NFL Draft

NFL Draft 2014: Predictions for This Year's Most Interesting 1st-Round Prospects

Kent State's David Fisher (7) is stopped by Buffalo's Khalil Mack (46) during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Amherst, N.Y., Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012. Kent State won 23-7. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)
Bill Wippert
Nate LoopFeatured ColumnistApril 29, 2014

The 2014 NFL draft is two weeks later than usual this year. This means two extra weeks of predictions, and even those players who are locks for the first round have seen their names strewn all across various mock drafts and big boards.

The extra time means headaches for general managers, as they have time to think, rethink and then eventually overthink every prospect. There are more quotes for the media to pick up on as teams engage in covert tactics to throw opposing war rooms off their trail. 

The most interesting first-round prospects are interesting not for mysterious reasons, as all of their faults and virtues are by now well documented, but for just how difficult it is to predict where they will end up. 

With that in mind let's take a look at three of the more compelling amateurs and try to find the signal in all of the media noise 

 

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

Patric Schneider

Johnny Manziel remains interesting because his dumbfounding athleticism is tempered by questions about his off-field behavior and quarterbacking experience limited to a spread offense in college.

His 4.68 40-yard dash is better than the majority of NFL quarterbacks, and anyone he can't beat in a straight line will have to deal with his juking ability courtesy of his ball-bearing joints. His improvisational ability is second to none in this year's crop of quarterbacks.

Greg Cosell of Yahoo! Sports highlights some of the concerns that could be running rampant through NFL GM's heads right now:

He was a shotgun spread quarterback who ran a relatively unsophisticated pass offense with basic route concepts and defined reads. He was not asked to do much involving pass protection. A film study of Manziel reveals he had little awareness of defensive fronts and pressures. His development will require a significant learning curve. That means time.

Marc Sessler of NFL.com shed some light on just how little consensus there is on where Manziel will end up.

Taking Cosell's analysis into consideration, a team like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would allow Manziel more time to develop than say the Cleveland Browns or Houston Texans. They already have signal-callers in Josh McCown and Mike Glennon on the roster, as well as a great receiver for prayer throws in Vincent Jackson. 

Prediction: Manziel goes seventh overall to the Buccaneers

 

Marqise Lee, WR, USC

Lee's prospects have been hurt by a sharp downturn in production during his junior season at USC. 

Marqise Lee USC Stats, 2012-2013
SeasonGamesReceptionsYardsTouchdowns
201213118172114
201311577914
sports-reference.com

He was a victim of injuries and the general turmoil surrounding the Trojans program. He lost a bit of his luster in 2013, as he was expected to be a top pick had he entered the draft after his stellar sophomore season, a point echoed by Albert Breer of the NFL Network.

Lee elected not to run on his pro day, as he decided to stick with his 40-yard dash time from the NFL combine, a relatively pedestrian 4.52 seconds. Coupled with his 6'0" height, he may lack the eye-popping athleticism that is coveted in today's wide receivers. Decisions like this will prevent teams like the Kansas City Chiefs or Baltimore Ravens from picking up Lee in the middle of the first round.

However, Lee has the similar toughness and attention to detail that served Keenan Allen well in his first season with the San Diego Chargers. The injury issues hurting their draft stock are another interesting parallel.

The Carolina Panthers are desperate for wideouts after letting Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell go in free agency and will prevent Lee from dropping out of the first round, a fate suffered by Allen last year.

Prediction: Lee goes 28th overall to the Panthers

 

Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo

Khalil Mack has shot up the draft charts in recent weeks due to his combination of production and athleticism. Mack was good for 19 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks and three interceptions during his senior season at Buffalo. Despite playing in the Mid-American Conference, those numbers grabbed everyone's attention. He has the prototypical pass-rushing size at 6'3" and 251 pounds. 

According to Charlie Campbell of WalterFootball.com, the Rams would be likely to take Mack at No. 2 if the Texans go ahead and select Jadeveon Clowney. A few months ago this would seem like a total reach, but chatter like this from Bob Glauber of New York's Newsday shows that Mack is now viewed as a blue-chipper rather than an exciting unknown.

This comes well after NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock shocked many observers in an interview with KFAN 100.3 that he believes Mack might be better than Clowney. Via Mike Huguenin of NFL.com: 

"You talk about a kid like [Jadeveon] Clowney, who's just got superhuman abilities, versus this kid, and if I had a choice between the two, I think I'm taking Mack," Mayock said.

The Rams will be interested in a wide receiver like Sammy Watkins, but like the Texans possibly pairing Clowney with J.J. Watt, a Mack-Robert Quinn combination in St. Louis could help them make strides in the ultra-tough NFC West this season. 

Prediction: Mack goes second overall to the Rams

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