2014 NFL Draft: Fact or Fiction for Latest Draft Buzz & Speculation
Many rumors and theories regarding the 2014 NFL draft might start to unravel over the next few days, as teams are starting to reshape their rosters—and subsequently their draft strategies—with the onset of this year’s NFL free agency season.
Nonetheless, buzz for this year’s draft continues to grow, even as the free-agent market opens and veterans continue to switch teams through signings, trades and releases. With less than two months to go until this year’s selection meeting, all 32 NFL teams are continuing to prepare intensely for how to maximize the return on their lot of draft picks.
From the latest mock drafts to anonymously sourced reports, combined with the upswing of the offseason and the continuation of the draft process with collegiate pro days, NFL draft-related information continues to create speculation about who each team should pick and where each player should be drafted.
While it’s impossible to know which possibilities and predictions will come to fruition—especially with nearly two full months remaining until the draft—we can take a look at some recent draft prognostications and consider whether they are likely to result in “fact” or “fiction.”
Fiction: Houston Texans to Trade for Ryan Mallett, Draft Jadeveon Clowney
The Houston Texans need to get a new quarterback this offseason, but they don’t necessarily need to do so through the draft. One potential alternative solution to the draft could be trading a draft pick to the New England Patriots for their backup quarterback, Ryan Mallett.
Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller and Nick Underhill of MassLive.com both reported Saturday that the Texans have expressed interest in acquiring Mallett from the Patriots. Should the Texans do so, Miller believes that would make South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney the obvious choice for Houston with the No. 1 overall pick.
Mallett would be a logical fit for the Texans, as he fits the profile of a big, strong-armed quarterback that Houston head coach Bill O’Brien likely covets. Furthermore, Mallett already has working experience with O’Brien from his rookie season, when O’Brien was New England’s offensive coordinator.
Clowney, meanwhile, has seemingly been linked to the Texans as much as anyone in recent weeks. On Feb. 26, B/R’s Mike Freeman reported that Houston was, at least at the time, “favoring taking Clowney with the first pick in the draft.” An explosive edge defender with truly rare physical attributes, Clowney might have the most upside of any prospect in this year’s draft.
The addition of Clowney won’t do enough to help the Texans get back to the playoffs, however, if Houston does not improve at the quarterback position. And while trading for Mallett makes sense on paper, he might not be the right guy for the job.
Though he has the physical tools to excel, Mallett is a raw passer with some accuracy issues and no regular-season starting experience. Meanwhile, as he is on an expiring contract, the Texans would not necessarily have Mallett for any longer than one year should they trade for him.
Houston is not going to fully turn around from its dismal 2013 season until it finds a long-term answer at the quarterback position, and the best way to do that would be to select one of the draft’s top quarterbacks with the No. 1 overall pick.
Additionally, there is a question of just how interested Houston actually is in trading for Mallett. The Houston Chronicle's John McClain, who has covered the NFL for 35 years, confidently stated that the Texans “won't be trading for Ryan Mallett,” while Underhill himself wrote that “nothing is definite” in Houston’s talks with New England regarding Mallett.
Fiction: Detroit Lions to Move Up to No. 2 Overall Spot for Sammy Watkins
The St. Louis Rams could be looking to trade down from the No. 2 overall pick for the second time in three years, but will they have buyers?
While their best bet to trade down might come with the aforementioned Jadeveon Clowney getting past the Texans, B/R’s Matt Miller believes there might be a team that values Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins highly enough to move up to the second draft slot, regardless.
In a “Team Stream Now” interview with Adam Lefkoe, Miller identified the Detroit Lions as a team he thinks could have “serious international discussions” about trading up with the Rams.
An explosive open-field athlete who also has great size, strength and open-field running ability, Watkins is one of the top prospects in this year’s draft class. Opposite Calvin Johnson, he could give the Lions the legitimate No. 2 receiving threat they lack while also forming one of the NFL’s most formidable receiving duos (if not the most formidable) in the process.
The price the Lions would have to pay to move up from No. 10 to No. 2, however, might simply be too steep to be worth it. Considering the Washington Redskins gave up two additional first-round picks and a second-round pick to trade up from No. 6 to No. 2 in 2012, the Lions would have to pay a king’s ransom to move up, only to select a player from the draft class’ deepest position.
