The Most Polarizing Prospects of the 2014 NFL Draft
Each year the NFL draft presents us with some head-scratching prospects who can completely polarize front offices and media analysts alike.
Part of the fun about the entire draft process is the uncertainty, mystery and highly engaging discourse circulating as varying opinions send the football world into a frenzy. This is all part of the draft-day anticipation as the energy and hopes of a brighter future for fans across the world amplifies with each passing day.
Perhaps your favorite team is targeting one of this year’s most polarizing prospects. If so, you might want to read on to find out which side of the pole you should lean on as we break down this year’s most divisive draft hopefuls of 2014.
Prospects who made this list have to be loved by one set of analysts and equally hated by a different set. In essence, these players have somehow divided a community who just can't seem to agree on how to value the guys on this list.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Has there been a prospect in recent memory as polarizing as Johnny Manziel? Few NFL hopefuls have divided analysts as front offices alike.
Some question his character; others have issue with his size. For many observers, Johnny Football’s propensity to scramble and improvise has them worried about his potential at the next level. Can he read the field? Will he ever survive against NFL talent?
ESPN's Ron Jaworski told a Philadelphia radio station that he wouldn't take Manziel in the first three rounds of the draft. While on the opposite end of the spectrum, ESPN’s Mel Kiper (subscription required) projected Manziel to be the Minnesota Vikings' selection at No. 8.
A big reason for Manziel's polarization is largely comprised of the things that make him such a exciting prospect could also lead to his downfall. If he tries to play the position like Michael Vick, it's hard to imagine him having a long career. But it's also hard to imagine him being confined to the pocket.
Analysts are falling on both sides of the Manziel debate. It seems that for every fan of is, there is equally passionate skeptic.
Personally I think Manziel understands how to keep himself away from injury-inducing hits. If he goes to a team that understands how to utilize him, I expect this kid to not only thrive, but to also prove he has longevity against the big boys of the NFL.
His instincts are uncanny, and his competitive drive should keep him hungry to be the best. For what it’s worth, if I were a team in need of a franchise quarterback, I’d have a hard time passing up Manziel.
Why? Because I’ve never seen anyone do the things on a football field that Manziel has shown us in just two years against top-tier SEC defenses.
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier had some interesting opinions to share about his former star player on NFL Network’s NFL AM (via Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk):
“He was okay. It wasn’t like Marcus Lattimore. You know, every player is a little different. His work habits are pretty good. They’re not quite like Lattimore, a Stephon Gilmore, Melvin Ingram, some of those guys, but when the ball is snapped he’s got something no one else has.”
This perception of Clowney’s character has gained enough traction amongst the draft community that some now believe he’s too big of a risk to be one of the first players drafted.
One scrutiny in particular I just can’t get behind is the belief that Clowney have a poor motor during games. Anyone who thinks this way about him simply has not watched enough tape on either him or other defensive ends for context.
As someone who has been a harsh judge of effort and motor in tape study, I can assure you Clowney is putting in the requisite effort needed to be a powerful force for destruction. In fact, most of his disruption is the direct result of his vigor and intensity.
In any case, I doubt we will find anyone out there who thinks Clowney is not worthy of a first-round pick. His polarization is more about whether or not he is worthy of a being one of the first players drafted come May.
Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
According to Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com, the 6’6” 310-pound defensive tackle “needs more glass in his diet.” Apparently eating glass is some sort of scout lingo for needing to be tougher. He goes on to say: “Could require simple assignments. Motivation and coachability should be examined more closely. Will be 24-year-old rookie. Has a glaring bust factor.”
These weaknesses are hard to deny, even for those who have Hageman highly ranked on their board. The divisive element here exists because Hageman is such an impressive physical specimen with rare athleticism for his size that it’s hard to imagine this guy won’t dominate at the highest level.
It was as if this man was designed specifically to wreak havoc on a football field. Yet despite such physical advantages, Hageman seems to lack any desire or passion in his play. Rather than taking over games, this mammoth of a man seems content to blend in with the crowd and reduce himself to an average player having little to no impact on the outcome of the game.
Some defensive players are focused solely on executing their given assignments, while others are determined to change the game's outcome—Hageman barely qualifies as the former.
Despite these concerns, many analysts still believe he will be a first-round selection in the 2014 NFL draft, such as NFL.com’s Gil Brandt, who ranks Hageman as the 11th-best prospect in the draft.
Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Greg Gabriel of National Football Post has Marqise Lee ranked 10th on his big board. Bucky Brooks of NFL.com has Lee ranked as the third-best wideout in this class. Gil Brandt rates him the 14th-best prospect overall.
Yet other draft experts are less convinced by Lee’s NFL potential. Daniel Jeremiah of the NFL Network ranks Lee No. 21 on his top 50. Meanwhile, Dane Brugler of CBSSports.com has him ranked 39th overall, essentially declaring him a second-round talent in this class. Rotoworld’s Josh Norris thinks more in line with Bruglar, ranking him the 35th-best prospect.
