The road to the Super Bowl begins in New York City.
Plenty of teams have spent big in free agency, but the NFL draft is the best place to find players who will lead you to the promised land.
Look at the reigning Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, Russell Wilson, Bruce Irvin, Max Unger, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, Malcolm Smith, Byron Maxwell and Bobby Wagner were all drafted in the last four years. They also played a role on making the Seahawks the best team in the league.
Conversely, when you consistently draft poorly—i.e. the Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders, Jacksonville Jaguars—you find yourself in the cellar.
Which teams will find cornerstones for their franchise in 2014? The answer won't be revealed for some months, but you can bet that plenty of fanbases will begin looking to the future following May 8.
Where: Radio City Music Hall, New York City
When: Thursday, May 8, at 8 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NFL.com
|2||St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins)||7-9|
|7||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||4-12|
|12||New York Giants||7-9|
|13||St. Louis Rams||7-9|
|18||New York Jets||8-8|
|21||Green Bay Packers||8-7-1|
|23||Kansas City Chiefs||11-5|
|25||San Diego Chargers||9-7|
|26||Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis Colts)||4-12|
|27||New Orleans Saints||11-5|
|29||New England Patriots||12-4|
|30||San Francisco 49ers||12-4|
Storylines to Watch
Whom Do the Houston Texans Select No. 1 Overall?
Anybody who tells you they know what the Houston Texans are doing with the first pick in the draft is probably lying.
At the very least, you'd think you can narrow it down to one of the four between Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater, Jadeveon Clowney and Johnny Manziel.
Then again, who knows? Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio reported the Texans might consider trading the pick:
Speaking of the No. 1 selection, there’s a chance the Texans could try to trade down and draft a quarterback lower than No. 1. Unless another team emerges as a clear contender to move up, the Lions could play the Texans against the Rams to get a better deal for the No. 1 or No. 2 pick.
Yahoo Sports' Brad Evans also reported Houston could trade down if it doesn't draft Clowney:
According to several insiders, seems to be increasing momentum Texans will trade down or take Clowney at #1. Johnny Football to the Browns?— Brad Evans (@YahooNoise) April 17, 2014
That might be the most optimal choice. None of the three top QBs have distanced themselves from the pack, and a team might be willing to give up the house in order to draft Clowney. The Texans would probably stick around the five-to-15 range, meaning they could grab whomever is left from Bortles, Manziel and Bridgewater, or if those three are gone, select another position of need and take somebody like Zach Mettenberger or Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round.
Whatever Houston chooses to do will inevitably send ripples through the rest of the first round.
How Far Will Teddy Bridgewater Fall?
Poor Teddy Bridgewater. For whatever reason, he's become the whipping boy for anonymous scouts and coaches looking to launch a smear campaign against a top prospect. Bridgewater's gone from being the best player in the draft to a top-five player, then down to a mid-first-round player and now hovering around No. 26 to the Cleveland Browns.
Campus Union's Martin Rickman summed it up well:
a few more spin rounds and draft experts will tell us they’re not convinced teddy bridgewater can hit a curveball— martin rickman (@martinrickman) April 11, 2014
While you see this kind of stuff every year with top prospects, the sheer volume of it really makes you wonder if Bridgewater's stock will take a massive dive. Might he actually slip all the way down to the Browns?
If it does happen to Bridgewater, some team is getting a major steal. There was nothing during his three years at Louisville that gave you pause in terms of his pro prospects. He's got a great arm, doesn't make too many mistakes and is athletic enough to create more time in the pocket if he needs it.
But why judge a player by what he did on the field?
Which Team(s) Pull the Trigger on Biggest Trades?
Surely NFL general managers have become smart enough to know that leveraging your immediate draft future in one player is a terrible idea (see Williams, Ricky; Walker, Herschel; and Griffin III, Robert).
Draft trades aren't always a bad idea, though. Teams simply have to find the right balance between the value it's surrendering in terms of picks vs. the value it's receiving in terms of the player it's drafting.
Looking ahead to May 8, everything seems to hinge on what the Texans do. If they draft a quarterback and Clowney is sitting there at No. 2, you better believe the Atlanta Falcons will consider moving up to No. 2.
In the event that the former South Carolina star is gone, NFL.com's Charles Davis believes the Falcons could shift their focus to Khalil Mack:
They need a pass rusher, and there's none better this year than Clowney, but to ensure landing him, they would probably need to move up from the sixth-overall pick to No. 1. That's going to be an awfully tough, and expensive, move to pull off. If Clowney goes first to the Texans, the Falcons should shift their focus to Mack, the second-best edge rusher available. To guarantee themselves a chance to get the former Buffalo star, Dimitroff should target the third overall pick, held by the Jaguars, and see if his former director of player personnel, Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell, is a willing trade partner.
If you're looking for that one team to make a major splash on draft day, look no further than Atlanta.