Draft King Analysis|
May 3, 2014
Lou Pickney, DraftKing.com
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Just five days away from the NFL Draft and the stretch run, in true Kentucky Derby style fashion, is upon us. And, as you might expect, there is a large volume of information available, ranging from empirical data to poorly-cloaked PR spin. Throw in teams with smokescreens, teams floating names of interest hoping to induce a trade up, and well-connected people who "know things" making notable late mock draft changes.
Here's how things appear to be lining up toward the top at this point for the top five teams.
1. Houston: From all indications they are keeping this pick and drafting South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney. There will be depth at QB when they draft again at #33, and there will be multiple QB options for them there provided they don't trade up into the bottom of the first round. Either way, as always, the further you get from the top of the draft, the less likely a given team is to draft based on need.
2. St. Louis: The Rams are a prime candidate to trade down. I suspect that's why names like Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel and Buffalo DE/OLB Khalil Mack and Auburn OT Greg Robinson have been thrown around in the past few weeks. Do some fishing and see if you can pique a given team's interest.
But, absent a trade, I think Clemson WR Sammy Watkins will be the pick here, the top wide receiver on nearly every board at a spot that will give the $50 million man Sam Bradford (the final #1 pick before the modern CBA era) a year to prove his ability with top-level talent. Some of his early Rams teams had embarrassingly poor quality at wide receiver. But if you can't make it work with Watkins, Tavon Austin and Jared Cook, maybe the problem isn't your receiving corps. But the reality is that St. Louis hasn't had a wide receiver crack the 700 yard mark since Torry Holt in 2008. Think about that and then tell me why the Rams would pass on Watkins absent a juicy offer.
3. Jacksonville: There is a certain irony to the Rams and Jaguars both being teams that could use a top-flight wide receiver. Two years ago the Jaguars leapfrogged the Rams to select Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon, a move which reportedly prompted Rams head coach Jeff Fisher to slam his glasses into a table.
Now? Blackmon is on indefinite suspension due to multiple violations of the NFL's substance abuse policy. Oops. Of course, 2012 is also the same draft where the Jaguars memorably drafted a punter in the third round ahead of Russell Wilson and all of Radio City Music Hall (including me) laughed at them. There's a reason the Jaguars have a different management team in place now.
Watkins makes sense here, but if the Rams take him the Jaguars have a few choices. Buffalo DE/OLB Khalil Mack isn't a particularly great fit for a 4-3 defense, but the Jaguars desperately need an upgrade to their pass rushing attack, something Mack would help with tremendously. Quarterback is also a consideration, but Chad Henne can be at least a serviceable starter and allow the Jaguars, much like Houston, to potentially use a high second-round pick on a quarterback. But keep in mind that the Jaguars are drafting at #39, *below* teams like Houston (#33), Cleveland (#35), Oakland (#36) and Tampa Bay (#38) who all could be hoping to have a quarterback fall to them in that range.
That's why it wouldn't surprise me to see a team like Jacksonville trade up into the bottom of round one. New England at #29, be ready for the phone to ring.
On top of trumping other teams hoping for early second round QBs, there is an added bonus in snagging one in the first rund. Under the current CBA, teams drafting a player in the first round have the option after year three to pick up a five-year option. It's not cheap since it uses franchise tag type math to figure out that fifth year, e.g. Cam Newton being guaranteed the average of the league's 10 highest paid quarterbacks in 2015 (which will likely be north of $14.5 million), but it's a way for teams to potentially hold onto a superstar QB an extra year without the protracted process of negotiating a new contract or the unpleasantness of franchise tag hardball.
4. Cleveland: The Browns are in a very interesting spot here with this pick and the #26 overall selection. Landing a franchise quarterback is of paramount importance, but can a top-level talent be taken here with the believe/hope that a desired QB will be available at #26? I suspect with Joe Thomas at left tackle and Alex Mack at center (after Cleveland matched Jacksonville's offer sheet) that offensive line will not be the target here if the Browns keep the pick. I've heard Texas A&M Mike Evans mentioned as a possibility here, with his name climbing up boards in stretch run style. Remember, as great as Josh Gordon was in 2013, another mistake and he could find himself suspended for more than just two games.
Personally I think this is where Johnny Manziel will go. and I've felt that for some time. You don't need to electrify the Cleveland fan base -- Browns fans have been loyal through some incredibly trying time over the past two decades. But Manziel would bring hope and excitement to an offense that could really use it. And while I personally prefer Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater, my gut tells me that Manziel will be the one who goes here if a quarterback is taken.
5. Oakland: I miss the era when the Raiders were super-easy to predict, or at least relatively so, thanks to maverick owner/de facto GM Al Davis and his usual strategy. Remember the pre-draft talk last year that current general manager Reggie McKenzie was ready to use the #3 overall pick on Houston CB D.J. Hayden? That didn't happen, but after trading down to #13 it sure did. Trading back here also makes sense, particularly if a team wanting Mike Evans or a particular QB or Greg Robinson if he's still on the board is willing to move up to do it.
There is talk that the Raiders are interested in Fresno State QB Derek Carr, which if true would make trading down a wise move given the likelihood that Carr would be available later in the first round, if not outright falling to them at #36 overall. If they stick here, they could go offensive line or draft Evans or do any number of things, though the more I look at the Raiders, the more I think Evans could go here.