The most amazing aspect of the NFL draft is all the work that teams put into the process, hoping to secure their future, and then realizing how many players end up getting taken long before they should out of fear.
Fear is a powerful motivator. No one wants to miss out on that exciting athlete, so they become convinced that what they saw in college is indicative of what they can do against NFL-caliber competition.
As a result, players always get drafted well before they should. Sometimes it's just to fill an immediate need, others it's because a player with a similar draft profile has succeeded in the NFL, but none of these are reason enough to make a pick.
Scouring through the names in this year's draft class, here are the players who will get taken well before their talent suggests they should.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
This one is a no-brainer.
Johnny Manziel is benefiting in this draft for two reasons. First, he was the best and most exciting player in college football the last two years. No one, for better or worse, generates more buzz than he does. If a team wants to sell tickets, Johnny Football can help do that.
Second, the Russell Wilson factor. With the Seahawks winning a Super Bowl using an undersized quarterback, it opens the door for someone of Manziel's stature.
Johnny Manziel misses 6-foot mark at NFL scouting combine http://t.co/lyNN5B2omm— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) February 21, 2014
But examine what Manziel really does as a passer. He's inconsistent in the pocket, struggling against teams that can contain his scrambling ability like LSU did twice in two years (45-for-97, TD, 5 INT).
Bleacher Report Lead NFL Writer Michael Schottey labeled Manziel a "boom-or-bust" prospect. That's the perfect term to describe him, because there is tremendous potential there. But the inconsistent pocket presence, slight frame and aggressive mindset to always run for an extra yard, which means taking hits from big NFL defenders, gives Johnny Football a lot more bust potential.
Yet it's not difficult to envision a scenario where Jacksonville or Cleveland pops Manziel in the top five because of their needs at quarterback and a desire to generate buzz.
Most mocks have the Browns taking Manziel at No. 4 overall, including ESPN's Todd McShay (Insider subscription required), but even he admitted that Manziel probably isn't "an ideal fit or if he'd be the Browns' first choice."
Hardly a ringing endorsement for the fourth player taken in a deep draft, wouldn't you say?
Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Which prospect has the best chance to fulfill his potential
In this era of offense, finding a player who can get after the quarterback is a luxury every team needs. The best defenses in football right now have at least two dominant pass-rushers up front (San Francisco, Carolina, Seattle).
The need for this type of player makes Anthony Barr, who is just in his second year at outside linebacker after starting his career at running back, more valuable than his talent suggests. He had 65 tackles and 10 sacks last season.
Because he's still learning to play outside linebacker, Barr still has the instincts of a running back. He tries to run past everyone instead of getting physical and taking on defenders to make plays in the backfield.
That works in college, where offensive lines can be filled with big, flat-footed players, but NFL lines are bigger, stronger and more athletic.
I'm not sold that Anthony Barr is clearly in the top tier of NFL draft prospects. http://t.co/lOhyfuIA0L— Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith) March 2, 2014
Barr is a talented player who can be an impactful edge-rusher, but the ability isn't there yet. He's the definition of a project, which is fine to take later in the first round or in the second round, but in a deep draft, teams should be able to find immediate and long-term impact in the top half of the first round.
Instead, Barr is in the conversation with Buffalo's Khalil Mack to be among the top outside linebackers taken. Bleacher Report Lead NFL Draft Writer Matt Miller has those two just two spots apart in his most recent mock draft with Mack being taken ninth and Barr 11th.
Marqise Lee, WR, USC
This is a great year for wide receivers. Clemson's Sammy Watkins and Texas A&M's Mike Evans will get things started for the playmakers on the outside in the draft, but Marqise Lee has a real chance to end up being the third player taken at his position.
Lee was a good, not great, playmaker for USC last season. He got passed over by sophomore Nelson Agholor as the season went on. Agholor was more explosive down the field, averaging 16.4 yards per reception with six touchdown catches.
Lee's yard per reception went down each year with the Trojans, from a high of 15.7 in 2011 to 14.6 in 2012 to 13.9 last season, and his hands looked less-than-stellar last season.
He's not a burner on the outside, running a 4.52 40-yard dash, and is undersized at just over 5'11", 192 pounds.
There are positives to Lee's game that make him a valuable piece. He's a fantastic route-runner who makes plays in traffic and creates space to run after the catch. But those lanes are going to close faster in the NFL than they did in college, so does he find that big-play explosiveness again or turn into a slot receiver?
ESPN's Todd McShay has Lee going to the Jets with the No. 18 pick, getting second-year quarterback Geno Smith some much-needed support on the outside.
It's a crucial need for the Jets to fill this offseason, and Lee isn't the worst pick they could make. But with a player like Oregon State's Brandin Cooks, also undersized, putting up bigger numbers, showing more separation ability and stretching defenses down the field, there are better options out there.
Combine results via NFL.com.
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