It's hard to know what to believe in the days leading up the 2014 NFL Draft. General managers and scouts are floating smokescreens and misinformation to the public to keep opposing decision makers guessing on draft day.
While it's easy to spot some of the deceptive tactics being used by some evaluators, it takes a little work to connect the dots in other scenarios. Given a few days to survey the lay of the land, here are a few scenarios that I believe will occur on draft day:
The Texans have done a great job of creating a smokescreen at the top of the board, but I believe it's a no-brainer that the team selects Clowney with the top pick. He's the top prospect in the draft and he fits Romeo Crennel's scheme (envision Willie McGinest's role during his time with the New England Patriots) despite speculation to the contrary.
Despite a glaring need at cornerback, the Lions will make a concerted effort to add a dynamic pass catcher to the lineup on draft day. Watkins and Ebron are impact playmakers with the talent to exploit one-on-one coverages on the perimeter. Although it doesn't appear sensible with Golden Tate added to the roster in the offseason to add another weapon, the fact that Jim Caldwell guided the Indianapolis Colts to the Super Bowl with an explosive offense built around the passing game should add some clarity to the selections.
3. I believe Odell Beckham will come off the board sooner than everyone expects.
Beckham has been one of the fastest risers up the charts since the season ended, with the LSU standout firmly entrenched in the first round. However, he could make his way into the top 10 with Watkins and Mike Evans expected to come off the board within the first seven selections. Detroit is a possible landing spot, but don't count out a team such as the San Francisco 49ers making a major move to land the explosive playmaker.
4. I believe the Oakland Raiders will ignore their need at QB and take the best position player available at No. 5.
GM Reggie McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen are operating under a "win or go home" premise, so the Raiders will focus on finding immediate contributors in the draft. Khalil Mack would be an ideal fit as an edge rusher, but the team would gladly take Watkins, Jake Matthews or Taylor Lewan as Day 1 starters. Although trading out of the pick will fuel some speculation about the team potentially targeting a quarterback at that point, the need-to-win expectations in 2014 will prompt the Raiders to add the best position player available whenever they make the pick in the first round.
Lewan has been in the conversation with Matthews and Greg Robinson since his dazzling performance at the NFL Scouting Combine, but few expected him to come off the board within the top 10 at that point. However, the lack of franchise-caliber offensive tackles on the rosters of several teams at the top of the boards will make it impossible for a team to land Lewan outside of the top 12. The Michigan star is too big, athletic and technically sound to make it past the Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Buffalo Bills or New York Giants without hearing his name called by the commissioner.
6. I believe there will not be a running back selected in the first round.
The devaluation of the running back position will continue in the 2014 draft with teams completely ignoring the position on Day 1. Although Carlos Hyde has the potential to sneak into the first stanza, I believe a run on quarterbacks in the 20s will result in the Big Ten rushing leader being shut out of the first round.
After all of the conversation about Bortles coming off the board within the top 10, I'm worried the UCF star could slide down the charts if the Vikings don't select him at No. 8. Looking at the teams in need of a quarterback outside of the top 10, I don't see a potential landing spot until the Arizona Cardinals (No. 20) or Cleveland Browns (No. 26). While that is where my grade places him on my draft board, I thought the fascination with his prototypical physical dimensions and potential would prompt a team to pull the trigger early on draft day.
8. I believe Anthony Barr will be the steal of the draft.
It's hard to call a first-rounder a steal, but the UCLA star has been devalued since the end of the season. Barr was one of the most disruptive defenders in college football over the past two seasons despite moving to defense prior to his junior campaign. Although I've heard analysts and scouts take Barr to task for his finesse game and his shoddy technique, I would point to his tremendous production (23.5 sacks and 41.5 tackles for loss in 2012-13) despite his limited knowledge of the position. Given Barr's frame and natural rush skills, I believe his impact and production will greatly exceed his draft position when we review the 2014 class in a few years.
9. I believe scouts have forgotten how good Marqise Lee was in 2012.
Astute evaluators will judge a prospect by his entire body of work, not just his final season. However, I think some of my colleagues are missing the boat when studying Lee. The 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner was the most electrifying pass catcher in football a season ago when he snagged 118 passes for 1,721 yards with 14 touchdowns as a sophomore, which followed a spectacular freshman season (73 receptions for 1,143 yards and 11 TDs) where he established himself as a standout playmaker. Although a nagging knee injury and inconsistent quarterback play affected his numbers as junior, Lee remains a home-run hitter on the perimeter, as evidenced by his Las Vegas Bowl performance (seven receptions for 118 yards and 2 TDs). Scouts might rate him as a late first-round pick at this point, but I find it interesting that his career numbers are nearly identical to Watkins -- the receiver who is expected to take the NFL by storm.
10. I believe Teddy Bridgewater is still the best quarterback prospect in the 2014 class.
I'm one of the few observers still carrying the Bridgewater flag, but I'm steadfast in my belief that the Louisville star will be the real deal when he steps onto the field as a pro. I've believe Bridgewater and Manziel are the best two quarterbacks in the draft -- by far, with playing style preferences separating the duo on my board. Bridgewater is the most polished pocket passer in the draft. He exhibits sound footwork and mechanics, while also displaying a mastery of the pre-snap phase at the line of scrimmage. Bridgewater had the freedom to make checks and adjustments based on coverages, which is different from spread quarterbacks looking to the sideline for audibles from a position coach. Moreover, he was far more consistent than any other quarterback prospect throughout the season, without a red-flag game on his ledger (If you disagree, please point out the bad game(s) to me via Twitter). While his draft status won't reflect his true value, I expect Bridgewater to be the quarterback who emerges as the crown jewel of the class down the road.
Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.