The 2014 NFL draft is still a little over a month away, but the buzz surrounding potential selections and trades is already building.
At this point, teams are still finalizing their evaluations on prospects, so any rumors should be taken with a grain of salt, as few organizations are totally certain about their draft direction. However, these whispers do reflect the current perception on prospects, one that is unlikely to drastically change at this point.
Thus, let's examine some of the most recent draft rumors and predict how likely they are to actually materialize come draft day.
Texans Looking to Trade No. 1 Pick
There has never been a particularly clear direction on who the Texans might pick first overall. Houston has a clear need at quarterback, but without a can't-miss proposition at the position, a potential game-changer on defense like Jadeveon Clowney or Khalil Mack also makes sense.
In such a situation, the most logical course of solution is to trade down. Bleacher Report's Dan Pompei reported that Houston is considering such a possibility, with the Buffalo Bills standing out as a possible trade partner:
Word from the NFL meetings is the Texans are trying hard to deal the first pick in the draft. They want to move down and acquire extra selections. Sources say they might have a trade partner in the Bills, who appear interested in moving up. It is unclear who the Bills would want in a trade-up scenario. Some believe they would move up for a quarterback. They also could make good use of an offensive tackle such as Greg Robinson. And it would be something to see them pair Mario Williams with either Jadeveon Clowney or Khalil Mack.
Even if the Texans don't take a quarterback first, Bill O'Brien has already said that he would draft at least one this year, possibly even two. Houston could still select one of Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater or Johnny Manziel even if they moved down a bit in the first round, or someone like Derek Carr if they traded down further in the first round.
Some have thrown out the "best-available-player" theory, as selecting Clowney or Mack would give the Texans a potentially terrifying front-seven foundation with J.J. Watt. With salary-cap issues and age depleting the core that won two straight division titles, the Texans have enough needs that selecting one of the top defensive prospects would not be too redundant.
Houston does need a young quarterback to develop, as Ryan Fitzpatrick is a placeholder whose veteran smarts is more useful than his on-field ability. Whether or not that player comes at first overall will likely depend if they can find enough value to move down and pile up more assets.
Vikings to Pass on Quarterback at No. 8
The Minnesota Vikings are another team in need of a quarterback, given the mediocre morass they started at the position last year. While there is a decent chance that one of Bortles, Bridgewater or Manziel will be available when they pick eighth, Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net suggested that the Vikings might pass until the second round:
If Minnesota passes on a quarterback, it would make sense that new coach Mike Zimmer would seek more renovations on defense. Zimmer overhauled the front seven, sending out longtime stars Jared Allen and Kevin Williams, while adding younger free agents like Linval Joseph and Corey Wootton.
The Vikings could still use plenty of help in the secondary, as 2013 first-rounder Harrison Smith is the only clear long-term building block. While a top corner like Darqueze Dennard or Justin Gilbert might make sense, SBNation.com's Ted Glover believes Mack would be the perfect fit if he fell to No. 8:
Khalil Mack would seem to be a perfect fit for a Zimmer coached defense. As an outside linebacker, he's fast enough and big enough to play the Sam position, and cover a tight end or blitz. He's also quick enough laterally to put him at the Will position in run support. If he was going to be a down linemen coming from the end position, I think he'd need to add some pounds (he's listed at 6'3", 251), but has the speed to beat a slower tackle to the edge.
Zimmer never really had anyone like Mack off the edge in Cincinnati. Michael Johnson was similarly gifted in both pass-rush and run support, but Mack is significantly more versatile, and he would provide Zimmer a tantalizing chess piece to use as both as an edge-rusher and in space.
The Vikings certainly do need a quarterback, assuming Christian Ponder's lease on the starting job expired with Leslie Frazier's exit. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner will have a heavy input on the selection, and Turner's vertical "Air Coryell"-based passing offense typically requires a strong-armed quarterbacks who can make outside-the-numbers throws.
The aforementioned Mettenberger would be a solid pick, as would someone like Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo. Regardless, it's clear the Vikings still need help on their back seven and at quarterback before they are true NFC North contenders.
Dolphins to Trade Up for Lewan
The Miami Dolphins offensive line was one of the worst catastrophes of the 2013 season, both on and off the field. While Miami has started the rebuilding process at the unit with free-agent signings Branden Albert and Shelley Smith, a gaping hole at right tackle still exists.
Thus, the prevailing sentiment is that the Dolphins will address the position with the 19th overall pick. While the top trio of Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan are expected to be off the board by then, there's a possibility that the Fins would consider trading up for the last name, per the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson:
But a team official says the Dolphins would be happy if they could somehow snag Michigan’s Taylor Lewan, who is projected by most analysts to be gone by their pick at No. 19. An associate of Lewan said he is aware of Miami’s interest.
Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has said he “thinks the world of Taylor Lewan,” and the high regard for Lewan inside the Dolphins apparently extends beyond Ross.
Eric Galko of Optimum Scouting also believes that despite off-field issues, Lewan's top-10 talent would be too difficult to pass up in the first round:
Beyond the top three at the position, Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio figures to be available when the Dolphins pick, though he comes with more concerns in pass protection than Miami might want. Safety is also a potential target, with Louisville's Calvin Pryor a first-round possibility.
The Dolphins certainly needed to put all their eggs in the offensive line basket this offseason, as it is impossible to objectively judge Ryan Tannehill's progress without providing him with any semblance of protection. Miami does not necessarily need to spend their first pick on a right tackle, but they are not yet finished with their offensive line overhaul.