The NFL College Draft has always been something of a game of shadows. Teams leak information to the media about a player that they have no interest in to throw other teams off the scent of the player that they truly covet. Teams call other teams about potential trades to move up or down the draft board for the same reason.
The 2014 NFL College Draft will get underway with the first round on Thursday at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. And nothing has changed. Every team has their own draft boards, constructed around the players that they need and the talent that they covet. So that always leads to surprises that ripple through out the draft.
What drives the NFL draft most years is the selection of the top quarterbacks and this year is no different. Except this year there isn’t a clear cut consensus No. 1 quarterback in the draft.
Bill Polian, former general manager for Buffalo and Indianapolis and now an NFL analyst on ESPN, said teams will be over-drafting as far as the quarterback position is concerned this year.
“When you don’t have one, you don’t have one and you need one very badly,’’ Polian said. “People in the organizations are saying you need a quarterback and how are we going to get a quarterback. The tendency is for those guys to be over drafted.’’
Polian said most of the top quarterbacks in the 2014 draft were middle to late first round draft picks before the NFL Combine and pro-day workouts at their various colleges where the teams gathered additional information.
“I know where they were in December. Some are going to move up and some are going to move down,’’ he said. “There is no Andrew Luck. There is no RG-III. There were not top 10 guys to begin with after their last season. The nature of the need is going to drive people up. I’m not saying if a quarterback is taken at No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 it’s the wrong choice. None of these guys are surefire, can’t miss guys. If a need forces you to go up, so be it. You won’t get an argument from me.’’
If there was a Robert Griffin III or Andrew Luck in the draft this year it sure would make matters easier for Houston, which has the No. 1 pick in the draft. There is some talk that Houston, who needs a franchise quarterback, might trade the pick away or take South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M is the most hyped quarterback in the draft and is expected to go in the first round. But he might not be the first quarterback taken. That distinction could go to Blake Bortles of University of Central Florida. He is 6-5, 232 pounds with a strong, accurate arm and has enough speed to escape the rush. Bortles completed 68% of his passes for 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions this past season.
You couldn’t blame Houston if they passed on Manziel or Bortles with that No. 1 pick. That’s a lot of money to invest in a player at that position who isn’t a sure-fire franchise quarterback like RGIII or Luck.
There is plenty of speculation that if Bortles goes to Houston that Manziel might go to Jacksonville at No. 3 or Cleveland at No. 4. Both could use a franchise quarterback, but their climates couldn’t be any more different. If the Browns take Manziel they have to determine whether he can handle playing in the cold weather on a slippery frozen field where bad traction could diminish one of his greatest assets – foot speed and escapability.
The Jaguars just signed quarterback Chad Henne to a two-year deal so they might not have as much interest in Manziel, unless they think that his profile would raise the profile of the organization and generate more income for the team.
The other two top rated quarterbacks in the draft are Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville and Derek Carr of Fresno State. Depending upon how needy teams are with regards to quarterbacks, Bridgewater and Carr could go in the first round or the second round or even drop to the fourth round.
Bridgewater had a disappointing outing at his pro-day and it has hurt his stock. He might drop out of the first round, unless teams are putting up smokescreens. Carr is the brother of David Carr, who backed up Giants quarterback Eli Manning last year. He has a strong arm and threw 50 touchdown passes last season, but against inferior competition.
All of the quarterbacks have intangibles that have made them successful on the collegiate level. Whether those transfer to the NFL is the question that the quarterback-needy teams have to ponder before pulling the trigger on draft day.
Polian said he never liked the term franchise quarterback.
“I’ve said numerous times that I don’t know what a franchise quarterback is,’’ he said. “A franchise quarterback is one that’s good enough to get your team to the playoffs and in doing so be able to win your division. Anything after that is a function of the strength of your overall staff. If you’re fortunate to get a (Drew) Brees, Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers you’re fortunate.’’