Will Te'o be the first inside LB taken?
For this article I had to peer deep into my crystal ball. I looked long and hard for detailed visions of the not-to-distant future. What I found may shock you. In fact, it may shake you to your very core. Or you can just think I have no idea what I'm talking about and have completely lost my mind from temporary draft insanity, which is an annual sickness that infects millions of people every year.
Throughout this slideshow I walk a dangerous line teetering on crazy and genius. These daring predictions are not of the safe variety—reader beware and please proceed with caution. The content you're about to read is equivalent to going all-in in poker on every hand.
So let's have some fun as I serve up a heaping plate of NFL Draft, topped with a generous serving of hot sauce—just the right amount to make this read truly a BOLD experience.
New head coach Bruce Arians needs a quarterback of the future and a possible Plan B for newly acquired Carson Palmer, who was traded by Oakland for a little more than a bag of peanuts and a hot dog.
Matt Barkley has the pro-style experience and mental acumen to run Arians' system. Arizona will probably look to improve their pathetic offensive line in the first round and then snag Barkley with the 38th pick. Not a bad value for a guy who was once considered the consensus No.1 pick in the draft.
It should play in the Cardinals favor that Carson, the aging vet, will get a chance to mentor a fellow USC alum in Matt Barkley.We can assume this will not be the tenuous type situation which arose between Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers when he arrived on the scene.
Oakland needs as many draft picks as it can possibly accumulate. This might be the worst year ever for the Raiders not to have a second-round draft pick.
Why? Because in this draft class the second-round is going to be loaded with high-reward talent ready to start in the NFL right away. With this in mind, it makes the most sense for Oakland to trade their third overall pick in order to fill the void in the second round.
If there happened to be a "can't miss" prospect at three, the Raiders would undoubtedly jump at that opportunity. Unfortunately this is not the year you want to be picking in the top-five. With that in mind, any team actually willing to move up in this draft will only do so for a greatly reduced cost, relative to the typical market value of a third overall spot.
If teams are watching the same film I'm seeing, they would be hard-pressed to draft Zach Ertz anywhere near the first round. On tape, Ertz seems to be a product of the system he played in, which featured tight ends heavily in the passing game, allowing him to rack up impressive stats his junior year.
But stats aside, if a team is looking for a reliable blocker or a guy who can make things happen on his own, they should look elsewhere. Ertz can be a productive pro in the right system, but he will never achieve top-tier status as a TE in the NFL.
NFL draft coverage continues to increase each year.
Last year over eight million TV viewers tuned in to ESPN and NFL Network to make the first-round of the NFL Draft the highest rated show on TV, by far; this was a growth of 18 percent from 2011.
Considering the growing popularity for this football sub-culture, which has seen an incredible amount of lead-up coverage, features and shows, it should be reasonable to deduce that the viewership will continue to grow each and every year.
The bold prediction in this case is the amount of growth. Due to the increased availability of the NFL Network, which for the first time is available on every major cable and satellite company, more people will have the opportunity to tune in and watch the NFL draft. ESPN is the leader in the Draft coverage by a wide margin, but this year, I suspect that ratio will diminish greatly.
My bold prediction is that the two networks will combine to generate over 10.5 million viewers for the first round of the draft. This 30 percent increase would be a significant spike from the 18 percent of just a year ago.
It's been reported that Menelik Watson will attend the NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall in hopes to walk across the stage on Day 1. Watson is one of 23 confirmed prospects who have agreed to attend the event.
I predict Watson will have to sit through the entire first round on national television as he grows increasingly upset. This type of awkward yet emotionally captivating television is exactly why the league decided to invite more prospects to the event than ever before.
For the sake of Watson and his family, I hope this prediction falls flat and he's rewarded for his decision to attend the event. Unfortunately it's difficult find enough positives in Watson to build a first-round case for him.
Watson was terribly disappointing in his combine numbers by falling incredibly short of high expectations in regards to his athletic ability. For the very raw and inexperienced Watson to still garner a first-round grade, we would have to base that decision off of outdated information about his perceived elite physical tools. In reality we're left with a slow-footed, inexperienced project-player who may have severe issues moving in space against NFL talent.
