2014 Draft Peek Ahead
You would think with as much as I love prospecting and attempting to gaze into the future that I would be a baseball collector, but, alas, fate has determined that I obsess over those athletes who take their place upon the gridiron. Now that we’ve entered into that period between early products (Leaf and Bowman) and the good products (Topps Chrome), there’s really nothing else to do except look ahead. Hence this essay and its predecessor.
Jumping right in…2014’s draft will likely be the polar opposite of this year’s. Whereas the 2012 Draft produced offensive talent early and often, and the 2013 Draft will likely have produced its offensive talent later rather than sooner, the 2014 Draft is shaping up to be the kind of event that will produce intense interest, but be over after the first 15-20 picks. This “drop off draft” will be the result of a few once-in-a-generation talents cropping up in an otherwise mediocre draft. Obviously things change over the course of a year, but as things stand now we’ll have three quarterbacks, one wide receiver (maybe two), a defensive playmaker…..and everyone else. Let’s begin!
– DE, Jadeveon Clowney: Card companies are going to have a dilemma on their hands next year. Who do they put on the box of their product: a quarterback or the single most dominant force to step onto a football field in (according to many) decades? I can still remember the day Clowney committed to South Carolina and giggling at his last name. Well, I have long since stopped laughing. Anyone who followed college football at all this past bowl season saw the hit he laid on a certain Michigan RB. I could feel the whiplash through my TV screen. Scouting reports on Clowney read more like those Fifty Shades of Gray novels than boring facts and figures. In fact, it is commonly acknowledged that Clowney could sit this year out, live in the gym, and still go number one in the 2014 draft. The absolute worst position a team with the first pick could find themselves in next year would be to need a quarterback AND not already have Clowney on their roster.
– QB, Teddy Bridgewater: One scout flat out said that Bridgewater was the best QB prospect he’d ever scouted other than Andrew Luck. He made a point to note that this included scouting Robert Griffin III. Now I’ll be honest, with Bridgewater playing in the Big East, I hadn’t seen him play until his bowl game against Florida. I sensed a little hesitation in him being on such a big stage, but, if the scouts can be believed, he’s the real deal. Even with the other quarterbacks on this list, the consensus is that he’ll be the first offensive player off the board and should go no lower than third overall.
– QB, Tahj Boyd: I like Boyd. I’ve seen him play several times and he’s both a baller and a winner. A lot of scouts compare him to Russell Wilson due to his size and leadership skills, but there’s a reason why Wilson fell to the third round and Boyd is predicted to go in the first – Boyd has more physical skills and is a better passer. (Coming out of school, of course) The best thing about Boyd compared to the other quarterbacks on this list is that he doesn’t have nearly as much of a “bust” factor. His ceiling may not be quite as high as the other two, but there’s very little doubt that he’ll be successful to some degree in the league. If I was picking in the 2014 Draft, Boyd would be the QB I would go after.
– QB, Johnny Manziel: “Johnny Football.” What can be written that hasn’t already been written? (He’s dating both the Olsen twins?) As the player who turned the SEC, the Heisman voting committee, and college football as a whole on its head, Manziel will hands down be the most polarizing prospect in the 2014 Draft and in any draft since Tim Tebow in 2010. While draft experts are divided over Manziel’s ability to translate into the NFL, what is agreed upon is that some team will buy into the hype and spend a high pick on him. if Clowney doesn’t go number one, it will likely be due to Manziel. Like Bridgewater, unless he implodes in the spotlight this year, expect him to go in the top three.
– WR, Marqise Lee: I wrote below that Robert Woods is the most NFL-ready WR to enter the league in years so it seems grossly unfair that new Eagles QB Matt Barkley got to spend his USC career pitching the ball to both Woods and the most talented WR to enter the league since Calvin Johnson in Marqise Lee. Last year’s Biletnikoff Award winner, Lee has a fantastic shot at repeating and again being the nation’s top WR. A true deep threat who catches everything thrown his way, Lee possesses the vision, route-running ability, and instinct to be a dominant WR in the league from Week 1. If Lee goes to team with even a decent quarterback, he’ll be a top-5 WR within two years. He has the potential, along with Clowney, to be something truly special on Sundays.
– WR, Sammy Watkins: I almost left Watkins out. While not as talented as Lee, if Watkins continues to develop his connection with Tahj Boyd at Clemson, he could easily distance himself from the rest of the pack and make it Lee, Watkins, and everybody else when it comes to 2014’s WRs. A charismatic playmaker in every sense, if Watkins can stay healthy, big things await and he should be the second receiver off the board even if he only maintains the status quo this coming season.
After these five or six players though, expect to see quite a talent drop off. Quarterbacks like AJ McCarron, Logan Thomas, David Fales, and Derek Carr will each have their moments in the spotlight, but none of them possess near the talent of the three listed above. The drop off is even more pronounce at wide receiver where a vast gulf separates Lee and Watkins from the dozens of other relatively unheralded receivers who will likely have to wait until the third round or later. Sadly, the running back position will be a crapshoot and one that teams will likely care little about as they continue to phase out the every-down back from offenses. Guys like Lache Seastrunk of Baylor, Ka’deem Carey of Arizona, and De.Anthony Thomas of Oregon might have been hyped prospects in the early 2000s, but that’s no longer the case and we could actually see another first round pass without a single RB being selected.
So what does this mean for collectors? it means enjoy the mystery and potential of this year’s oddball class. There are no right or wrong prospects as Denard Robinson has just as much chance to break out as Geno Smith. 365 days from now, we collectors will probably all be bottlenecked into chasing the same half dozen first round prospects. This may be a comforting thought to some, but it won’t be nearly as much fun.
– The Frenzy