After last year's college-football season, the combine, the personal workouts and the interviews that are underway right now, we have a decent idea where the first-rounders will land. Even if it's not the exact spot and team, we all tend to label the big names—high first-rounder, mid first-rounder, late first-rounder, etc.
But the NFL draft isn't an exact science, regardless of what you hear Mel Kiper, Todd McShay and the others say, so there are virtually no guarantees. And practically every year at the NFL draft, there is an epic tumble.
Whether it's Aaron Rodgers in 2005, Brady Quinn in 2007, Ryan Mallett last year or Thurman Thomas all the way back in 1988, those free falls are almost as intriguing as the slotting of the top-three selections.
Now, there will probably only be one true tumble (if that), but there will still be some surprises in the form of players who were expected to go much higher than they did. Here are 10 candidates.
Not too long ago, there was the belief that Weeden had a shot at becoming a second-rounder. Teams that didn't necessarily want to spend a high first-round pick (Cleveland?) thought that the record-setting passer was less of a risky investment.
But, with the emergence of Ryan Tannehill as a likely top-10 choice and Arizona State's Brock Osweiler grabbing a ton of publicity lately, Weeden may take a tumble. (Nice pun...tumbleWeed-en?)
Furthermore, despite his many achievements in Stillwater, there are a few reasons why Weeden might not be viewed as a high pick.
For one, he was fortunate to have Justin Blackmon—easily the top wide-receiver prospect in this draft—the last two seasons. And perhaps more importantly, he'll be 29 by the middle of next year. That's a major red flag; even if he started as a rookie, by the time he's truly comfortable at the NFL level, he'll be in his early 30s.
As we all know, great collegians don't always become great—or even serviceable—pros. Charlie Ward, Jason White and Eric Crouch weren't even drafted.
And while that fate won't befall this Oregon Ducks star, I have a hard time believing he'll find his way as high as even the second round.
He has great speed (reportedly running a 4.3 at a pro day), and for a running back, size really doesn't matter at the NFL level. But, fewer and fewer running backs are being taken in the earlier rounds.
So with Trent Richardson, Boise State's Doug Martin, Virgina Tech's David Wilson, Miami's Lamar Miller, Washington's Chris Polk and Cincinnati's Isaiah Pead all likely going before him, James might not come off the board until the fourth round.
Although Randle has great size and tremendous speed and did show significant improvement last year, catching 53 passes, this year's crop of wideouts is reasonably deep.
Obviously, Justin Blackmon is a top-10 choice (probably top-five) and Michael Floyd won't be too far behind, but it's the rise of Baylor's Kendall Wright and Georgia Tech's Steven Hill that will hurt Randle's shot at being a first-rounder the most. Five wide receivers going in the first round seems a bit high.
And while he's not exactly a popular choice to land in the first round, Alshon Jeffery has a good shot to surprise some people (a la Darrius Heyward-Bey?) and bump Randle somewhere into Day 2.
Last year, Colorado's Jimmy Smith was declared one of the best pure athletes and football players in the NFL draft. But, his "baggage" issues and reportedly unimpressive interviews with several NFL teams caused him to drop to the end of the first round. That had to be a bit surprising, considering some teams were rumored to have completely taken him off their draft boards.
So clearly, a corner with a slightly troubled past still has a shot at winding up as a Day 1 selection. Good news for Jenkins, who has multiple arrests and was kicked out of Florida.
Still, Jimmy Smith's situation isn't completely analogous. Last year, Patrick Peterson and Prince Amukamara were the only viable options ahead of Smith. This year, three corners (Morris Claiborne, Dre Kirkpatrick, Stephen Gilmore) are equally viable candidates, if not better, than Jenkins. Furthermore, Jenkins doesn't possess the same type of physicality and size that Smith does.
That might jut be enough to drop him to the second round.
I know that Kuechly had a fantastic combine, wowing everyone with his speed and athleticism via the vertical leap.
And he certainly comes from a great program, one known for producing fine front-seven players.
But, he's a true middle linebacker and fewer and fewer teams run the 4-3 these days. A few weeks ago, it seemed a no-brainer that Philadelphia—one of the few 4-3 teams with a hole to fill at the mike linebacker spot—would go after him, but that may not be the case anymore now that they dealt for DeMeco Ryan.
Sure, a 3-4 team could take a look at Kuechly as a possible inside backer. But with Dont'a Hightower likely still on the board, he might be viewed as a better fit.
