2014 NFL Draft: Early Predictions for Draft-Day Steals
Months and months go into scouting players for the NFL draft by all the teams in the league. They spend countless hours attending games, watching film, putting players through workouts and crunching their numbers to determine which player is the best fit for their organization.
Sometimes the choice for a team is rather obvious (i.e. Andrew Luck to the Indianapolis Colts in 2011), but sometimes teams may out-think themselves, leaving other players to fall down draft boards.
In 2005, Aaron Rodgers slid down to No. 24 for the Green Bay Packers, and more drastically, Tom Brady fell to the New England Patriots in the sixth round of the 2000 draft.
Guys like Rodgers and Brady prove that steals can be found throughout the draft every year.
Here are early predictions for draft-day steals in 2014.
Aaron Murray Lasts Until Pick 107 to the Oakland Raiders in Round 4
Earlier this month, according to CBSSports.com, the Oakland Raiders traded for veteran quarterback Matt Schaub from the Houston Texans for a sixth-round pick.
Schaub had a terrible 2013 but is a quarterback capable of winning football games and will give the Oakland Raiders flexibility in the draft.
It was believed that taking a quarterback in the first round was all but assured for the Raiders, but by trading for Schaub, the team can now focus on finding a playmaker on offense or someone who can help shore up its defense in the first few rounds.
While Schaub is the short-term answer, the team still needs to find a quarterback it can develop, and Georgia's Aaron Murray could be a steal in the fourth round.
Murray tore his ACL against Kentucky last season, and it has hampered his ability to show teams his full potential. He did attend the Senior Bowl and the NFL Scouting Combine, throwing footballs on the side and participating in player weigh-ins, but his biggest opportunity to show how he has healed will be at Georgia's pro day on April 16.
Murray's agent, Pat Dye, Jr., spoke with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's D. Orlando Ledbetter about the difficulties of coming off the injury, saying:
In an ideal world, he’s not coming off an ACL. In an ideal world, he’s 6-foot-4. But he’s not. We’ll just make the best of that. His height and his ACL are a little bit of a detriment to his draft status, but, all in all, I don’t expect much of draft fallout from the ACL. I just think there is a positive bounce from his production, performance and his intangibles.
His pro day will go a long way in showing teams that he has healed from the ACL injury, but teams can often, regardless of the player's current health, be scared away by his injury history.
Murray has a chance to drop in the draft because of the unknown status of his knee. If he's available for the Oakland Raiders in the fourth round, he will be a perfect player to develop behind a veteran like Schaub.
Marqise Lee Drops to Pick No. 60 Overall to the Carolina Panthers
At one point during the draft evaluation process, USC's Marqise Lee was the undisputed wide receiver in the 2014 NFL draft.
He saw a dip in play in 2013 from previous years after losing his quarterback Matt Barkley to the NFL draft and missing three games due to a knee injury during the season.
He runs clean routes, has good speed (ran a 4.52 40-yard dash) and shows the ability to be a difference-maker at times as a return man.
Despite his production throughout his career, many are down on him. In his latest Scouting Notebook for Bleacher Report, Matt Miller wrote, "Who is the most overrated player in the class? I polled five area scouts, and three listed USC wide receiver Marqise Lee as their answer."
His 2013 season likely contributed to his drop down some big boards, but if he is available in the second round, he could be a steal.
I've said this since October/November, Marqise Lee been flying under the radar all year. Reminiscent of Keenan Allen circa 2013— Ian Kenyon (@IanKenyonNFL) March 20, 2014
The Carolina Panthers have had an abysmal offseason, seeing Ted Ginn Jr. and Brandon LaFell leave via free agency, cutting the popular Steve Smith and failing to address the position other than signing Jerricho Cotchery.
If Lee is available in the second round, he will help give quarterback Cam Newton a young, talented wide receiver who can grow and hopefully mature into one of the better young wide receivers in the game.
Travis Swanson Becomes 1st Center Taken by the Denver Broncos, 95 Overall
The Denver Broncos have been one of the most active teams in free agency this offseason, signing guys like Emmanuel Sanders, Aqib Talib, DeMarcus Ware and T.J. Ward, via DenverBroncos.com.
The additions of Talib, Ware and Ward help bolster the team's defense, but Broncos still could use some help along their offensive line. The team saw left guard Zane Beadles leave for Jacksonville in free agency, and while it currently has Manny Ramirez at center, it would be tough to pass on Arkansas' Travis Swanson if he is available in the third round.
Many big boards have Swanson as their top-ranked center, although where he will ultimately be picked is up in the air. He uses his hands well and has tremendous football IQ. He will need to work on getting stronger at the point of attack, as he has a tendency to lean on his opponent instead of pushing him back.
Bret Bielema, Swanson's coach at Arkansas, raved about him, telling NFL.com's Chase Goodbread, "I just really am blown away with what he can do, how incredibly physical he is, and how much stamina he holds." He later stated that Swanson will be "no less than a second-round pick."
Considering the fact that most centers are not taken early in the draft, it is reasonable to think that Swanson could fall into the third round.
If he is available, he could help solidify an offensive line that is faced with the tough task of protecting Peyton Manning. Ramirez has the experience of playing guard and could easily shift to left guard, which was vacated by Beadles.