If Watson does indeed go in the first round, I will clearly need to revisit the criteria for first-round offensive lineman. Apparently it would be time to consider guys who play one year of college football and post some of the worst times of the entire draft class as first-round worthy.
Many of you out there have never heard of Quanterus Smith. Well, in about four years, he should be a household name to every football fan. This kid is the real deal and just so happens to be my favorite pass-rusher in this class.
His hand technique and instincts for the game have made him a prospect on the rise despite coming off ACL surgery towards the end of the 2012 season. Smith being drafted in the second round is a bold prediction in part because CBSSports.com has him projected to be a seventh round draft pick.
If he is still available after the second round, there is a chance I could be underestimating the severity of his knee injury.
The current record for the most quarterbacks taken in the top-100 is eight, which was set in 1990 and has only happened one time in history. Seventeen teams could potentially be looking to take a QB in this draft at some point. As I see it, 10 QB prospects are at least worthy of at least a third round grade.
Given the increased need for an elite QB in the NFL, along with the depth of talent at the position, I'm willing to bet a minimum of eight QBs will be taken in within the top-100. Those potential prospects are:
It should be assumed that Geno Smith will be the first quarterback to go. But who goes after him has been a list of names longer than I can count on one hand, depending on what you're reading.
Most QB rankings don't have E.J. Manuel as the second best in this class. Even Mel Kiper of ESPN.com refused to put him among his top-five quarterbacks (Subscription). Nevertheless, big, accurate, mobile QB's with a ton of upside are still highly coveted in this league, and Manuel is near the top of his class in all those categories. He also fits well with any team looking to implement some version of the read-option.
Manuel will likely be taken late in the first round, much to the surprise of many. But by what team, you ask? We will discuss that bold prediction in another slide later on.
After a slow 40-time (4.58) at the NFL combine, Johnthan Banks seemed to drop off people's draft boards faster than you could keep up.
But when you take a step back, you realize that Banks did time pretty well in all other measures. His length, fluidity and change of direction skills are still at the top of his class.
Xavier Rhodes is built similarly to Banks and actually timed worse all around in his tangibles. Not to mention, Banks has much better tape on his resume and should be valued near the very top of the cornerback class.
There's obviously several Bjoern Werner fans out there who will disagree with me here, but I've always struggled to see a talent worthy of the first round. The kid has an amazing get-off and decent strength. But he is very limited in his potential and lacks a natural bend necessary to threaten the edge on an NFL lineman.
I might even feel better about Werner going in the first round if he didn't have such a terrible motor. Demonstrating marginal effort on a consistent basis is very much worth red-flagging.
For further proof, consider last year when Jake Bequette, who happened to be a significantly better prospect, lasted all the way into the third round before being drafted by the Patriots. He should be worth noting that he did this with superior tape, very productive career and elite tangibles, yet he lasted three rounds?
How is it possible that a guy who grades out lower than Bequette can actually go two rounds ahead of him?
If Werner does fail to get drafted in the first round, he may have to join Menelik Watson in the "hall of shame" for being the only two guys to ever attend the draft and fall into the second round live on national TV.
Not sure this is much of a bold prediction but it's fun nonetheless.
Jets fans are still bitter about last season's debacle of a season and will probably struggle with trusting anyone making decisions for the organization. The only way the Jets fans don't boo their first pick in the draft would be for them to draft Geno Smith. Any signs of transitioning away from Mark Sanchez would be an inspiring indicator of a new beginning.
But that scenario isn't very likely to happen. What is likely, though, is to hear the familiar cords of displeasure rumbling through the halls of Radio City as the Jets fail, yet again, to win the trust of their disgruntled fan-base.
E.J. Manuel is definitely the best fit for the new high tempo Eagles offense. He has all the tools and ability to run the ball while keeping defenses honest with accuracy and an arm capable of making every NFL throw.
Considering Manuel will not make it out of the first round, the Eagles will have to position themselves somehow via trade to draft Manuel later on in the first round. If they happen to trade down from the fourth overall spot. This could get them some extra draft picks while setting the stage for Manuel to fall directly into their laps between picks 18-32.
The other possibility would be if Philadelphia jumped back into the first round later on. Either way, I believe they have every intention of pursuing the services of E.J. Manuel to be their QB of the future.
