NFL Draft 2014: Whose Stock Is Rising, Falling Heading into the Draft?
When the 2014 NFL draft kicks off in just three days, the speculation on who’s rising and falling can finally end, as players will be selected and the focus will shift to how each draft pick could impact his new team.
Until it starts, however, the rumors of which players are in position to be early draft picks and which players could be in line for a long wait on draft day will continue to run rampant.
At this point in the draft process, there’s little reason for a player’s draft stock to be rising or falling. A prospect could have recently increased his standing with an individual team by impressing in a predraft interview or private workout, but with draft week now underway, teams should be all but finished with their prospect evaluations and setting their final boards.
In many cases, the purported rising or falling of a player’s draft stock isn’t actually the result of movement on NFL teams’ boards, but rather members of the media catching wind of where NFL teams rank certain prospects.
Nonetheless, recent buzz from around the web suggests the following players might be moving into positions where they could be selected higher or significantly lower than many have projected them to be drafted.
Rising: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
There might not be any more unpredictable factor in this year’s draft—or in just about any year’s draft, for that matter—than where the top quarterbacks will fall. The one signal-caller who seems like an increasingly safe bet to be a top pick, however, is Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel.
According to Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer, Manziel has “flown up boards” leading up to the draft. Glazer tweeted that the Texas A&M playmaker has done far more to help himself in private meetings and workouts with teams than any other quarterback in this year’s class.
Meanwhile, Manziel came out on top in a poll of 17 “personnel people with national orientation” around the league, conducted by Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, in regard to who the top quarterback in this year’s draft is.
It’s not hard to see why Manziel might be the favored quarterback prospect in NFL circles. While there’s reason to question whether his improvisational, gunslinging style of play will translate to the next level, he has the most undeniably special playmaking ability of any player at his position.
The most likely destination for Manziel might be the Cleveland Browns, who hold the No. 4 overall pick in this year’s draft. The Jacksonville Jaguars (selecting No. 3 overall), Oakland Raiders (No. 5), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 7) and Minnesota Vikings (No. 8) could also be potential landing spots within the top 10.
Falling: AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama
AJ McCarron expects to be a first-round pick, but that doesn’t mean he will be.
According to Andrew Gribble of AL.com, McCarron told ESPN’s The Paul Finebaum Show on April 28 that “pretty much everyone” has told him he will be a first-round pick.
It seems, however, that the two-time national champion might be exaggerating. According to Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, “multiple scouts are befuddled” at McCarron’s insistence that NFL teams are grading him as a first-round pick.
NFL Media’s Daniel Jeremiah said he has heard there is a “very real chance McCarron could be this year's Matt Barkley,” referring to the USC quarterback who went from a projected first-rounder to winding up in Round 4 of last year’s draft.
It wouldn’t come as a complete shock if McCarron, an accurate passer who is one of college football’s most successful quarterbacks of all time, ended up in the draft’s first frame. But it also shouldn’t come as a surprise if McCarron, who has limited physical tools for the position and struggles throwing deep, falls as far as the draft’s third day.
Rising: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
At the deepest and most talent-laden position in this year’s draft, many wide receivers are fighting for real estate as potential first-round picks. One wideout who hasn’t often been projected there by the media but might have made a push into the draft’s top 32 picks is Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews.
According to Bleacher Report’s Greg Gabriel, a former NFL director of college scouting, word around the league is that Matthews’ stock is on the rise. ESPN’s Mel Kiper, meanwhile, chose Matthews as the No. 22 overall pick in his recent three-round collaborative mock draft with Todd McShay.
Matthews doesn’t have the standout physical traits of top prospects like Clemson’s Sammy Watkins, Texas A&M’s Mike Evans or LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr., but he belongs in the conversation to be the next receiver selected once those playmakers are off the board.
He has some issues with separation and might not stretch the field at the next level, but he’s a big, physical wideout who consistently catches the ball in his hands and runs great routes. The SEC’s all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards, Matthews has the skill set to be an instantly productive No. 2 wideout in the NFL.
His potential rise into the first round could be helped by the possibility that another projected late first-round receiving prospect may be falling.
Falling: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
While Greg Gabriel’s connections informed him that Jordan Matthews has moved up draft boards, the former NFL personnel executive also tweeted that the stock of USC wide receiver Marqise Lee is apparently down.
Coming off a 1,721-yard, 14-touchdown sophomore season, Lee looked poised to contend to be the top receiver selected in this year’s draft, but he only caught 57 passes for 791 yards and four touchdowns in an injury-plagued junior year.
Issues with durability and the drop-off in production have seemingly caused concern in NFL circles; one NFL personnel executive told USA Today Sports’ Tom Pelissero that “nobody knows where he's going to go." With so much competition to be among the top receivers drafted this year, any concern could cause a prospect at the position to slide down draft boards.
