2014 NFL Draft: Buying or Selling Latest Rumors, Buzz and Speculation
It’s the time of the season for rumors, buzz and speculation, with less than two weeks to go until the NFL’s free-agency period and just slightly more than two months to go until the 2014 NFL draft.
Finding reports on who each team could be targeting, or predictions on who they should target, isn’t hard this time of year.
The challenging part is determining what leaked information from sources and what theories from draft prognosticators might actually prove to be true, as many pre-draft suggestions never come to fruition.
Which stories and projections are based in truth, and what rumblings are merely smokescreens? That’s nearly impossible to know from the outside—especially considering the teams themselves aren’t likely to have made their draft decisions yet—but while some suggested possibilities seem like very logical options, others do not quite add up.
Sell: Texans Leaning Toward Jadeveon Clowney
There might not be a more tantalizing possibility that could come out of this year’s draft than the Houston Texans potentially selecting Jadeveon Clowney, a superstar defensive end prospect with rare physical attributes, and teaming him with J.J. Watt, a two-time All-Pro and arguably the NFL’s best defensive player.
That possibility just might become a reality. B/R NFL National Lead Writer Mike Freeman reported Wednesday that “a number of NFL team sources say the Texans are now favoring taking Clowney with the first pick in the draft.”
Per Freeman, the view around the league is “that the Texans are starting to slowly fall in lust with Clowney.”
After the 6’5”, 266-pound defensive end ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine, it isn’t hard to see why.
But although the potential duo of Clowney and Watt is one that would strike fear into every offensive line in the NFL, the South Carolina product might not be the best selection for a team desperately in need of a quarterback.
Even with Watt continuing to dominate his competition last season, Houston only won two games, and that was largely because of dismal quarterback play from Matt Schaub and Case Keenum. If the Texans are going to quickly return to playoff contention, they need better quarterback play, and their best bet for fixing that problem is to draft a signal-caller with the No. 1 overall pick.
Freeman himself acknowledged that the Texans might not actually plan to draft Clowney.
“This information comes with a caveat—at this time of the year everyone lies about everything,” Freeman wrote. “It's always difficult to decipher what is true and what's a smokescreen around draft time.”
Buy: Rams to Look to Trade Down from No. 2 Overall Pick
When the St. Louis Rams traded the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft, they received four early round selections, including what ultimately became this year’s second overall selection, in return. So it should come as no surprise if the Rams look for a similar package in exchange for this year’s No. 2 selection.
Ben Volin of the Boston Globe wrote Feb. 23 that the Rams “would like to trade back for a package of picks.” Peter King wrote in his Monday Morning Quarterback column Feb. 24 that “the Rams certainly will have a chance to trade the second pick, and will be very interested in doing so.”
Asked at this year's NFL Scouting Combine whether the Rams will look to trade the pick, St. Louis general manager Les Snead told reports, per 101 ESPN, that doing so is "definitely an option."
"That's a nice asset," Snead said during the press conference. "As an organization, we need to make the best of that asset.
"We'll evaluate and analyze all situations," Snead added.
It would only be a revelation if the Rams were not interested in trading away the second pick. Trading that pick in 2012 for three first-round picks and a second-round pick has resulted in a significant increase in value for St. Louis, and it gives the team a firm asking price for any suitors who might be interested in moving up this year.
As the Rams are unlikely to draft a quarterback this year and are already set at defensive end, they would likely use the No. 2 overall pick to select one of this draft’s top offensive tackles, Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews or Auburn’s Greg Robinson.
If they trade down, they might still have a chance to draft one of those two, or another very good player like Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins or Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan, at a much better value. Therefore, the Rams shouldn’t hesitate to move down the draft board if they can lure a team seeking a quarterback or Clowney to trade as much as the Redskins did in 2012.
Sell: Teddy Bridgewater to Fall Out of Top 10
As the most NFL-ready signal-caller in the 2014 draft, Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater probably should be the Houston Texans’ No. 1 overall pick. But as Jadeveon Clowney and UCF quarterback Blake Bortles have seemingly become the most popular projections for the top selection, Bridgewater’s perceived stock is falling.
