By Jeff Risdon
I sat down here to do an initial 2014 NFL mock draft, but in the process of initiating that tedious task I found a problem. I struggled to figure out the order at the top of the draft. That got me to thinking: who is going to earn the ignominy of picking first?
A couple of obvious choices came to mind, but I decided to do a little research to clear my own biases. So I checked with a couple of different sports books to investigate the over/under win totals to get a better idea of what teams the professionals believe will rack up the fewest wins.
To no surprise, the lowest over/under number belongs to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Between a new coaching staff, their ongoing quarterback issues, the injury question regarding Maurice Jones-Drew, and top receiver Justin Blackmon’s suspension, the line is set at +/- 4.5 wins. That’s fair for a team in the early stages of a major overhaul from being a mediocre (at best) franchise for most of the last decade. The odds-on favorite to be the worst team seldom disappoints, and it’s almost inarguable that no team needs the No. 1 pick more than the Jaguars. The harder part to ascertain for the Jaguars is whether they would pick Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater or South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney. The optimistic Jaguars' fan can point to the tantalizing proposition of having either highly talented player while not finishing dead last.
The Jaguars are far from runaway favorites to be the worst team, however. Three other teams feature an over/under number less than six. The Cleveland Browns, Buffalo Bills and Oakland Raiders are all at +/- 5.5 or less, and it’s easy to see why the bookies set the low totals for those three.
I’ll be honest. The Raiders were the team I penciled in at the top of my list, and if I decide to get my gamble on this year, I’m going heavy on the under at 5. Oakland is suffering the unfortunate repercussions of the late Al Davis’ horrible mismanagement in his last few years, which caused a major depth chart purging. That has left the Raiders painfully short of talent at all sorts of positions. I don’t know how they are going to protect the winner of their QB derby (my early pick is rookie Tyler Wilson), how they will rush the opposing passer, or stop the run. If I’m Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie, my choice at No. 1 in 2014 is Clowney, arguably the best defensive end prospect since Bruce Smith.
Buffalo is another strong candidate. The Bills face uncertainty at quarterback, where a battle royal between castoffs Kevin Kolb, Tarvaris Jackson, and incredibly overdrafted rookie EJ Manuel will slug it out to play behind a line that lost its best player in Andy Levitre. The defensive depth chart is also loaded with castoffs from other teams, disappointments like Jerry Hughes, Manny Lawson, and Mark Anderson. Mario Williams and his massive contract is a huge albatross. The new head coach, Doug Marrone, comes from the college ranks at Syracuse and his NFL experience was with Drew Brees, Reggie Bush, and the high-flying Saints. He doesn’t have nearly that sort of weaponry in Buffalo, which could make the coaching curve a steep one. Also, the non-divisional schedule features the AFC North and NFC South, both chock full of dangerous foes. Still, the Bills do have appreciable talent at the offensive skill positions and in the secondary and could rise above picking in the top 10 if one of the quarterbacks (likely Kolb) steps up.
Cleveland also suffers from a lack of confidence in the quarterback, though at least they have a clear-cut starter in Brandon Weeden. The Browns also feature a rookie coach and are dramatically changing both the offensive and defensive schemes, which is often a recipe for hardship. I happen to think the Browns are going to cruise to at least 7 wins, but I buy the argument that they could tank with all the changes and pick at or near the top again. They would be picking Teddy Bridgewater if given the chance.
Then there are the outliers, teams which I could see plummeting under the right, or rather wrong and unfortunate, circumstances. The San Diego Chargers have already lost their 2012 1st round pick Melvin Ingram to a torn ACL. They have scads of underperforming high draft picks across the defensive front, and they have major injury questions at wide receiver and running back. The offensive line remains a huge problem even with taking DJ Fluker in the first round. But it would take a continued precipitous drop by QB Philip Rivers for the Chargers to earn the top spot. He’s well on that path, and if the new regime and team loses confidence in Rivers early, I can see this team bottoming out and selecting a new franchise QB in the next draft.
