Dispelling Myths Surrounding Key 2014 NFL Draft Prospects
The weeks and months leading up to the NFL draft are a grind. They are also one giant spin machine designed to sate the 24-hour news cycle and burp out smokescreens to prevent espionage.
From the fog of the war of words rises a host of myths and misconceptions, both about players and the draft in general. Let's sift through some of these myths and see if we can find some truth.
Jadeveon Clowney Is Lazy
Draft analysts had a you salivate over Jadeveon Clowney, who had to go back for another year of marinating in college football because of silly eligibility rules.
Before draft season began, Clowney was easily the top prospect in the draft. Four months of dragging his draft stock through the mud later, we're not sure who will go No. 1.
He had a down 2013 season, at least statistically with just three sacks to his name. The top pass-rusher heading into the draft had some 'splainin' to do, and the questions began.
It wasn't long before his Old Ball Coach at South Carolina gave the media this sound byte at the NFL combine:
Asked to evaluate the 6-foot-5, 274-pound pass rusher's work habits after three years in the Gamecocks' program -- South Carolina totaled 33 wins -- Spurrier might have added to the ammunition for scouts ready to interrogate Clowney at the NFL Scouting Combine this week.
"He was OK," Spurrier said on NFL Network, the implication being that Clowney didn't exactly wear out the alarm clock or tax the hinges on the weight-room door. "It wasn't like Marcus Lattimore, you know, every player is a little different. His work habits are pretty good, they're not quite like Lattimore, a Stephon Gilmore, Melvin Ingram, some of those guys, but when the ball is snapped he's got something no one else has."
That, per CBS Sports' Jeff Reynolds, was enough to trigger a cascade of criticism for the freakishly athletic former Gamecock. He has been called "spoiled and lazy" by an anonymous NFL executive, per CBS Sports' Ryan Wilson, and NFL Network's Warren Sapp sees issues with Clowney's motor.
But how much truth is there to that statement?
To begin with, Spurrier didn't say Clowney had a poor work ethic. He said it was "OK." While that is no ringing endorsement, folks certainly took that and ran toward the "glass half empty" side of the room.
NFL media scout Jayson Braddock doesn't see a lazy player on tape, per the Battle Red Blog. Neither does Bus Cook, his agent, per USA Today's Jarrett Bell, though we should probably take a player's agent's words with a healthy dose of salt.
Clowney himself is sick of the talk, per the Associated Press, saying he is tired of the questions about his work ethic. And why wouldn't he? You would think his amazing combine and pro day performances would dispel any notion that he was lazy.
The 6'6", 250-pound lineman might be an athletic freak of nature, but you have to work hard to perform at elite levels at those events.
At any rate, Clowney did a lot of good things on tape that didn't show up in the stats. He is a prodigiously athletic pass-rusher with an immense ceiling.
Are you passing on him in the first round?
There Are No Quality Running Backs in the Draft
As we looked at earlier this draft season, the running back position is in shambles.
You will be hard-pressed to find a serious mock draft that pegs any running back to be taken in the first round. It's even difficult to find mock drafts that have more than two or three being taken in the second round.
While there definitely has been a devaluation at the position, does that mean there are no quality backs in this year's draft? Absolutely not.
On the contrary, part of the reason the position has been devalued is that there are so many running backs in the draft class. There are 70 draft-eligible players at the position and a good 20-25 of them should be drafted.
As we saw last year, draft status doesn't matter much nowadays at running back. Green Bay's Eddie Lacy was a second-round pick out of Alabama who became the league's Rookie out of Year. Giovani Bernard, another second-round pick out of North Carolina, was hot on Lacy's tail for much of the season.
Le'Veon Bell also had a nice year out of the second round, and other guys like Zac Stacy and Andre Ellington had some big contributions out of the later rounds.
This year's class is chock full of promising and productive players. Carlos Hyde is a great prospect out of Ohio State, a big back in the Eddie Lacy mold who is being held back by concerns over his character. Similar things can be said of LSU's Jeremy Hill.
Tre Mason might be the top running back prospect out of Auburn, but a recently revealed injury that could require surgery might hamper his draft stock.
Andre Williams from Boston College and Terrance West out of Towson were record-breaking runners last season, but both project as mid-round prospects. Washington's Bishop Sankey and Alabama State's Isaiah Crowell are draftnik favorites who could be sneaky good at the next level.
The list goes on and on. The next Adrian Peterson might not be in this year's class, but there sure are plenty of guys who will be able to contribute early at the pro level.
Sammy Watkins Is Too Short to Be a Top Receiver
Yes, it's true, smaller receivers are generally not a good idea to draft in the top 10 or 15 of the draft. Take last year's view on Tavon Austin from yours truly, when Austin was being discussed as a top-15 pick.
The list of short receivers taken in the top half of the first round isn't pretty, including the likes of Ted Ginn Jr., Lee Evans, Peter Warrick and more. I'll stop before your gag reflexes kick in.
Normally a No. 1 receiver is on the bigger side—say, at least 6'3" and 215 pounds. Guys like Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall and A.J. Green are the prototypical receivers for such a role, and they are much bigger than Sammy Watkins.
But that doesn't mean the Clemson product can't do it.
For starters, Watkins isn't all that small. He might be 6'1", but he is a healthy 211 pounds. He is not some frail slot receiver or lightweight deep threat. He combines that decent size with good speed, as evidenced by his 4.43-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine.
