The speculation, mocking and endless stream of rumors and scouting nuggets will finally heed to the actual thing, as the 2014 NFL draft finally gets underway on Thursday night.
Round 1 will kick off at 8 p.m. ET at Radio City Music Hall. After months of scouting and research, we should know by now exactly how the opening round will play out, right?
Nope. Still no clue. Even the No. 1 pick is not locked in with just hours to spare before the Houston Texans are officially placed on the clock. The uncertainty makes the draft more fun, but it sure makes pretending to know what's going to happen difficult.
Let's ignore that last sentence, though, and try to predict what is going to happen to some of the biggest 2014 NFL draft prospects on Thursday night in New York.
Khalil Mack, DE/OLB, Buffalo
While some prospects have seen their reputation ripped to pieces due to the prolonged wait before draft day—sorry, Teddy Bridgewater—Khalil Mack has seen his popularity grow over that same stretch.
The outside linebacker received little attention playing in the Mid-American Conference, but he decimated the opposition over four years to the tune of 16 forced fumbles, 75 tackles for loss and 28.5 sacks. Wherever he goes, Mack will create carnage.
He has also gained steam as a viable option to become the No. 1 overall pick. Monday Morning Quarterback's Peter King believes Mack will be pleased with the final result, regardless:
Don't expect him to go before Jadeveon Clowney, but don't be completely shocked if the Texans do decide to take that course of action. It would be a reasonable selection, but Houston may be blinded by Clowney's higher upside and make him the popular choice.
Mack, however, won't fall much further. If the Atlanta Falcons try unsuccessfully to trade up for Clowney, they might turn their attention toward climbing up to No. 2 in order to grab Mack. Adding another pass-rusher doesn't make as much sense for the St. Louis Rams as an offensive lineman or a wide receiver like Sammy Watkins would.
Assuming Atlanta stays put, the Jacksonville Jaguars would gladly select Mack with the third overall selection. After registering just 31 sacks last year, which tied for last in the league with the Chicago Bears, the Jags would love Mack's ability to eviscerate blockers who get in his way.
Prediction: Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 3)
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
If Johnny Manziel falls, a bunch of teams are reportedly interested in obtaining the polarizing quarterback. But how about the clubs in place to snag him with a top-five pick?
Anyone paying attention to the constant drama surrounding Johnny Football undoubtedly want to get this draft over with already. Remember when ESPN's Ron Jaworski told WPEN-FM radio in Philadelphia (h/t Mike Wells of ESPN.com) back in February that he "wouldn't take [Manziel] in the first three rounds," giving his employer a talking point for the entire day?
Don't worry, we're almost home. There have been a bunch of reports regarding teams who are expressing interest in Manziel despite having not needing a quarterback.
In a possible doomsday scenario, NFL Network's Mike Mayock has linked the playmaking passer to the Dallas Cowboys—because if there's one thing the NFL's worst defensive squad with a poor offensive line needs, it's a backup quarterback.
Grantland's Bill Barnwell made the joke that some Tony Romo critics will take far too seriously:
According to the Star-Ledger's Jordan Raanan, an unlikely NFC East foe is also considering Manziel if the opportunity presents itself:
If Manziel slides to them, the Giants would seriously consider drafting him, a person with knowledge of the team's draft philosophy told NJ.com. The person claims the Giants would have that discussion (and likely already have chatted about the possible scenario), despite having two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Eli Manning on the roster.
Eli Manning had an abysmal 2013 campaign, throwing 27 interceptions with a 57.5 completion percentage, but good luck selling fans on using the No. 12 pick to plan for the removal of a quarterback who has led his team to two Super Bowl titles.
The Cleveland Browns make a whole lot of sense at No. 4, but FOX Sports' Jay Glazier reported otherwise:
Well this makes things interesting. If not Manziel, the Browns will probably take Greg Robinson or Watkins, depending on which player the Rams don't take, unless Cleveland is smitten with another quarterback. This leaves the door open for the Oakland Raiders at No. 5, but Blake Bortles' rocket arm is a better fit for their vertical offense.
That keeps Manziel slipping to No. 7, where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could grab him despite already having Mike Glennon and Josh McCown. It may not be the smartest course of action, but it's one that new head coach Lovie Smith may push Tampa Bay to take.
Prediction: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 7)
Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Manziel falling outside the top five will enforce a ripple effect on many of the draft's other top talents, including North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron.
Stay with me through this butterfly-effect scenario. Instead of taking Mike Evans, the Buccaneers may grab the wideout's former partner-in-crime in Manziel. This keeps the wide receiver on the board, and the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants become two ripe landing spots for him.
Those are also prime destinations for Ebron, a monstrous pass-catching tight end who is exactly what teams are searching for these days. At 6'4" and 250 pounds, he is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenders.
The way this simulation has unfolded, Jake Matthews is too good for Buffalo to pass up at No. 9. This leaves Evans for the G-Men at No. 12, and they will happily pounce on him. Should the Buccaneers take Evans, the Giants will likely look at Ebron, offensive lineman Taylor Lewan or defensive tackle Aaron Donald instead.
The next few teams up don't need a tight end, which causes Ebron to fall until the Meadowlands' other inhabitant scoops him up at No. 18. While the New York Jets are in need of a wide receiver or cornerback, they'll change course when they see Ebron still on the board.
Prediction: New York Jets (No. 18)
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