While many media evaluators, including Bleacher Report's Matt Miller, rank Bridgewater as the draft’s top prospect, some reports have indicated that NFL scouts aren’t as fond of the three-year Louisville starter. Former NFL scout John Middlekauff tweeted Feb. 23 that he “won't be shocked to see (Bridgewater) drop out of the top 10.”
It’s certainly possible Bridgewater could slide down the board if the Texans favor Clowney or Bortles, but Houston is not the be-all, end-all for Bridgewater’s chances to be a very high draft selection. The Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 3), Cleveland Browns (No. 4), Oakland Raiders (No. 5) and Minnesota Vikings (No. 8) are all teams that could draft him, as they have quarterback needs.
All it takes for Bridgewater to be a top-10 pick is for one team to fall in love with his NFL ability, and he has at least five chances within the top 10. (A fall down the board could certainly spark another team to trade up for him, or even for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Buffalo Bills to select him.)
Whether Bridgewater is truly dropping down draft boards won’t be known until the draft actually begins. But as he is arguably the top passer in a draft with many quarterback-needy teams picking early, it would be quite shocking, despite Middlekauff’s assessment, if Bridgewater is not a top-10 selection.
Buy: Khalil Mack Ahead of Anthony Barr
After Buffalo’s Khalil Mack continued to stand out at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine, while UCLA’s Anthony Barr failed to live up to expectations, multiple reports indicated that at least one NFL team and some scouts favored the MAC product as the draft’s top outside linebacker.
The Atlanta Falcons, who could certainly look to draft one of the outside linebackers with the No. 6 overall pick, reportedly have Mack ahead of Barr on their draft board, according to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks, meanwhile, tweeted Thursday that some NFL scouts “view Mack as more pro-ready.”
Though those reports are new, they aren’t groundbreaking. While the combine proved that Mack is just as athletic, if not more athletic, than Barr, study of their collegiate play already indicated that Mack is a more polished, complete player, worthy of being considered the draft’s second-best defensive prospect after Jadeveon Clowney.
Should Mack be available at No. 6, he is a strong possibility for the Falcons’ draft choice, but there is no guarantee that he will be there. In particular, the Oakland Raiders at No. 5 would be a good fit for Mack as a defensive impact player and edge defender.
At the very least, Mack should be selected within the top 12, as every pick from No. 5-No. 12 would be a strong fit for the Buffalo product. Barr is also a strong possibility to fall within that range of selections, but it would be less of a surprise to see him fall later into the first round.
Sell: Taylor Lewan Moving Ahead of Jake Matthews
Highlighted by an exceptional 4.87-second 40-yard dash at 6’7” and 309 pounds, Taylor Lewan had one of this year’s best combine performances and should move up draft boards as a result.
Auburn’s Greg Robinson and Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews have been widely considered the draft’s top two offensive tackles, but NESN’s Doug Kyed thinks Lewan’s combine performance might have been enough for him to move ahead of Matthews. NFL.com’s Charles Davis, meanwhile, wrote after the combine that “there's consideration that he's the No. 1 guy now” among offensive tackles
Kyed and Davis may be right, but when the dust settles on combine overreactions, Lewan shouldn’t be ranked ahead of Matthews.
While Lewan stood out among the offensive tackles in Indianapolis, Matthews proved he is a very good athlete at his position. He is as fundamentally sound and polished as offensive tackle prospects come, while Lewan’s game comes with some technical flaws that need to be cleaned up for him to have early success as an NFL offensive tackle.
With a great combination of size, athleticism and power, Lewan should be in great position to be a top-15 pick in this year’s draft. But that should be as the third offensive tackle off the board, as the Michigan product isn’t quite as ready to star in the NFL as his counterparts.
Buy: Dallas Cowboys to Target Aaron Donald
The only player to stand out more than Lewan at the combine was Aaron Donald, who asserted himself as the draft’s top defensive tackle with a mind-blowing display of athleticism, from his 4.68-second 40-yard dash—at 285 pounds—to his 35 repetitions on the bench press.