Arizona plays in a brutally tough NFC West, where the Seahawks and 49ers are, on paper, the two best teams in the NFC and the Rams are poised to make a big leap forward as well. They also have QB issues, taking a risk on Carson Palmer resuscitating his career behind a shaky OL (two rookies will start at guard) with no discernible running game to help him out. That combination pushed the Raiders to the brink of the first pick a year ago, and like the 2012 Raiders the Cardinals also have big questions in the pass rush department. The Cardinals are one of the few teams to already see betting line movement; Arizona began at +/- 6.5 and is down to 6 at one book and 5.5 at another. The big money sees impending doom. It will be interesting to see if new coach Bruce Arians can work the magic like he did with the Colts a year ago and keep this team from contending for the worst record in the league. Should the Cards sink to that depth, they would be wise to consider Texas A&M tackle Jake Matthews as well as Clowney and Bridgewater.
And then there is the completely irrational choice, the shocking candidate that nobody expects to stink. My choice here is the Pittsburgh Steelers. No, I’m not hating on the Terrible Towels. It would take a fairly complex series of events for it to happen, but they are not all that improbable when taken separately. Say Big Ben gets hurt again and misses the bulk of the season. So does Troy Polamalu once again. Nobody steps up at wide receiver to replace Mike Wallace, and Heath Miller is unable to fully recover from his 2012 injury. They miss James Harrison more than expected, as neither Jason Worilds nor Jarvis Jones proves capable of more than 3.5 sacks and LaMarr Woodley has another disappointing season on the other side. The young offensive line fails to gel, a bad situation in a division loaded with excellent defensive lines in Cincinnati, Baltimore, and even Cleveland. If even half those issues, with Roethlisberger and the pass rush paramount among them, all converge, I can see the Steelers unexpectedly hitting rock bottom for a year. Of course the Steelers are currently at +/- 10 wins for a reason, and I highly doubt they finish with less than 7 wins again. But it’s not inconceivable. I have to think they would take Clowney even though he is a natural 4-3 end and the Steelers run a 3-4 defense.
Oakland Raiders, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers, Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns, Draft
By Jeff Risdon
May is the slowest month of the year for the NFL, but that doesn’t mean the football world stops. Here are some quick thoughts on some recent developments.
--Geno Smith impresses in minicamp. All reports from the New York Jets' rookie camp were glowing in praise of Smith, who unexpectedly fell into the second round of last month’s draft. Smith appears to be seizing his opportunity, holding players-only meetings in the team hotel and impressing all viewers with sharpness and velocity on his passing reps. The cynic in me wants to say, “well of course he’s impressive compared to Mark Sanchez and Greg McElroy”. And there is probably more than a little of that going on here; the Jets' media and fan base knows some bad quarterbacking from recent times, so anything resembling competence is a refreshing change. But I am a more ardent believer that Geno Smith can emerge as a very good NFL quarterback in time. I still prefer that he tutor behind David Garrard for a few games, if for no other reason than to set the bar a little lower, but it sure appears as if Geno Smith will start Week 1 against Tampa Bay.
--Chip Kelly is changing the culture of the Philadelphia Eagles. Gone are Fast Food Fridays, unhealthy eating, and passive practicing. In are customized smoothies, carefully choreographed music during practice sections, and a frantic no huddle offense and practice system.
This is a radical change from the Andy Reid era. After more than a decade of the same routine, Kelly isn’t just rocking the boat, he’s torpedoed it. I happen to think that’s a very good thing. The Eagles appeared complacent and uninspired last year. Kelly is pumping up the intensity, improving the physical fitness and conditioning, and bringing something new and fresh to the NFL. Nobody knows how it is all going to work for Kelly with Philadelphia, but I admire the Eagles for giving Kelly the chance to try such a radical experiment. It’s a far better option than using a retreaded coach with a philosophy that got him fired from some other NFL team recently. Successful coaches instill a defined culture to a team, and that is exactly what Kelly is doing in Philadelphia. It might rankle some veteran feathers, but this franchise was unlikely to fly again without serious changes.