Watkins does a lot of things well, most notably catching the ball. He has excellent hands, and he can catch in traffic.
Where things get exciting for the former Clemson star is his ability after the catch. He is not quite the dynamo that Austin or Cordarrelle Patterson are, but Watkins is excellent with the ball in his hands.
Watkins knows it takes more than one or two traits to become a good receiver at the next level, per SI.com's Chris Burke:
He appears more than capable of stepping in as a No. 1 receiver, even as a rookie, or pairing with an established option to form a dominant unit.
“To be that dominant receiver I need to have that total package,” Watkins said at the combine. “Every one knows all wide receivers can catch balls and score, but for me I’m focusing on the little things: blocking, getting off the press and being a physical, dominant receiver.”
While he may not posses elite size or speed, his combination of physical traits, talent and work ethic will combine to make him a quality receiver at the next level capable of being the top receiver in any offense.
This Is One of the Deepest Draft Classes in History
By all accounts, this is an incredibly deep class.
There are a host of positions that run deep, most notably wide receiver. There have been so many first-round draft grades handed out in draft circles that half the first round would be receivers if they all came true.
Cornerback is similarly deep, and the running back position is secretly stocked, as we have already seen.
NFL Network's Mike Mayock thinks this is the deepest class he's seen since the network was born, per Pro Football Talk:
From my perspective, this is the deepest and best draft class I’ve seen in probably ten years...That’s been reinforced by most of the general managers and scouts I’ve talked to throughout the league. I had one GM tell me the other day that having a Top-20 pick this year is very similar to having a Top-10 pick last year...I think there’s more depth...I think there are certain positions that are stacked this year and you can get a quality player through three or four rounds.
Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert was even more gushing, according to Yahoo! Sports' Eric Edholm, saying this was the deepest draft he'd seen in his 30 years in the league.
Indeed, there is a boatload of highly regarded prospects. But does that necessarily mean the draft is loaded?
Part of the reason this draft at least appears deep is the sheer number of draft-eligible prospects. No fewer than a record 98 underclassmen declared for the draft. CBS Sports lists 1001 prospects.
There is no way to know just how deep this draft really is until we see the prospects at the next level for a year or two. There is no such thing as a "can't miss" prospect, and any number of these highly touted players could bust or get injured along the way.
Alright, so that makes the draft's depth more of a fallacy than a myth at this point.
Teddy Bridgewater Is [INSERT CRITICISM HERE]
Just like Jadeveon Clowney, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was the consensus top player at his position heading into draft season. He was even compared to Andrew Luck during the season, per NFL.com's Mike Huguenin. My how the mighty have fallen.
Bridgewater has had a much rougher go than Clowney, enduring one criticism after another, many of which seem specious. Being a little thinner than ideal shouldn't really be a deal breaker, after all.
He didn't help himself with a poor pro day showing, choosing to throw without a glove for some Manning-forsaken reason. His performance touched off a torrent of negativity toward the former Cardinal.
Bridgewater fell from grace in rankings across the land, to the point where guys like Jimmy Garoppolo and Tom Savage were touted as better prospects in some circles.
"I wouldn't draft Teddy Bridgewater with a 245th round pick," the scout said. He then fainted from a Tom Savage deep ball.— Adam Kramer (@KegsnEggs) April 26, 2014
Is all the criticism warranted, or are teams trying to tank his draft stock as suggested in the video above?
The truth is, Bridgewater's tape is all that matters. Is he Andrew Luck on film? No. But who is? Luck was a generational quarterback, meaning we shouldn't see another prospect like that for years.
Bridgewater may not be generational, but he's still quite good. This is what SI.com's Doug Farrar had to say about the talented prospect:
The more I go back and rewatch Bridgewater tape, the less willing I am to drop into the seemingly common perception that he hads some abnormally low ceiling, and that he’ll top off pretty quickly in the NFL. Most of his deep ball issues can be fixed by the kinds of coaching and strength training that all kinds of quarterbacks (Drew Brees and Tom Brady come immediately to mind) have benefited from in obvious ways.
Is Bridgewater the perfect collegiate quarterback? No. There are clearly things he needs to work on, which is true of just about every quarterback prospect. But when it comes to combining innate skills and developmental potential in an NFL view, it’s hard for me to put anyone above Bridgewater. He already has a lot on the ball, and with time and patience, he could be the kind of quarterback that defines a franchise.
Farrar isn't alone in his assessment of Bridgewater. Bleacher Report's Cian Fahey thinks Bridgewater is a top quarterback prospect, too:
Talk of Bridgewater's frame, hand size, weight, pro day and individual workouts will continue to take center stage as we lead up to the draft. However, once the draft comes and goes, one team is going to be very happy with the quarterback that it takes to training camp in August.
Bridgewater was considered a top prospect because of his ability to comfortably and consistently make the plays the offense was designed to make.
Quarterbacks who consistently excel within the design of their offenses are the quarterbacks who elevate the pieces around them the most. Much like a Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, a huge percentage of what Bridgewater does throughout his career will be subtle and overlooked by those who crave highlight-reel-worthy plays.
There are plenty of positive outlooks for Bridgewater sheltering from the rain of criticism coming his way. He will be just fine.
All combine results courtesy of NFL.com.