Fact or Fiction for the 2014 NFL Draft
The NFL draft is a long process. Opinions drastically change in the media. Rumors persist about team’s interest in players despite NFL boards not finalized. Players are beloved, forgotten and then beloved again despite no games being played.
It’s important to those who truly understand and appreciate the process of the NFL draft to work at keeping a level-head and really understand the big picture.
In my attempt to help that process, as well as bring up a few confident and educated predictions, I’ve outlined some facts and fictions about the 2014 class.
Please note that injuries or major character insights that aren’t yet known may affect these expectations.
Fact: Teddy Bridgewater Is the Clear Top Quarterback
And it’s not really that close, at least in terms of early impact for an NFL team.
He may be the forgotten man right now, but that doesn't mean he’s fallen on team’s boards.
Entering the season as the top quarterback for most people (Optimum Scouting included), Bridgewater went wire-to-wire thanks to his consistency as a passer, further development in his navigation from the pocket and improvements in the nuances of the game, both mentally and fundamentally.
The next guys up (Bortles, Carr, Manziel and Garoppolo) all have very good NFL starter upside, but all are more worthwhile second-round quarterbacks than top-10 worthy. Bridgewater likely won’t leave the first five picks in the draft and he’s the only quarterback in this class I’d feel comfortable in expecting him to start early in his career.
Fiction: Three Quarterbacks Are Top 10 Worthy
As I alluded to in the previous slide, there’s plenty of talent in this quarterback class. But none after Teddy Bridgewater are worth “reaching” on in the top-10 unless team’s have a well-thought-out plan for their development.
After Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles are the most highly touted passers. But both have holes in their games that, in my opinion, don’t make them “worthy” of a top-10 pick, though they might end up there.
Manziel’s footwork and NFL-level pocket awareness worry me most. If he plans to utilize his creativity as a scrambler and beat teams with his feet as much as he did in college, I think he’ll struggle to ever be a top-tier passer and stay healthy in the NFL. His new trendy comparison is Michael Vick, but his arm isn’t nearly as strong as Vick’s was coming out of college, which limits his ability to stretch defenses vertically on the move.
As for Bortles, his footwork, release point and post-snap recognition skills all need ample work. His tools are very intriguing to build on, and his style of play and athleticism will remind evaluators of Andrew Luck. But mentally and mechanically, he’s not there yet, and he needs a good year of work before he can be a capable starter.
Fact: Jadeveon Clowney Is Going Top Three
After a lackluster junior season, it’s become commonplace for evaluators to weigh in on the concerns surrounding Jadeveon Clowney. And in some respects, there are legitimate concerns. He has a handful of injuries he needs to work through, especially a foot injury that he’s planning on bypassing to get surgery on as of now. And he didn't consistently show great effort or development as a rusher this year, though that doesn't mean he can’t become far more effective in the NFL.
Regardless of that, he’s not leaving the top-three overall picks. He's an elite defensive prospect, one that possesses the talent to quickly become one of the best defensive players in the NFL.
For one, the Houston Texans are a strong possibility first overall. Teddy Bridgewater may not fit the team schematically. Johnny Manziel may not fit in that locker room. Blake Bortles may be deemed too much of a project to go first-overall. Enter Clowney, who, paired with J.J. Watt, could turn the Texans front three into the best in the NFL.
After that, the Rams could consider taking the best player on the board talent-wise and adding to an already rich defensive line. And finally, the Falcons haven’t been afraid in the past to move up in the draft to get their man, and Clowney could quickly erase their defensive-line concerns.
Fiction: We’ll Have a First Round Running Back This Year
Last year, there wasn't a first-round running back, which spoke towards the trend of teams choosing to wait at the running back position, as opposed to getting a top talent at the position in the first round.
Despite the success of second-rounders Giovani Bernard and Eddie Lacy, both of whom could have easily been first round picks, don’t expect teams to revert back to the “first-round running back” mindset. Teams will continue to search for mid-rounders to fill starter roles; and in a running back class that saw 18 juniors declare early in an already talented senior crop, the overall value of the position has been pushed even further down.