From big boards across the draft intraweb, Lee is viewed anywhere from an early first-round talent to a mid-level second-rounder.
Apparently there are concerns Lee lacks ideal size for a first-rounder and doesn’t play physical enough to thrive in the NFL. He also has shown inconsistency with his hands, especially during the 2013 season. Furthermore, for his size (6’0”, 192 lbs.), Lee should have run a faster 40-yard dash time than the mediocre 4.52 he was clocked at during the combine.
Despite these issues, which are valid critiques to consider, what most people still love about Lee is his ability to make plays after the catch.
Lee is an instinctual playmaker who has the elusiveness to leave an entire secondary lying on the ground as he turns a simple slant into a highlight reel.
Though I love his exciting big-play ability, it’s hard to ignore the pattern that receivers with Lee’s playing style tend to struggle at the next level— former first-round pick A.J. Jenkins is the most recent example of this not working out.
With unprecedented depth at wide receiver this year, Lee could likely fall out of the first round.
Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
The interesting thing about this draft class is you could pretty much consider any of the big-name quarterback prospects to be polarizing to some degree. Even guys who were once seen as bulletproof have recently come under fire after a poor pro day. I won’t name any names, but it sounds like "Beddy Tidgewater." But even he is considered to be a unanimous first-round pick.
Derek Carr, on the other hand, is a guy who tends to elicit a “love him” or “hate him” type reaction.
His believers tend to be the type who value a strong arm and out-of-this-world stats—and who can blame them really? The Carr naysayers worry that he might be a product of smoke and mirrors perfectly maintained within the confines of a stat-friendly system consisting of very few reads and high degree of quick screens.
Carr is widely considered to have the strongest arm in this draft class, and that is always going to intrigue NFL clubs in need of a quarterback. But the aspect of his game that may scare most teams out of first-round consideration is the way he shrinks in the face of pressure.
Yes, unfortunately it’s true. Carr suffers from an extreme lack of poise when the pocket gets messy, which is a weakness QBs cannot afford to have at the NFL level.
Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Kony Ealy is a two-year starter with ideal height, weight and all the measureables that teams covet in a defensive end. Ealy is an athletic kid with impressive body control, good fluidity and flexibility in the hips and ankles.
Despite the promise he exudes on paper, many wonder why his counterpart, Michael Sam, on the opposite end was more disruptive despite having just a fraction of the ability.
Evaluations of Ealy can range anywhere from 15th overall to 40th depending on which big board you’re looking at. Of the five expert mock drafts on NFL.com, two of the analysts had Ealy drafted in the first round, while the other three omitted his name for Day 1 consideration.
Those who see this Missouri product as a first-round talent likely prioritize his potential and rare ability. Critics who fall on the harsher end of the spectrum tend to feel like this kid has not shown up on tape nearly enough to justify a Day 1 selection.
I tend to lean on the side of those who see Ealy as more of a Day 2 project with all the tools to be special rather than someone worth taking the risk on in the first round.
Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
According to Sigmund Bloom of Footballguys.com, safety Calvin Pryor is not a prospect he would advise a team to draft in the first round by any means.
In an article he wrote about the former Louisville Cardinal, Bloom had some candid criticism of the safety worth keeping in mind:
Almost every one of Pryor’s positives are counterbalanced by the way those qualities become negatives when he is asked to do more than seek and destroy, and sometimes even when he is asked to do that.
He can be an aggressive blitzer, but simple moves will likely elude the pressure he creates. He can blow up screens, but he can also be rendered harmless by a patient receiver.
He went on even further in his bottom line regarding this projected first-round pick:
Pryor is only going to be success (sic) with an Earl Thomas or Ed Reed type of safety, or perhaps a dominant front seven like San Francisco’s. They don’t have to be as singular as Reed or Thomas in that role, but it hems in a defense in terms of personnel choices.
Does that sound like a first-round pick? Shouldn't first-round picks create more roster flexibility, not less?
Bloom makes some valid points when considering this kid as a first-round selection. Pryor does have value as a prospect when you factor in his tone-setting physicality that strikes fear in the hearts of any who dare cross his path.
But we must come to terms with the changing times of the NFL and realize that maybe these head-hunting assassins could be racking up more penalty yards than positive plays.
According to Pryor himself in an interview via Courier-Journal.com, “I’ve been getting great feedback, they’ve been saying first round or early second, but you never know what to expect. I’m just taking it a day at a time and focusing on my craft.”
With such varying opinions around the draft community, Pryor certainly has gotten one thing right—you never know what to expect.
Ryan Riddle is a former NFL player and currently writes for Bleacher Report.
For more draft info, follow him on Twitter.