If this somehow falls through, expect Matt Scott to be their Plan B in the later rounds.
I'm willing to guess there are several teams eyeing Le'Veon Bell between rounds 4-5, judging by the number of teams who interviewed and/or worked him out privately. The problem is that Bell is not going to be around that long, considering the team that wants him the most will understand how many potential suitors he has and jump in front of them early.
Bell is a gifted athlete who has the size and speed combination to make NFL scouts drool. Two teams who will fight hard for Bell early on Day 3 are the Broncos and the Falcons.
Jamie Collins is an ideal replacement for the exodus of James Harrison. The Steelers have shown a lot of interest in him during the pre-draft process, and he should fit perfectly in Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense.
Look for Pittsburgh to either reach a bit on Collins with their 17th overall pick or, perhaps, they trade up into the early part of the second-round where his value is even more justified. However they maneuver this, I believe he is high on their radar and will do what they can to make him a Steeler.
If Collins does end up wearing the legendary black and gold, he'll be fortunate to have an opportunity for growth in one of the best organizations in the league; an organization that does a great job incubating their young defenders a few years before turning them loose.
This bold prediction may seem like it comes out of nowhere, and maybe it does. But Zac Dysert has too much potential to be overlooked. This kid is an underrated athlete with great improvisational skills. He has the poise to take a beating and stand tall in the pocket while delivering incredibly accurate deep balls.
Dysert will likely be at play early in the second round for New York, and his arrival should finally quiet those booing Jets fans who have had enough of the Sanchez era.
Perhaps this is partly the result of his recent heart issue or, perhaps, his marginal times during his pro day are to blame. But mostly I think Star Lotulelei, the man who once held the top spot on many big boards, will drop out of the top-10 simply because of team needs.
When you look at the current draft order, the only team really needing an interior lineman is the Oakland Raiders, and they seem to be more interested in Sharrif Floyd than in Star.
If Oakland passes up this stud from Utah, he should be in for a long wait to hear his name called. The most likely suitors are the Dolphins at 12, and even they have more pressing needs at the moment. The Panthers at 14 are another possibility, but if he drops past Carolina, I'd imagine a team would trade up to get this fallen star.
Some prospects are just too athletic to pass up more than one time around. Character concerns would be the only thing keeping Christine Michael out of the first round in the first place.
Few running backs have the speed to break one 80-yards for a touchdown on one play and then run over guys with the power of a wrecking ball the other; Michael is that running back.
Expect a lot of trading in round-two this year and count on one of those trades to be for this explosive runner. If he does prove to be too much of a headache due to personality issues, you can always just run him through the gauntlet and use him up. If he's frustrated about something, lets have him take it out on a football field one first down at a time.
Whatever team snags up Michael will be getting one of the most gifted athletes in years.
Manti Te'o's pre-draft roller coaster has been quite unique and well documented. It seems that one critical element to this whole process that is being overlooked is how Te'o plays the game. Sure he had a bad outing on a national stage in the biggest game of his career, but he played in some other games as well. Those other games demonstrated a guy who was aggressive, instinctual and passionate about the sport.
Te'o also failed to wow at the combine with a sub-par 40-time and his refusal to participate during bench press. His entire demeanor just seemed to be crippled from his recent "catfish" debacle and he even looked surprisingly underdeveloped physically compared to when you see him in his football uniform. Visual impressions can have an effect But no ILB in this draft has a more complete game than does Te'o.
All of the outside noise and distractions surrounding this kid need to be put aside in order to realize and appreciate the type of playmaker Manti can be in the NFL. I believe at the end of the day, linebacker-needy teams will understand this, and for these reasons, he will be the first inside linebacker taken in this draft.
Detroit is in serious need of some pass rushers and it just so happens that Alex Okafor is in serious need of a new home. This pairing seems to fit Okafor's talent and abilities well as he is a guy who can step in and contribute right away.
The only question is when will the Lions make their move to get him. Waiting till the third pick in the third round seems a bit risky but they also have the option of trading either up or down into the middle of the second round. If Okafor happens to be at play in the third, that's almost a no-brainer for the Lions.
The more likely scenario is trading down into the middle of the second round where a productive pass-rusher awaits his opportunity.