NFL Draft Rumors: Recapping the Hottest Buzz Around Top Players and Teams

Vincent FrankCorrespondent IApril 12, 2013

NFL Draft Rumors: Recapping the Hottest Buzz Around Top Players and Teams

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    The National Football League buzzes with rumors in the weeks leading up to the annual draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

    This year's event starts two weeks from yesterday and promises to be unlike any in recent history. Without top-shelf talent at skill positions, some of the top teams (in terms of draft order) may look to trade down and completely out of the top 10. Meanwhile, some contending teams have a wide array of holes on the defensive side of the ball and will look to move up. 

    Ask any expert who knows a darn about the prospects set to become NFL players later this month, and the consensus would be that the 2013 draft is ripe with talent on defense and along the offensive line.

    Adding more fuel to the fire is the fact that some of the best teams in the league have an arsenal of draft picks to trade up with. In fact, the two teams that met in Super Bowl XLVII have a total of 25 picks, including 12 in the initial four rounds. 

    Today's article looks at the top rumors around the world of the 2013 NFL draft. 

Kenny Vaccaro Visits the New York Jets

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    Considering that only 30 prospects can visit each team leading up to the draft, it is news when someone shows up at the headquarters of a specific team.  

    Perhaps it's wishful thinking, but the New York Jets have met with the consensus No. 1 quarterback in the draft, Geno Smith out of West Virginia. Many expect Smith to be a top-five pick, which indicates that the Jets might have to trade up for his services. 

    On the other hand, Oakland and Arizona both seem settled at quarterback and may pass on Smith. 

    New York has also met with one of my favorite quarterbacks in the draft, EJ Manuel from Florida State. While mainstream experts have finally gotten on a bandwagon that I have ridden since January, it still seems that he would be a reach at No. 9. 

    Fret not, Jets fans. 

    Your team has a whole host of holes on the roster and could use an upgrade at nearly every position. 

    Enter Kenny Vaccaro, who I have a top-10 grade on. 

    Rich Cimini of ESPN lists Vaccaro as one of the five defensive backs that have visited New York. The talented free safety would definitely fill a hole in the back end of the Jets defense and represent a major upgrade over Josh Bush, who sits atop the current depth chart. 

    If Vaccaro were to go to the Jets at No. 9, it would set into motion a ton of safety-needy teams looking at the likes of Jonathan Cyprien, Matt Elam, Eric Reid and D.J. Swearinger much higher than they're expected to go.

    Another intriguing thing here is that contending teams with a need at free safety have been mentioned as possible trade-up possibilities. The San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams, among others, have the necessary picks to move up but might not be willing to go all the way up to No. 8 in order to nab a safety.

Chicago Bears Met with Manti Te'o

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    This shouldn't come as much of a surprise to those of you following the NFL draft process. The Chicago Bears won't bring back longtime middle linebacker Brian Urlacher and are in desperate need of young blood there.

    While Chicago did bring in James Anderson and D.J. Williams in free agency, both are stopgap measures at best.

    Most experts rated Manti Te'o as a top-15 prospect prior to the "catfish" scandal and a poor performance at the combine in February. He did perform a bit better at Notre Dame's pro day and would be a solid option for the Bears.

    According to The Palm Beach Post, Chicago met with Te'o. The Bears picking him at No. 20 makes all the sense in the world. While Te'o might struggle in coverage, he is a great in-the-box linebacker and does a great job quarterbacking the defense from the inside out. This will enable Chicago to utilize the same type of defensive strategy as we saw over the last decade or so. 

    It's also intriguing to look at because many outlets have either Arthur Brown or Kevin Minter as their No. 1 inside linebacker prospect. Does Chicago think that a team like the New York Giants will go in that direction, or is it really sold on Te'o as the top player at this position?

EJ Manuel Buzz

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    Some analysts were high on EJ Manuel prior to his MVP performance at the Senior Bowl and recent climb up draft boards. Now that mainstream scouts have taken hold of the idea that he could be a first-round pick, the football world is paying attention.

    Make no mistake about it—NFL teams already knew where they stood on Manuel before Mike Mayock indicated he would go much higher than originally anticipated by the masses.

    I personally see a lot of Colin Kaepernick in Manuel. I don't mean the skill set of each player, but the scouting reports instead.

