The NFL draft has become one of the most anticipated spectacles on the sports calendar in recent years, with countless mock drafts hitting the web every spring and pundits spending hours breaking down game film and measurables.
But finally, the time has come for the speculation to give way to certainty as the 2014 NFL draft is set to begin on Thursday.
Below, we'll get you set with everything you need to know to make sure you don't miss a single selection this weekend.
|Thu, May 8||Round 1||8 p.m.||NFL Network, ESPN|
|Fri, May 9||Rounds 2-3||7 p.m.||NFL Network, ESPN, ESPN2|
|Sat, May 10||Rounds 4-7||12 p.m.||NFL Network, ESPN|
All Eyes on Thursday's First Round
While there'll be plenty of interest in Friday and Saturday's coverage of Rounds 2-7, there's no doubt even casual sports fans will be flipping over to ESPN and NFL Network for Thursday night's first-round coverage.
With former college football superstars like Jadeveon Clowney and Johnny Manziel being projected to go early, the excitement and anticipation will reach fever pitch when the Houston Texans find themselves on the clock at No. 1 overall.
The Texans could go in a variety of different directions based on their plethora of needs and could even trade out of the top spot if the right deal comes along.
Either way, after Houston, there are a handful of teams in need of talent, and several in search of a franchise quarterback. With question marks surrounding this year's quarterback class, there's no telling who will go where or which big names will wind up slipping down the board.
Arguably the most polarizing first-round prospect, Clowney has sparked all sorts of compliments and criticisms since his disappointing junior season with South Carolina came to an end.
Perhaps the most eyebrow-raising of all the comments were the ones made by ESPN analyst Merril Hoge on SportsCenter in mid-April, via CBSSports.com's Will Brinson:
You look at him as a fundamental football player when you talk about feet, hip and hands, like we watch Khalil Mack, he's actually atrocious. Clowney as a football player is not very good. Amazing athlete. Don't get confused by being an athlete and being a good football player. Not a very good football player.
It remains to be seen how Clowney will fare at the next level, but Hoge appears to be in the minority.
In addition to Manziel and Clowney, Clemson's Sammy Watkins is a first-round talent who has generated plenty of buzz leading up to Thursday's draft.
In early April, Watkins broke down his own game and expressed immense confidence in his ability to transition to the next level, per 95.7 The Game (via ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez):
I have some freakish talents and ability to make plays. I can jump, run catch, make somebody miss. That's my game.
I'm able to transition myself and work through tough conditions. I understand football and the preparation, so for me, it's getting in with the team I'm with and learn that playbook. That's all I need to do is really learn that playbook, and after that, just adjusting to the speed of the game and how cornerbacks play in the NFL. That would be the next step. I think after the first few games I'll be definitely fine.
Watkins is coming off a monster junior season with the Tigers that saw him catch 101 balls for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns. Most see Watkins as a surefire top-10 pick, and he's certainly got top-five potential based on his big-play ability and ideal blend of size, strength and speed.
Khalil Mack, Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater, Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews are other names to keep in mind as Round 1 approaches. All are top-tier talents and have the potential to go No. 1 overall.
Although everyone has his opinion this time of year, how Round 1 pans out on Thursday will depend solely on what the Texans do at No. 1. If Houston makes a surprising pick or trades out, it's anyone's guess as to which stars will end up where.
But that's what makes the NFL draft must-see television.
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