NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
We finally made it to NFL Draft week! A process that officially started for me back in January at the Senior Bowl is now only a few short days away. Regardless of what happens Thursday, Friday, or Saturday there will be hundreds of surprises and moves that shake up the NFL Draft.
As we count down the hours until the draft, here are my final thoughts leading up to this year’s draft.
1) There is a 10% chance Johnny Manziel doesn’t go in the top 5. The latest talk has St. Louis at pick #2 interested in Manziel, but I’m not sure I buy that. It’s been known for awhile that Jacksonville and Cleveland are extremely interested in Johnny Manziel. By spreading the word that they are thinking about taking Manziel at #2 it is sure to get teams behind them nervous. St. Louis is trying to build interest in the second pick, forcing Jacksonville or Cleveland to trade up if they want to get their hands on Manziel.
2) As a fan of another AFC team I hope Houston is stupid enough to pass on Jadeveon Clowney at #1. If GM Rick Smith passes on the opportunity to pair All-World DE JJ Watt up with Jadeveon Clowney it will be a monumental mistake. Whether they trade down to take or Quarterback or opt to select Khalil Mack over Clowney the decision will ultimately come back to haunt Rick Smith. There is no Quarterback worthy of the #1 overall pick this year and any passer Houston takes in a trade down to #6 isn’t going to be dramatically better than a QB they can pick at #33. The best case scenario is to stand pat take Clowney at #1 and then take the best QB on the board at #33. If they pass on Clowney it will be another case of a GM outsmarting themselves and that doesn’t usually end well.
3). As of right now I think the Patriots will make a selection at #29 unless the board blows up on them. Based on first round projections the Patriots will get to choose from a talented group of players, many of whom fill critical needs on the roster. Looking at the first 28 selections as many as 5 Offensive Tackles could come off the board before the Patriots pick (a position the Patriots won’t use a first round pick on). There could be as many as 4 Quarterbacks and at least 5 receivers selected before pick #29. If you do that math that’s about 14-15 players coming off the board that won’t affect the Patriots draft strategy. Unless the Patriots get blown away with an offer, similar to last year with Minnesota, I think it’s likely they sit tight and pick on Thursday night.
4) Two players whose draft stock remains a mystery are Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro and Florida State DT Timmy Jernigan. Things have been eerily quiet surrounding Amaro since his average combine performance and it’s tough to peg exactly what his draft range is at this point. Things are equally quiet around Jernigan who appears has been leap-frogged by DL such as Aaron Donald, Dominique Easley, and perhaps even Ra’Shede Hageman. Jernigan was invited to the draft in New York, but backed out late last week, further clouding his draft status. Heading into the combine in February both players were near locks to get drafted in the first round. While neither is a lock, I still see a scenario where both players end up in the first round. For Amaro teams picking in the 20′s such as Green Bay, Kansas City, and New England should all have interest.
5) Now that the pre-draft process is over it’s easy to pick out the “winners” and losers”. From my perspective no player has solidified their draft stock more than Texas A&M WR Mike Evans. He entered the draft process with questions about his speed, his ability to be an NFL route runner, and as a late first round selection. Fast forward to now and Evans is a lock to go in the top ten selections. His pro day performance with Johnny Manziel was one of the most impressive I’ve seen from a Wide Receiver. He ran much faster than anticipated and has some of the best hands to come out of college in a long time. He’s a rare breed in terms of size, speed, and ball skills. Teams throughout the top half of the first round will be battling for draft position in order to pick him. Evans’ draft range begins with the Oakland Raiders at pick #5, if he gets past Oakland the Buccaneers at 7, the Bills at 9, and the Lions at 10 are all potential landing spots.
6) There is no doubt that the 2014 NFL Draft is one of the deepest drafts in history, however Tight End and Edge Rusher are two positions where there is a huge drop off in talent after the 2nd-3rd Rounds. For a team like the Patriots that need impact at both positions, they are put in a situation where they need to use early picks on the the position or risk missing out. Tight End especially is very “top heavy”. Once the top 5 come off the board (Ebron, Seferian-Jenkins, Amaro, Niklas, Fiedorowicz) there is a steep decline in talent, in fact there isn’t another sure thing in the entire draft.
As for edge rushers, I believe there will be a run on DE/OLB types starting in the mid-20′s lasting until the middle of the second round. As these pass rushers come off the board teams will get nervous and be forced to reach a little bit to get their guy. For this reason players such as Scott Crichton, Kareem Martin, and even Jeremiah Attaochu (to some extent) will be picked earlier than they probably deserve. When and where these edge rushers come off the board is one of the aspects I’ll be paying closest attention to on Thursday-Friday night.
7) Jason Verrett continues to be one of the safest players in this draft class, but it’s tough to place him in mock drafts. In fact, it’s tough to place any of the corners in recent mock drafts. For Verrett his lack of size and the fact he recently had shoulder surgery are the only negatives on his resume. Besides that he is a clean prospect with few things to pick apart on film. It will be interesting to see where the corners come off the board on Thursday night. While many project corner needy teams such as Detroit, Pittsburgh, and San Diego to select a Cornerback in the first round, I think teams with established depth will pull the trigger if the right corner is on the board. A player like Verrett who can play in the slot and doesn’t need much development time will attract almost every team from 22-32, even Seattle and Denver.