    Our very own Matt Miller had this to say about Kaepernick for New Era Scouting prior to the 2011 draft:

    It is hard to think of any one player having the rise up draft boards this offseason that Kaepernick has enjoyed. He is now considered a late first-round pick and could even hear his name called in the middle of the first round.

    The team that drafts Kaepernick will need to completely re-work his motion, which can be done (see Tim Tebow, Vince Young). Some will also point out guys like Philip Rivers who have performed fine with a less than usual motion.

    Does the term "rise up the boards" sound familiar? Most considered Manuel a middling prospect just a few short weeks ago, and now he gets mentioned as a possible top-20 pick.

    Beyond that, the idea that Manuel has to fix his motion and become more seasoned isn't too foreign to those who scouted Kaepernick just a few years back.

    As it is, Manuel gets a lot of play as a first-round prospect. Could a team make a play for him in the top 10 if Geno Smith goes top-five? If not, will Manuel go the same route as Kaepernick and become an early second-round selection?

    This is one of the most interesting stories of draft season.

Emmanuel Sanders Signs Offer Sheet with the New England Patriots

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    In a move that could definitely impact the early rounds of the draft, the New England Patriots signed Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to a one-year, $2.5 million offer sheet.

    In turn, Pittsburgh has until next Sunday to match the deal or let Sanders walk and receive a third-round pick in the upcoming draft.

    Answering a question as it relates to whether Pittsburgh will match the offer, ESPN's Adam Schefter responded:

    My sense is they will, especially having already lost Wallace to the Dolphins. It would be difficult to make Ben Roethlisberger throw to that many new wide receivers. And the money shouldn't be a huge issue. The one-year offer sheet is worth $2.5 million. For Pittsburgh, it will be more of a philosophical decision than a financial one. My sense is the Steelers will match, though New England wouldn't have put together the offer sheet if it didn't think it at least had a chance to get him.

    As always, Schefty makes a lot of sense. Pittsburgh cannot honestly feel good about going into the 2013 season with Antonio Brown and two washed-up veterans as the top receiving targets for Big Ben. On the other hand, New England must feel it has a legitimate possibility to acquire Sanders.

    If Pittsburgh does not match the offer sheet, the decision will impact the early rounds of the draft. Mainly, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert may have to go wide receiver in the first round. This could set into motion a run where a minimum of four wide receivers come off the board in the middle of the first round.

    Could Pittsburgh make a play for fast riser Tavon Austin? That's definitely something to look at as the draft approaches.

    For New England, the 2013 NFL draft would be a weird animal for that franchise. As it stands now, the Patriots have only five picks. Giving up a third-rounder to Pittsburgh means that the Patriots would possess only two selections in the first five rounds.

    On another note, they have a pretty valuable trade chip on their roster in the form of former third-round pick Ryan Mallett. Could this indicate that Bill Belichick and company are confident they will be able to get a high pick for the backup quarterback?

    'Tis the season for conjecture.

Eddie Lacy Workout Yields Mixed Results

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    After Marcus Lattimore went down with yet another knee injury during the 2012 season at South Carolina, many expected that Eddie Lacy would be the first running back off the board and might actually go in the initial round.

    Since his dazzling performance against Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship Game, things have gone downhill for the talented young running back.

    He was unable to perform at the scouting combine in Indianapolis and didn't participate in his pro day.

    Lacy did, however, work out on Thursday. The results were mixed.

    NFL.com's Bucky Brooks (h/t Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com) said Lacy "literally shut it down during the positional workout. He was huffing and puffing and unable to finish drills," which caused scouts to "leave with more questions" than they came to the workout with.

    This can't be a great result for Lacy, who looked to cement his status as a first-round prospect. With stellar draft-season performances by Giovani Bernard, Johnathan Franklin and Stepfan Taylor, there has to be concern in Lacy's camp that he might not be the first running back off the board.

    On the other hand, teams that don't want to spend a first-round pick on a running back might luck out here and get a really good young player in the second round. The Green Bay Packers, New York Jets and St. Louis Rams come to mind first.

Cordarrelle Patterson and Tyler Bray Visit the Buffalo Bills

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    There is no telling if Cordarrelle Patterson and Tyler Bray both meeting with the Buffalo Bills on Thursday is an indication that the team may target them in tandem on draft day. 

    In fact, one could easily conclude that it means absolutely nothing. 

