Predicting Landing Spots for the NFL's Most Controversial Draft Prospects
"Controversial" is a relative term. We like to think of it as "things we disagree on vehemently" here at Bleacher Report.
It cuts down on chair throwing.
Nothing brings out the disagreements like the NFL draft though, and trying to figure out guys we all disagree on—some of which have some real issues—is tough. If you don't believe me, go check out the Draftnick Industrial Complex on Twitter for a while.
We like to argue.
So where do some of our biggest and most controversial players go and why?
Let's take a look.
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
How can this list not start with Clowney?
We’ve been watching the Clowney News Cycle for weeks.
He doesn’t work hard, says NFL Network’s Warren Sapp (per USAToday.com). Sure he does, says his former coach, Steve Spurrier (per Darin Gantt at ProFootballTalk.com). Oh wait, does that contradict what I said earlier this year (per Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com)? Forget I said that.
Analysts like Sports On Earth’s Russ Lande admit that Clowney has tremendous talent, but worry about his overall efforts on and off the field. Meanwhile, Clowney’s trainer, Jed Hartigan of Velocity Sports Performance, told the Charlotte Observer that he takes issue with the questions.
“Everyone talks about how he doesn’t work hard. That kid worked his (butt) off,” Hartigan told The Observer’s Joseph Person. “He might not have worked hard before, but right now he’s training really, really hard.”
As you can see, things are a bit…clouded.
Ultimately, there’s only one thing we know—that his ability is off the charts. The question becomes if he will be motivated at the next level.
From a skill standpoint, there are few teams who can’t find a way to use him. As I wrote a little while back, he could easily fit in Houston, St. Louis or Jacksonville.
Houston could move him to outside linebacker (not my favorite idea) or just line him up as a defensive end in the 3-4 as well. St. Louis would need to rotate him in and out around Chris Long and Robert Quinn (or shift him to outside linebacker) while Jacksonville would merely move Tyson Alualu.
He’s a fit anywhere, if you feel motivation won’t be an issue.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
After Clowney, who gets more scattered analysis than Johnny Manziel?
We can start with the usual Nolan Nawrocki “suspect intangibles” take over at NFL.com. Follow that up with Sports On Earth’s Russ Lande’s report (per NFL.com’s Chase Goodbread) that the Houston Texans were thinking about Manziel, but that Bill O’Brien wasn’t sold on his work ethic.
"I don't consider him a me-first guy at all," Matthews said, after being asked about Manziel's reputation as such. "My whole experience with him and having him as a quarterback was nothing but good things. When he was on the field he was just a tremendous competitor, great leader and someone that I loved playing for. I was glad to have him as a quarterback."
For myself, I’ve heard enough through the grapevine that I am not worried, but I understand the concerns.
Along with the off-field stuff, there are worries he might not be big enough and durable enough to stretch the play as he did in college without serious injury. There’s also the concern that he has a tendency to just chuck the ball and hope for the best, and that he will ditch the pocket too early.
It’s his ability to stretch the play and make something out of nothing that will attract teams. A team with a solid offensive line, a good running game and some solid wide receivers would be a good fit for Manziel, as the run game will keep defenses on its toes, the receivers can function like Mike Evans did for Manziel and be a reliable option when he needs to throw the ball and a good offensive line would be able to keep him upright as he works the field.
Two of the better fits in the draft are the Minnesota Vikings and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, though I believe Manziel would also be a very good fit for the Cleveland Browns.
All three have good (or better) offensive lines. The Vikings and Buccaneers have elite running backs (assuming Doug Martin rebounds for Tampa) while the Browns have at least a very good back in Ben Tate. All three have at least one top-tier receiver, though the Browns and Bucs need more depth.
Altogether, Manziel would be a great fit with any of them.
Marqise Lee, WR, USC
It hasn’t been a great draft process for USC’s Marqise Lee, who has seen his draft stock tumble amidst a lackluster junior year marred by injuries.
The knee is a concern, as is the drop rate B/R’s Matt Miller shared earlier this month.
I still have Lee as my third receiver overall, as I believe that—like with Keenan Allen last year—the knee issue is overblown and that he was hurt by the change in quarterback, lack of a legitimate threat across from him and overall chaos around the USC program last season.
The drops are a concern, but one I believe he will overcome.
With his savvy route running, ability to read coverages and find open space, Lee creates separation despite not having elite speed, and he does a good job attacking the ball in the air while grabbing it at its high point.
There are several places he would fit in towards the middle to the end of the first round.
The New York Jets lack a guy who can play off Eric Decker’s ability to stretch the field while also being a red zone threat. The Baltimore Ravens miss a guy who can attack the ball in the air the way Anquan Boldin used to, and while they have Steve Smith, he’s a short-term fix.
Finally, I could see a team like the Cleveland Browns grabbing him with their second pick in the first, if they go with a quarterback early. Lee would benefit greatly across from Josh Gordon as he polished up his game.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
I like Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins a lot more than most, as I am less concerned with his off-field issues, mainly a DUI where he was caught with a blood alcohol level of 0.18—twice the legal limit (per ESPN.com).
That seems to be the biggest issue people have with him, and for me, I think that shouldn’t be enough to knock him (potentially) to round three.
