At long last, our national thumb-twiddling is nearly over, as the 2014 NFL draft commences Thursday night in New York City.
If you are not familiar with the Gregorian calendar, allow me to explain why the buildup to the opening round has been so grueling. NFL teams ended the regular season on Dec. 29, 2013. It is now May 5, with three days remaining before draft night. December is the 12th month on the calendar. May is the fifth.
Even in the 24/7 round-the-clock rumorsphere known as the NFL season, more than two-thirds of the league waiting five months to make their draft selection is, to put it mildly, not great. The NBA and NHL wait weeks, not months, after their championship to hold the draft. Major League Baseball holds its shindig in the middle of the season.
A full fourth of a calendar wilts away between the Super Bowl and NFL draft. There are some processes necessary and legitimate reasons for the NFL to wait a little longer than the other two leagues, and by Thursday we'll probably all forget about the wait.
Luckily, we're almost here. The end is nigh. The flowers are blooming and the Oscars speech music is blaring. We're just days away from finding out where Johnny Manziel will play football, whether Teddy Bridgewater's fall is real or merely a mirage, and if Mel Kiper has lost a follicle of hair from his impeccably well-kept head. (Spoiler: Nope.)
With that in mind, let's check in on when you can watch the draft and finalize a few predictions.
|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||Noon ET||4-7||ESPN & NFL Network||WatchESPN, NFL.com|
2014 NFL Draft Predictions
Johnny Manziel Will Be the First QB Taken
The draft process has been one hell of a ride for Manziel. Declaring after his sophomore season, perhaps no prospect in the entire class had more to prove than the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner. From his size to his mental makeup to his ability to throw an oblong pigskin object accurately, every possible trait Manziel possesses has been carefully combed over by NFL executives.
The verdict: pretty, pretty good. Manziel has passed almost every test with flying colors. His interviews at the NFL combine came off as a little disingenuous—he was uninteresting almost to a fault—and running a 4.68-second 40-yard dash wasn't exactly ideal. But Manziel was either 6'0" or 5'11" depending upon whom is doing the rounding and impressed scouts big time at his pro day.
Wearing shoulder pads and a helmet—almost historically unprecedented—Manziel fired accurate pass after accurate pass, putting solid zip on his deep balls and checking boxes many were skeptical he could. While there has been widespread debate about who the best quarterback among the big three of Bridgewater, Manziel and Blake Bortles, the latter two are clearly more likely top-10 picks at this juncture.
Assuming the Texans go defense over a quarterback with their first pick, Manziel is primed to overtake Bortles as the first quarterback taken. The Cleveland Browns traveled to College Station for a private workout at the end of last month and hosted Manziel at team facilities the following week.
It's a pretty natural fit from all fronts. Cleveland, the worst quarterback situation in the league over the last decade, landing the most controversial prospect at that position since Timothy Richard Tebow. The plot is almost out of a poorly-made, box-office bomb starring Kevin Costner (too soon?).
If there were anyone capable of breaking the Browns quarterback curse, it's Manziel's utterly unorthodox self. Then again, if there were anyone capable of flaming out to such a degree that it proves once and for all that Cleveland is a dilapidated quarterback hellscape to be avoided at all costs, again Manziel fits that bill.
Either way, it's going to be entertaining. (Except for Browns fans. Sorry.)
At Least Six WRs Will Be Taken in the First Round
Last April, the prevailing storyline of draft weekend was the complete lack of offensive skill-position talent. No running back went in the first round for the first time in modern history, EJ Manuel was the only first-round quarterback and just three wideouts came off the board—only one within the first 25 selections.
The fundamental opposite is true in 2014. Running back is still six-feet deep in NFL lure, but quarterback speculation has dominated the predraft phase while teams prepare for arguably the deepest class of wide receivers in league history. Clemson's Sammy Watkins and Texas A&M's Mike Evans are borderline top-10 locks and lead a crop that could feature as many as eight or nine first-round prospects.
At a minimum, we're looking at five guys taken in the first 32 picks.
USC's Marqise Lee projected as a top-10 pick before an injury-riddled junior season and questionable athletic splits hampered his stock, but it'd be a major mistake to see him fall to Day 2. Oregon State's Brandin Cooks is the 2014 answer to Tavon Austin—a do-everything Lilliputian speedster who will immediately contribute on special teams if he's not an instant threat out of the slot. Odell Beckham Jr.'s athleticism and speed profile could have him going ahead of both Cooks and Lee, seemingly unthinkable when he left LSU.
Beckham has the highest ceiling of that trio, but also the biggest bust factor. Lee is a polished route-runner, has a high football IQ and is a year removed from one of the best receiving seasons in college football history. Cooks was massively productive and is more polished as a receiver than most want to give him credit because of his height; he'll be a dangerous slot guy.
Watkins and Evans are stars in the making.
I'm more curious to see just how high the number will go. Behind the aforementioned quintet, Indiana's Cody Latimer, Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin, Fresno State's Davante Adams and others sit on that teetering point between Round 1 and Round 2. Position scarcity at other spots means that at least one of those guys is going to dip deep in to the second round, while others like Penn State's Allen Robinson and Clemson's Martavis Bryant may even have to wait until Round 3 to hear their name called.
Robinson and Bryant both have a ton of untapped potential. This wide receiver class is so deep that I had eight going in the first round the last time I went through and mocked out Thursday night. Something will have to give, but not before we at least double the total from 2013.
The New England Patriots Will Make a Trade in Round 1
OK, this is not so much of a prediction as it is a virtual guarantee. Under Bill Belichick, the Patriots have long been the most active team on draft night for a variety of reasons. One of the first is that Belichick was one of first personnel men leaguewide to realize the relative lack of difference between a late first-round pick and an early second-rounder—other than, of course, salary.
New England has made a habit of moving back or even out of the first round entirely to recoup more later-round picks for depth. The Minnesota Vikings forked over a second, third, fourth and seventh-round pick last season to move up to No. 29. That move was among the more extreme of the Belichick era—the Patriots did not make their first pick until No. 52 (Jamie Collins), the latest first pick in franchise history—but is indicative of the overall philosophy.
The Patriots are open to any and all calls, and they won't hesitate in pulling the trigger. The last time New England did not make a trade during the first round was all the way back in 2006. I have no earthly idea when Belichick will make his first selection in 2014, but rest assured history says it won't be at the slotted 29th pick.
Interestingly enough, New England has only eight draft picks this year. That means the smart bet, as typical, would be the Patriots moving back a bit to acquire some extra talent. With Bridgewater's stock plummeting, the Patriots are one of many natural trade partners should he fall into the mid-20s. Same goes for Derek Carr, who has plenty of fans around the league.
That is, of course, no fun whatsoever. I've been championing the idea of the Patriots finally pressing the screw it button and making an aggressive push to trade up for Evans. The Texas A&M product would give Tom Brady his most talented receiver since Randy Moss left town, while unshackling the Patriots offense beyond 20 yards.
It would also make the heads of the NFL's collective fandom explode. That's always a plus. But, alas, hoping for something that won't happen anytime soon does few any good. The Patriots will likely trade into the top half of the second round, where they'll take the leftover between Notre Dame's Louis Nix and Ra'Shede Hageman to fortify the defensive line.
So, umm, yay.
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