The 2014 NFL draft has been regarded as the deepest in recent memory.
NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock called this the deepest draft he's seen in 10 years, and Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said it's the deepest he's seen ever in his 30 years scouting the draft.
Why is that? Because according to Dane Brugler of CBS Sports, a record 98 underclassmen have declared for this year's draft. Student-athletes are looking to make an early exit from the college ranks to capitalize on their opportunity to make money at the professional level, in hopes of making it to a second and third contract earlier than would be possible if they had continued to play college football.
The added depth is good news for teams like the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos, picking at the end of the first round. There could still be some very talented players available, even after most teams have had a chance to pick, and even if those players may take a little longer to develop. The depth of the draft could be bad news for teams looking to trade down to help their team rebuild, though.
Take the St. Louis Rams, for example. In 2012, the Rams held the No. 2 overall pick in the draft. Several teams were vying for the spot, and whichever one finalized the trade would earn the chance to draft one of two franchise quarterbacks: Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III. The Washington Redskins eventually gave up three first-round picks and a second-rounder to move up to the second pick in the draft for RGIII.
Through the good fortune of their trade, the Rams once again have the second overall pick in the 2014 draft. Could there still be teams interested in moving up? Sure. Rams general manager Les Snead said he heard from teams interested in trading up to the No. 2 spot, according to SB Nation's Ryan Van Bibber.
This year, though, there is no such consensus at the top of the draft. The Rams may not be able to collect the bounty they received two years ago if not everyone is convinced that someone like Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, Louisville signal-caller Teddy Bridgewater or South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is worth the price.
"I think sitting at two, this is gonna be a little bit different than the last one," Snead said at the scouting combine in February. "When we went out to Indy the last time, it seemed like everyone knew who pick one was gonna be (Andrew Luck). And probably what pick two was gonna be (RGIII). I'm not sure we're gonna leave Indy and know who pick one is gonna be."
At this rate, we may not know who the first pick will be until we get to Radio City Music Hall for the draft.
The ripple effects of the extra depth could be felt in other areas of the draft besides the first round, depending on how teams feel about the depth in the middle rounds.
Where things could get very interesting is when we begin including picks in next year's draft. With so much talent available in 2014, teams could be thinking about forfeiting 2015's draft picks to add more this year.
Will organizations be willing to give up picks in such a deep draft?
Maybe a team like the San Diego Chargers, who currently have just six picks in 2015, might want to add to their draft currency next year. Perhaps a team like the New York Jets—who are tied with the Rams for a league-most 12 selections in 2014—would be interested in creating more flexibility for 2015.
|Which Teams Could Trade Their Picks?|
|Most picks in 2014||Picks in 2014||Picks in 2015|
|New York Jets||12||7|
|St. Louis Rams||12||7|
|San Francisco 49ers||11||7|
|Fewest picks in 2015||Picks in 2014||Picks in 2015|
|New England Patriots||8||6|
|San Diego Chargers||7||6|
In that sense, we may get an idea of how teams feel about the depth in next year's draft based on which teams load up for next season and which mortgage the 2015 draft to add talent now.
Another thing to consider: Teams that are in tight salary-cap constraints, which were priced out of adding top-notch talent through free agency.
The Dallas Cowboys always come to mind as a team that would be willing to move up the board to grab a talented player they covet. After spending just $11.8 million total and $1.865 million guaranteed this offseason, according to Spotrac.com, Jerry Jones could be itching to add talent.
With the rookie wage scale in place, it doesn't make sense for a team to try to acquire more picks in hopes of paying the cheaper price for the players they select, since the difference is not what it used to be. Still, from a salary-cap perspective, moving up the draft board is easier and more sensible than ever.
|Number of Draft Weekend Trades by Year|
There's nothing to suggest the rookie wage scale has had a big impact on the number of trades; over the past four years, the number of trades has bounced from the mid-20s to low-30s.
However, with draft analysts and GMs calling this one of the deepest drafts in recent memory, and with more underclassmen coming out for this year's draft than ever before, the trade market could take some unexpected turns on draft day.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.