of Mississippi will all wind up in the first dozen picks.

For the first time in NFL history, three players from the same unit are expected to be drafted in the first round, as USC linebackers Cushing, Rey Maualuga and Clay Matthews Jr. are likely to be off the board early.

"I think it'd be neat to be a part of history like that," Cushing said. "That would be pretty special."


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