There are some NFL draft prospects who simply cannot be agreed upon by most.
"Polarizing" is the best word to describe this issue, although its definition in recent years around the draft community has been used loosely at best.
The 2014 class has perhaps the most notable examples of prospects who observers cannot simply form a consensus about. This tends to mostly happen with big names who put up eye-popping numbers in college, but are talents who many feel will simply not translate well to the pro level.
In total, three names rise above the rest in this category. Fans may not find out exactly how the NFL feels about these players until draft day.
AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama
AJ McCarron is the product of success at the collegiate level at a major program.
Win and he does not get the credit because he relied on the talent around him. Lose, and it all falls on his shoulders.
His numbers speak for themselves, as captured by ESPN:
McCarron is now headed to the NFL, and he feels "disrespected" by what analysts have to say about his skill set thus far, via NFL.com's Chase Goodbread:
I definitely feel disrespected, but I think that helps me play my game to the best of my ability when I go out every Saturday, playing with a chip on my shoulder, and I'll definitely take (that) over to training right now when it comes to the combine and pro day. When I get a chance to show everybody what I'm capable of, I will.
McCarron did have that chance at the Senior Bowl, but he chose to skip—much to the agony of the media.
Despite all his wins under center and his strong ability at the line of scrimmage to make reads and accurate throws, McCarron ranks as just the No. 7 overall quarterback in the class with a third or fourth-round grade over at CBS Sports.
Whether or not the argument about talent around him holds any weight is a moot point. McCarron struggles to push the ball deep down the field with accuracy, and unless he shows an improvement in this area, expect an Andy Dalton-esque fall into the mid-rounds.
Projection: Second round
De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
For all of the highlight plays over the course of his career, one would think De'Anthony Thomas would find his way into first-round talk.
Unfortunately for Thomas, the talk is all over the place at the moment, especially when observers realize he stands at 5'9" and weighs 169 pounds.
The opinions on Thomas could not be more different. The scouts at ESPN (subscription required) have Thomas ranked as a fringe-first round pick, while CBS Sports has him listed as the No. 218 overall recruit, the No. 18 running back and a grade that places him in the sixth to seventh round.
Where Thomas lands will rely entirely on which teams are willing to take a risk. Versatile backs such as Darren Sproles and Dexter McCluster have thrived in recent years, and there is an argument to be made that Tavon Austin's high selection last year by the St. Louis Rams should weigh in Thomas' favor.
NFL Network's Albert Breer puts it best:
Now that he's declared, Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas will be a fascinating prospect. Similar to Tavon Austin in some ways. Different in others— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) January 6, 2014
Translation—nobody knows what to do with Thomas.
It is not outlandish to think that a team with an excess of picks, a need in the slot and on returns, with a desire for gadget plays such as screens and end-arounds, will grab Thomas off the board in the mid-rounds.
Projection: Third round
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Mr. Polarizing himself.
Johnny Manziel, after a wild ride in the collegiate level, is ready for the draft. One problem—nobody has any idea where he is going to go.
It is rather easy to buy into the hype. Manziel is likeable and fits the recent dual-threat quarterback trend thanks to his ability to extend plays with his feet. Unlike McCarron, Manziel looked to make those around him better, rather than rely on them.
ESPN's Mel Kiper has Manziel going No. 1 overall to the Houston Texans. Todd McShay was close behind in this thought process:
Johnny Manziel is currently projected by Todd McShay to go 4th overall in the 1st round of the NFL Draft to the Cleveland Browns.— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) January 8, 2014
CBS Sports' Dane Brugler has Manziel ranked as just the No. 38 prospect in the class:
A magician at quarterback, Manziel has the arm strength, competitive spirit and natural instincts that make him an exciting football player. But his decision-making and durability are strong question marks, making his transition to the NFL difficult to predict.
Perhaps NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah has the perfect explanation as to why there is such a discrepancy in where Manziel is projected to go:
Manziel has the most upside of any QB in this draft. Plenty of arm strength, accurate & special playmaker..Size/durability is a concern— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) January 8, 2014
Fortunately for Manziel, Jeremiah's description explains why he will likely be off the board in the top 10 picks. It is not that teams think Manziel can win right away (it is probably quite the opposite). But teams on the hunt for a franchise quarterback only get so many shots, and Manziel is a rare opportunity to take a player with tremendous upside who could solve a team's issues for more than a decade.
Manziel is not the best value and certainly a risk, but teams will surely consider him a risk worth taking early come draft day.
Projection: No. 4 overall to Cleveland Browns