--The Arizona Cardinals released QB Brian Hoyer. Can we finally put an end to the mystique of the Patriots backup quarterback? Hoyer was cut by the Patriots at the end of the 2012 preseason. The Steelers, who were down to Charlie Batch as the starter with no backup thanks to injuries, signed Hoyer in late November but quickly discarded him as soon as bodies became healthy. The Cardinals lapped him up in a desperate attempt to rectify their desperate quarterback situation. In two games he managed to not completely stink, but didn’t show enough to merit any sort of commitment; the Cardinals signed Drew Stanton and traded for Carson Palmer. Now they have chosen Ryan Lindley over Hoyer as the third option.
Let that sink in for a second--the new regime in Arizona feels that Ryan Lindley is a better option than Hoyer. Just as Matt Cassel proved incapable of being a good starter after looking fantastic playing behind Tom Brady, Hoyer is much less desirable once stripped of the Patriots luster. In fact, Hoyer wasn’t as good as Cassel in his limited opportunity. No doubt Hoyer will get yet another chance somewhere, but here’s the plain truth: if Hoyer had never been a Patriot, his career would be over. Sadly, we will go thru this same cycle with Ryan Mallett in another year or two. For the record, I’d take Hoyer over Mallett any day.
--Titus Young gets arrested. Again. I wrote extensively about this at DetroitLionsDraft.com, but here is the Reader’s Digest version: Titus Young needs help. The story is not funny anymore. Here’s hoping that Young can turn his life around, if for no other reason than to be a father to Titus Young Jr. Football is irrelevant at this point.
--There is growing momentum from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that rookie Mike Glennon has a very good chance to unseat incumbent Josh Freeman as the starting quarterback for the Buccaneers. Glennon had a very strong minicamp and has impressed the coaches with his quick knowledge of the offense. He’s also a competitor and not afraid to show a little emotion, boxes in which Freeman often fails to check off.
Aiding in Glennon’s case is that Freeman is entering the final year of his contract and there is little reason to pay him big money if he continues to plod along. Other than about two months of his four year career, Freeman has been a below-average NFL starter. His penchant for poor decisions and relative apathetic persona has rubbed Bucs fans--and some coaches--the wrong way. Glennon offers change, and does so inexpensively. Don’t think that doesn’t factor into the equation for the spendthrift Bucs, who have ranked in the bottom 5 in payroll for years. I’m admittedly not a Glennon backer; he was my 11th rated QB in April’s draft with a grade equivalent to a 5th-6th round pick. I worry about his sloppy foot mechanics, his alarming tendency to drop his eyes when pressured, his propensity to fabricate pressure, and lack of velocity on his throws. But if he can seize the day with a better supporting cast, the Bucs are better for it. However, I sense the endgame the Bucs really want here is for Glennon to push Freeman into being the guy who nearly wedged the team into the playoffs back in 2010 with a brilliant finish to the season and not the guy with a 3-12 record with 24 INTs in games beyond Week 8 the last two seasons.
--Former Chargers RB Chuck Muncie passed away. He was 60 and died of an apparent heart attack. I loved Muncie’s rough and tumble running style, sort of an early predecessor of Jerome Bettis. As a prematurely bespectacled child, I also loved that Muncie wore glasses while he played. Alas, there was more to the Chuck Muncie story than just his powerful running.
Muncie had a couple of very prominent strikes in his NFL career. After toiling for some truly dreadful Saints teams, he pouted and sulked his way into a trade to the Chargers. This was one of the earliest cases I can personally recall of a disgruntled player forcing a team’s hand, and that bothered me as a naïve young fan. A handful of years later, Muncie was banished for a cocaine addiction that cost him his career. He even served prison time for it. That could have been the sad ending to a tragic story, but Muncie chose to write a different ending.
Chuck Muncie became a widely respected advocate and agent of change for troubled youths. His foundation gave kids a chance to avoid the drug-and-thug lifestyle, and did so with compassion and personal commitment by Muncie himself. He mentored scores of young athletes, steering them on the right path and teaching them about making the smart choices he failed to make in his early life. His final years were a source of redemption and virtue, and that is what Chuck Muncie should be remembered for as much as his on-field success. RIP Mr. Muncie.
