Do you feel a draft in here?
With the NFL Draft finally upon us (pushed back from the usual late April to early May), it’s time to congratulate all of you on a Big Win, regardless of what team you root for. Just like last month’s NFL schedule release (when everyone’s 0-0 with a clear path to the playoffs), every team goes into the draft poised to hit a home run in the spring Super Bowl.
That mixed metaphor represents the convoluted uncertainty of projecting and selecting NFL talent. No need to remind you that quarterbacks Ryan Leaf (#2 overall) and Akili Smith (#3 overall) didn’t quite have as impressive of an NFL career as that of a Michigan QB who had considerably less pre-draft hype (Tom Brady, drafted #199 overall).
There are more recent examples of the unpredictable nature of this televised crapshoot. Blaine Gabbert was not only selected 10th overall in 2011, but Jacksonville traded up six slots to do so! Christian Ponder went 12th overall to Minnesota in 2011, while Aaron Rodgers famously dropped all the way to 24th back in 2005 and Seattle landed reigning Super Bowl Champion QB Russell Wilson in the third round. On a related note, Jacksonville and Minnesota are still in the market for a QB while Green Bay and Seattle are not.
Hindsight really puts the mock into Mock Draft.
The Vikings could be among the big newsmakers in this year’s draft (for better or worse), as they will probably be one of the teams rolling the dice on a QB prospect in the first round. It’s a mixed bag of big names like Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and big bodies like Blake Bortles (who, as an underclassman from Central Florida, could turn out to be a big project). Will the Vikings still be gun shy from the Ponder bust to take another signal caller early in the draft? All signs point to them grabbing a passer, but when we all hand out our inevitable, exhaustive, and entirely arbitrary draft grades, it will be too early to tell who “won” or “lost” the draft. We won’t truly know the A’s from the F’s for another few years. But that won’t stop us from tuning in to cheer on our team during these pivotal days on the NFL calendar when no games are played but franchises futures will be forever altered.
It’s hard not to be optimistic when your team drafts a guy and Jon Gruden comes sneering through your TV screen in high definition and says he loves This Guy, and if he was coaching he’d like to coach 53 Guys like This Guy. Of course, sometime between the third hour and the third day, you realize he loves all These Guys.
(Too bad this draft isn’t happening back in the 90’s during the Monica Lewinsky scandal; with one sure first rounder named Ha-Ha Clinton Dix, the jokes could write themselves.)
For once, there’s not a clear-cut sense of who will actually go Number 1 overall (to the Houston Texans). They have a major need for a QB, but the only consensus is that none of this year’s QB class is a sure-thing Gotta Pick Him player like Andrew Luck or even Robert Griffin III. And with so many teams in need of a QB all crowded near the top of the draft, some might not want to reach and overdraft a player who could still be sitting there in the second round. So depending what Houston does to start the draft, the day and weekend could actually hinge on what happens with the Browns and Raiders at picks 4 and 5, respectively.
Things are always, well, interesting when teams like Cleveland and Oakland are involved. The Browns, the lovable losers by the lake, god bless ‘em. Seriously, God… please bless this team. I don’t care if it means making Johnny Manziel a hall-of-famer, for some reason I’d really like to see things break right for Cleveland. They have some pieces in some places (which is a ringing endorsement) and possess three of the first 35 selections and five of the first 85, including two first rounders. So they could grab Clemson WR Sammy Watkins at #4 (giving them a terrifying receiving corps with Watkins, WR Josh Gordon and TE Jordan Cameron) without having to wait until the second round to draft whichever QB is left (after Houston and Jacksonville have already picked twice).
Am I crazy for thinking that Bridgewater, if he indeed slides down to the late first or early second round, could be the steal of the draft? Didn’t we just spend most of the actual college football season arguing who should be the top pick, Bridgewater or Jadaveon Clowney? And so Bridgewater didn’t have a great combine or pro day… so… all of sudden he can’t play football? For all the scouts and talking heads who say there’s legitimate reasoning (and info from team sources) behind his alleged slide down draft boards, it seems everyone casually adds in the fact that “Well, watching him on film playing in real football games, he’s the best and most-pro-ready QB,” and most importantly they all seem to say that he excels in decision making and grace under pressure. THOSE ARE ONLY THE TWO MOST IMPORTANT CRITERIA FOR SUCCESS AS AN NFL QB! Having a rocket-cannon for an arm doesn’t help if you throw it to the wrong spot. Blazing speed and being elusive in the pocket isn’t good if you take off and run at the first sign of pressure.
But now no one wants to draft him cuz he didn’t have great success throwing in drill settings in shorts and a t-shirt one day in the offseason? Hmm. OK. Sure. And Drew Brees and Russell Wilson are too short to have success at the NFL level. If Houston thinks Bridgewater will still be there at the top of the second round, that’s a risky gamble. If all the QB needy teams pass on him at the top of the first round, I wouldn’t be surprised if ol’ Bill Belichick or wily John Elway grab Teddy Football at #29 or #31 to replace their aging hall-of-fame QB’s who are on their last legends. Good thing Cleveland picks right before them at #26 (extra first rounder courtesy of the Colts for Trent Richardson); this would be a great spot for them to land Bridgewater.
As for the Raiders, sitting at the pivotal #5 slot, after some form of Clowney/Watkins, Auburn tackle Greg Robinson, and LB Kahlil Mack or one of the QBs make up the first four picks, Oakland will be on the clock. They have multiple needs and could be best served by trading down. But it takes two to tango and in a deep draft teams might be hesitant to give up the picks necessary to move up. Just like I invoked divine intervention in hopes of helping hapless Cleveland, the Oakland Raiders are another franchise in need of a little luck. A storied franchise, one that makes us say meaningless things like “the league is just better when teams like the Raiders are good.”
So far this offseason, Oakland has signed QB Matt Schaub, RB Maurice Jones-Drew, LB LeMarr Woodley and DE Justin Tuck, which would instantly make them Super Bowl contenders if they also acquired a DeLorean that could transport them back to 2010. But Doc Brown and Marty McFly aren’t walking through that door. And neither is Jim Plunkett or Marcus Allen or even Rich Gannon. They better hope Darren McFadden stays healthy enough to walk through that door.
Oakland would be happy if Mack is still on the board at #5, and ecstatic if they are able to land Watkins (current Raiders WRs: Denarius Moore, James Jones, and Rod Streater). The Raiders have to nail this pick with an immediate-impact playmaker, or trade down if they can fleece a team willing to give up the farm.
While the good teams capture our attention during the playoffs and Super Bowl, it’s the bad teams and the unpredictable nature of the draft that gets us excited in the offseason. What happens in places like Jacksonville and Minnesota, or Cleveland and Oakland, and in my opinion whichever team lands (or passes on) Teddy Bridgewater this spring may go a long way to determining how fast some of these franchises can make it back to the future.
Tags: 2014 NFL Draft Blake Bortles Cleveland Browns Final Mock Draft Jadeveon Clowney Johnny Manziel Jon Gruden Khalil Mack Minnesota Vikings Mock Draft NFL Draft Nfl Mock Draft Oakland Raiders Teddy Bridgewater