As we mercifully reach the final week of buildup for the 2014 NFL draft, there is a sense of relief going around all 32 front offices. For all the extra time this May pushback has allowed teams to prepare, the constant sense of unknowing that's pervaded through this process has to have been stressful.
Even now, no one knows with 100 percent certainty who the Houston Texans will take at No. 1 overall. Or even if they'll still be in that spot when Roger Goodell steps to the podium Thursday night. While confirming the team does have its top pick set, Texans general manager Rick Smith said at a pre-draft press conference, via Shawn Ramsey of Fox Sports, what we all expected—Houston is willing to trade down.
"We're open to moving out of the first pick if, in fact, there's an opportunity to do so, and if we think it's in the best interest of the organization," Smith said. "There's a bunch of options out (there), and what I can tell you is that we're going to do everything we can to increase the talent on this team."
History says Houston pulling the trigger on a deal is unlikely. But with so many different scenarios being bandied about at the top of the draft, finding a consensus with how the first 32 picks will play out is nearly impossible. Johnny Manziel could go as high as No. 1 overall—or dip all the way out of the top 20. Teddy Bridgewater has transformed from potential top pick into potential top pick of the second round.
It's all become a bit cumbersome. And at this point, we might be better off just waiting for the first round to play itself out instead of racking our brains trying to map out every possibility. Instead, let's shift the focus a bit to the guys who already know they won't be hearing their name Thursday night. The ones who could either become NFL starters or end up in the CFL in three years. Or, at the very least, dudes who haven't been talked about over and over and over.
Here's a quick look at a few mid-round prospects who could be steals down the line.
Allen Robinson (WR, Penn State)
Much of Robinson's stock comes down to just how much credence a team puts into a combine 40-yard dash time. The former Penn State star, who came into Indianapolis as a potential late-first-round pick, topped out at 4.6 seconds and did not show elite-level quickness in the shuttle drills.
While Jerry Rice's 40 time is so regularly cited on draft broadcasts as the reason one shouldn't overrate speed, it does matter. So much so that Robinson is now safely out of the first-round conversation and could have to scramble to get back into the second. In a back-and-forth mock draft broadcast on ESPN, Todd McShay and Mel Kiper (subscription required) had Robinson lasting all the way to No. 81 with the Miami Dolphins.
If you had told anyone in December that Indiana's Cody Latimer would be drafted ahead of Robinson, the Big Ten Receiver of the Year and first-team All-American, he or she would have looked at you like you had six heads. Now, Latimer has moved into the first-round conversation, while Robinson struggles to regain his stock.
What we have here, folks, is a failure to learn from the very recent past. In December 2012, many expected Cal's Keenan Allen to be drafted midway through the first round or, at the very least, the top of the second. A poor 40 time and questionable athletic splits in workouts caused him to drop all the way to No. 76, where the Chargers happily took advantage of his misfortune.
All Allen did was become the 12th rookie receiver since the merger to have more than 1,000 receiving yards. While it's impossible to draw such a direct comparison—it helps that Allen was paired with a resurgent Philip Rivers and put in a mediocre receiving corps—Robinson nonetheless stands out as a potential value.
Despite a shaky combine performance, he ran in the high 4.4s at his pro day in Happy Valley and consistently showed the ability to make big downfield plays. He's an elite leaper who could become a solid goal-line threat if he can find more consistency judging when to make his jump. Oftentimes, Christian Hackenberg's bailout play was just a fade-and-pray toss to Robinson, who more often than not came down with the pass.
At 6'2" and 220 pounds, Robinson has more than enough size to compete at the next level. He also blossomed in Bill O'Brien's pro-style offense, meaning his understanding of route concepts should be higher than most other players in this class. Robinson might not ever blossom into a No. 1 option, but if a team can find its eventual No. 2 in the third round, that's a more than solid buy-low.
Lache Seastrunk (RB, Baylor)
Any conversation about mid-round running back value begins with a discussion of the position as a whole. After 2013 became the first draft to come and go without a running back drafted in the first round, it looks like we're headed to make that two years running. Only Ohio State's Carlos Hyde has an outside shot at hearing his name called in the first round.
Not only is this a flawed class of backs, but the position is more disposable than ever. Teams believe they can get 85 percent value out of their projected sixth-round back just as they can guys like Hyde—and recent years says they can. The fracturing of the position into little chunks of specialization makes guys like Adrian Peterson seemingly the last of a dying breed.
But that is only part of what makes Seastrunk so intriguing. The former Baylor back is well-attuned to his future NFL life, as he was already living it in college. Employing Art Briles' read-option system, Seastrunk averaged only 14.4 carries per game as a junior. In his two years as a primary ball-carrier, he only crossed over the 20-carries barrier once and didn't have much success in that particular contest (TCU, 2013).
Briles preferred rotating fresh backs in and out of the lineup, with Shock Linwood and Glasco Martin each getting a comparably heavy workload. Seastrunk's late-season groin injury helped boost their respective numbers, but it was clear Briles did not feel comfortable giving him the lion's share of the work.
In the past, that would have been a red flag. But now, Seastrunk is the perfect type of back who can fit right into a rotation system without getting lost. He's far faster on tape than the 4.51-second 40 he ran at the combine. For his career at Baylor, the 5'9" speedster averaged 7.6 yards per carry and consistently was able to break big plays from scrimmage.
The Bears did not use him as a pass-catcher, so it will be interesting to see what type of hands he has. It's not necessarily an indictment that he wasn't used in those situations; Briles simply does not use his running backs as receivers.
Whenever he finds a crease, though, Seastrunk is trouble. If the Philadelphia Eagles can get a hold of him in Round 4, it might be a best-case scenario for both sides. And even if not, any team that occasionally features the read-option should take a long, hard look his way.
This happens in roughly, I dunno, 100 percent of drafts. A talented, highly productive collegiate linebacker with an award mantle and an impeccable leadership reputation fails to register high on draft boards because of shaky athletic splits. Said linebacker then gets drafted somewhere between Rounds 2-4, picks up right where he left off production-wise and suddenly a team found a "steal" to plug into the middle of the defense.
Because of my affinity for him in college, I've always called this DeMeco Ryans Disease. While Ryans isn't the perfect example of a player you'd want now, his first four-plus seasons were indicative of the type of performance I'm talking about. By all accounts, Ryans was one of the two or three best linebackers in college football his senior season, yet he dropped to the top of Round 2.
This year's Ryans winner is former Stanford star Shayne Skov. Listed at 6'3" and 245 pounds, Skov was a third-team All-American last season after putting up 109 tackles, 13 of which went for loss. He's decidedly old-school in his style of play, employing an infectious aggression and off-the-ball instincts that allows him to blow up plays at the line.
Foot speed and a history of knee injuries are, however, keeping him from gaining much momentum on draft boards. CBS Sports currently lists Skov as the 113th-best player in this class. That would put him, at best, as a fourth-round selection.
This would seem like a low grade, but it's largely shared throughout the draft community. Skov's overaggression at times combine with his shaky coverage skills to make some afraid that he'll merely become an elite special teamer—not someone you can put in the middle of the defense. I'm more willing to bank on production here.
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