New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles, San Diego Chargers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Arizona Cardinals, Detroit Lions, New England Patriots
By Jeff Risdon
The first round of the 2013 NFL Draft on Thursday will be remembered as the Year of the Lineman, as nine of the 32 picks were offensive linemen. Other intriguing developments caught my eye as well, some positive and some negative.
-- To the wild unpredictability of this year’s draft. I’ve said it many times but it bears repeating: I have better contacts with more teams than ever before, yet this is the year I knew what fewer teams were going to do than ever before. Once I got past the professional humiliation of having a wildly inaccurate mock draft, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Not knowing what was going to happen was titillating, like riding a roller coaster with a blindfold. I run a Detroit Lions' draft website and I honestly had very little idea who the team was going to pick until about 15 minutes before they were on the clock. Beat writers for just about every team fumbled and balked on answering direct draft questions because they had no clue either. It made for the most exciting first night of the draft I can remember.
-- To the Kansas City Chiefs for opting on Eric Fisher as the #1 overall pick. I like Luke Joeckel and I think he’ll be a very good tackle for a long time, but Fisher offers the chance of Joe Thomas-esque greatness. When you have the #1 pick, you have to go for greatness. The Chiefs made the correct choice, even if it scuttled what my team (the Lions) had planned.
-- To only having one quarterback in the first round. Never mind that it was E.J. Manuel, a player I graded out as a fifth round prospect. The bellyaching over the relative lousiness of this quarterback class led everyone to histrionics about how big of a mistake some teams were going to make in selecting Geno Smith, Matt Barkley, and Ryan Nassib in the first round. Guess what…it didn’t happen. Either the teams listened or they knew it on their own. Either way, it’s a positive for both the teams and the quarterbacks themselves, who are now in a much more favorable position to succeed with a lot less pressure to do so off the bat.
-- To the Carolina Panthers, who made what I believe to be the best pick of the first round by taking Star Lotulelei at No. 14 overall. Star fills what is by far the biggest need on the team, and he was a top 3 overall talent before the pesky heart issue at the Combine. He’s also an outstanding foil to Mark Ingram, Steven Jackson, and Doug Martin within the division.
Other picks I liked: Cleveland Browns/Keke Mingo, Cincinnati Bengals/Tyler Eifert, the Dolphins trading up for Dion Jordan, Lions/Ziggy Ansah, San Diego Chargers/D.J. Fluker and the St. Louis Rams trading up for Tavon Austin and down for Alec Ogletree.
-- To the early run on interior offensive linemen. I’m actually okay with the Cardinals taking Jonathan Cooper at 7, because the North Carolina guard is an immediate above-average starter and it fills what is unquestionably the weakest position on the team. I would like him a lot better at 14 instead of seven, but the Cards did what they had to do. Chance Warmack is one of the few guards worthy of top 10 consideration as well, but he goes to the Titans, who broke the bank to import free agent Andy Levitre. Now Tennessee has a massive investment at the guard position, traditionally the one spot on the field where teams skimp to save money for the skill position players. They have what should be the best guard tandem in the AFC, but they still don’t have a passing game that scares anyone but their own fan base or the ability to stop any other team’s passing game with a pass rush. But what really points the thumb down is the later picks. Justin Pugh, Travis Frederick and especially Kyle long (more on him below) are all horrible value picks in the first round in descending order. Yes, the teams who took them (the Giants, Cowboys, and Bears respectively) absolutely needed help at the positions. But first round interior linemen are supposed to be players with such overwhelming and obvious talent. None of these guys fits the bill, and none really help their teams as much as other players available could have in the long run.
Other picks I didn’t like: I really like DJ Hayden, No. 12 overall is too high for the Oakland Raiders. The Atlanta Falcons traded up for the wrong cornerback, taking overrated Desmond Trufant instead of Jamar Taylor or either Mississippi State player, Johnthan Banks or Darius Slay.
