Finally, after months of inane speculation, 4.2 million mock drafts spat all over the Internet and a bevy of twenty-something young men having their names dragged through the mud to serve a professional purpose, the 2014 NFL Draft has arrived.
In an effort to ensure the shield never leaves our sports purview, the NFL is experimenting with a May draft this year. It's something the league will probably continue going forward, with the combine and other pre-draft traditions being also being moved back to accommodate the mad dash to May sweeps.
Those moves would, at least in theory, help clear up the process. With the combine still beholden to its February date and the rest of the process moving along as if it were a normal year, the draft's arrival isn't so much a burst of excitement as it is an exhaling. Every remotely interesting storyline has been gnashed into the ground so deep paleontologists have been called in to examine its remains.
We're here now, though. And that's cause for a bit of celebration. No more mock drafts, no more wild speculation, no more of your friends telling you their totally rational and well thought-out opinions on Johnny Manziel. Well, OK. All of those things are still going to happen. But still. At least we'll have the ongoing draft to drown out the noise.
As per usual, NFL Network and ESPN will run non-competitive (but totally competitive) broadcasts simultaneously all weekend. Pick your poison. With that in mind, let's take a look at when and how you can tune into the proceedings.
|Thursday, May 8||8 p.m. ET||1||ESPN & NFL Network||WatchESPN, NFL.com|
|Friday, May 9||6:30 p.m. ET||2-3||ESPN & NFL Network||WatchESPN, NFL.com|
|Saturday, May 10||12 p.m. ET||4-7||ESPN & NFL Network||WatchESPN, NFL.com|
1st-Round Storylines to Watch
How Will the Quarterback Hierarchy Shake Out
This has been the overarching question throughout the draft process, yet it seems we've decided no consensus is perfectly OK this year. Combing through evaluators' rankings, most seem to still give Teddy Bridgewater a slight edge over Blake Bortles. But Johnny Manziel, weirdly enough, always seems to nestle his way into that second spot.
The lesson is that, if you're a Bridgewater guy, you're not a Bortles guy, and vice versa. Or prognosticators simply grade out these three dudes relatively the same way, and it's the difference between scoring a 95 and a 93 on your final exam. It's still an A either way.
Bortles and Manziel have clearly separated themselves a bit from Bridgewater across the league. Most are ready to acknowledge that Bridgewater's shaky pre-draft process—an average pro day, a lack of participation at the combine, a lowish Wonderlic score—has pushed him backward. Bortles and Manziel, meanwhile, have hit just about all their marks since declaring for the draft.
Bortles has played into his prototypical size and strength by displaying them anywhere possible. He was the only one of the trio to throw at the combine, wowed with his zip and improved footwork at his pro day and continues to rack up solid enough athletic numbers that teams believe in his elusiveness. When the great football god up in the goalpost invented the modern quarterback, he envisioned Bortles—though a slightly quicker version.
Manziel has gone about answering nearly every concern, starting with his character and going through his throwing motion. His answers, both publicly and privately, have sounded contrite to the point of feeling rehearsed. In the NFL, though, it's better most of the time to come off as a bit fake than anything resembling a malcontent. Manziel also put on a show at his pro day—while wearing a helmet and shoulder pads, no less. It was another semi-obvious ploy, but one original enough to work.
I'd still bet on Bridgewater turning out the best of this trio. He's the most pro-ready from a mental standpoint—no one is smarter at the line of scrimmage going through his reads—and we've somehow forgotten how brilliant Bridgewater was for three years at Louisville.
And yet, the possibility remains that Derek Carr—not Bridgewater—could be the third quarterback off the board. If Tom Savage, a dude whose ascent is totally beyond me, manages to go above Bridgewater, we might as well just end the whole thing now. The NFL is weird, man.
Will We Go Another Year Without a First-Round Running Back?
Last year, for the first time in the modern history of the NFL, no running back was taken in the first round. Giovani Bernard had to wait until the No. 37 pick to hear his name called by the Cincinnati Bengals. There were ultimately five running backs taken in the second round, but 2013 nonetheless signified the latest seismic shift in how we evaluate the position.
The running back of two decades ago is nearly extinct. Three-down, workhorse running backs are dropping like flies, and the ones who still exist rarely do so for any reason other than injury. Adrian Peterson is now the exception to the rule, not the norm. Increased specialization at running back has almost worked in the same way as modern television. Everyone is grasping for their niche while the pile of revenue is being divided into more and more pieces.
But while television networks will continually splash exorbitant sums into shows hoping for big hits, the NFL has started cutting its losses. The high first-round running back is rapidly going extinct. The cost-benefit just isn't there when you can pick up two replacement-level dudes in the fourth round with specialized skill sets and be just fine. And pay them less. And use the early rounds to take a swing at positions where guys aren't as typically prone to be found on the scrap heap.
Such is the case in 2014 for Carlos Hyde, Bishop Sankey, Tre Mason and Jeremy Hill, each of whom may have had a shot at a first-round grade a decade ago.
Hyde, a senior standout last year at Ohio State, seems in particular harmed by the new running back era. He's a 6'0", 230-pound punisher with shaky top-end speed but a second burst that shows up on film more than in a timed dash. It's obvious that Hyde has put in a ton of work to improve his speed splits, but it's not enough for teams to make an exception.
Hill has the same problem as Hyde. Mason and Sankey, meanwhile, don't have ideal size or 4.3 speed to entice teams.
All of these guys grade out in a similar, very good tier. They're all probably going to land somewhere in the second day, though Hyde could be one of the final picks of the first round. In past years, I'd venture to say Hyde and Sankey already had their first-round spots wrapped up.
On Thursday, they'll instead be hoping to not be a part of history. Again.