Seferian-Jenkins’ size and physicality make him an ideal fit for several offenses in the late first, including—dare I say?—the New England Patriots who have an issue with the constant injuries to Rob Gronkowski.
Of course, fans (and perhaps the team) might hesitate because they are still feeling the ripple effects of Aaron Hernandez, but a big, physical tight end like Seferian-Jenkins would be a great fit for Tom Brady’s offense, and the off-field issues (all one of them) shouldn’t scare them off if he’s there in the second round.
Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon
An entire article could be devoted to whether Oregon tight end Colt Lyerla is worth a pick in the 2014 NFL draft—in fact, one was written recently by B/R’s Gary Davenport.
As Davenport points out, Lyerla could have been a first-round pick on talent alone, however, a drug arrest (per USA Today’s Daniel Uthman), departure from the team and a social media implosion (per Graham Watson of Yahoo.com) have made his stock sink like the Titanic if the Titanic was nuked from space.
That makes him a very sticky guy to place and someone who people are going to be leery of.
Football-wise, he could fit on any number of teams, but the problem comes in terms of making sure he has the proper support around him.
Could the San Francisco 49ers be a good fit? The team certainly has some issues it's dealing with now, so perhaps taking on a kid with it already is a bit much, but the Niners have been good about circling the wagons on Aldon Smith—one would think they could support Lyerla.
Meanwhile, a team like the Arizona Cardinals clearly will give a player a second chance—after all, Davenport points out in his article that they were unconcerned with Tyrann Mathieu’s meltdown during his final year of college.
Mathieu didn’t quite have a Lyerla-sized meltdown, but the Cardinals clearly have some experience with baggage-laden players.
Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Michigan’s Taylor Lewan could be the top tackle in the 2014 NFL draft if it wasn’t for the assault charges he faces (per Kyle Feldscher of MLive.com). As it stands, a lot of fans seem leery of him in part because of the off-field issues—enough to where you will find them less-then-enthused about drafting him early in the first round.
On the other hand, there is some buzz that he could go as early as Oakland’s pick at No. 5, per Jerry McDonald of the Oakland Tribune.
Lewan is a player who plays with a mean streak (perhaps that explains the assault charges) and has a fierce initial step, which knocks defenders onto their heels.
Oakland is actually an interesting place for him to land, as neither Donald Penn nor Austin Howard are so good as to be irreplaceable. You could easily see Lewan step in for Howard at right tackle and eventually replace Penn at left tackle.
Another frequent landing spot in mock drafts seems to be the Buffalo Bills. While they have a very good left tackle in Cordy Glenn, they don’t have a really good right tackle. Lewan could easily step right in there and lock down the right side.
In today’s NFL you need bookend tackles to protect your quarterback. Lewan could step into either line and give both teams just that.
Tom Savage, QB, Pittsburgh
Hey, it’s my weekly “Tom Savage” portion of an article.
This “controversy” seems to be residing in the media itself—we have no real idea who thinks what in the NFL front offices.
We also have guys like B/R’s Matt Miller who says Savage “has a very good chance to be the most overdrafted player in the entire class,” and Bryan Fischer of NFL.com’s college football coverage who doesn’t think much of the buzz. Chris Brown of SmartFootball.com says Savage is “fool’s gold for scouts,” and NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks says he’s “nowhere near ready to compete for a starting job” in the league.
If you read my stuff, you should know where I land on this.
Savage has potential for sure. And that big arm will make folks drool (already has, in fact).
Several people have mentioned a connection to Houston. DraftInsider.com’s Tony Pauline said the Texans requested specific routes from Savage at his pro day, and McShay had him as the team's second round pick in a recent mock.
So does he fit? Head coach Bill O’Brien loves a big arm and has some great receivers to throw to in DeAndre Hopkins and Andre Johnson. Arian Foster can keep things honest on the ground. And the offensive line is very good—certainly worlds better than Pitt’s last year.
Savage does fit with the Texans, though I would be leery of picking him that high with no quarterback to fall back on if he implodes.
I could see him landing in New England if he drops back to earth. The Patriots took a shot with Ryan Mallett in part because of the arm, and if Savage was there in the third or fourth, I would imagine them being interested. They don’t have as good a set of receivers, but they have a good offensive line and good backfield.
And some dude named Tom Brady who might be someone Savage could learn from.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
At this point, it's hard to imagine that you don't know why Teddy Bridgewater is on the list.
The question is, where does he land?
Putting aside the fact that I still have him as my top quarterback, it seems as if Bridgewater could go anywhere from the very first pick to the second round.
In other words, who knows?
Personally, I think he would be a tremendous fit for any of the quarterback-needy teams—starting with Houston.
As I mentioned in the previous slide, the Texans have all the tools to help Bridgewater transition to a productive NFL career. The aforementioned offensive line to keep him upright, two outstanding receivers to catch the ball and a great running back to keep defenses honest.
And a great defense to keep things close.
Bridgewater is the most pro-ready quarterback in this class. The Texans are not nearly as bad as they played last year and in my mind are just a quarterback away from being a viable presence again, not just in the AFC South, but in the whole conference.
Sticking a guy who has the least issues and is the most ready to go under center is a way to make sure that happens sooner rather than later.
Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him @andrew_garda on Twitter.