Predicting the Biggest Draft-Day Free Falls of the 2014 NFL Draft
The biggest stories of the NFL draft aren’t always the players who are selected among the top picks but rather the ones who aren’t.
At least that’s the way they’re often portrayed on television. From Aaron Rodgers’ fall to the 24th overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft to Geno Smith’s slide to the second round last year, TV draft coverage has often thrived on the somewhat-fabricated drama of a big-name draft prospect sitting in the green room longer than expected and waiting for a team to select him.
The most theatrical slides in the draft are the ones that few expect—after all, that’s what makes them surprising. Should a consistently projected top-10 pick like South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney or Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins fall farther down the board than expected, a buzz would be created.
There are other big-name prospects whose slides down the board might come more expectedly to draft evaluators yet could leave many surprised that their history as college football standouts did not lead to higher draft results.
Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
In a draft class that includes four quarterbacks being projected as top-10 picks, it’s a safe bet to predict that at least one of them will end up falling far below his expected draft position. A much more difficult projection, however, is determining which one (or more) will be the one(s) to be left waiting for hours—if not a full day into Round 2—to get the call that he has been drafted.
While Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Central Florida’s Blake Bortles and Fresno State’s Derek Carr are being projected by some draft prognosticators as top-five overall picks, all of them also have their fair share of detractors who think they should be selected much lower.
Carr might be the most likely top signal-caller to slide significantly down the draft board. While he is a skilled pocket passer who has great physical tools and is coming off a 5,083-yard, 50-touchdown senior season, serious questions remain about whether he can throw accurately and make sound decisions when dealing with pressure in the pocket.
One potential landing spot for him in the top 10 could be the Oakland Raiders, who hold the No. 5 overall pick and reportedly have a “massive crush” on the Fresno State quarterback, according to David White of The Fresno Bee. Another could be the Minnesota Vikings, who draft in the No. 8 slot and need to find a better pocket passer for new offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s offense.
But if he, or any of the top quarterbacks for that matter, falls past those teams, he could be destined to sit around until the Arizona Cardinals at the 20th overall selection and potentially even drop out of Round 1.
AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama
Once the top quarterbacks are off the board, it’s likely that the spotlight will quickly shift, at least partially, to where Alabama’s AJ McCarron will be selected.
Despite the two national championships and many awards he won with the Crimson Tide, that spotlight might have to stay on awhile.
While he is a proven leader who had consistent success in the SEC, college football’s most competitive conference, his tools don’t fit the profile of a top quarterback draft pick.
His accuracy on short and intermediate throws is as good as any quarterback in this year’s draft class, but he tends to lose that accuracy on deeper throws, which he has to push to compensate for limited arm strength. He is a mechanically sound pocket passer who rarely makes costly mistakes, but he isn’t particularly quick on his throws or reads and has limited athleticism.
Those physical shortcomings might not preclude McCarron from being a successful NFL quarterback, but they increase the likelihood that he will fall into the middle rounds—and be drafted as a backup—rather than being an early-round pick and projected franchise quarterback.
Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
It would come as a surprise if Taylor Lewan fell past the top 20 picks—even a slide past the Pittsburgh Steelers’ No. 15 overall selection might be unexpected—but it could come down to how comfortable teams are with his character.
Considering on-field ability alone, he is worthy of being considered a top-15, if not top-10, talent in this year’s draft. While he has some technical flaws, especially as a pass protector, he comes with an exceptional combination of size (6’7”, 309 lbs), athleticism and strength for an offensive tackle.
Off the field, however, questions are almost certainly being raised by NFL teams. Lewan is set to be arraigned on three assault charges stemming from a December incident, according to Kyle Feldscher of the Ann Arbor News. He was also reportedly investigated by police in November 2009, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, for allegedly intimidating the victim in a sexual assault case that led to former teammate Brendan Gibbons’ expulsion from Michigan in December 2013.
Lewan denied involvement in both of those situations at the NFL Scouting Combine, according to Sports Illustrated’s Chris Burke, but that won’t stop teams from digging deeper to determine whether he is telling the truth.
Ultimately, it only takes one team to be sold on Lewan’s talent and believe in his character for him to be a high draft choice. He could be in a draft-weekend slide, however, if the red flags lead teams to drop him down or remove him altogether from their boards.
Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Cyrus Kouandjio entered his junior season at Alabama as a potential top-10 pick in this year’s draft, but he might be destined to go much later after a disappointing 2013 campaign and poor performance at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine.
He has enough potential to still end up as a first-round draft choice. He possesses an enormous frame at 6’7” and 322 pounds with 35.625” arms, and he can overwhelm his opponents on the field with his power.
Yet despite being a first-team AP All-American at left tackle for Alabama this past season, he might not be well-suited to play on the outside at the next level. He is limited athletically, as he showed with his 5.59-second 40 and slow drills at this year’s combine. In addition, he has frequently struggled to kick out and block speed-rushers.
His size, strength and run blocking ability make him a strong candidate to kick inside to guard, and a combination of that with his experience playing offensive tackle could make him a versatile option with high upside late in the first round or early in the second round.
Ultimately though, it’s possible he could still fall farther down the draft board. As an offensive tackle, he no longer ranks among the top prospects. At guard, teams might be reluctant to draft him over Stanford’s David Yankey or Mississippi State’s Gabe Jackson, who have proven skill sets on the interior offensive line.
Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
Despite rushing for 3,814 yards and 42 touchdowns over the course of his final two seasons at Arizona, Ka’Deem Carey might end up falling into the late rounds of the draft.
