Even when the NFL draft isn’t all about the quarterbacks, it’s all about the quarterbacks.

This draft arrives Thursday night with little to no expectation that quarterbacks will be the immediate focus as they were in the previous two years, with Jared Goff and Carson Wentz going first and second overall last year as the follow-up to Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota being taken first and second in 2015.

“As far as the quarterbacks in this year’s class, I’m not banging the table for any of them,” said Mike Mayock, a draft analyst for the league-owned NFL Network. “I think there’s talent in the class. But I think it’s going to take a year for most of these guys.”

Even so, there is plenty of intrigue surrounding the draft-night destinations of the top available quarterbacks, a group that includes North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes and Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer.

“Interesting group – I think a very underestimated group of quarterbacks,” former NFL coach Jon Gruden said. “And I think we’re going to see four of them go in the first round, personally.”

Gruden, an ESPN analyst speaking last week in a conference call with reporters, later amended his prediction to three to four quarterbacks coming off the board during Thursday’s opening round.

“I do like Deshaun Watson going in the first round,” Gruden said. “I think he’s going to be gone. I think Mahomes will go in the first round. I think Mitch Trubisky will go in the first round. That’s three. The question is: Who is the fourth? I just think there will be a sleeper somewhere along the road. I have no idea who it’ll be. It could be Kizer. It could be – who knows, it could be Peterman. But I do think you’ll see three, potentially four go in the first round.”

The quarterback intrigue in the draft’s very early stages could be centered on the Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers and New York Jets. All have glaring needs at the position. The Browns have the draft’s first and 12th overall picks. The 49ers choose second, and the Jets have the sixth selection.

The Browns are thought by many within the league to be focused on Texas A&M pass rusher Myles Garrett for the No. 1 choice. But they could take a quarterback 12th. Or they could trade up from there to get one – perhaps Trubisky, a native of Mentor, Ohio.

The 49ers must decide whether to be satisfied for now with veteran newcomers Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley while readying for a potential move next offseason for the Washington’s Kirk Cousins. They and the Jets also must weigh the prospects that the quarterback class in next year’s NFL draft could be far more formidable, possibly led by Southern California’s Sam Darnold and UCLA’s Josh Rosen.

Later in Thursday’s opening round, the Houston Texans have the 25th pick and are yet to address their quarterback void after Tony Romo opted for retirement and the broadcast booth. Teams such as the New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinals must decide whether it’s time to add a successor-in-waiting.

Trubisky and Watson seem to have separated themselves from the rest of the quarterback group, in the minds of many analysts. Trubisky passed up his final season of collegiate eligibility despite being the starter at North Carolina for only one season.

“Do the 13 starts concern me? Yes, they do,” Gruden said. “I don’t remember many quarterbacks coming out with just 13 career starts. . . . They didn’t finish the season real strong, either, and I thought they had a pretty good supporting cast around him. . . . I would have liked to see him stay.

Whether Trubisky is truly ready, his decision to make the jump to the NFL likely will be rewarded early in the evening Thursday. He says he thinks he’s primed to take advantage.

“North Carolina definitely prepared me for the next level just because it’s a quarterback-centric offense and all the decisions and what happens on every single play goes through the quarterback,” Trubisky said at the NFL scouting combine.

“I’ve got Deshaun Watson ranked No. 1,” Mayock said. “I think he plays his best football when the lights are brightest. I love the kid’s attitude, his leadership and the way his teammates respond to him. What I don’t like is 17 interceptions on a national-championship team. throws way too many interceptions. And he’s also going to have to deal with the whole spread-offense-quarterback conversion to a pocket NFL quarterback. That’s a big challenge.”

The situations in which the rookies-to-be find themselves also will matter greatly, of course. While Goff waited for more than half of last season to take over as the Los Angeles Rams starter and Wentz had his ups and downs after becoming an immediate starter in Philadelphia, Dak Prescott went from fourth-round draft pick to rookie sensation and league MVP candidate with the Dallas Cowboys.

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