The NFL draft is always surrounded by mystery and misinformation. That is as true as ever this year.
Which player should be drafted higher?
There's plenty of rumors floating around that shed clues as to how this draft will play out, but as always, fans are left to try and decipher what is real and what is a smokescreen.
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has been a hot topic all offseason. His arm talent and athletic ability make him a potential franchise-shaping pick. Of course, his small stature and brash attitude also have raised a red flag or two.
Through it all, it has been tough to get a strong feel for his draft stock. We may have a baseline for his value now, however.
According to ESPN's Ed Werder, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are enamored with Manziel, and should he be available when they pick at No. 7, he would be tough to pass on:
Bucs would seriously consider Johnny Manziel if on the board at 7th pick. Team sees him as very unique, good arm and accuracy, great athlete— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) April 24, 2014
It would certainly make sense for the Bucs if they believe he has the tools to succeed in the NFL. Under new coach Lovie Smith, the Buccaneers have been active in free agency. This allowed them to fill glaring holes and give them freedom with this pick.
A receiver to line up alongside Vincent Jackson would be a wise selection, but that can be put aside for identifying a quarterback of the future.
Meanwhile, there is a good chance the Bucs won't have the opportunity to draft Manziel. Both of ESPN's resident draft experts believe Manziel will be the first quarterback off the board:
Both Mel Kiper Jr and Todd McShay say on NFL LIVE that Johnny Manziel will be the 1st QB selected in the NFL Draft. pic.twitter.com/8FevOjM23t— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) April 28, 2014
That is not good news for the Dallas Cowboys. Owner Jerry Jones appears to be longing for a chance to land Manziel. SportsCenter tweeted Ed Werder's information on the subject:
Also, radio host Shan Shariff, and many others, are interested in the rumor CBS' Jim Nantz has been hearing:
Jim Nantz joins us at 9am tom morning to address this: "I’ve heard this rumor for a month- the Cowboys will figure out a way to get Manziel”— Shan Shariff (@NewSchoolSS) April 29, 2014
I'm not sure any of these rumors help clear up when and where Manziel will be drafted, but the amount of interest would lead me to believe he will not be on the board past the top five.
Let's just stay on the Aggies rumor train for a moment. Manziel's favorite target is garnering lots of attention himself.
Mike Evans is 6'5" with solid athleticism and great hands. The San Francisco 49ers would reportedly love to have him in the fold. That news comes to us from ESPN's Chris Mortensen, via Rotoworld's Evan Silva:
ESPN's Chris Mortensen suggested Mike Evans as a trade-up target for #49ers. Mort hearing Niners "could be very aggressive in this draft."— Evan Silva (@evansilva) April 25, 2014
The way Evans' stock appears to be rising, however, the 49ers might be priced right out of that pursuit. DraftInsider.net's Tony Pauline has heard enough to think Evans will be going in the top five:
After several conversations the player moving quickest through rnd 1 is Mike Evans/WR/TAMU...Oakland Raiders at #5, maybe a pick earlier...— Tony Pauline (@TonyPauline) April 28, 2014
Enough about these offensive guys, however. It appears that a defensive player is likely the No. 1 selection this year.
ESPN's Chris Mortensen, via ESPN's Dari Nowkhah, passes along this information:
Honestly, I don't get this one. Clowney's freakish blend of size and speed make him well worth the pick, but the Texans play a 3-4 and have J.J. Watt expertly manning one of the defensive end spots. In other words, Houston can't change schemes and knock Watt out of position, which means Clowney would have to adapt to a 3-4.
Sure, Clowney could excel in that system, but why draft a player you can't put in his best position to succeed? Perhaps the Texans agree with this, and they are simply attempting to raise the price on any possible trade for the No. 1 pick.
They should have interested teams if they get serious about trading down. The Atlanta Falcons have long been speculated as a team that could move up to draft Clowney. They could certainly use his pass-rushing skills.
That speculation is now getting some substance. NFL.com's Ian Rapoport hits us with this news:
#Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff doesn’t waste his time. Looking at Jadeveon Clowney signaled the obvious: ATL exploring moving all the way up— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) April 28, 2014
With the information connecting Clowney and the Texans, on top of the interest from the Falcons, Clowney is a solid bet to go No. 1.
A little further down in the first round, we may be getting a clue into the Pittsburgh Steelers' selection at No. 15. Current cornerback Ike Taylor thinks the Steelers will go for someone in his positional group in the first round. The corner's thoughts were tweeted by uSTADIUM:
#Steelers CB Ike Taylor has been doing some draft scouting. Expects PIT to draft a CB in the 1st & WR in 2nd, names Clemsons Martavis Bryant— uSTADIUM (@uSTADIUM) April 28, 2014
Taylor is days away from turning 34, and the Steelers could use depth at the position. There is a deep group of talented corners in this class, but one stands out as a Steelers corner. Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard is a physical corner with strong size who will excel in man coverage.
These traits don't appear lost on the Steelers.
On CBS Sports' Dane Brugler reported that the Steelers "have shown so much interest in the Michigan State cornerback."
Dennard is not the most physically gifted corner, but he was supremely effective as the leader of the Spartans' "No Fly Zone." He's been my mock selection to the Steelers for a while, and it would be a solid pick.
So there you have it. The information is in, and we can be certain as to how this draft will play out. Nothing could change before the draft finally gets underway on May 8, right?