The 2014 NFL draft is now less than a month away. The rumor mill is really going to heat up over the remaining weeks as teams start setting their draft boards and finalizing how they plan to attack the event to maximize value while also filling holes.
Of course, there will also be plenty of smokescreens sent out ahead of the draft, especially by teams that may be looking to move down. It makes the period right before the draft among the toughest when it comes to deciphering between fact and fiction.
With that in mind, let's check out some of the latest buzz making its way around the league concerning some of the top prospects on the board. The breakdowns are followed by updated predictions of where each player will land on draft day.
Clowney would likely be the consensus first overall pick if the Houston Texans had a more stable quarterback situation. But since that's still the most important position on the field and the Texans need a new one, opinions remain varied about what they would do if they keep the top selection.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller reports Houston is working on a move that could change its draft outlook. He states the team is lining up a potential trade with the New England Patriots for Ryan Mallett and then would draft Clowney to open the draft.
The idea certainly makes sense on paper. The Texans could get a new quarterback without missing out on an edge rusher with amazing potential. The question is exactly what the Patriots would want in return for Tom Brady's backup, who has four career attempts.
No player in the draft has a better combination of ability level and NFL readiness than Mack. He doesn't have the potential of Clowney or the star power of Johnny Manziel, but for a team looking for a defensive prospect ready to make a noticeable impact right away, he fits the bill.
The Buffalo product is capable of playing either defensive end or outside linebacker, which means he shouldn't have to worry about sliding due to scheme issues. As it stands now, Peter Schrager of Fox Sports notes the buzz around the league suggests he won't make it past the third pick:
Since the Jacksonville Jaguars, the current owners of the No. 3 selection, finished last in the NFL in sacks last season, that would be a good fit. Should he end up sliding beyond that point, it's hard to imagine him getting past the Buffalo Bills at No. 9 after they've seen him star in college on a weekly basis.
Early in the draft process, Watkins was established as the best wide receiver available. While other wideouts, most notably Mike Evans, have put some serious talent on display, it doesn't feel like anybody did enough to overtake the Clemson star as the top player at the position.
That should ensure Watkins doesn't spend a lot of time waiting to hear his name called. It also means teams interested in him that aren't currently inside the top five would probably need to move up to get him. Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press reports the Detroit Lions could do exactly that:
If the Detroit Lions want to land the best receiver in the draft, Clemson's Sammy Watkins, they'll have to trade up to get him.
And the growing sense in league circles is that's the all-in sort of move the Lions, a team desperate to reverse its downtrodden luck, could be willing to make.
Pairing Watkins with Calvin Johnson would have the potential to give opposing defenses nightmares. That said, it once again comes down to the price tag. Detroit shouldn't mortgage too much of its future to move up a handful of spots. If it doesn't move up, the Oakland Raiders make the most sense given their need at the position.