5 Predictions For Round 1
You've seen all the positional rankings and the Big Boards, experienced a critical mass of mock drafts. Mercifully, the season of mockery is nearly expired, opening night of draft reality nearly upon us.
We'll have one more Mock Draft for you on Thursday, but for now, here are five predictions for the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft:
1. The first two picks of the draft will be dealt. I've predicted all along that the Rams would move No. 2, but part of me thinks it's even more likely that the Texans trade out of the top spot. You can't trust almost anything being written about either team's plans, as anything that appears to be inside information really is misinformation, spread intentionally by GMs across the league, using the media as a launching pad for a fleet of trial balloons. Still, a clear-eyed look at both situations shows a no-brainer choice facing Houston and St. Louis. Both teams would be helped more by trading down and adding picks than by any one player they can add. Ultimately, I think Atlanta, Jacksonville or Tampa Bay move up to No. 1 to take Jadeveon Clowney. And I think the Rams will move their pick to a team with a must-have player on their wish list (Miami with Greg Robinson? Cleveland with Sammy Watkins? Tampa with Blake Bortles?).
By the way, it should surprise no one if the third pick is traded also. If Clowney and an offensive tackle or Khalil Mack or, shockingly, a quarterback go 1-2, I can see someone making a move for Watkins in Jacksonville's spot. Might that team be San Francisco?
2. More receivers will be taken in the first round than prospects at any other position. But it will be close. Receiver is not only the deepest position in the draft, it is the top-heaviest. There are more receivers with potential first-round grades than prospects anywhere else. Watkins, Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans, Marqise Lee and Brandin Cooks are locks. The sixth should be Kelvin Benjamin, though Davante Adams is a borderline first-rounder and Cody Latimer's been one of the hottest names in recent weeks. I don't have either Adams or Latimer going in the first, and I finally conceded that Jordan Matthews won't go that high either, though I think Matthews, Paul Richardson and Bruce Ellington (along with Adams and Latimer) will be gone by the end of Round Two. That's 11 receivers in the first two rounds, as many as went in the first two rounds of the 2005 draft (a class that included Roddy White and Vincent Jackson).
3. The top four tackles will be gone before Pick 14. Tackles were the talk of the top of the first round a year ago, when Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel and Lane Johnson all were among the first four players selected and D.J. Fluker went 11th. It'll take a little longer for the first four tackles to be drafted this year, but not by much. Robinson, Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan have long been considered top-10 talent (all three, as a matter of fact, would have been taken before any of the three from last year). Now, it looks like Zack Martin might just be right up there with the rest of them.
The problem, of course, is that Martin projects as a guard at the next level, not a tackle. So, down the road, we may look back at this draft and see only three tackles taken among the first 13 picks. But Martin started more games at tackle than any of the other guys (he started more games than any player in Notre Dame history), and it's no foregone conclusion that he will wind up moving inside. That makes him a tackle on draft night, and it's appearing increasingly unlikely that he slips past the Rams at No. 13, if he were to last even that long.
4. Three quarterbacks will be taken in the first round. Last year, I was wrong in predicting that not a single quarterback would be taken in the first round. I was right that none of them deserved to be, but Buffalo's selection of E.J. Manuel rendered my prediction incorrect.
This year, I've been adamant that no quarterback warrants the No. 1 pick. I don't have a quarterback ranked in the top 10 on my final Big Board. Oakland's acquisition of Matt Schaub makes it unnecessary to reach for a quarterback at No. 5, and I can't see defense-first coaches in Jacksonville, Cleveland or Tampa Bay pinning their futures to young quarterbacks having to deal with the pressure of being picked too early.
That said, I think there are three spots where it's reasonable to project a quarterback will be taken in the first round:
Minnesota (No. 8): The Vikings need a quarterback for tomorrow, if not necessarily today. And despite all the Teddy Bridgewater backlash in the aftermath of his poor Pro Day performance, he remains the readiest of this year's quarterback crop. Mike Zimmer doesn't need flashy; he needs mature and reliable, heady and accurate. Bridgewater is the closest to being ready, and he'll be Minnesota's starting quarterback by November.
Arizona (No. 22): Bruce Arians needs to find a quarterback he can groom to replace Carson Palmer someday soon, and Blake Bortles will be that guy. Bortles is a big, tough quarterback who is still learning to make decisions that his above average arm can execute. He needs to be in a position where he can develop without the pressure of needing to win right away. Arians has been a quarterback whisperer for his entire career, and Bortles -- who has perhaps the greatest upside of any quarterback in this draft (if not Zach Mettenberger) -- becomes his next project.
Cleveland (No. 26): I'm giving the Browns credit for patience they've not yet shown that they possess. Still, I think Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine realize they have to get this right, and taking a quarterback at No. 4 is the wrong way to go. I suspect they'll do everything they can to get Sammy Watkins or Khalil Mack with the first of their two first-round picks, and then they can take a quarterback with their second. And that quarterback will be Derek Carr, who will enjoy benefits his brother David never had. A left tackle like Joe Thomas. A receiver like Josh Gordon. And none of the pressure of being the face of an expansion franchise. Carr isn't perfect; he still has footwork issues when the walls close in on him. But he has a stronger arm than his brother, has an impressive body of work throwing the ball, and seems better prepared to take on a team early in his career than David did.
5. None of them will be Johnny Manziel. In a draft devoid of sure-thing quarterbacks, Manziel is the riskiest prospect of them all. Yes, I understand that teams will be scared not to draft him, because of his proven potential to make magic on Saturdays. But I think many more are more scared to draft him because of the mistakes he's likely to make on Sunday. Go back and watch any highlight reel of Manziel's two seasons in College Station. Three-quarters of his "special" plays would never happen against an NFL defense. The pass rushers he escaped in college will be bigger, faster and better at finishing. The throws he made back across the field will become touchdowns the wrong direction. The amount of time he bought in the pocket would be inconceivable in the NFL. And the many times he turned his back to the defense would get him killed. Do I believe Manziel has the arm and the intangibles to play in the NFL? Yes, but I don't seem a quarterback so reckless being able to last very long. Robert Griffin III is the far superior athlete, and we saw the dangers his style of play exposed him to -- before the end of his rookie season. Manziel might be able to learn to stay in the pocket or play more under control (a smaller, skinner version of Brett Favre). But that will take time. No redshirt sophomore quarterback is going to come into the league a polished product, and few have ever had to modify their game more than Manziel will be asked (forced) to do. The best case for Manziel would be to go to a team with a veteran quarterback with some of his traits and play for a coach with an understanding of developing quarterbacks. I think Tennessee (at No. 41) or Dallas (45) or Philadelphia (54) would be logical landing spot. Then again, could the Jets at No. 49 possibly have the self-control to pass on bringing the Johnny Football Show to Broadway?