In a more normal draft class of receivers, however, one would think Lee would still be a solid top-20 draft selection. Arguably the most well-rounded wideout in this year’s class, Lee does a terrific job getting open by running crisp routes and accelerating naturally in the open field.
He could very well be in play for teams like the Philadelphia Eagles at the No. 22 overall pick and the Kansas City Chiefs one slot later, but it also wouldn’t be a shock if he fell to Round 2.
Rising: Zack Martin, OL, Notre Dame
Notre Dame’s Zack Martin has been widely projected as the ideal No. 19 overall selection for the Miami Dolphins, but there’s a growing buzz leading up to the draft that Martin won’t be available for the Dolphins to pick him.
During his annual predraft conference call last week, NFL Network’s Mike Mayock told reporters, according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, that he thinks there is “no way in the world” the Fighting Irish offensive lineman is still available at the 19th slot.
While Martin’s physical tools don’t stack up as impressively as the other top offensive line prospects in this year’s draft class, he is a fundamentally sound blocker who makes up for it with his hand placement, footwork and strength.
Martin is arguably the most versatile offensive lineman in this year’s class, and Mayock believes the Notre Dame left tackle is “the only player in the draft that can play all offensive line positions at a high level,” according to NFL.com’s Bryan Fischer.
Possible early landing spots for Martin could include the Buffalo Bills (selecting No. 9 overall), New York Giants (No. 12), St. Louis Rams (No. 13) and Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 15).
Falling: David Yankey, G, Stanford
David Yankey was a two-time first-team All-American at Stanford, and some viewed him as a potential first-round pick when he declared for this year’s draft with a remaining year of eligibility. NFL scouts, however, don’t seem to think as highly of Yankey.
Yankey’s value as a potential early-round draft pick started to come into question when he was one of the least impressive performers among offensive linemen at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine, and he might be more likely to be a Day 3 selection than to go in Round 1.
One NFL scout told Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he thinks Yankey is “nonathletic,” while another called Yankey “one of the most disappointing guys I saw” and graded him as an undrafted free agent.
Those recent comments to McGinn echo a tweet from NFL Media’s Daniel Jeremiah in April, who said then that he hadn’t talked to a single scout or executive who would take Yankey in the first three rounds.
An experienced, physical and versatile offensive lineman, Yankey should have a future as an NFL guard after his impressive Stanford career. It would no longer be a shock, however, to see him plummet into the middle to late rounds of the draft.
Rising: Dominique Easley, DT, Florida
Dominique Easley’s draft stock took a devastating hit in September when he suffered a torn ACL during a practice. The Florida defensive lineman’s stock seems to be back on the rise, however, after he was healthy enough to go through a pro-day workout in April.
According to Bryan Broaddus, a former NFL personnel executive and a writer for DallasCowboys.com, Easley’s medical reports “turned out well,” and he “is making progress to be ready at some point during training camp.”
That could be enough for NFL teams to consider Easley as a potential first-round pick once again. NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport said he has heard from two “top scouts” who believe Easley will be selected in Round 1.
Had it not been for his injury, Easley might be giving Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald a run for his money to be the top defensive tackle selected in this year’s draft. An explosive penetrator with a lightning-quick first step, Easley can wreak havoc as an interior pass-rusher and also holds up well versus the run.
His health concerns cannot be overlooked, especially considering he has torn ACLs in each of his knees within the past three years, but his talent makes him worth taking a chance on early.
Falling: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Eric Ebron’s value as a prospect isn’t actually falling—all 17 scouts polled by Bob McGinn voted the North Carolina playmaker as the best tight end in this year’s draft—but the value of his position might lead to him dropping lower than many have projected him to go.
According to Bleacher Report’s Dan Pompei, Ebron “has the ability to be a top-10 pick, in the estimation of several front-office men” but “might slip past the top 10 because some teams don't want to take a tight end that high.”
The Buffalo Bills’ No. 9 overall pick has been a popular landing spot for Ebron in mock drafts, but if they don’t draft him, he could be primed to fall down the board a bit. The New York Giants’ No. 12 overall pick has also been a frequent mock-draft slot for Ebron, but according to Giants beat writer Jordan Raanan of NJ.com, indications are that the Giants are “not overly impressed with his skills and overall package.”
Should Ebron start to slide, it’s possible that a team could look to trade up to draft the dynamic athlete and receiving threat. Pompei identified the New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, Arizona Cardinals and Green Bay Packers—the teams that hold the 18th-21st picks in this year’s first round—as teams who could potentially move up to draft him.
Yet if there is no team in the top 17 who decides to draft Ebron, the Jets or one of those other teams might not even have to move up to select him. Although there seems to be agreement throughout the league that Ebron is a top prospect, he plays a position where no player has been selected above the 20th overall pick since 2006.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.