2014 NFL Draft: Which Players Are Tumbling Down Draft Boards?
With less than one month remaining until the 2014 NFL draft, it’s the time of the offseason when rumors quickly escalate about players tumbling down various draft boards.
Most of the attention falls upon the top quarterbacks. Much like Geno Smith last year, who was at one time projected to be a top-five pick and ultimately ended up in the second round, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater has been the most consistent target of a rumored fall from the top of this year’s draft.
Beyond Bridgewater and the other top quarterbacks, there are a number of other prospects whose stocks have seemingly slipped in recent weeks.
Whether it be due to subpar workouts, injury or character concerns, or teams simply coming away underwhelmed with college tape, all of the following players have been rumored to slide in this year’s draft despite being considered potential top picks at one time or another.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
It happens just about every year. A quarterback who went into his final college football season as a potential No. 1 overall pick becomes a punching bag for over-scrutiny, as evaluators begin to nitpick every flaw in that supposed top signal-caller’s game.
Teddy Bridgewater has been no exception to that trend.
Many media draft evaluators still consider Bridgewater the best quarterback in this year’s class. Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller still ranks Bridgewater as the No. 1 prospect in the draft. NFL teams, however, reportedly aren’t feeling so good about the Louisville product.
John Middlekauff, a radio host for 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and a former NFL scout, recently tweeted that his league sources have indicated Bridgewater could fall to Round 2.
Bridgewater has also reportedly struggled in pre-draft workouts, according to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen via Rotoworld. Bridgewater’s agent, Kennard McGuire, refuted that account, telling Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio that Bridgewater had only had one private workout at the time of Mortensen’s report in which he was assessed as “simply amazing and sharp.”
While it’s probably true that at least some NFL teams don’t see Bridgewater as a first-round pick, it only takes one team to see him as a franchise player for him to still be a very high draft selection. The most polished and NFL-ready passer in this year’s draft, Bridgewater should be considered a great choice for any team in need of a quarterback.
The potential for the top quarterbacks to fall, however, isn’t limited to Bridgewater. In this week’s Monday Morning Quarterback column, Peter King of SI.com wrote that all four quarterback-needy teams in the top five are “strongly considering passing on quarterbacks with their first picks.” That could hurt the draft stocks of Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and UCF’s Blake Bortles just as much as it could hurt that of Bridgewater.
Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Among projected first-round picks, few, if any, have greater red flags than Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan. Set to be arraigned on three assault charges in May, Lewan has character concerns that could lead some teams to pass on him despite his talent.
From a pure talent perspective, Lewan is worthy of a top-15 draft selection. His game has some technical flaws, but his physical tools—exceptional athleticism, impressive power and a 6’7”, 309-pound frame—are as outstanding as those of any offensive tackle prospect in this year’s draft.
Nonetheless, teams might be left second-guessing themselves about Lewan, who has a reputation for dirty play on the field and a questionable history off it.
TFY Draft Insider’s Tony Pauline recently reported that “several teams” presently grade Notre Dame’s Zack Martin, who is more technically sound but doesn’t have nearly as impressive physical tools, ahead of Lewan.
Pauline didn’t indicate whether those teams have concerns about Lewan’s behavior but said teams believe Martin “offers potential at four spots on the offensive line, both tackle and guard spots, and is less prone to making mental mistakes compared to Lewan.”
It’s likely that at some point in the first round—perhaps after Martin is off the board—a team will consider Lewan’s potential too good to pass up. His draft stock seems much more uncertain, however, than that of many of the other top talents in this year’s class.
Brandon Thomas, OT/G, Clemson
Clemson offensive lineman Brandon Thomas’ draft stock took a massive, unfortunate hit when he suffered a torn ACL during a private workout with the New Orleans Saints earlier this month, per ESPN.com’s Adam Caplan.
Thomas’ now-falling stock is in stark contrast to where it was prior to his injury, when he was emerging as a dark-horse first-round candidate.
The Sideline View’s Lance Zierlein had said Thomas is “going late 1st to mid 2nd," while Tony Pauline wrote on WalterFootball.com in early March that his league sources felt Thomas had “moved into the draft's initial 45 picks and could end up landing in the late part of round one.”
There’s plenty to like about Thomas as a player. A big, powerful lineman with 34.75” arms and impressive all-around athleticism, the Clemson left tackle might be best suited to kick inside to guard but has the all-around skill set to remain an anchor on the outside.