Detroit should strongly consider drafting a wide receiver in Round 1, but even if they stay put at No. 10, they should still be able to land an exceptional receiving talent, such as big Texas A&M wideout Mike Evans. Should they miss out on Watkins and Evans, the Lions could look to trade down for better value and then select LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr. or USC’s Marqise Lee later in the round.
The depth of the position in this year’s draft, however, would also make waiting to draft a receiver until Day 2 a smart strategy. Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews and Fresno State’s Davante Adams are two potential options who could be available with the 45th overall selection, and both could be an immediate solution to Detroit’s need for a complementary outside pass-catching weapon.
Fiction: Cleveland Browns to Target Derek Carr with 26th Pick
With two first-round picks in this year’s draft, the Cleveland Browns are widely expected to use one of them on a quarterback.
Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and Central Florida’s Blake Bortles have all been popular mock draft choices for the Browns at the No. 4 overall pick, but NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah believes Cleveland’s answer lies with their late first-round choice instead.
"Their guy is (Fresno State quarterback) Derek Carr,” Jeremiah told "The Dan Patrick Show" on Feb. 26 (h/t Marc Sessler of NFL.com). “They're going to take a different player with the fourth pick and they want to take Derek Carr with their second one (at No. 26).”
If the Browns believe they can land Carr with their second first-round pick and are not sold on any of the other first-round quarterbacks available when they are on the clock with the fourth pick, this would be a logical strategy.
But while Manziel or Bortles might be a highly risky selection at No. 4 overall, hoping Carr falls would also be a risky play. The NCAA’s leader in passing yards and touchdown passes in 2013, Carr could easily end up going much higher in the round. He would be a great fit for the Minnesota Vikings, who possess the No. 8 overall pick, while Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times believes Carr could even be in play for the Raiders at the fifth selection.
Carr has some flaws—specifically in regards to throwing against pressure—and that could cause him to drop to the late first round. But if the Browns are sold on any of the four projected first-round quarterbacks in this draft, they shouldn’t risk missing out on the signal-caller they want. Their best bet might be to draft Carr, or whichever available quarterback the team favors most, at No. 4 overall.
Fact: Buccaneers to Draft Teddy Bridgewater if Available at No. 7
Mike Glennon played well enough as a rookie starting quarterback in 2013 to earn the first crack at leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense in 2014, but that might not preclude Tampa Bay from drafting another quarterback this year, even as early as the No. 7 overall pick.
That could especially be true if Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater makes it past the first six spots in the draft.
As the draft’s most complete and well-rounded signal-caller, Bridgewater should be in play for the Houston Texans at No. 1, the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 3, the Cleveland Browns at No. 4 and the Oakland Raiders at No. 5. Should he fall out of the top five, as some project, the Buccaneers might find his value too good to pass up with their first-round selection.
Charlie Campbell of WalterFootball.com believes the Buccaneers “won't turn down Bridgewater if he falls to their pick,” as Campbell states that Tampa Bay’s new coach and general manager are not completely sold on Glennon. Matt Smith of NFL.com also projects Tampa Bay to draft Bridgewater with the seventh pick.
Bridgewater might not be available when the Buccaneers are on the clock, and they shouldn’t trade up for him with Glennon in tow, but the Louisville quarterback might simply be too good to pass up if he is on the board at the seventh pick. With all the tools and intangibles necessary to be an excellent NFL quarterback, Bridgewater is a top talent who the Buccaneers might not be able to afford to ignore.
Fiction: Brandin Cooks to Be Third Wide Receiver Selected
After an excellent performance at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, which included a 4.33-second 40-yard dash time, per NFL.com, Oregon State wide receiver Brandin Cooks’ draft stock is on the rise.
Though he is smaller than most of the other top receivers in this year’s draft class (5’10”, 189 lbs), he has an exceptional combination of speed and lateral quickness to go along with good hands, route-running ability and toughness.
This has led some to believe that Cooks will be the third wide receiver taken in this year’s draft after projected top-10 picks Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans. Specifically, CBS Sports’ Dane Brugler tweeted that Cooks is his No. 3-rated wide out, calling Cooks a “special athlete.”
