2014 NFL Draft: Updated Stock Report Based on Early Free-Agency Trends
Between the combine and the beginning of free agency, it's hard to get a real handle on how NFL teams feel about the incoming rookies and impossible to truly know which positions they are targeting in the draft and which they aren't.
After a week of free agency, it's no longer impossible, just difficult.
This is all about perception—the dropping and rising of value—and media perception tends to lag behind actual value anyway.
That said, we can try to read the tea leaves and, using what teams have done in free agency, decide how those moves might affect this year's draft class. Of course, again, we don't really know what a team's draft board looks like and we all know there are no sure things.
Just because a team addresses a position in free agency doesn't preclude the possibility that they might still grab a player at that same position in May.
Again, it's about perception.
So, here are eight players or position groups whose perception has either gotten better or worse over the past week.
Stock Up: The Top Quarterbacks
It's still unclear which teams prefer which quarterbacks or who makes up the top tier, but we do know that quarterbacks are likely to go early and often in May.
We know this because looking at the top 10 teams and their free-agency moves, we see that many of the same teams needing quarterbacks now are the ones who needed quarterbacks at 3:59 pm EST on Tuesday, March 11, right before free agency kicked off.
The Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders and Minnesota Vikings still have the same quarterback issues a week in, while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have declared Josh McCown their starter, as discussed by SI.com’s Chris Burke. Tabbing the soon-to-be 35-year-old McCown as the starter doesn't speak well of Mike Glennon's long-term chances in Tampa Bay, to say the least.
So, looking at the top of the draft, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which three quarterbacks aren't selected in the first 10-15 picks, with Fresno State's Derek Carr possibly sneaking in to make it four.
Stock Down: Running Backs
If you wanted to drive home the new reality of running back value—namely, how it has dropped off dramatically—you need only look at free agency.
While Rashad Jennings and Toby Gerhart signed early, it took Ben Tate, widely regarded as one of the top two free-agent running backs, almost a full week to land a job.
Maurice Jones-Drew (the other top back) still has no new home.
We knew going into the draft process that a running back was unlikely to go in the first round. After watching teams generally paying little for top RB talent and not rushing to get it—and given that the draft has so many talented players at other positions—you have to wonder if we’ll even see a running back in the first two rounds.
If my kid loves football, I’m moving him out of the backfield to become a defensive back.
That's where the money is.
Stock Up: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Despite the fact that many receiver-needy teams made splashes in free agency—teams like the New York Jets, Detroit Lions, New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens—plenty of those same squads will still be looking for more help.
Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans are near-locks to go in the top half of the first round, but other wide receivers' stocks are less certain. It’s a deep draft class when it comes to receiving talent, which means some teams might be inclined to address other positions first.
However, there will be a drop-off in talent in the middle of the second round, so many of the squads listed above may not want to risk missing a playmaker by a round.
Oregon State wide receiver Brandin Cooks came away from the combine with some buzz, especially after his incredibly fast 40-yard dash time. He was someone who might go in the early- to mid-second round prior to free agency, but always had the potential to move up.
Despite teams like the Jets, Patriots and Ravens grabbing wide receivers in free agency, many of them still need a young, fast playmaker. And then there are teams who managed to get worse off in free agency—we’re looking at you, Carolina Panthers—or those who did very little, like the Kansas City Chiefs.
Cooks may be a little undersized, but he’s exceptionally tough, is explosive and shows off ridiculous moves in the open field.
He was already a guy on the cusp of moving up; now he’s a guy who should definitely go earlier.
Stock Down: Fringe First-Round Defensive Backs
For a while, it looked like some fringe first-round cornerbacks would land on teams who were picking late in the first round.
Teams like the Patriots, New Orleans Saints and Denver Broncos appeared to need some pieces in the secondary and were picking late enough that cornerback could be a value pick that late.
Corners like TCU’s Jason Verrett, Kyle Fuller from Virginia Tech and Ohio State’s Bradley Roby could hop into the first round for corner-needy teams, while Louisville’s Calvin Pryor and Florida State’s Terrence Brooks might have snuck in for teams needing a safety.
Instead, all three of the aforementioned teams added major pieces in free agency, eliminating the need to dip into the secondary in the early rounds of the draft.
Even the Cleveland Browns, who have a second first-round selection (No. 26) or the San Francisco 49ers—both of whom lost pieces of their secondary in free agency—still managed to bulk up with veterans.
This doesn’t mean none of the players mentioned will slip into the first round, but a lot fewer will.
Stock Up: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn, and Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
After watching the first week of free agency, you can bet that neither Greg Robinson nor Jake Matthews make it out of the first 10 picks.
In fact, both could be gone by the time the Atlanta Falcons are on the clock at No. 6.
