Not-so-fun NFL fact: Draft season lasts nearly as long as the playing season. Fun NFL fact: The wait is finally almost over.
By the time Roger Goodell glides to the podium, welcomes us to Radio City Music Hall and officially puts the Houston Texans on the clock, our eyes will fully un-glaze. For as much as we all like to poke fun at the all-encompassing monolith known as the National Football League and its weekend-long draft process, there's a reason the shield is able to stretch the thing for five months.
We. Can't. Get. Enough.
I'm not privy to website traffic numbers, but I'd venture to guess experts' "final" mock drafts will be among the most-read pieces of 2014 for every well-known dotcom. And what's amazing is that no one gets anything resembling a high number of the picks right. If you're sitting there after Round 1 with a 33 percent conversion rate, there is a natural temptation to grab the mic Damian Lillard style and tell the world.
It's fundamentally insane. Which is just about the perfect encapsulation of what it means to be a sports fan. Rationality is near "eating healthy" on the Sunday priority list during the regular season. So it's only right that the most unpredictable NFL-related event also engenders arguably its most passion.
Every semi-passionate fan has a mentally crafted seven-round mock draft for his or her team. Sure, maybe it's not exactly likely that you'll somehow wind up with the top player at every need position—but there's a plan, man.
Luckily, the NFL has an all-encompassing coverage plan that allows for even more full immersion this weekend. Here's a quick look at what ESPN and NFL Network have planned, along with some fully rational (I think) thoughts of my own.
|2014 NFL Draft Coverage Schedule|
|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||12 p.m. ET||4-7||ESPN & NFL Network||WatchESPN, NFL.com|
Teddy Bridgewater's Two Options: Arizona Cardinals, Pray for a Trade
Now that the smokescreen season is largely settling down, it's safe to say folks weren't kidding around about Teddy Bridgewater's tumble down draft boards. The Louisville signal-caller began the draft process as the consensus top quarterback and potential No. 1 overall pick. In a short few months, he's fallen behind UCF's Blake Bortles and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel on nearly every mock draft and could slip out of Round 1 entirely.
"I went back and watched a bunch more tape and compared him to the rest of the guys in the draft," NFL draft expert Mike Mayock told The Petros and Money Show last month. "And like it or not, I've come to a conclusion—if I was a GM in the NFL, I would not take him in the first round of the draft."
A majority of NFL teams seem in agreement. ESPN's Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. (subscription required) both have Bridgewater falling out of the first 32 picks. Kiper even has Fresno State's Derek Carr being taken in the first round over him. For comparison purposes, McShay had Bridgewater going No. 1 overall, and Kiper had him at No. 8 overall in their first mock drafts.
We all know the reasoning. Bridgewater had a really poor pro day, is slightly less than ideal size (so is Manziel, obviously) and hasn't given off a great impression at his personal workouts. Meanwhile, Manziel has done everything that scouts and coaches could have possibly asked to boost his draft stock, and Bortles remains a chiseled prototype whose mere presence in a room causes quarterback gurus to swoon.
The question is what (if anything) Bridgewater can do to fix his draft stock. He's probably out of the top-10 discussion unless a team like the Minnesota Vikings pulls off a shocker. With so few other teams looking for a long-term fix at quarterback beyond the first eight, the scenario Kiper and McShay present is not out of the question.
Outside the top 10, two scenarios are possible.
A team that's currently sitting in the top eight—think Houston or Jacksonville, assuming neither takes a quarterback—could move up from its Round 2 position into the back half of Round 1. There are a number of teams in the 20-32 range that need positional depth more than one instant-impact starter. And the New England Patriots have traded in every first round since 2006. Someone is going to get antsy enough to make a move.
The other involves Bridgewater remaining a Cardinal. In Arizona. The Birds have been looking for a long-term solution at quarterback since Kurt Warner's retirement. For as not-terrible as he was last season, Carson Palmer isn't the answer, and his contract for 2015 screams for a release or restructuring.