Swanson has the ability, durability and leadership to start from Day 1 and never look back.
Colt Lyerla Will Be the Last Pick of the Seattle Seahawks at No. 247
Oregon's Colt Lyerla was once viewed as a dynamic pass-catching tight end who could become a force in the NFL until he was arrested and plead guilty to cocaine-possession charges in October and left the team.
Lyerla is built like the new-age hybrid tight ends who are becoming the norm in the NFL and is similar to former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez.
Bucky Brooks of NFL.com said of Lyerla, "He has the speed to blow past defenders on vertical routes and displays the short-area quickness and burst to run away from linebackers out of breaks."
He showed his versatility at Oregon, being used both as a tight end up on the line of scrimmage and even lining up at running back at times.
He has all of the potential to be a playmaker in the NFL, but due to his off-the-field issues, teams will have to look long and hard at him to determine whether or not he is changed and can help the team on the field.
His official 40-yard dash time of 4.61 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine was ranked third at the position (via NFL.com), just behind that of consensus first-rounder Eric Ebron out of North Carolina.
The talent is there with Lyerla, but the questions remain on where exactly he will go.
I have no idea what is going to happen, but Colt Lyerla is a ridiculous talent.— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) March 23, 2014
Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com said of him:
"Talent grades could garner interest in the second round, but past history could easily knock him down several rounds and off many draft boards. Would benefit tremendously from a coach willing to serve as a strong father figure."
Many teams will likely not include him at all on their big board, but a team like the Seattle Seahawks, coming off a Super Bowl win and with the stability in its locker room, front office and coaching staff, can take on a player like Lyerla and not fear that he could tear apart its team.
Considering that the Seahawks currently have Kellen Davis, Travis Beckum, Cooper Helfet, Anthony McCoy, Zach Miller and Luke Willson as their tight ends, Lyerla would be an instant upgrade at the position and a potential steal near the end of the draft.
Injury Drops Aaron Colvin to the Bears in the 6th Round
Viewed as a potential second-day pick, Oklahoma's Aaron Colvin suffered a torn ACL during Senior Bowl practice and has no doubt led to his falling draft stock.
At the combine Colvin said he would be ready for training camp and did not waver in his confidence, telling Chase Goodbread of NFL.com, "I felt like I was a first-round corner, I'll tell you that. I still feel like I'm a first-round corner."
While his confidence can be commended, it appears very unlikely that he will be taken off the board any time before the fifth round.
When he is healthy, he is a physical cornerback who excels against the run but can play a bit overaggressive at times.
History has proven in recent years that ACL injuries can be just a minor setback for some players, and while Colvin has all of the talent, he will still need to prove to teams that he has the ability to come in during training camp and compete.
The Chicago Bears have done a nice job of re-signing their starter cornerback duo of Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman this offseason, but the team lacks depth and youth at the position and would be a perfect landing spot for the recovering Colvin.
He would have no pressure of taking over a position in 2014 and would benefit from continuing to strengthen his knee while learning the intricacies of the position from Jennings and Tillman as well as defensive backs coach Jon Hoke.
Teddy Bridgewater Falls to Pick 20 for the Cardinals
Heading into the 2013 season and throughout the beginning of the 2014 offseason, Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater was looked at as one of, if not the best quarterback heading into the 2014 NFL draft.
During his final season in Louisville, Bridgewater completed 71 percent of his passes. He threw 31 touchdowns and only four interceptions, yet some feel his size may wind up being the biggest knock against him.
Listed at 6'3", Bridgewater weighed in at 208 pounds at his pro day in March, which was six pounds lighter than what he weighed at the NFL Scouting Combine in February (via CBSSports.com).
According to CBSSports.com, Bridgewater said he'd be 220-225 pounds by the time he reports to training camp. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller is not hung up on Bridgewater's size, tweeting:
Tom Brady was 6'4", 211 lbs at the Scouting Combine. Teddy Bridgewater was 6'2", 214. Enough with the weight talk.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) March 17, 2014
Along with his size, another reason why teams may be scared off is because of his shaky pro day in March. According to Mike Mayock (via SI.com), he thought that Bridgewater's pro day was “very average at best."
Bridgewater shook off the reports of his shaky pro day in the days following his workout, telling the NFL Network (via SI.com):
I just pay no attention to it. Keep my head down, stay focused on what I have to work on. If something is being said in a negative way about me, I use it as growth, I learn from it. If it’s something being said positive about me, I still can learn from it. I’m just on a mission to be the best player that I can be, so I keep my head down and just keep moving forward.
Despite the weight concerns and his pro day, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller and Michael Schottey both believe he should be the No. 1 overall pick of the Houston Texans in May. Despite the tools that Bridgewater possesses, the NFL still lives in the "what have you done for me lately" world, and his shaky pro day may be enough to see him drop.
Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel are both riding momentum heading into the draft and could be the first two quarterbacks taken. With the Oakland Raiders trading for Matt Schaub and the New York Jets signing Michael Vick, there is a higher probability that neither team will use a first-round pick on a quarterback.
Minnesota and Tennessee could still be landing spots for Bridgewater, but considering the talent on the defensive side of the football that will be available, he could still be available at No. 20 when the Arizona Cardinals pick, and he could cement himself as the team's starter for many years to come.