After backing up his 28.5-tackle-for-loss senior season with a dominant week at the Senior Bowl and now an exceptional combine performance, Donald is sure to have the interest piqued of every NFL team considering drafting a defensive tackle in the first round.
One of those teams could be the Dallas Cowboys, who hold the No. 16 overall pick. According to TFY Draft Insider’s Tony Pauline, talk around the combine had Dallas “going defensive front seven early and often in the draft,” and that the team considers Donald to be a first-round possibility.
Should Donald be available at No. 16, which no longer looks like a safe bet after his showing in Indianapolis, he would make perfect sense as the Cowboys’ draft pick. Dallas has a massive need at the defensive tackle position, especially if it loses Jason Hatcher to unrestricted free agency, and Donald would be an ideal replacement as a 3-technique penetrator on the Cowboys’ four-man front.
Another strong possibility for Dallas at No. 16 would be Minnesota’s Ra’Shede Hageman, who might present more versatility to play both defensive tackle spots, having measured in five inches taller and 25 pounds bigger than Donald at the combine.
That said, it’s easy to see Donald turning an outstanding six-month span into being the first DT off the board. Dallas might be hard-pressed to pass him up if he’s still available in the middle of Round 1.
Sell: Michael Sam to Go Undrafted
In the past six months, Michael Sam has made big waves both on and off the field. As a senior at Missouri, he earned co-SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors. But he made even bigger headlines last month when he came out publicly as gay, which could make him the first openly homosexual player in the NFL.
Despite his tremendous success in his final collegiate season, however, Sam is not considered a lock to get drafted. NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah (h/t Chase Goodbread of NFL.com), a former league scout, said Thursday that he thinks Sam has a “real chance” of being a seventh-round pick or “possibly even going undrafted.”
Jeremiah isn’t alone in thinking Sam might not make it into this year’s 256 selections. NFL Network’s Steve Wyche has also reportedly been told that Sam might go undrafted. At least one general manager told the MMQB’s Peter King, even before Sam had a disappointing combine performance, that he did not think Sam would get picked.
Sam almost certainly isn’t going to follow the usual trend of SEC Defensive Players of the Year being first- or second-round draft picks, but it would still come as a surprise if he goes undrafted entirely.
While he is short for a defensive end at 6’2”, ran a disappointing 4.91-second 40-yard dash at the combine and is a subpar run defender, he showed in an 11.5-sack senior season at Missouri that he has the skill set to be an impactful pass-rusher.
He will have to become more technically sound to make it in the NFL with subpar measurables, but his tape shows good first-step quickness and an ability to arc tightly into the backfield to make plays. He has potential as a situational pass-rusher and should at least be worth a late-round pick for his proven ability in that capacity.
Buy: Cyrus Kouandjio to Fall out of First Round
Going into his junior season at Alabama, Cyrus Kouandjio had the potential to emerge as a star offensive line prospect and top-10 draft selection. Instead, he failed to show significant improvement, as he was exposed by outside speed-rushers as Alabama’s left tackle.
Kouandjio is a massive, powerful offensive lineman who could still be a first-round pick on his potential to play either tackle or guard, but his chances seem far less likely after a disappointing combine performance.
Kouandjio ran the slowest 40-yard dash of any combine participant at 5.59 seconds, according to NFL.com’s results tracker, and he displayed poor footwork and lateral movement skills in on-field combine drills.
A scout for the Buffalo Bills told TFY Draft Insider’s Tony Pauline that Kouandjio could “say goodbye to round one” after his workout, which Pauline described as “sluggish, slow and totally unprepared.” Making matters worse, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reported that multiple NFL teams failed Kouandjio on his physical due to an arthritic knee.
Projecting a steep drop down the draft board might be a case of combine overreaction, but if teams are indeed concerned about Kouandjio’s medicals, that might be exactly what happens. Either way, as Kouandjio had already fallen to fringe first-round pick status during a disappointing 2013 season, his bad to worse combine was probably enough to push him at least down to Round 2.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.
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