For people on the outside looking in, this draft is going to be boring with little intrigue and little star power. Those who follow the draft know this class may not have the Andrew Luck type quarterback at the top of the board that is a given nine months ahead of time, but it makes for a more intriguing storyline. There is a legitimate chance that a person with a good amount of knowledge could project the entire draft and not get a single pick right; that is interesting. Beyond that, there are several other story lines worth keeping an eye on during this year’s NFL Draft including following the guys coming back from remarkable injuries, the Bengals, the Dolphins, the Jets, 49ers and Vikings with their number of early picks, where the quarterbacks end up given how many teams appeared to have punted, and who is the top guard.
D.J. Hayden, a corner from the Univerity of Houston, suffered a torn inferior vena cava (major vein from the heart to the lower body) after a collision with a teammate that nearly killed him. Doctors said the survival rate was 19:1 against. Hayden has not only beaten the odds on surviving, but is actually able to resume his career and could figure early in the NFL Draft. It does not matter when he gets drafted as far as the round or the pick, though everything suggests he could be picked Friday or some even have him going on Thursday in the first round, but the important aspect of the story is where this kid gets to continue chasing his dream of playing football.
Florida State’s Cornellius ‘Tank’ Carradine had an incredible season before tearing his ACL in the season finale against Florida late in the game. The former JUCO defensive end from Cincinnati came in and dominated this past year before suffering an injury many expected would dramatically impact his draft stock. In just five months, Carradine has recovered enough to where he performed a full workout this past Saturday. He did experience some swelling the following day and despite the incredible recovery, he is not quite done yet and will likely start the season on the PUP list, but Carradine could go on Thursday but failing that, he goes early on Friday.
Most everyone is familiar with Marcus Lattimore’s story. Lattimore has been on the national stage since he was recruited to South Carolina and coming out and having an impressive rookie year as a running back. He suffered a knee injury that ended his sophomore season and had managed to recover enough to come back this year at a high level before he suffered that dislocated knee that was gruesome to see on television and had the college football world stop briefly. More than a few people immediately pronounced his career or that he might play again, but in a diminished capacity; fast forward and his recovery from this knee injury has him eyeing opening day as to when he will be ready to contribute. Initially, it seemed like Lattimore would be a late round pick or undrafted free agent and a team stashes for a year, maybe even two years while he recovers and whatever is left of Lattimore is still pretty good. Now, Lattimore appears capable of a full recovery in addition to being able to contribute this year. Now, Lattimore could sneak into the second round of the draft but will probably go somewhere on day two. All three of these stories are remarkable for the players involved and their recovery but a testament to how far medical technology has come both in life saving medicine as the case with Hayden, but also with how fast people can come back from sport specific injuries.
These three are not the only injury stories from this year’s draft, but they do stand out as much. Cal wide receiver Keenan Allen missed a large portion of the season with a PCL injury and had an unimpressive 40 time when he was finally able to perform a workout. Nevertheless, Allen was the best receiver on film from this past year. Quanterus Smith from Western Kentucky out of the Sun Belt Conference made people take notice with an impressive 3 sack performance against Alabama in an impressive season before he tore an ACL. It still remains to be seen when he will be back to 100%. Kapron Lewis-Moore, the talented Notre Dame defensive end had a great year but tore his ACL late in the National Championship, so he may end up as a late round pick to stash on injured reserve before coming back and having a nice career next year. Lastly, it will be interesting to see what if any impact the fact that Dion Jordan of Oregon and Dee Milliner of Alabama, both potential Top 10 picks, both had shoulder surgeries immediately after the combine. Their availability for training camp is up in the air right now. In fact, Milliner’s recovery is a little behind and he blames it on the hectic schedule and meeting with teams and not being able to focus 100% on his rehab.
Teams with Multiple Early Round Picks
The Vikings and Jets are the two teams with two first round picks in this year’s draft and both teams have significant holes to try to fill for this year. The Vikings have some talented pieces but are largely built around their prolific running back, Adrian Peterson, and need to decide what they want to do. They could look to add pieces to the offense and try to make Christian Ponder more successful or try to put the pieces in for their defense to get back to being what it had been a few years ago as one of the best run defenses in all of football. The Jets offense has a few linemen but virtually nothing else to build around at this point, but they have a lot of holes on their defense as well. The big question with the Jets is who is making the picks and how much of a say Rex Ryan has in the draft selections. If up to him, it is unlikely a quarterback figures into their plans early as he needs to win and win now. He may opt to add enough pieces to run the football and avoid turning it over, but he knows defense and may want to add talent to the side of the ball he is comfortable running.