    According to Pro Football Talk, both former Tennessee Volunteers standouts headed to upstate New York yesterday as two of the 30 players Buffalo can meet with prior to the draft. 

    Patterson, who many consider the No. 1 wide receiver in the draft, would be Buffalo's only logical choice between the two at No. 8. For his part, Bray receives more of a mid-round grade at this point.

    After releasing Ryan Fitzpatrick earlier in the offseason, Buffalo inked Kevin Kolb to a two-year contract with $6.1 million in base salary. The Bills will pit Kolb against Tarvaris Jackson and a likely rookie in a training camp battle for the starting job. 

    Many pundits have the Bills going with a quarterback No. 8 overall. Options have ranged from the obvious Geno Smith to the downright ludicrous in Ryan Nassib.

    In the humble opinion of this writer, Buffalo would be better off drafting a quarterback like EJ Manuel or Bray a bit later, rather than reaching at that position early in the first round. 

    However, Patterson would be a decent option. Buffalo needs a complement to Stevie Johnson, and the Tennessee product has as much upside as any receiver in the draft class. It would sure be the "sexy" pick.

    It would also leave other wide receiver-needy teams out in the cold who would have to look further down on their boards in order to pick up a decent receiving option in a class full of them.

Geno Smith May Fall in the Draft

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    The Oakland Raiders have long been rumored to be interested in former West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, but their recent activity surrounding the quarterback position indicates they will look in another direction with the No. 3 overall pick later this month.

    General manager Reggie McKenzie acquired Matt Flynn from the Seattle Seahawks and on the very next day sent Carson Palmer packing to the Arizona Cardinals in a separate deal.

    Various reports, such as this tweet from NFL.com's Jason La Canfora, indicated that Oakland was on the verge of signing veteran backup Seneca Wallace, though reporters appear to have jumped the gun a bit, according to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport:

    I said yesterday #Raiders were expected to pursue Seneca Wallace. In fact, it did not occur. No QBs signed immediately. Maybe down the road

    — Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) April 11, 2013

    Adding another veteran to go with Terrelle Pryor and Flynn would tell us that Oakland will go a different position in the draft.

    On the other hand, it doesn't seem that Smith fits too well with other teams selecting in the top seven or so. The Kansas City Chiefs traded for Alex Smith and signed Chase Daniel. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Eagles retained Michael Vick to compete for a starting gig with Nick Foles.

    The Cleveland Browns brought in veteran Jason Campbell, a former starting quarterback for the Redskins and Raiders, to compete with Brandon Weeden. 

    In addition to trading for Palmer, the Cardinals brought in Drew Stanton on a free-agent deal and retained Brian Hoyer. They seem set at quarterback as well.

    Where does Smith go? If he doesn't land in the top seven, will other quarterbacks have to wait much longer to hear their names called? 

    These are two important questions quarterback-needy franchises will ask themselves in the coming week. 

    The only other quarterback that I could realistically seeing go in the first round would be EJ Manuel from Florida State. If Smith falls outside of the top five, other teams will look to nab value with Matt Barkley and Manuel in the second round. 

    As it is, Smith's two best fits seem to be the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 2 and Buffalo Bills at No. 8. I would be surprised to see him land on either team at this point.

    Quarterback-less first round? Interesting concept.

Houston Texans May Target a Wide Receiver in the First Round

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    Many experts concluded last April that the Houston Texans would target a complement to Andre Johnson in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft.

    It didn't happen.

    Instead, Houston spent a third-round pick on DeVier Posey and a fourth-round pick on Keshawn Martin. They ended up combining for 16 receptions and just one touchdown as rookies. Needless to say, that wasn't the production Houston expected.

    If you look at it through the lens of yielding a third and fourth for a couple of average wide receiver prospects, why not spend a first-rounder on someone who will actually perform like a solid starter?

    Draft guru Mel Kiper mocked Houston to go with former USC wide receiver Robert Woods with the 27th pick. While Woods might seem like a little bit of a reach, Kiper explains his reasoning well:

    Andre Johnson is now officially old by the standards of the position, and although effective, he needs some help. The Texans need to find a reliable route-runner who can create space both underneath and down the field in their scheme, which offers a steady diet of play-action passes and demands that receivers can set up defenders. Woods has extremely reliable hands and is underrated in his ability to stretch defenses over the top.

    Houston already possesses the downfield threats necessary for Matt Schaub to succeed. Picking up someone like Woods would enable it to have another consistent possession guy opposite Johnson.