Not long ago, there was a neck-and-neck race for the label of top tight end in the NFL draft.
Stanford's Coby Fleener and Clemson's Dwayne Allen each seemed to have a rightful claim to that spot. Fleener had slightly better stats, but Allen didn't get to play in a pro-style offense featuring a handful of great linemen and the nation's top quarterback.
However, Fleener absolutely blew away the scouts at Stanford's pro day, running a 4.45. Couple that with a 6'6", 250-pound frame and a ridiculous 37-inch vertical, and Fleener has likely clinched the spot of the draft's first tight end selected.
That's bad news for Allen, last year's John Mackey Award winner.
In recent years, tight ends have not been high draft choices: Since Vernon Davis in 2006, no tight end was taken before the 20th overall selection, and last year, Kyle Rudolph—the first one taken—lasted until Day 2.
If Fleener is in fact the top tight end taken—likely somewhere late on Day 1—then Allen will probably fall to somewhere in the middle of the second round.
Being a "tweener" (i.e., a 3-4 outside linebacker or a 4-3 defensive end) does make it hard to determine exactly where Perry will land.
The 4-3 end is more of a natural position for him: That's where he flourished at USC and was one of the nation's best sack artists.
But, the general consensus among scouts is that he's best suited to play outside backer in a 3-4. He has prototypical size and remarkable athleticism; his 4.6 40-yard-dash was excellent, his broad and vertical jumps were the best of any defensive end, and his 10-yard dash (i.e., off-the-snap speed) was unofficially an incredible 1.57 seconds. The downside to moving him to linebacker, of course, is that he lacks any experience at the position.
The minor uncertainty on both fronts (another intended pun) could force teams to stay away from Perry...at least on Day 1.
The talent that surrounded him on the offensive line might lead to some concerns about DeCastro's value as a No. 1 choice.
He had the draft's likely No. 1 quarterback (Andrew Luck), perhaps the draft's top tight end (Coby Fleener) and one of the nation's best offensive tackles (Jonathan Martin) playing beside him every snap.
But forget about that for a minute—you can't necessarily fault him for being surrounded by talent.
No, instead, the reason DeCastro might take a minor tumble on draft day is simple: Georgia's Cordy Glenn.
Glenn had a fine combine (31 reps on the bench, above-average speed) and has a background at both tackle and guard, so he has excellent footwork. He's the favorite to be the first guard selected. And since true guards rarely go in the first round, let alone two guards—that hasn't happened since 2001—DeCastro might fall to the later part of the first round.
Combine numbers alone shouldn't be enough to ruin a player's draft stock or undo a great college career. After all, how often does a player (especially a quarterback or defensive end) actually run 40 yards in a straight line or jump from point A to point B horizontally?
Still, Adams' 18 reps at the bench press has to raise some serious questions about his strength.
Maybe benching 225 pounds X number of times isn't necessarily a perfect translation of a tackle's ability to stonewall a defensive end or linebacker at the line of scrimmage. But, it does have some relevance.
So, Adams' poor showing on the bench and a a few of those infamous "baggage issues" (i.e., being a part of the tattoo scandal, as well as a run-in with the law in 2009) might keep Adams from being a Day 1 choice, even though he comes from a program with a great history of producing linemen and played well against a handful of NFL-ready pass-rushers.
Hear me out before you furiously type away at the keyboard.
I'm not suggesting that Richardson isn't a first-round pick or even a selection in the top half of the first round. And I'm not trying to disparage anything Richardson achieved in Tuscaloosa. Those in the media who love Richardson (Bill Polian recently said he, along with Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, are the only certain stars in the draft) aren't wrong.
But for whatever reason—perhaps it's the rise of the two-back system or teams' ability to make superstars like Arian Foster, Chris Johnson and Ray Rice, rather than draft them early on—running backs don't go high in the first round quite as often as they used to.
In the past three drafts, no back has gone higher than ninth, and last year, Richardson's former teammate, Mark Ingram Jr. (the first running back chosen), didn't come off the board until near the end of Day 1, at 28th overall.
Sure Richardson could go to Cleveland at No. 4 or Tampa Bay at No. 5, but if those two clubs choose to look elsewhere (perhaps Justin Blackmon to Cleveland and Morris Claiborne to Tampa Bay), then don't be surprised to see Richardson fall to Kansas City at No. 11 or perhaps Arizona at No. 13. The teams picking before them have other needs and are already outfitted with excellent running games.