David Seigerman

On The Clock: The 2014 NFL Draft

Created on Apr. 28, 2013 1:50 AM EST

Minutes before noon on Saturday, Chip Kelly was waiting for the official word.

His general manager, Howie Roseman, was banging the phones, finalizing the deal that would land the Eagles the first pick of the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft. The pick would be used to bring Matt Barkley to Philadelphia, giving Kelly another option at quarterback, another wrinkle to consider as he remakes the Eagles’ offensive identity.

Meanwhile, a world away, a post-breakfast buzz was beginning to build outside Autzen Stadium, as University of Oregon football fans gathered for the Ducks annual spring scrimmage. There would be new-style uniforms to check out (of course), and new stars on the field, looking to follow the footsteps that led Dion Jordan and Kyle Long and Kiko Alonso from Eugene to jobs in the NFL. And, of course, there would be a new coach stalking the sidelines that Kelly once called home.

Kelly, of course, wouldn’t have much time to consider what he was missing on the other side of the continent. He and his new staff were too busy trying to figure out their plans for their next pick, the third selection in the fifth round, still more than an hour away.

By 8 p.m. ET, both the draft and the ballgame would be over. And just like that, the new football season was underway. Preparations for the 2014 NFL Draft now officially are on the clock.

There are 362 shopping days left before the first card is carried up to the podium next April. Between now and then, there are thousands of college football games to play, hundreds of players to evaluate, hundreds of thousands of hours of game film to digest.

At Football.com, it all gets started today.

Before we’re even done reflecting on the draft that was, we’re ready to start projecting the draft that will be. In the debate section of our page today, Bill Lund instigates the first argument of the new draft season: Who will be the No. 1 pick of the 2014 NFL Draft? Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater or South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney?

Is it ludicrously early to make such a prediction? Of course it is. No one knows this far in advance who the best prospect in the pool absolutely is going to be. Most football fans hadn’t even heard of Eric Fisher until the Senior Bowl, let alone last spring, and yet the Central Michigan tackle was the first man from the Class of 2013 to shake Commissioner Goodell’s hand.

But is it too early to start tracking the players who will compose next year’s draft class? Of course not.

NFL scouts have already begun the task of compiling information about all the potential talent for 2014. They attend spring games, like the one that went on Saturday at Oregon and UCLA and Minnesota and Akron and Rutgers. Actually, they’ve been on the road to watch college practices for weeks already. Their reports and evaluations for the 2013 draft have long since been passed up the ladder to their teams’ decision-makers. Once that information has been handed off, it’s their job to go out and get cracking on next year’s draft.

We will begin the process of introducing names from next year’s draft class, unveiling a series of lists of the top 10 prospects at every position . . . at this point in the process, at any rate. Every day for the next two weeks, we’ll feature a new position, starting Monday with a look at the top defensive ends (spoiler alert: Clowney’s is a name you’ll hear a lot of this year).

These rankings are not predictions of next year’s draft order, mind you. They are merely conversation starters.

We hope you’ll join the conversation as it evolves through the spring and into summer camp, throughout the regular season and the postseason bowls, then all-star games and the combine, pro days and individual workouts, and every step of the way until Kelly and his colleagues are ready to put another year’s worth of data to use amid all the bunting and banners of Radio City.

Until then, we’ll be watching college football not with an eye toward Heisman hopefuls or BCS berths but through the filter of the future NFL job market.

Out with Barkevious, bring on Jadaveon. Let the countdown toward the 2014 NFL Draft begin.

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