The Bengals and the 49ers are playoff teams with two second round picks. The 49ers were a play away from winning the Super Bowl and are flushed with picks. It would make sense for them to package some of those mid-late round picks to target a few specific players to help their team as they look to add the final pieces to go back and win the Super Bowl. The Bengals made the playoffs last year but with attrition by the Steelers and Ravens appear to be the best team on paper with a first round pick and two second round picks as that deal for Carson Palmer just keeps paying out; they can not only establish themselves as the best in the AFC North but make themselves a serious contender. If they can add a legitimate threat at running back and add some more athleticism and turnovers to their defense, they could be extremely dangerous this next year.
The Dolphins were extremely active in free agency this year and now have a nice pile of draft picks to further improve their team. They have two picks in the second round and two in the third. They could also make a move and trade for Chiefs offensive tackle Branden Albert with one of those picks before the draft or try to move up in the draft for a tackle. They have a big opportunity in a relatively weak division to establish themselves as the second best team with the potential to get even better down the road. Because of the extra picks, the 49ers and Dolphins appear to be standout candidates to take Lattimore and be able to let him get healthy before using him.
Every year, the focus on quarterbacks is immense because of the demands of the position. This year is interesting because of how many teams appeared to have decided to take themselves out of consideration for a quarterback in the first round. The Chiefs (with the 1st pick) traded for Alex Smith, the Raiders (picking 3rd) traded for Matt Flynn, and the Cardinals (picking 7th), traded for whatever is left of Carson Palmer. Geno Smith is almost unanimously considered the top quarterback prospect this year went from being penciled in as the Chiefs pick to becoming a huge question mark. He could go as early as the 2nd pick in the draft or he could slide into the latter half of the round.
Moving onto the other quarterbacks, the rankings this year are incredibly fluid and it will be interesting to see which teams take which quarterbacks and when. The possibility of Ryan Nassib going 8th to Buffalo and his former head coach is a popular rumor, but could be nothing but smoke. E.J. Manuel is a popular name so it will be interesting to see who ultimately picks him and when. Matt Barkley might be the biggest mystery of anyone in the draft. No one knows when or where he is going to go. And then there are guys like Tyler Wilson, Zac Dysert, Mike Glennon, Landry Jones and Tyler Bray and where they end up. This position has been a huge topic of discussion to this point and regardless of how it goes, will be a topic that gets dissected from every angle after the fact.
It is worth pointing out that the difference between a first and second round pick is a small amount of money, but more importantly, an extra year of control. A fifth year of control is significant from the standpoint of NFL teams. They get an extra year to make sure they have their guy before paying them a huge second contract. And in a sport with a tight salary cap, extra flexibility for another year is valuable. It should not be a surprise if a team trades into the back end of the first round so they get the quarterback they want even if that guy might fall, just to gain that extra year of control. Indianapolis stands out as a team that could trade back and the Patriots can never be ruled out to move down in the draft.
Cooper v. Warmack
One of the more underrated developments in this draft process is the division between the two guards. North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper and Alabama’s Chance Warmack are incredibly talented but play the position differently. Cooper is a great athlete with technique and the ability to pull as well as play center if needed that could be a John Hannah type player. Warmack is the power house. He could be this generation’s answer to Larry Allen. He is a bull dozer in the running game but a great pass protector as well. Both have been mentioned as possibilities in the Top 10. The question becomes where they ultimately go and which one goes first. This has evolved into a descent rivalry among those who cover the draft. There are plenty who have Warmack as not only the best guard but the best player in the entire draft while others prefer Cooper. Both should project to be incredible players at the next level.
This year’s draft may not have Luck or Robert Griffin III but it has all kinds of talent as well as intrigue and any number of different storylines worth keeping an eye on through all three days. Besides, when you’re three quarters of a pizza and two-dozen wings in, covered in chips, with a pile of empty containers with adult beverages or soft drinks (depending on your taste and what is appropriate), you might just need some inspiration and intrigue to keep you from going into that food coma at hour five of the draft coverage.
Topics: Alabama Crimson Tide Football, Cal Golden Bears Football, Chance Warmack, Cincinnati Bengals, Cornellius Carradine, D.J. Hayden, Dee Milliner, Dion Jordan, Florida State Seminoles, Jonathan Cooper, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Keenan Allen, Marcus Lattimore, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, New York Jets, NFL Draft 2013, North Carolina Tarheels Football, Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football, Oregon Ducks Football, Quanterus Smith, South Carolina Gamecocks Football, University Of Houston Cougars Football, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers Football