While debate might rage about which of the NFL draft's top quarterback prospects is best, NFL Media senior analyst Gil Brandt maintains former Texas A&M star Johnny Manziel is No. 1. Brandt, who served as executive vice president for the Cowboys from 1960-89, ranks Manziel atop his latest list of the draft's top 50 prospects, ahead of South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who ranks No. 2.
"He's a very smart player and has great vision at quarterback," Brandt notes.
Brandt attended Manziel's pro-day workout on March 27, where the quarterback impressed NFL coaches and scouts with a variety of different passes in a 64-throw session that ended with a well-thrown deep ball to star wide receiver Mike Evans. Manziel, UCF's Blake Bortles and Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater are considered the most likely possibilities at the position to be chosen in the first round. How early in the first round, in which order, and by which clubs has for weeks been the subject of conflicting speculation. But the Houston Texans, who hold the No. 1 overall pick, had a high-profile scouting contingent at the pro day workouts of all three quarterbacks, as well as Clowney's.
Five more notables from Brandt's top-50 release:
1. Evans on the rise
There is a fairly strong consensus that Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins will be the first wide receiver chosen in the draft, but Brandt has Watkins and Texas A&M star Mike Evans ranked as close as they can be: No. 6 and No. 7, respectively, with Evans rising 13 spots from Brandt's previous rankings. Evans' size (6-foot-5, 231 pounds) makes him a mismatch for any cornerback, and Brandt believes his route-running will improve. If Watkins is indeed the first receiver taken, Evans' subsequent wait should be a relatively short one.
2. Beckham and Cooks gain momentum
Evans isn't the only receiver to shoot up Brandt's board. LSU's Odell Beckham and Oregon State's Brandin Cooks rank Nos. 15 and 16, respectively. Regard for Beckham's pro future has been on the rise since his impressive performance at the NFL Scouting Combine. Both had wildly productive seasons last year, and figure to be strong candidates to be the next pair of receivers chosen after Watkins and Evans.
3. Carr could become hot commodity
Brandt ranks Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr at No. 25, and notes that if he remains available late in the first round, a club might be compelled to trade up for a chance to land him. By that point in the draft, the quarterback-needy teams who had a top-10 pick and passed on a quarterback might be setting the table for one with their early second-round pick. The one that likes Carr most might be wise to skip ahead of other clubs that might also be eyeing a rookie passer.
4. Savage making his move
Brandt has identified Pittsburgh quarterback Tom Savage as one of the draft's risers, and that was reflected in a No. 40 ranking, from previously unranked, for the 6-4, 228-pounder who spent time at Rutgers, Arizona and Pitt in an adventurous college career. Brandt likens Savage's passing to that of former Cowboys star Troy Aikman.
5. O-linemen in flux
Of the 12 players that fell out of the rankings, four were offensive linemen: Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio; Baylor's Cyril Richardson; Tennessee's Antonio Richardson and Mississippi State's Gabe Jackson. But Brandt wasn't hard on all the big guys: Three previously unranked O-linemen cracked the list (No. 29 Morgan Moses of Virginia, No. 37 Joel Bitonio of Nevada, No. 38 Ja'Wuan James of Tennessee), while two others moved up more than 10 spots each (No. 26 Xavier Su'a-Filo of UCLA and No. 14 Zack Martin of Notre Dame).