Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Cloudy at the top of the NFL Draft with a high chance of Johnny Manziel

It’s a little more than a week before the NFL draft and who will be chosen with the top 10 picks remains an unsolved puzzle for the mock draft community.

There’s uncertainty unlike any in recent years. Twitter feeds are rife with wild rumours and anonymous reports, talk radio is full of idle chatter, mock draft versions 10.0 and higher have been posted and still, who will be drafted and by whom at the top of the deck remains very much a mystery.

NFL.com lists five players with a pre-draft grade of 7 or higher: South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, 7.5, Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson, 7.4, Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, 7.3, Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews, 7.2, and Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack, 7.2.

Expect those five to be among the top eight picks of the draft. The flies in the ointment this year are the quarterbacks, none of whom have shown the promise of franchise passers but are solid enough to warrant consideration in the first half of the draft.

Where will A&M's Johnny Manziel land? Will he even be the first quarterback taken?

Before the season, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater was the presumptive favourite but he started to slide during the season and was downgraded by a poor Pro Day workout.

Central Florida’s Blake Bortles then became the talk of the draft. He looks the part – height, arm strength, accuracy - and may yet be the first passer taken but questionable decisions during the season show that he may not be ready for prime time right away.

And on Monday, ESPN’s Adam Caplan tweeted that Cleveland would take Fresno State’s Derek Carr with its fourth overall pick. No ifs, and or buts.

This following the chatter that the Dallas Cowboys, with the 16th pick, could trade up to catch a falling Manziel, who could be drafted anywhere from No. 1 to No. 11.

Throw in next-tier talent like receiver Mike Evans, tight end Eric Ebron, defensive tackle Aaron Donald, offensive tackle Taylor Lewan, linebacker Anthony Barr, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and there are a lot of wild cards at the top of the table, more so than usual.

But the draft machine, like the league, will focus on the quarterbacks. And there isn’t a bigger name than Johnny Football.

If Manziel slides past quarterback-needy teams like Jacksonville, Cleveland, Oakland, Tampa and Buffalo at No. 9 and turns out to be the star many predict, those GMs will have a lot of answering to do, especially if their picks turn out to be less productive.

Adding to the high stakes: Those teams, save for the Bucs, who made a big splash in free agency, could use the celebrity buzz that Manziel possesses to refresh excitement levels with their fan bases.

But those teams, read management, also can’t afford another miss at the position and with the added cushion of up to four other quarterbacks who could be had in later rounds with similar strengths and weaknesses, they could wait or gain extra picks by trading down. 

And there's also the distractions that come with Manziel. Which brings us to the Cowboys.

They need Mack but should be happy to end up with Barr, the UCLA linebacker who could develop into a legitimate pass rusher. Donald and Clinton-Dix would also be great choices at need positions but their recent market valuations seem to place them above the Cowboys price. Unless they trade up.

But what if Manziel is available?

The acknowledgement that Manziel would warrant the investment should be received as great news for Cowboys Nation. Not because Manziel is destined for greatness, that remains up for debate. But because the Jones brain trust may be finally, finally realizing that the Romo era is nearing its conclusion and that hey, big changes are needed.

Manziel’s slide could push the Jones boys into action. At this point, it’s the only way the Cowboys can shake their salary cap predicament and even that may be two years down the line but it could represent a start.