-- To the Minnesota Vikings, who made three picks in the twenties. Holding onto their original selections at 23 and 25, they took Florida DT Sharrif Floyd and Florida State CB Xavier Rhodes. Not content to call it a day, GM Rick Speilman engineered a trade with the (who else?) New England Patriots to move back into the first round. Every single person covering the draft presumed the move was made to acquire Manti Te’o, including the team’s own beat writers, who Tweeted out that Te’o was the pick. Except the Vikings took Tennessee WR Cordarrelle Pattterson instead. Believe it or not I actually like the picks in inverse order; Patterson has game-changing potential at should have gone at 23, while Rhodes is one of the more overhyped players in this draft. Rhodes benefitted from fitting the physical profile of the big corners in Seattle, never mind that he is a holding machine with iffy instincts. Floyd is an intriguing player who will be widely seen as one of the perceived “fallers” in this draft, though 23rd is about where he belonged. However, they selected Floyd over Sylvester Williams, a better player and a better scheme fit. And they passed on Te’o, who for all the criticism he’s taken would have been an excellent fit for the Vikings as well. This is a “chips all in” move for the Vikings to try and win with Adrian Peterson still in his prime, and it made them a better team for sure. I’m just not sold that they couldn’t have made themselves even better with some savvier choices.
-- To the pick “spoilers”. I applaud both the NFL Network and ESPN for refraining from revealing the selections before Roger Goodell announces them at the podium, eliminating the cutaway shots of players on the phone. The vast majority of viewers didn’t want to see that, and the networks responded. Good for them. But at the same time I admit to harboring curiosity about who really knew what was about to go down. I also get Jay Glazer’s point about wanting a 100 percent accurate mock draft but then complaining about having to wait an extra minute to find out if it’s really correct. Guys like Jason LaCanfora are just doing their jobs by tweeting out the names before they are delivered to the podium. I like that both options are available, but if you are someone who must know the pick before the tension and suspense are broken by the Commissioner, well, I just don’t understand why you want to eat the dessert before the steak.
-- To the Chicago Bears, for taking Oregon guard Kyle Long with the 20th overall pick. This pick is the second-biggest reach in terms of value that I have ever seen. The biggest also happens this ear with EJ Manuel, a fifth round talent, but at least he’s a quarterback and even his harshest critics acknowledge that if the light bulb ever turns on, he could be very good. Plus he plays a premium position where reaches are not uncommon.
If Manuel is a 100 watt bulb, Long is the 40 watt soft white light. Long wound up with the 114th highest grade of the nearly 200 players we graded out at detroitlionsdraft.com, a solid 4th round value at what is arguably the least-coveted position on any football team. The Bears got caught up in the run on offensive linemen and name value (he’s Howie Long’s son and Chris Long’s brother) and executed a ridiculous reach. Even if Long becomes a serviceable starting guard, which he probably will, there is no value at all in taking him at 20. Teams cannot panic for an interior lineman.
The Dallas Cowboys did the same with Wisconsin center Travis Frederick, but they at least traded back to do so and I also had Frederick rated a lot higher (63rd) than Long. A team with a decrepitly aging defense ignores some excellent talent (Bjoern Werner was a perfect fit, Sylvester Williams or Datone Jones also made great value sense there) and makes a huge reach for a guard who started less than 10 games at the BCS level and was not real impressive during Senior Bowl week. That is a horrible fail by GM Phil Emery and the Bears staff.
Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons
This is one of the strangest drafts ever. It's two days before the draft and we still don't know who will be the No. 1 pick. Enjoy the unexpected twists and turns and embrace the fact that nobody knows what is going to happen!
On Chance Warmack, Falcons moving up, Arthur Brown's potential drop, identifying first round surprises, D.J. Hayden and more.
Some of these have basis in legitimate info gathered. Some are reading between some lines that may or may not exist. Some are wild figments of imaginary vision of the draft.
Dion Jordan, Eric Fisher, Tavon Austin, Shariff Floyd, Jonathan Cooper, Keenan Allen, Robert Woods, Gavin Escobar and Ryan Swope make this year's list.
People are always seeking out Jeff Risdon with their draft questions. In this edition, he answers several of the more intriguing ones.
Luke Joeckel at the top of the draft, Ezekiel Anash at No. 2, two quarterbacks in the top-10 and more in an uncertain draft.