Market Quiet for Victor Cruz

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    While Emmanuel Sanders has signed a relatively small offer sheet with the New England Patriots, it appears the other restricted free-agent wide receiver on the market, Victor Cruz, isn't getting much play.

    There are a few different reasons for this.

    First, Cruz has reportedly demanded an annual contract of between $10 million and $11 million per season (via the New York Daily News).

    Second, it would cost the team that signs him to a offer sheet a valuable first-round pick if the New York Giants decide not to match.

    Those are two indications that the market will continue to be quiet.

    Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN New York made a great point as it related to Cruz's contract stalemate:

    Cruz, the Giants' biggest RFA, is hoping to strike a deal on a long-term extension with the Giants but the two sides have been apart. If a team wants to try to pry Cruz away from the Giants, it can make the receiver a lucrative offer -- one that likely would have to surpass $7 million a year -- by April 19. 

    I could go one step further by indicating that the real deadline for a team to sign Cruz to an offer sheet would be this upcoming Monday. The primary reason for that is New York has a 10-day window to match the offer, and creating a deadline early next week would put the end of that window smack dab before the draft itself starts.

    The New England Patriots are one team that could make a run at Cruz, but they currently sit in a holding pattern with Sanders. I highly doubt Bill Belichick and company would risk the possibility of losing two of their top three picks in a draft where they only have five total selections. 

    We should find out soon, but expect Cruz to sign his tender and report to Giants camp in the summer. 

Two Teams Could Shake Up the First Round

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    Even after making trades that brought in Anquan Boldin and Colt McCoy, the San Francisco 49ers have 13 picks in the upcoming draft with seven of them in the first four rounds.

    The only other team with a better situation in terms of draft picks early in the draft is the Miami Dolphins, who possess five of the first 82 picks.

    According to Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com, those two teams are in prime position to move up in the first round and shake up the draft. Jeremiah said of the 49ers:

    Despite some key losses in free agency, they still possess one of the most talented rosters in the NFL. ... There is no way (13) rookies will be able to make this roster. It makes sense for general manager Trent Baalke and Co. to either trade a few of this year's picks for future selections or aggressively package some picks and move up for an impact player.

    This makes a lot of sense. San Francisco's roster boasts talent from the top down. While it did lose some valuable members on the defensive side of the ball, it brought in Glenn Dorsey, Nnamdi Asomugha and Craig Dahl as possible veteran replacements. 

    The only player of that group that San Francisco simply cannot rely on as a starter in 2013 is Dahl, who would be a major downgrade from Dashon Goldson. As it relates to Asomugha, San Francisco retained its top four cornerbacks, and the veteran signed a non-guaranteed deal. In reality, the 49ers aren't in a position to have to rely on him.

    Kenny Vaccaro would be the obvious choice for San Francisco to target in a trade-up scenario. He is the consensus No. 1 overall safety in the class and fits the bill as a cover guy next to Donte Whitner. You can rest assured that the 49ers will pay close attention to see how the board plays out in the top 10.

    Jeremiah also discussed the aforementioned Dolphins as a team that could look to trade up:

    Miami has been one of the most aggressive teams during the offseason. Clearly, the main focus is upgrading the talent around young quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins brought in Mike Wallace, Brandon Gibson and Dustin Keller. However, they failed to re-sign Jake Long, their starting left tackle. There are three top-tier LT prospects in this draft: Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson. I don't see any of the three dropping to the Dolphins at No. 12. 

    Jeremiah is 100 percent correct here and might even be playing it a bit conservative. I have the top three tackles going within the first five picks later this month. Even if that doesn't happen, I don't see a single one of them getting past the Arizona Cardinals at No. 7 or San Diego Chargers at No. 11. 

    This means general manager Jeff Ireland will have to be proactive when it comes to making a move up the draft board. The good news here is Miami possesses five picks in the first three rounds and might trade up in a buyer's market.

    Vincent Frank is an NFL featured columnist here at Bleacher Report. He was hired prior to the 2011 season and couldn't be happier working with a great group of individuals here. In addition, Vincent is the head sports editor over at eDraft, co-host of Draft Sports Radio, which airs every Monday and Wednesday from 3 to 6 p.m. ET, and a fantasy writer for Pro Football Focus.

    Go ahead and give him a follow on Twitter @VincentFrankNFL.