We're just two days away from the 2014 NFL Draft, and as the league descends upon New York City for this week's festivities, the NFL Network crew huddled up to go through the first round, pick by pick. When the guys weren't making jokes at the expense of each other, they gave some terrific insight on this year's draft class and which teams might be a perfect fit for various players.
Here are a few key takeaways from the marathon session:
1. Johnny on the (No. 2) spot
Where Johnny Manziel will be taken in the draft has been one of the most debated topics for a few years now. While the St. Louis Rams are in a position to add some serious upgrades to compete in the toughest division in football, analyst Marshall Faulk thinks the team will opt to add college football's biggest playmaker despite the presence of Sam Bradford on the roster.
"When you look at the NFC West, the two teams at the top, their quarterbacks are dynamic," he said. "They're not pocket passers. If Sam Bradford goes down, what do we do? I've gotta go with Johnny Manziel."I'm not done with Bradford, but my future is gonna be No. 2," Faulk said of Manziel. "I don't know what I'm going to get from Bradford. Coming off an ACL [injury], I have no idea."
The talk of the Rams taking Manziel has heated up significantly in the two weeks before the draft. While some of that could be a ploy for the team to drive the price up in a possible trade, it's not hard to understand the rationale, given Bradford's injury history and the amount of talent already on the team.
"There's one person that would be very upset with that pick, and that person is Shad Khan," NFL Network's Rich Eisen said, referring to the Jaguars owner. "I need to put people in the seats, and Johnny Manziel would've done that."
Alas, St. Louis is becoming a more likely landing spot for Johnny Football than Jacksonville as the draft approaches.
2. Raiders go Evans over Robinson
If there's one franchise that has gone after some physical specimens in past drafts, it's the Raiders, and they could have a choice between two of them at the No. 5 pick, according to NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah. Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson is considered by some to be a future Hall of Famer with the size and potential to star in the league if his pass-blocking ability catches up to what he can do in the run game. That said, there's also a fast, tall wide receiver who has some of the best hands in the draft still on the board.
"My highest-rated player [available] is Greg Robinson, the tackle, but the Oakland Raiders need to start scoring some touchdowns," Jeremiah said. "I was going to take Sammy Watkins, but he got taken before me. I'm taking Mike Evans.
"I'm looking at what they did at tackle in free agency," Jeremiah said. "They brought in Donald Penn, they brought in Austin Howard. They drafted Menelik Watson in the second round last year. We brought Matt Schaub in here to throw the football. Let's get him a weapon on the outside who can go up and get it for him."
We're sure Schaub would be a big fan of this move by Oakland, and he has years of experience throwing to somebody like Evans after his time in Houston with Andre Johnson. There aren't a ton of dynamic receiving threats on the outside for the Raiders, so Evans would certainly fill a need and could help take heat off the running game.
A trade could be a possibility for general manager Reggie McKenzie in this spot, but if the team keeps the pick, Watkins, Evans and Robinson certainly make sense with the fifth overall pick.
3. Falcons stand pat, land premier OT
Yes, the Falcons could use a pass rusher on defense, and that's why there's so much talk about the team making a bold move to trade up and get Jadeveon Clowney or Khalil Mack. In the mock draft constructed by the NFL Media analysts, however, the team can stay put with the No. 6 selection and land the best tackle in the draft and somebody who can keep Matt Ryan upright and boost the team's running game.
"They don't run the ball well, they throw the ball too much," NFL Network's Steve Mariucci said. "How do you help the run game, and how do you help Matt Ryan, their franchise player? You get an offensive lineman. I would've been happy with any one of the three (top tackles), so I'm just going to take the first one right now -- Greg Robinson from Auburn. Plug him in there, and away we go. We will be a more physical team. He'll be better as a pass protector as time goes on, but he will knock you off the ball for that run game."
"Somebody brought up the name Orlando Pace," NFL Media analyst Mike Mayock added. "When I first put the tape on for Greg Robinson, that's who I thought of."
High praise for the Auburn product at the next level and certainly a big steal for the Falcons if they're able to keep picks and land a top offensive lineman.
4. Bortles in Minnesota, Bridgewater in Cleveland
After Manziel, the biggest question remaining is where the other quarterbacks will wind up. Minnesota has long been a potential landing spot for one signal-caller, but which player the team could take has always been up in the air.
"Mike Zimmer and Norv Turner, I know these guys well," Michael Irvin said, referring to the Vikings' head coach and offensive coordinator. "I know the kind of players they like. Norv likes that big guy that sits in the pocket, Troy Aikman-like, and he is still sitting here. Matt Cassel isn't the answer, and certainly we've seen that Christian Ponder isn't the answer. I think Norv Turner would love to have Blake Bortles here.
"Mike Zimmer does a wonderful job with his defense; he can put people back there and play," he said. "They need offense. Bottom line -- seventh in rushing, horrible in passing. They need to take a quarterback."
Mayock is not sold on the team going with a passer though.