Post-injury, however, it would come as a surprise if Thomas comes off the board any earlier than Round 3. While his talent could make him a long-term fixture on an offensive line, his value is depreciated by the fact that he's like to miss most or all of the 2014 NFL season, according to Bleacher Report medical expert Dave Siebert.
Even Thomas’ agent, Tom Kleine, admitted to Aaron Brenner of The Post and Courier that the injury will “probably” affect his client’s draft stock.
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
At 6’5” and 240 pounds, Kelvin Benjamin has rare size for an NFL wideout and combines it with impressive leaping ability, overall athleticism and route-running skill. He has the potential to be a major playmaker and mismatch creator for an NFL offense, but teams might be leery to invest in him as an early-round draft pick.
According to a report from NFL.com’s Gil Brandt last week, Benjamin “blew off” a workout with an NFL coach who traveled to see him because he was “too tired.” Brandt later said that although Benjamin’s agent, Eugene Parker, refuted his report, he would stick with his story.
While some may question the validity of that report, it’s not the only reason for concern with Benjamin.
Although Benjamin’s size is largely a boon to his draft stock, it might also be a cause for doubt, according to NFL Network analyst Charles Davis. In an interview with Pittsburgh radio station 93.7 The Fan, Davis said “a number of scouts and personnel people like [Mike] Evans a lot better” than Benjamin because “240 pound receivers scare the heck out of NFL personnel people.”
If Benjamin has other factors working against him, it could be crushing to his draft stock, as there are a number of flaws in his play alone. While his athleticism is impressive for his size, he has trouble separating from coverage downfield. He isn’t going to make defenders miss in the open field, and he has some issues with concentration drops.
The Florida State product’s upside could ultimately land him in the first round, but his draft stock seems to be trending in the wrong direction.
Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU
In a deep draft class of wide receivers, disappointing predraft workouts might be enough to crush the draft stock of LSU’s Jarvis Landry.
Landry is a skilled slot receiver whose route running and hands have made him successful, but his measurables don’t stack up against the rest of the top receivers in this year’s draft class. He ran a 4.77-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, the worst time of any wide receiver who ran, and he is only 5’11” and 205 pounds.
According to Bucky Brooks of NFL.com, Landry “entered the combine viewed as a big, physical receiver capable of growing into the No. 1 role in a passing game. But scouts quickly changed their opinion after watching the LSU product lumber down the track at Lucas Oil Stadium.”
He improved slightly upon his time at LSU’s pro day, where he ran a “pair of 4.58s,” according to Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun, but that’s still a poor time at his size. Furthermore, Wilson said Landry “dropped three to four passes” and had a “rough day overall” at the April 9 workout.
Predraft workouts shouldn’t wash away the good work Landry put in during his collegiate career, in which he consistently showed an ability to get open and make tough plays. But in a draft class that has a double-digit total of potential early-round wide receiver picks, Landry might have surpassed what room for error he had to still be a top draft choice.
Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
A 6’5”, 304-pounder with impressive athleticism for his size, Notre Dame’s Stephon Tuitt has the versatility to play all over an NFL defensive line. He’s been considered by some, including NFL Network’s Mike Mayock, as a “borderline first-round guy.”
People around the NFL, however, might not see as much promise in Tuitt. An NFC scouting director told Mark Eckel of NJ.com that he would ”just say no” to Tuitt, calling the Fighting Irish product “lazy” and “an underachiever.” An AFC personnel executive, according to Eckel, said “there were games where he [Tuitt] just didn’t do anything” at Notre Dame.
The same AFC personnel executive said he thinks Tuitt is best suited to play as a 3-4 defensive end. He has very good measurables for that position, and his ability to play both inside and outside would give a 3-4 team the ability to use him in a variety of different roles even in the same position.
In a 4-3 defense, however, Tuitt might be best described as a “tweener.” He’s a better inside rusher than he is around the edge, but he isn’t as strong or powerful as an NFL defensive tackle should be.
The opinions of the NFL evaluators interviewed by Eckel don’t necessarily reflect the views of the entire league, but they’re not particularly surprising. It might be more unexpected if Tuitt ends up being a top-32 pick than if he falls significantly in Round 2.
All measurables courtesy of NFL.com.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.