By: Tim Van Blarcom, Feature Writer
Follow Tim on Twitter: @Tim_VB
The NFL draft is more difficult to predict than the a NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament bracket but that doesn’t stop thousands of writers, analysts, and fans from trying. In fact, even if you 100% knew the first 32 players off of the board, those 32 players could be drafted in more than 2.6*10^35 different combinations. That’s 2.6 hundred decillion.
With the 2014 NFL draft pushed back into May this year, NFL enthusiasts have been presented with more mock drafts, talent evaluations, trade rumors, and front office smoke screens this year than ever before. It would be low hanging fruit here to say “expect the unexpected” when it comes to the NFL draft, so instead let’s take a look at what is most likely to occur on May 8th-10th.
- The Houston Texans to keep the 1st pick in the draft. The Houston Texans have been the kings of misdirection with the first pick in the draft this year. In the last few weeks, the Texans have both loved and questioned Jadeveon Clowney, toyed with preferring Khalil Mack, and even teased Sammy Watkins, Greg Robinson, and Johnny Manziel. These are generally the ploys of a front office looking to trade down. Ultimately, no one will offer them anything close to what they think the pick is worth and will keep the pick.
- The first 5 picks of the draft will be DE/OLB Jadeveon Clowney, LB Khalil Mack, QB Johnny Manziel, OT Greg Robinson, and WR Sammy Watkins. You’ll notice those are in alphabetical order because they could go in almost any order by almost any of those teams. These also are no where near the end of top talent in this draft.
- A team to trade into the top 5 to draft one of those guys. While there are players at all of those positions that will be starters, those 5 are the blue chips and a team outside of the top 5 will want a piece of them. Expect the asking price to be at least 2 first round picks and a 2nd-3rd rounder.
- Quarterbacks to be taken seemingly at random in the first 3 rounds. Yes, Cleveland, Minnesota, Jacksonville, and Oakland are all expected to draft quarterbacks at some point but there’s no guarantee any of these teams use their 1st round pick on one. There’s also plenty more of teams looking to the future and hoping to draft a valuable developmental guy. With each quarterback in the draft bringing a completely different skill set to the NFL, teams will have very different evaluations of all of them.
- Another run on offensive linemen in the first round. The 2013 NFL draft was most notably characterized by the large run of offensive tackles and guards in the first round. With another top-heavy draft for offensive linemen, expect teams to go offensive line crazy in the early to mid first round yet again. Jake Matthews, Taylor Lewan, Zach Martin, Xavier Su’a-filo, Morgan Moses, and JaWuan James should round at the starting talent in the draft. Expect them all to be gone by the middle of the 2nd round.
- Wide receivers to steadily be drafted through all 7 rounds in no discernible order. Much like quarterbacks, there are all kinds of of wide receivers in the 2014 draft that all 32 teams will have ranked slightly differently. The difference is, the wide receiver position is loaded throughout the draft. Even into the Saturday, teams will be drafting very talented guys.
- Multiple tight ends to be selected in the first 3 rounds. After quarterback, tight end is the position that has seen their value and production sky rocket in the last few years. More teams are trying to run two tight end sets and have pass catching tight ends be a focal point in their offense. Eric Ebron, Jace Amaro, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and Troy Niklas are the headliners but as many as 5 tight ends could go in the first 3 rounds.
- The Dallas Cowboys to either trade up or reach on a flashy player. Jerry Jones has two criteria for drafting players; talent and publicity. While the Cowboys roster screams for defensive line help, it is hard to see any defensive linemen being sexy enough for Jones to draft. There’s even rumors out there that the Cowbo
ys are taking a hard look at Manziel in case he falls. Wide receiver seems the more likely pick in the first.
