2014 NFL Draft: Latest Trending Names You Need to Know
The 2014 NFL Draft is nearly upon us, yet most teams are still scrambling to put together the pieces to this enormous prospect puzzle.
Media members and fans alike are also scrambling to absorb as much information as they can about possible targets and the latest developments as the pre-draft process remains fluid all the way into April and beyond.
Here is a list of the draft’s biggest trending names, along with explanations about how and why these players have found their way into the forefront of the draft discussions.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Well, if you’ve been following the latest in NFL draft news, Teddy Bridgewater’s pro day performance has been all the rage. Apparently he failed to impress several NFL Network analysts such as Kurt Warner and Mike Mayock, who considered his pro day “average at best.”
Conversely, Bleacher Report's Michael Schottey advises Bridgewater fans not to jump ship just yet, he believes the Louisville product is still worthy of the first overall selection.
One of the concerns I’ve had all along with Bridgewater is how accurate he is under pressure while things begin to fall apart around him. This is more of a mystery at this point vs. some definitive answer revealed through watching his college tape.
Moreover, it’s tough finding tape of Teddy scanning through his progressions and delivering a deadly accurate pass in between tight windows. This is not because he fails at this, but it speaks more to the credit of the Louisville offensive system. It seemed as though Bridgewater’s first read was almost always wide open or he'd simply opt for an easy check down to the running back.
The big concern about taking Teddy Bridgewater with the first pick overall is the perception of his limited potential at the next level.
For what it’s worth, I believe he can become a productive starter in the NFL, but I fail to see the qualities required that give me the confidence in his potential to be a star—that is not to say those qualities don’t exist, it simply means I cannot identify them in my analysis thus far. For this reason, avoiding Bridgewater as the top pick in this draft, or even the top quarterback drafted seems advisible.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Speaking of quarterbacks who have a fighting chance of going first in the draft, Heisman-winning signal-caller Johnny Manziel believes he has what it takes. But why exactly is he trending right now? How about I answer that question with another question?
When exactly is Johnny Football not trending?
Ever since he emerged onto the collegiate football scene like Miley Cyrus flying through the air on a wrecking ball, Johnny Manziel has become the closest thing to a football rock star I've ever seen.
Here’s an impressive tidbit courtesy of Chase Stuart of Footballperspective.com:
Manziel was not a boom-or-bust quarterback, as evidenced by his 69.9% completion rate. He led the SEC in completion percentage in each of his two seasons, and his completion percentage last year was the 2nd best by any SEC quarterback since 2000.
Keep in mind here, we’re talking about the same conference notorious for having the stingiest and most dominating defenses in the nation for several years now. In short, the South East Conference has become the unofficial farm league of the NFL over the past decade and Johnny Manziel has found a way to eat the conference alive from both inside and outside the pocket.
Personally, I’ve never seen a football player do what Johnny Manziel can do at the quarterback position. His skills are mesmerizing and highly entertaining—but will they hold up against NFL defenders trying to take his head off? I suppose they’ll have to catch him first.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Collective confidence in Sammy Watkins as an elite prospect seems to be growing. Even Bleacher Report’s Lead Draft Writer, Matt Miller, has the latest buzz on Sammy Watkins, stating the wideout is rumored to be a primary prospect targeted with the second overall pick in the NFL Draft this May.
Watkins is one of the most complete wide receiver prospects I’ve scouted in three years and has virtually no weaknesses to his game.
It’s starting to look like fans should not be surprised at all if Watkins is selected with the first pick overall.
This prospect has impressed at every phase of the evaluation process and should have a tremendous career at the next level. Where he is eventually drafted will come down to which prospects are drafted before him and what team is willing to take a receiver in the top 5 overall.
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Jadeveon Clowney, like many of the names in this slideshow, is a highly probable contender in the race for the first-overall pick. Fans and media members alike just can’t seem to get enough of one of this year’s most intriguing and dominating NFL prospects.
Clowney has taken a lot of heat during the pre-draft process for his lack of production in 2013 along with several character concerns which seem to center around his passion for greatness, or lack there of.
Will these concerns scare Houston away from taking Clowney with the first pick overall or does his natural position and skill set not translate well in the Texans defensive front?
I think the front office of the Texans are struggling right now trying to figure out if they should pull the trigger on Clowney, but they are more hesitant about their 3-4 defense than concerned about his passion for the game.
