The biggest day of the NFL offseason is once again creeping up on us, and questions are everywhere. Most teams don’t yet have their game plan together, so it’s hard to know just what is going to happen, but I will attempt to answer the biggest questions heading into the draft.
1. Teddy or Blake?
The Texans have the top pick in this year’s draft and have basically removed all doubt: They’re going to pick a quarterback. Long-time starter Matt Schaub is off to the Raiders for a pittance, and last year’s part-time starter Case Keenum is not the quarterback of the future he appeared to be at moments last year. Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville was projected to be the Number 1 QB on the board since his junior year, but Central Florida’s Blake Bortles shined in his pro day while Bridgewater struggled. Most recent mock drafts have Bortles going first to the Texans with Bridgewater falling like a comet. In this case, it seems that the analysts are putting too much stock into pro days to judge quarterbacks.
In a pro day, quarterbacks throw to wide receivers with no defense on the field, which brings into question how much you can evaluate a quarterback’s actual skill through these workouts. Bortles has some obvious physical skills that Bridgewater doesn’t, a much bigger arm and better size, so it’s not all that surprising that Bortles did better in the workouts.
However, Bridgewater showed a natural ability to lead an offense and make smart decisions throughout his college career. His arm is big enough and he has great footwork around the pocket. There’s no reason to forget two years of success on Bridgewater’s part because of one great simulated practice on Bortles’s part.
2. What do the Rams do?
As part of the trade with the Redskins for the pick they used to get RG3, the Rams get this year’s Number 2 pick. The top prospects in this draft are defensive line players and quarterbacks, spots where the Rams consider themselves well-stocked. Former Number 1 overall pick Sam Bradford has been equal parts unsuccessful and injury-prone as a starting QB, but the Rams seem to be committed to him. The Rams could use help at wide receiver or possibly on the offensive line, but they could pick up help in those departments later on in the draft. Many people expect St. Louis to trade down and get some extra picks.
The Falcons are famously liberal in trading up to pick up any prospect they are interested in, and also have the Number 6 overall pick this year. The Rams could still pick up a great asset at the sixth spot. Even if they don’t get Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins or Buffalo linebacker Khali Mack, they can still pick up Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans or UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr. Super prospect Jadeveon Clowney is a perfect fit for the Falcons’ weak defensive line, and Clowney is very likely to go before the Number 6 pick if the Falcons don’t move. A trade between the two teams makes too much sense and I would expect to see the deal get done before the league meets up at Radio City.
3. Who are the best wide receivers on the board?
There are five or six wide receivers who could go in the first round this year: Clemson’s Sammy Watkins, Texas A&M’s Mike Evans, USC’s Marqise Lee, Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin, LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr., and possibly even Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks. Watkins, Evans, and Lee are the top three wide receivers, generally ranked in that order, while the next three have no particular order among most mock drafts. Some mock drafts put too much stock into recent workouts, but we should create rankings based of a player’s entire body of work.
Watkins has an NFL body, burner speed (a 4.43 official 40 yard-dash), and looks like a more athletic version of star veteran Greg Jennings. Evans has decent speed, but his skill lies in making spectacular catches in traffic and making big plays after he makes the catch. His success in the NFL will depend on whether he can consistently create space against cornerbacks, because he won’t be able to bully NFL players the way he bullied overmatched college players.
Lee would have been the first WR off the board had he come out of USC last year, but an injury-plagued season and a huge down-tick in numbers have him going as the third receiver off the board at best. Lee has great burst, a good handle on NFL routes, and can make huge plays once he has the ball. The only problem is that Lee is only 6-feet and rather light, so it’s hard to know if he’ll be able to handle the punishment an NFL wide receiver is sure to take.
My rankings have Watkins first, Lee second, Evans as a gamble at three and Benjamin fourth, projecting to be a solid possession receiver.