The period between the Super Bowl and the NFL draft leaves a lot time for prospect evaluation. Inevitably, that leads to plenty of disagreement over certain players and their outlook when it comes to making the jump to the next level.
Since the prospects that usually generate the most attention are those projected to go early in the draft, it's usually not a debate about talent. Instead, the polarizing aspect comes from whether people believe they are capable of developing into game-changing superstars.
It's a conversation that occurs not only among media prognosticators but also in front offices around the league as draft boards are set. So let's check out a trio of polarizing prospects and predict where they will end up when the dust settles.
Jadeveon Clowney (DE – South Carolina)
No prospect in the 2014 draft can match Clowney's potential. His combination of size, athleticism and pass-rushing ability is off the charts. Yet, he registered just three sacks in his final season at South Carolina and seemed to lack the competitive fire necessary to succeed in the NFL.
So despite all of those natural traits and skills, there are now questions about whether he's even the top defensive player in the class. Chris Mortensen of ESPN reported that some evaluators view Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack as the safer option early in the opening round:
A handful of evaluators have greater confidence re: Buffalo LB Khalil Mack than Jadeveon Clowney. Mack's skills, consistency & versatility— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) March 8, 2014
Ultimately, it comes down to weighing the risk against the reward for teams inside the top five. Clowney has remarkable upside, but coming off a disappointing junior season, it's fair to at least wonder if he'll ever reach those amazing heights. Mack is more of a sure thing right now.
One team that is desperately searching for a franchise-altering talent is the Jacksonville Jaguars. They aren't ready to seriously compete next season, which would give Clowney some extra time to adapt to the NFL game with the hope he can become a dominant force in the future.
Prediction: Jaguars at No. 3
Johnny Manziel (QB – Texas A&M)
The fact Manziel has emerged as one of the draft's most polarizing prospects certainly doesn't come as a surprise. He's been polarizing ever since he rose to stardom at Texas A&M, where he became the first freshman to capture the coveted Heisman Trophy.
He's not a prototypical quarterback. He doesn't possess what would be considered ideal height, he lacks supreme arm strength and he tends to do a little more ad-libbing than what NFL fans are used to. NFL on ESPN passed along comments from him that show he still very much believes in himself:
"I play with a lot of heart, I play with a lot of passion, I feel like I play I like I'm 10 feet tall." - Johnny Manziel at the Combine— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) February 21, 2014
Manziel is never going to become Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. He's not going to simply stand tall in the pocket and deliver strikes. He'll rely on his improvisation skills to keep plays alive in the mold of Michael Vick, which can be just as valuable to an offense.
It makes him a good fit for the Cleveland Browns. The team has the solid base for a productive offense with Josh Gordon, Ben Tate and Jordan Cameron, but it still needs a quarterback. Question marks remain, but Manziel could finally be the answer to Cleveland's long search for a QB.
Prediction: Browns at No. 4
Marqise Lee (WR – USC)
Lee is one of the most interesting prospects in the class. If he would have been eligible to enter the draft last season, there was a good chance he could have landed in the top 10. After a lackluster junior campaign at USC, he's now much closer to the first-round fringe.
Which of these prospects will make the biggest rookie impact?
He had just 57 catches for 791 yards and four touchdowns last season, less than half his 2012 production across the board. He also dealt with a knee injury and didn't appear to showcase the same type of explosiveness when he was on the field.
If he gets back to full strength and plays like the No. 1 receiver he was on a path to become before last season, he would obviously provide great value in the second half of Round 1. Whether that will actually happen is still very much up in the air.
That's actually good news for a team like the Kansas City Chiefs because it means Lee could still be on the board when they pick. He would be an ideal addition to the passing game alongside Dwayne Bowe in a division where Kansas City has to keep pace with the high-scoring Denver Broncos.
Prediction: Chiefs at No. 23