The things he does well on a football field are not exactly the qualities teams look for in a 3-4 defensive end. However, J.J. Watt has shown that you can in fact play this position and still be a dominating playmaker. But you also have to be able to play two-gap and anchor against a downhill running game when needed.
If Clowney is spending too much time holding the point of attack from a head-up on the offensive tackle, it would be a relatively limited way of using this kid’s rare talent and ability. Besides, Houston does need a franchise quarterback and an outside linebacker here.
Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Mike Evans seems to be the front-runner for the second best receiver in this draft class. With the size and speed to be a matchup nightmare, Evans has seen his stock rise all the way into the potential top 10.
In recent news the Texas A&M wideout has made some headlines for apparently forming some sort of business relationship with another former rapper turned sports agent. According to a TMZ report, Mike Evans has signed on with Cash Money Sports, which would make him the sports agency’s first client.
Apparently the company is run by Bryan "Birdman" Williams and Ronald "Slim" Williams.
From a football perspective, Evans might end up being converted to play tight end once he enters the league. At 6’5” 231 pounds, his size seems to place him in a role similar to a Jimmy Graham-type player.
If anything, a Jimmy Graham comparison should aid in his draft stock rather than take away from it.
Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
Auburn’s Dee Ford has been trending around draft communities ever since he shined on the big stage throughout Senior Bowl week. For over a month now, this explosive pass-rusher has been climbing up draft boards left and right, pushing his stock continuously higher into the first round.
Ford is now considered a near lock to go on day one as he continues to catch the eye of draft enthusiast and experts alike.
Most recently, Ford received a ringing endorsement from former NFL receiver and NFL Network analyst Curtis Conway who believes that Ford would be a perfect fit in Cincinnati with the 24th pick in the first round, which he talks about on the network’s show “Path to the Draft.”
With the departure of veteran defensive end Michael Johnson via free agency, Ford could make a lot of sense here for the Bengals.
After all, Ford can go from being an Auburn Tiger to a Cincinnati Bengal—apparently not all transitions are brutally painful.
One of Ford’s biggest concerns at the next level will be his height (6’2”) and weight (252 lbs). Teams are worried whether or not he has the size to be an every-down lineman with his hand in the dirt.
Curtis Conway is not a member of the group who believes his size should be a concern.
For me personally, he should have a productive role as an NFL player but to disregard his size entirely would be a mistake, especially given the style in which Ford plays the game. Ford is an explosive player who relies on speed and effort to disrupt his opponents. Though the traits just mentioned are undoubtedly positive ones, he will need much more than that to dominate against NFL lineman.
Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
For most casual football fans, Khalil Mack was just another unidentifiable name less than a year ago. Now, this small school stud finds himself in the bidding to become the first player selected in the NFL.
Mack is an instinctual playmaker with the mental and physical tools to become a transcendent player in the NFL.
Alongside Jadeveon Clowney, Khalil Mack is considered to be one of the most promising defenders in the 2014 draft. Teams looking to draft Mack will likely have to find their way into the top five overall and yet he could still not be available then either.
When it came to Mack’s recent pro day results, Jeff Reynolds, via CBSSports.com, had this to say about his rising stock:
Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie, Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine and Buffalo Bills general manager Kevin Whaley were on hand for Mack's morning workout during which he improved dramatically on a 4.65 "official" time in the 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine.
At 4.53, Mack (6-3, 251), matched the wow-provoking 40 time of Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina's defensive end and top-ranked player in the 2014 draft.
Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The experienced left tackle from Michigan had a very special showing during the NFL Scouting Combine. How good you ask?
Well, in using my draft metric over the last three seasons, which factors in every physical tool of a prospect from arm length to multi-dimensional speed, Taylor Lewan has impressively scored the second-highest overall grade by an offensive lineman.
Most post-combine big boards have Lewan rated in the top 15 among the 2014 draft class—a class that has been praised numerous times for its depth and elite talent.
Lewan’s tape, however, is not necessarily anything to swoon over. You can certainly see the potential popping out at you regardless of the Michigan game you put on.
The problem with Lewan is that he does not finish his blocks or hustle downfield looking for guys to block. As an alternative, the 6’7” blocker is often seen aimlessly jogging around once his initial block has been completed. Unfortunately this is quite common when scouting offensive linemen.
To put things into perspective, had Taylor Lewan entered the draft last year, he would have likely been a top three selection.
Ryan Riddle is a former NFL player and writes for Bleacher Report
For more draft info follow him on Twitter.