Charles Sims of West Virginia, Ka'Deem Carey of Arizona and Tre Mason of Auburn are the runners most likely to be considered in the first round. But with as many as 30 running backs that carry draftable grades, look for the first running back to come off the board in the mid-second round.
Fact: The Receiver Class Is Loaded
The 2007 NFL draft receiver class was the best I had ever scouted, led by Calvin Johnson. I thought that depth may never again be replicated based on my predraft evaluations. But, the 2014 class has the potential to be the best receiver class in the past 20 years.
And the best part for teams: It’s loaded with lots of different types of receivers.
Sammy Watkins is the elite talent of the group, and he may go as high as second overall. Mike Evans, Kelvin Benjamin and Odell Beckham Jr. have elite upside thanks to unique talents and size. Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee and Jarvis Landry may be able to contribute early in their NFL careers similarly to what Keenan Allen was able to do as a rookie. And Brandin Cooks and Robert Herron could step in as instant contributors in the slot, if not much more.
Combine those prospects with as many as 30 receivers that could carry top-five round grades from NFL teams, and we could see more than a few franchises double up to take advantage at the remarkable depth at the position.
Fiction: More Than Four Receivers Go in the First Round
Whenever a position class has great depth, it drops the value of the entire class. As it is with the running back class, NFL teams aren't going to consider receivers early because they can likely get one with a similar grade a round or two later.
After Sammy Watkins, the receiver class gets a bit jumbled. Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin have the rare, Alshon Jeffery-type size, but need a lot of work before they can be the number one receivers in the NFL. Odell Beckham of LSU needs lots of route-running work. Marqise Lee, Allen Robinson and Jarvis Landry could be instant starters, but why reach for one when you can potentially get the other two a round later?
Adding to that, there are plenty of talented, potential NFL starters to add in the third or fourth round that this class offers. Don’t be surprised to see many top talent receivers fall on draft day. Plenty of NFL teams rely on mid-round receivers to be instant starters next season.
Fact: Colt Lyerla Is Worth the Risk as a Draft Pick
Colt Lyerla’s history at Oregon is troubling, and there are plenty of reasons for teams to quickly remove him from their draft board.
But on the field, Lyerla is arguably the most talented tight end eligible for the 2014 NFL draft. There is simply too much talent to work with for all 32 teams to say “thanks, but no thanks” to taking Lyerla on draft day.
Sure, his background is an unfortunate example of a player wasting his talent and opportunity. But we've seen LeGarrette Blount punch another player after a game and become an NFL starter. We've seen Bryce Brown barely play college football despite being a top prospect and become one of the better NFL backups. We've seen Tyrann Mathieu have his share of drug issues and nearly win defensive rookie of the year.
Why not Lyerla? Why can’t he be the next bad guy turned good in the NFL? He won’t be a fit for every team, but there’s at least one team who can get the most out of Lyerla, and potentially capitalize on an elite talent.
Fiction: Michael Sam’s Announcement Will Cause Him to Fall Drastically
Michael Sam’s announcement coming out as a gay football player has taken the sports world by storm, and, unexpectedly, the shift immediately focused to what it will mean to his potential future employers: Will he fall on draft day because he’s set to be the first openly gay football player?
The answer is no, at least not the extent some appear to be worried about.
Sure, his openness about his sexual orientation will have an impact on where he’s drafted, at least team wise. He won’t be a fit for every team, both in the locker room and schematically on the field. And that’s okay, as it’s true for every player in the draft for NFL teams.
How this will affect Sam is by whom, not where, he is drafted.
Sam will likely be what I call an owner or general manager pick. When it comes to the mid-rounds, it’ll take an owner to enter the room or a general manager to speak up and take a stand by drafting Michael Sam, not an area scout trying to make a name for himself.
Owners and general managers will need to decide if they as a team, public relations department and front office are ready and willing to embrace Michael Sam. Some team will draft Michael Sam, and I’m confident it’ll be before the seventh round. But don’t blame his announcement or his openness on him falling lower than the media may expect come draft day.