Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The 2014 NFL Draft kicks off Thursday night with the first round from Radio City Music Hall. The draft, which runs through Saturday, will almost certainly be like every other in history - full of unforeseen surprises and interesting moves that make many who analyze the event rip their hair out from frustration.
It's projected to be one of the deepest drafts in recent history, with a slew of talented college players at almost every position. Like always, there are game-changers who will help teams immediately once training camps start.
But rarely does a generational talent come along, let alone multiple in the same class. South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney, Buffalo's Khalil Mack, Auburn's Greg Robinson and Clemson's Sammy Watkins will have teams stumbling over each other so they can get a shot at drafting one of these transformative players.
The first round is teeming with talent and promise, but rarely do things pan out the way everyone expects. With that in mind, here's a last-minute NFL Draft primer with some first-round concepts and potential shakers that go against the norm:
- There's been a lot of speculation that Atlanta may go after Houston's first- overall draft selection in order to select Clowney, who will almost definitely step into a starting role and become one of the NFL's best edge rushers, barring a setback. The likelihood of that trade seems greater than it did a few weeks ago, but it's still not imminent.
If Houston sticks with the first overall pick, there's been talk among general managers and insiders that Clowney is no lock to be Texas-bound. Former Houston general manager Charley Casserly noted earlier this week that Clowney's ability to fit in a 3-4 defensive scheme is a big question mark, and that he won't fit the Texans' system too well.
It would be one of the most dynamic duos in the NFL if Clowney is paired with J.J. Watt on the ends of Houston's defensive line, but sometimes it's all about drafting for scheme over best available talent. In which case, Buffalo's Mack would be the better fit - able to line up both in the middle and outside of the linebacking corps.
Houston doesn't necessarily need to spend the first overall pick on him, though, so perhaps the Texans do indeed trade back (not to Atlanta's sixth selection, where Mack would likely be off the board), but to the third or fourth position instead.
Multiple NFL insiders have reported it's no longer a certainty the Texans use the No. 1 pick on Clowney.
- Do you remember a time when the projected top 10 picks in the draft were riddled with quarterback selections? You should because that time wasn't too long ago. However, now there's a chance only one signal caller is taken in the top 10.
The potential is there, although NFL.com's Mike Mayock believes only two quarterbacks in this draft class are capable of (possibly) being day-one starters. The drop in the average draft position for these QBs has more to do with teams wanting a piece of the top-heavy talent at other positions, and the fact there are a handful of strong signal callers projected for the mid rounds of the draft. And with the QB-needy teams owning high picks in the second round, there's a very good chance players like Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr and Blake Bortles will be around when, say, Cleveland picks at 26, or when Houston is on the clock with the first pick in the second round.
Several sources suggest Minnesota, which owns the eighth overall selection, will not take a quarterback, but instead go for a defensive front-seven mover. That means the Vikings aren't enamored with any of the quarterbacks projected in the first round, but instead like Pitt's Aaron Donald or UCLA's Anthony Barr to fill serious defensive voids. Johnny Manziel could be the only QB picked in the top 10, but nothing involving quarterbacks should surprise anyone on Thursday.
- Trades are near impossible to predict. Unless an insider or outlet has a source implanted deeply within an organization, trades are almost never predicted correctly in mock drafts. But still, you know they are going to happen, and there are a few scenarios at which people can guess.
San Francisco has a myriad of picks the team can ship away to move up in the first round, which would make sense for the 49ers, who will want to grab one of the top four wide receivers. The 49ers have an aging Anquan Boldin on their roster, and lost Mario Manningham back to the New York Giants this offseason.
Receiving talent isn't as deep past Watkins and Texas A&M's Mike Evans, but a player like LSU's Odell Beckham or Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin would make sense in San Fran. Both can stretch the field and let Colin Kaepernick unleash his cannon of an arm.
Another franchise that should be looking to move up for a receiver is Philadelphia. No more DeSean Jackson in Philly leaves just Jeremy Maclin (coming off a torn ACL in 2013 training camp) and Riley Cooper on the outsides, with a lot of "ifs."
Beckham would make sense for the Eagles, but by the time they pick in the early 20s the LSU product should be off the board, and, according to Peter King, adding USC's Marqise Lee would be a "consolation prize" for Philly.
Benjamin, Oregon State's Brandin Cooks and Indiana's Cody Latimer could still be hanging around, depending on how fast these receivers jump off the board. But the drop in terms of talent after Beckham is a large one, so the Eagles may want to leapfrog up a few spots.
- Don't sleep on the Kansas City Chiefs taking a quarterback in the first round Thursday night.
Sure, there are plenty of other areas the Chiefs should address that pose immediate concern (wide receiver being the primary need), but Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network noted on Monday that negotiations with the Chiefs and current starter Alex Smith on a contract extension aren't going that well (he's up at the end of next season), in which case Kansas City might want to invest in a long-term replacement should things fall through completely.
- The Rams had a pretty private meeting with Manziel at the NFL Combine earlier this year, and team representatives flew out to Texas A&M Friday to work out the former Aggies starter (among other players like Jake Matthews and Mike Evans). Manziel, however, was the focal point of the visit, Chris Mortensen reported.
There is some trade speculation floating around involving Sam Bradford, which would leave room for the Rams to potentially scoop up Manziel with one of their two first-round picks. But Bradford's contract is absurd (he's scheduled to count $17 million against the cap in 2014), so a restructure of his contract would be necessary.
Mortensen said Manziel is "very much in the picture" for the Rams with the second overall pick, and he expects the Browns to take him at No. 4 if St. Louis passes.