- The Saint Louis Rams and San Francisco 49ers to have two of the best draft classes. The Rams will be using their last 1st rounder from the Washington Redskins this year and it just so happens that it is the 2nd overall pick in the draft. The Rams may even be able to turn that pick into even more future picks as the gift that keeps on giving. It will be tough for the Rams to come out of the draft with anything less than 3 immediate starters. Conversely, the 49ers don’t pick until 31st in the draft but they’ve managed to accumulate 11 total picks in the 2014 draft. The 49ers have proven in recent years that they are among the best in identifying talented prospects and actually developing them. With few true needs and picks to burn expect the 49ers to move around and handpick a great draft class.
- At least 4 regional combine participants get drafted. The regional combines have exploded in popularity and participation since its creation in 2011. Four participants have been drafted in each of the last two drafts and this year could see even more. With increased participation by prospects and NFL teams obsessed with trying to find gems late in the draft, expect a handful to be drafted and even more signed for training camps.
- Roger Goodell to look like an awkward, old white dude shaking hands with the first round picks. They hug him, they dap him up, they shake his hand but the only result is the commissioner of the NFL looking like he doesn’t belong on his own stage.
Do not expect:
- Teams drafting 6-12 to trade up in the draft. The Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Minnesota Vikings, Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions, Tennessee Titans, and New York Giants all have multiple needs in the draft and are in prime position to draft a starting-caliber player in their current position. The value added from trading up for an elite prospect from what they could stay and draft is just not worth the cost. All of these teams are in great position to trade down in the draft if a team is eager to draft “their” guy. The Falcons and Lions may ruin this expectation but only if certain players start to fall.
- A running back to be drafted in the first round. Not only having running backs seen their value plummet in recent years, but there isn’t an elite running back in this draft. It’s tempting to predict no running backs in the first two rounds but Carlos Hyde, Bishop Shankey, and Tre Mason certainly deserve to be drafted eventually. As teams continue to favor running back by committee approaches and avoid investing too much in the position, it will be difficult for any running back to be worth a first round price tag. Instead watch for a run on running backs on Saturday and plenty of undrafted free agents.
- Any drafted quarterback to make the pro-bowl. The 2012 NFL draft spoiled the NFL with one of the best quarterback classes ever. The 2014 class is comparable to 2013 as there are talented quarterbacks available but none are a sure thing. Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, and Derek Carr are certainly all capable of success but the odds are against them to be elite in year one.
- Any inside linebacker besides C.J. Mosley to be drafted in the first round. There may not be another one taken in the 2nd round either. Mosley is head and shoulders above the other prospects at arguably one of the most difficult positions in the NFL. Christian Jones had a good chance of going early before his failed drug test at the Combine, and Chris Borland and Shane Skov are good tacklers but struggle in coverage. There are numerous developmental guys that will go much later in the draft.
- The Washington Redskins to trade into the first round. The Redskins actually did a decent job in addressing their immediate needs in free agency by signing multiple inside linebackers, Andre Roberts and DeSean Jackson, and some utility guards. The Redskins still have lots of gaps in talent on their roster and trading up would only limit their ability to fill multiple spots. Bruce Allen has shown that he likes to trade back in the draft and hopefully with Jay Gruden and not Mike Shanahan in his ear, those picks will be successful.
- The Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns, Buffalo Bills, or Oakland Raiders to magically turn their team around. These teams are not a draft away from success. All four have arguably the worst cultures for players and coaches in the NFL, mostly due to incompetent or non-existent ownership. These four teams could have the best drafts of the year and still finish under .500 in 2014.
- Any fans to have valid opinions after Thursday. Outside of your alma mater, it is very difficult to know anything about players drafted after the first round. Writers and analysts devote hours of research on each individual player to even begin to have an opinion about their abilities and potential in the NFL. Unless you are being paid or are just a crazy football fanhead, like me, you should be completely lost after the first round.
The NFL draft is the single biggest source of hope and optimism for NFL fans every single year. In a perfect world, every single drafted player would be NFL ready and each year the NFL itself would be more competitive and talented than the year befo
re. You better not expect this to happen. There will be busts, there will be trades, there will be reaches, and there will be head scratching moves throughout.
And of course, expect the unexpected.
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