As for the other rumors being thrown around here—and, yes, I'm looking at you, Bengals, per ESPN's Chris Mortensen—I guess smokescreen season isn't completely over after all.
Can We Figure Out This Johnny Manziel Thing Already?
Because it's getting concerning. For all the talk of Bridgewater's fall, Odell Beckham Jr.'s rise and the bevy of other storylines, Manziel remains the most intriguing prospect in this class. He's become less a human and more of a lab rat in many ways—with his pro performance either proving that small, unorthodox quarterbacks can play at the NFL level, or that Russell Wilson is just a really awesome anomaly.
Without Wilson, I doubt NFL teams would be talking about Manziel as a potential top-five pick. Being 5'11" (and Johnny Football) probably would have sent him on a Tebowian backslide toward the back of Round 1. NFL teams are creatures of habit, and Manziel is anything but.
Which makes him so exhilarating and frustrating and—OK, I mostly just want to know where he'll be playing football next season. The Cleveland Browns at No. 4 have long been viewed as the most likely option. Cleveland and the polarizing Manziel might be the perfect concoction to break a streak of putridity at quarterback that dates back to the Browns' resurrection.
"The guy can play football,'' Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan told . "I don’t care if you’re a big guy or a smaller guy, if you take too many hits in the league, I don’t care who you are, it’s tough to stay healthy. He’s got to take care of himself, especially with the way he plays, but I think he definitely has the size to succeed in the league.''
Whether Cleveland will be that spot remains to be seen. The Browns have two first-round picks and may be more comfortable taking a sure thing at No. 4 and then rolling the dice that Bridgewater or Carr will be available at No. 26. Of course, that's the same strategy the club took in drafting its last two franchise quarterbacks—Brandon Weeden and Brady Quinn.
So, yeah. Maybe not the best idea to wait.
Once you go beyond Cleveland, the obvious fits are harder to project. The Raiders probably aren't interested. The Falcons aren't taking a quarterback. The Bucs are a possibility at No. 7, but I'd be surprised if they passed on Manziel's ex-teammate, wide receiver Mike Evans, if he's available. Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer has taken a surprisingly public and negative stance on Manziel.
We'll come into Thursday night expecting to hear Manziel's name called inside the top 10. But the possibility exists that he and Bridgewater could be sitting together in the green room for a while.
Hey, There Are Good Players Who Won't Be Drafted in Round 1, Too, You Guys
Sure, Bridgewater could be chief among them. But that's not the point. The saying in league circles goes that successful teams draft starters in the first three rounds. There are of course players available in the later rounds who break out unexpectedly—such is the case in the tough-to-predict draft world—but teams that only hit on their first-round pick aren't going to have success long term.
Unless that pick is Peyton Manning or someone. In which case: Stop it.
Luckily, this class if filled with the type of depth that was decidedly missing from last year's crop of players—especially at skill positions. At least six pass-catchers are expected to go in Thursday night's opening round. It's possible in retrospect that none of them will become the best at their position, though I'd bet on Clemson's Sammy Watkins living up to the hype.
Penn State's Allen Robinson, Clemson's Martavis Bryant, Fresno State's Davante Adams and LSU's Jarvis Landry are all expected to go Friday evening and could turn into starters. Bryant has all the physical tools in the world. Robinson was insanely productive and played in multiple systems. Landry catches nearly everything that comes his way.
If we look back in four years and note that all four were far superior to Cody Latimer or Brandin Cooks, it will be a surprise. But it shouldn't be. Beyond Watkins and Evans (and to an extent Beckham), there is a lumpy tier of players who could shaky out in any way, shape or form—depending largely on the situation they enter.
Other positions like running back and defensive tackle also hold depth into the deep rounds. Running back is on a fast track to Devaluation City as a whole, but landing guys like Lache Seastrunk in the third or fourth round is a blessing—as is Storm Johnson in the fifth and even Rajion Neal in the sixth or seventh.
At this point in the process last year, we spent hours bemoaning the lack of skill-position talent. In 2014, it's here, it's real, and it's gonna be great. And not all of it is going to be found in the first 32 picks.
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