As Cooks certainly has the speed and agility teams covet in an offensive skill-position player, it’s quite reasonable to think that he could end up being a top-20 draft choice. But while he is as dynamic as any receiver in this year’s draft with the ball in his hands, he is not nearly as good at making plays on the ball downfield as LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr. or USC’s Marqise Lee.
It would come as a surprise if Cooks isn’t a first-round pick and a top-five wide receiver chosen in this year’s selection meeting, but it might be a bit overreactive to move him up to third among receivers.
Fiction: New York Jets Targeting Bradley Roby
When the New York Jets attended Ohio State’s pro day on Friday, they seemed to have a keen interest in cornerback and projected first-round pick Bradley Roby.
TFY Draft Insider’s Tony Pauline described the Jets as being “all over” Roby at the pre-draft event, while he wrote at WalterFootball.com that Roby had dinner with a contingent from the Jets on the night prior to OSU’s pro day.
Following the release of Antonio Cromartie, the Jets should certainly be in the market for another cornerback. Drafting Roby, however, might not be the best move in the cards for New York.
While cornerback is a position of need, it would be hard to justify using the No. 18 overall pick on another cornerback, one year after drafting Dee Milliner at No. 9 overall. The Jets still have significant needs at wide receiver, tight end and outside linebacker, but unless they take a shot at Roby with their first-round pick, he will likely be out of their reach with their second pick, barring a trade up to land him.
While the Ohio State cornerback is coming off of a very disappointing 2013 season, he is an exceptional athlete with the talent to be a No. 1 cornerback if he can become a more disciplined player. New York’s first two draft spots, however, seem to stand either too high or too low for Roby to be a realistic option, and they should perhaps consider addressing their other positions of need instead.
Fact: Brandon Thomas Is a Potential Late First-Round Pick
Every draft seems to have two or three first-round picks who were not widely projected as such by the media, and at least two respected media draft prognosticators believe Clemson offensive lineman Brandon Thomas could fit that criteria this year.
Thomas, a left tackle at Clemson who is best suited to shift inside to guard at the next level, is ranked as the No. 69 overall prospect in this year’s draft by CBS Sports, while B/R’s Matt Miller ranked Thomas 98th on his most recent big board.
However, Lance Zierlein of The Sideline View thinks the draft media at large is “really sleeping” on Thomas. “He's going late 1st to mid 2nd & can play tackle in the NFL,” Zierlein tweeted Monday.
TFY Draft Insider’s Tony Pauline echoed that sentiment in a pro-day update on WalterFootball.com. According to Pauline, NFL scouts feel Thomas has “moved into the draft's initial 45 picks and could end up landing in the late part of round one, depending how early Zach Martin comes off the board.”
A first-round projection seems like a stretch for Thomas, but his combination of size, athleticism and strength showed up consistently in his game tape and at the Senior Bowl. As the 2013 NFL draft proved, offensive linemen can quickly rise on draft weekend if demand at the position is high, and Thomas seems to be positioning himself as one of this draft’s top potential beneficiaries if another run on offensive linemen occurs.
Fact: Will Sutton to Drop to Day 3
Despite winning a second consecutive Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year award in 2013, Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton seemed to drop considerably on draft boards during his senior season.
While he came into his senior season as an explosive but undersized interior lineman, he flipped the script in a negative way in 2013.
He added weight in the process, which led to him weighing in at 315 pounds at this year’s Senior Bowl, and it seemed to be bad weight that cost him the quick burst that made him special in his junior season. Despite slimming down to 303 pounds for the combine, per NFL.com, his explosiveness did not make a return appearance, as he ended up running the third-slowest 40-yard dash time among defensive linemen (5.36 seconds).
Sutton had a productive career at Arizona State, but it’s become increasingly unclear how his game will translate to the next level. While he once looked like a strong projection as a 3-technique defensive tackle, his diminished quickness could limit his effectiveness in that capacity.
As a result, Gil Brandt of NFL.com is projecting Sutton as a “third-day pick at best,” and he’s probably right. While someone should take a chance on Sutton in the middle rounds, in hopes that he can improve his conditioning and regain his explosiveness, he simply does not exhibit the physical traits typical of an early-round interior defensive line selection.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.