We’ve seen it before, as recently as last year, when three offensive tackles went in the first five picks and five lineman overall in the first 10. However, watching free agency really drove home just how critical teams see the position...and how critical getting one of the top guys is to them.
The speed at which most of the money guys like Branden Albert, Eugene Monroe and even Michael Oher and Chris Williams signed tells you all you need to know about priorities. It’s no longer just enough to have one good tackle on the left side; you need two against today’s hybrid defenses.
So while we were talking about one of the top two tackles probably gone in the top five, now we’re very likely looking at both gone in the top 10 and maybe sooner.
There’s not one team in the top 10 which doesn’t need some sort of offensive line help to some extent.
Stock Down: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
From the “it’s all relative” camp, watching teams like the Jaguars, Falcons, Browns, Raiders and Buccaneers all add talent in free agency makes you wonder where Jadeveon Clowney is going.
He’s still a real possibility for the Texans and St. Louis Rams at the very top of the first round, and a team could trade up for him.
But it’s also possible he slides.
Hard to believe? Maybe, but Clowney is still fighting the “no-work-ethic” label, as Charles Davis of NFL Network reports. All these little "leaks" about his work ethic could just be a smokescreen, but when there's this much smoke, there's likely at least a little fire.
Making matters worse for Clowney: The Jaguars, Browns, Raiders, Falcons and Bucs all shored up their defenses during the first week of free agency. That doesn’t preclude these squads from adding a defender early in the draft, but it's likely less of a priority for all of them.
Of course, again, this all depends on what NFL people really think about Clowney’s ability to work at a professional level. It only takes one team to draft him, and if that team believes in him, adding any free agents prior to the draft wouldn’t stop it from drafting a prospect as physically gifted as Clowney.
One other thing which could contribute to Clowney's slide is the growing buzz around the University of Buffalo’s Khalil Mack. Multiple analysts have him going first overall, including Bleacher Report’s own Ryan Riddle and ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., while NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock has long said he’d take Mack over Clowney.
Again, it’s all relative. Maybe Clowney goes in the top five. Maybe he slides a bit more.
Or maybe it’s just the media’s perception of him which keeps taking a hit.
Stock Up: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois
The way things are shaping up, the top tier of quarterbacks might be gone by the 10th pick. Given how many teams need quarterbacks, it’s also possible that Fresno State’s Derek Carr goes early as well.
There are clearly more quarterback-needy teams than there are quarterbacks worthy of a top-15 pick.
Thus, once the top QBs are off the board, some team is likely to move back into the mid- to late-first round to cut off one of the other teams from grabbing a second-tier quarterback.
Buzz has been building around Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo since the East-West Shrine Game and through the combine. After his pro day, former Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian of ESPN’s NFL Insiders said he felt the Eastern Illinois quarterback projected as a first-round quarterback.
Garoppolo has shown the willingness to do whatever it takes to be a first-round quarterback. While other top signal-callers in this draft class elected to not throw at the combine, he was taking his reps in an effort to show teams his potential.
"(I’ve improved) tremendously," he told reporters after his pro-day showing. "With the footwork especially and the knowledge of the game, I feel like I’ve come such a long way. Especially since the all-star games that I played."
Garoppolo has a decent arm, excellent field vision and a sharp delivery, but definitely needs a little work. While he won’t likely crawl up into the top 10, some team could trade back into the end of the first round for him.
Three—maybe four—squads can address their quarterback issues with their first pick. There are easily six teams out of the first 10 who need a quarterback.
Someone will jump early and Garoppolo stands to benefit the most.
Stock Down: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
This actually started just before free agency kicked off, when CBSSports.com’s Rob Rang reported that wide receiver Marqise Lee had not run at USC’s pro day.
Had he impressed at the NFL Scouting Combine, Lee's decision wouldn't have been an issue. His 4.52 left much to be desired, however, as Lee "exhibit[ed] less explosiveness in this drill than he'd shown throughout much of his spectacular career," per Rang.
It’s odd when a player underperforms at the combine and then lets his numbers stand.
Rang notes that Lee's combine performance raised concerns about leg injuries the wideout struggled with last season, causing him to miss a couple of games.
At one point, Lee was projected to be just behind the top-two receiver prospects—Clemson’s Sammy Watkins and Texas A&M’s Mike Evans—but his stock has slipped.
Unlike Brandin Cooks, who has answered questions and seen his stock rise, Lee was already on shaky ground. So the same teams that might still pull the trigger on Cooks might not be willing to grab Lee as high, since the former Trojan could still have leg issues. It’s one thing to take a fast, healthy guy earlier than expected for the upside.
It’s another thing to grab a guy with injury issues.
In a deep draft class, like the wide receiver group this year, value is very fluid.
In Lee’s case, he is slipping at the same time other receivers are seeing their value rise.
Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him @andrew_garda on Twitter.