Moving down the board could be a common theme for the running back group as a whole in this year’s draft. One year removed from a draft that had no first-round selection at running back for the first time in 50 years, this year’s running back class might have as little talent as ever, as Bleacher Report's Alessandro Miglio noted earlier this week.
Carey, however, is one running back who stands out as having been highly productive in college but could be set to plummet at this year’s selection meeting.
While he excelled at Arizona with his toughness and vision, he doesn’t have much transferable explosion to the next level. A 4.70-second 40-yard dash at this year’s combine corroborated and created doubts, and that could drop him down in a class that lacks top talent at running back but has plenty of options—many of whom might grade out above Carey—in the middle rounds.
His draft stock could also be damaged by character concerns. He had a number of off-field issues prior to his junior season, according to Ted Miller of ESPN.com, and any red flags on his behavior will not help his cause within a muddled pack of middling talent at the running back position in this year’s draft.
De’Anthony Thomas, RB/WR, Oregon
An offensive spark plug who was always a big-play threat at Oregon, De’Anthony Thomas demonstrated speed and acceleration on the field that could entice a team to take a chance on him in the middle rounds of the draft. But it shouldn’t come as a shock if he instead goes much later or even undrafted.
While his game film leaves little doubt about his ability to take off with the ball in his hands and run by defenders, his uninspiring 4.50-second 40-yard dash at the combine does leave doubt.
Sneezing at a 4.5 40 might seem ridiculous, but it’s a legitimate concern for a prospect whose draftability is almost entirely built around his speed.
Thomas has the potential to be a triple-threat playmaker as a runner, receiver and return specialist. That said, he is a tiny player (5’9”, 174 lbs) by NFL standards, and while his acceleration makes him dynamic in the open field, he doesn’t have exceptional lateral agility.
If a team believes it could harness his playmaking ability into an asset and remains convinced that his game speed is special, then it’s quite possible Thomas comes off the board as early as Round 3. The combine damaged his main selling point, however, and it could make teams skeptical to draft him, especially in a deep draft class of wide receivers where running backs are also likely to fall.
Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU
In a draft with a number of wide receivers well within double digits with the potential to be first- or second-round selections, there are bound to be some talented wideouts who slide down the draft board farther than expected. A prime candidate to fall within that group is LSU’s Jarvis Landry.
A skilled route-runner who has great hands and excels at getting open and finding running lanes, Landry emerged as a possible early-round draft choice with a 77-catch, 1,193-yard, 10-touchdown junior season at LSU.
His physical tools, however, don’t stack up with the rest of the class’ top receivers. A 5’11”, 205-pound receiver whose 4.77-second 40-yard dash was the slowest among all receivers at the combine, Landry could be surpassed by receivers whose skill sets aren’t nearly as polished but beat him in both size and speed.
Letting him fall due to his poor timed speed could be a mistake. It seemed to be last year when California’s Keenan Allen, who failed to break 4.7 seconds at his pro day last year, according to NFL.com’s Marc Sessler, fell to the No. 76 overall pick. He went on to be the league’s best rookie receiver by a long shot.
Allen’s success, however, won’t preclude Landry’s draft stock from slipping. In a draft class so loaded with receiving talent that any flaw can be an excuse for teams to pass upon one wideout for another, Landry seems likely to end up as a third- or fourth-round pick.
Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas
A highly touted prospect out of high school, Jackson Jeffcoat never quite lived up to the hype at Texas but steadily progressed into a skilled pass-rusher and strong run defender who was good enough to be named an AP All-American in his senior season.
Since he's a good all-around athlete with NFL bloodlines, it’s easy to see why a team could take a chance on Jeffcoat as an early-round pick. He can bring pressure off the edge as a pass-rusher and hold it too as a run defender, and he still has high developmental upside.
It wasn’t a good sign for Jeffcoat’s regard in NFL circles, however, when he was not invited to this year’s Senior Bowl. And though he has the skill set to develop into a very good player, he isn’t particularly explosive or powerful and is unlikely to emerge as the star he was expected to become before he even played for the Longhorns.
Once viewed as a potential first-round pick, he seems more likely to be a Day 3 selection, though it’s quite possible his development, production, athleticism and potential could entice a team to draft him in the second or third round.
Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
After recording 23.5 tackles for loss including 12 sacks in his junior season at Arizona State, Will Sutton went into his senior year as one of the draft’s top defensive prospects and a potential first-round pick. Since then, however, he hasn’t looked like the same player, and he could fall sharply in the draft as a result.
Viewed as undersized going into his senior season, he added significant weight. This could have been a good thing for his stock, except that he seemingly added bad weight that sapped the explosive quickness and athleticism that made him a top prospect in the first place.
He has seemingly trimmed some of that weight since—he measured in at 297 pounds at Arizona State’s pro day, 18 pounds lighter than his Senior Bowl weight, according to Gil Brandt of NFL.com—but his athleticism has yet to re-emerge. After looking slow in his senior year despite continued high production, Sutton ran a 5.36-second 40 at this year’s combine and only improved to 5.31 at his pro day, according to Brandt.
While he was a consistently disruptive penetrator at Arizona State, there are more questions than answers with Sutton at this point. At just 6’0” with 31.25” arms, Sutton’s height was already looming as a negative, but concerns about his weight fluctuation and explosiveness shouldn’t make any NFL team feel more comfortable about investing in him with an early draft pick.
He almost certainly won’t be a first-round pick, but it should come as no surprise if he ends up falling to the draft’s third day, potentially as low as Round 5 or 6.
All measurables and NFL Scouting Combine results courtesy of NFL.com.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.