"Let's talk big picture -- Rick Spielman picked a quarterback in the first round two years ago. Put that in the back of your mind," he said. "Their defense was No. 32 in points allowed last year, and Mike Zimmer was a defensive coordinator. So you have to at least think defense here."
Toward the bottom of the first round, it's becoming close to a consensus that the Browns will take a quarterback with the 26th pick if they don't get one atop the draft. NFL Media analyst Charles Davis made both of Cleveland's picks in the mock drafts and has the team going with Sammy Watkins at No. 4 and oft-debated signal-caller Teddy Bridgewater later on.
"Derek Carr had a terrific pro day, a prolific player, had some games where things didn't go quite as well. There's also a kid (Bridgewater) who had a horrible pro day, taken lots of dings, but one thing you've never questioned about him is his toughness," Davis said. "He played with a broken left wrist and a high ankle sprain to get his team to the BCS two seasons ago."
That could be one productive quarterback-wideout pairing for the Browns down the road. Mayock suggested Bridgewater would be a good fit with the team because it would allow for a season to get used to the NFL before taking over for Brian Hoyer.
5. Su'a-Filo goes before Barr
For months we've been used to seeing Anthony Barr as a top 15 pick and his fellow UCLA teammate Xavier Su'a-Filo slotted somewhere in the low 20's or 30's. In a surprising twist, that's reversed on the mock draft the analysts put together -- Su'a Filo is the surprising pick of the Jets by Marshall Faulk, and Barr slides to the Cardinals at No. 20.
"You want to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. You need to be able to block for your quarterback. I like Xavier Su'a-Filo," said Faulk, before referencing the Jets' first-round pick last season, Dee Milliner. "If I'm a GM and I drafted a corner last year, and you got to see him struggle all year, I just don't think Su'a-Filo will struggle. It's kind of a safe pick, but it's a need as well."
"The boo-birds will never be louder if the Jets take a guard at No. 18," remarked Dave Dameshek.
Very true on that last point.
Barr's stock has slid quite a bit in the past few weeks, so while it's not super surprising to see him land at No. 20, it is to see him go behind his teammate and Mayock agrees that's a bit of a reach.
6. Seven WRs in Round 1
Mayock has called this one of the best receiver draft classes ever, and that's reflected in the first round of this mock draft. Seven wideouts going in the first round has been a possibility with so many teams looking for an impact player, but Dameshek's selection of Jarvis Landry by the Broncos was a bit high, considering where he's slotted on the board, but it would certainly give an already potent offense another weapon.
"When you put the tape in for LSU, you can't tell which guy runs the 4.4," Mayock said, referring to Landry and fellow Tigers wideout Odell Beckham. "Jarvis Landry is one of the toughest players in the draft. He's one of my favorite players. He's a natural slot. But the 4.71 he ran in the 40 scared a lot of people."
"Clowney didn't play well in 2013, and he went No. 1 (in this mock draft)," Dameshek said. "Same logic here. Marqise Lee was dynamic in 2012, so-so in 2013. We're 18 months removed from it, but the season that Marqise Lee had in 2012 was spectacular. Think about a year ago, if Marqise Lee would've been available, he would've been a top 12 pick."
More eye-opening might be the selection of three tight ends in the first round. It's no surprise to see top-rated Eric Ebron go 9th to the Bills and most certainly see the Patriots filling a need with the very talented Austin Seferian-Jenkins at No. 29. Irvin knows pass catchers, however, and sees the Super Bowl champs adding another weapon for Russell Wilson.
"I really wanted [Kelvin] Benjamin," Irvin said. "But I'm going to take that tight end, Jace Amaro, right here, because he's a big fella, too. You need someone you can toss the football up to, and he can go up and get it."
7. Disagreement over DBs
Besides the quarterbacks and receivers, one hotly debated position in this year's draft has been the cornerbacks. It seems like everybody has a different opinion on which players rank where and what teams like in them.
The first off the board in this mock was Jeremiah taking Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert with the Lions at No. 10. Kyle Fuller winds up with the Titans, Darqueze Dennard is picked by the Steelers, Bradley Roby slips to Cincinnati at No. 24 and Jason Verrett goes to the Chargers.
"Daniel (Jeremiah) is a former scout, he sees things from a scout's perspective. I'm a son of a former coach, I see things a little bit more that way," Mayock said. "Almost every coach I've talked to in the league prefers Kyle Fuller and Darqueze Dennard. Why? Because they're accountable, you can trust them, although their ceilings aren't as high as the guys the scouts like."
Also interesting is Mariucci pegging the Bears for a safety, but it's Calvin Pryor instead of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Both safeties are rated pretty close to each other, so it's not a shock necessarily to see Pryor go first but many mock drafts have the order reversed heading into this week. The Ravens are the beneficiaries as former Baltimore coach Brian Billick takes the best player available at No. 17 in Clinton-Dix, who also happens to fill a need and can play alongside Matt Elam.
Follow Bryan Fischer on Twitter @BryanDFischer.