Just as offense dominated the NFL regular season, it could dominate the NFL draft. The rich side of the ball should get richer, as the draft offers significantly more offensive talent than defensive talent.
"It's surprising how heavy it is on the one side of the ball," one NFC general manager said. He estimated that of the 120 or so players on his board, 65 percent are offensive players.
A college scouting director said about 60 percent of the players on his team's board are offensive prospects. "It's such a balanced group throughout the offensive positions," he said. "Usually it's more defense heavy."
A high-ranking AFC personnel exec said about 60 percent of the 200 players he considers draftable are on the offensive side of the ball. He said it is particularly lopsided in the first three rounds. "There is a lot of opportunity on offense," he said.
The AFC personnel exec said he thought the imbalance is not terribly unusual, given how the college game has catered more to offense. He said high-end defensive players with reactionary abilities—especially at pass-rusher and cornerback—are becoming increasingly difficult to find.
The deepest position in the draft is wide receiver. In part because of the 19 underclassmen who made themselves eligible, teams should be able to find solid receiver prospects with starting potential into the fourth round. Players in that category include Jared Abbrederis of Wisconsin, Robert Herron of Wyoming, Josh Huff of Oregon, Kevin Norwood of Alabama and Devin Street of Pittsburgh. Somewhere in the vicinity of 40 receivers are likely to have draftable grades by various teams.
The running back position is funny, because it's possible no running back will be chosen in the first round. But around 25 backs will carry draftable grades. The value for running backs will be in Rounds 4 through 7.
It's a fine draft for offensive linemen, with about 50 draftable blockers. And the depth is best at tackle, which is typically the thinnest position. One caveat: Not many centers who look to be capable of starting are available.
At quarterback, some of the top players might slip, in part because the quality is so strong in the second and third tiers. Why take one high when you get can get a quality passer later? Look for teams to feast on developmental QBs in the fifth through seventh rounds, as about 18 passers have a legitimate shot at getting drafted.
On the other side of the ball, the pickings are somewhat slim at safety and defensive tackle. The general manager said there are only five safeties he would draft. An AFC general manager said he rated eight safeties as draftable.
The result of all of this? "You may see more defensive guys go early," the NFC general manager said. "Teams could reach for defense early because they know they won't be able to fill those needs in the third and fourth rounds."
He pointed to Nebraska cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste as a player who might be a fourth-round pick in some years but could be taken as high as the second round this year because teams will be worried about the cornerbacks drying up.
Opportunistic general managers who have positioned themselves so they don't have to be slave to needs might be able to find great values in the early rounds on the offensive side of the ball.
All of which could lead to a wild and unpredictable first couple of rounds.
• One of the reasons Terrelle Pryor is in Seattle is that the timing of his availability was ideal for the Seahawks. Given that they are 32nd in claiming order, the Seahawks knew they would not have had a chance at acquiring him through waivers. They also knew they could not get a similar athlete with a seventh-round pick, which was the trade compensation they gave the Raiders. At 24 and with only 10 NFL starts, Pryor still has room to develop and grow, especially in the right environment. And playing behind an established Russell Wilson could be good for him. In mid-April, Wilson gathered the Seahawks quarterbacks, receivers, tight ends and running backs in Hermosa Beach, Calif., for his yearly workouts at a gym and on a practice field. His leadership has rubbed off on a lot of Seahawks, and the hope in Seattle is it will rub off on Pryor.
• Why did Sidney Rice take less money on a one-year deal from the Seahawks (reportedly $1.4 million) than he could have had with the Jets? In part, because he thinks he might be able to make more money in 2015 if he spends this season in Seattle. Rice is looking at next offseason, which could be the 27-year-old's last chance to cash in big. People who know Rice say he has been working his tail off in order to come back from a torn ACL healthy and stronger than ever. Rice will have to stay healthy in order to maximize his value on the free-agent market in 2015, and his best chance of staying healthy may be in Seattle, as the doctors, trainers and coaches there know his body better than anyone.
• The word out of the Chargers facility as voluntary workouts begin his week is that wide receiver Malcom Floyd is confident and happy in his comeback attempt from a serious neck injury, and he is moving well. Floyd returning to football after such an injury at the age of 32 was not a given, but the Chargers are thrilled to see him back. Floyd was a star in camp last year and appeared to be primed for a big season before being carted off the field in September. The thinking is, even though Keenan Allen emerged as the No. 1 wide receiver, the offense can benefit from Floyd's chemistry with Philip Rivers. Floyd is a big target who always is where he is supposed to be. Even though he is not the fastest, he still can get deep and make downfield catches because of his exceptional hand-eye coordination.
• Bears linebacker Shea McClellin took some heat about looking a little soft in a photo released by his trainer, but there were reasons he looked that way. People familiar with the situation say McClellin had to eat a lot in order to keep his weight up so he could play the defensive end position. He needed some mass in order to be able to tangle with much larger offensive tackles, so he carried a bit of fat to stay at 263 pounds. After his switch to linebacker, he is at 252, which is a better weight for him. The other issue is this: Virtually every player in the NFL is in his worst shape of the year at the end of the season, when that picture was taken. Once training camp begins, players can't possibly work out the way they do in the offseason because their bodies usually are beat up, and they also have much less time and energy to devote to weight training and cardio. McClellin undoubtedly looked like a lot of other players who didn't have their photos all over Twitter.
• Insiders are predicting a flurry of trade activity toward the bottom of the first round of the draft as teams jockey for position to try to get a falling quarterback, or the rising quarterback of their choice. The thinking is, the teams at the top of the draft that ignore their QB need will be looking to jump back in at the top of the second round. So they could try to leapfrog one another, or other interested parties could try to leapfrog them. Another potential trade target at the bottom of the first round is Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde, as some teams see him as clearly the best prospect at the position. One team picking late in the round already has received two phone calls feeling them out for interest in a potential deal.
The college football season ended about four months ago. The book has long been closed on all-star games. The combine was eight weeks ago. And yet the stock of some prospects continues to rise, or at least that is the perception. I asked a few front-office men about some of these so-called late risers.
Joel Bitonio, Nevada OL: Early on, a lot of scouts evaluated Bitonio as a tackle because he played tackle in college. But in recent weeks, it seems like teams are coming to a consensus that the 6'4", 302-pound blocker would be best served at guard, or even center. "Teams value him more as a guard/center prospect," one personnel director said. Bitonio has probably moved up a round, from the third to the second.
Brock Coyle, Montana LB: He wasn't invited to the combine, but he got people talking with his pro day workout, which included a 37-inch vertical. Coyle was productive and was seen by a lot of scouts during the fall. The buzz he has created could result in him being chosen in the late rounds.
Cameron Fleming, Stanford OT: In a draft that features a number of blockers with the potential to be left tackles, Fleming was most likely devalued a bit in the process because he probably is strictly a right tackle. Fleming is not in the top tier, but the more teams look at him for what he is, the more they like him. His intelligence has stood out as he has gotten face time with coaches. "The more you are around him, the more you like him," one front-office man said. Fleming has his detractors, but enough people like him that he could be a third- or even second-round pick now.
Garrett Gilbert, SMU QB: He really did not impress scouts until the second half of the 2013 season, but he has been impressing them ever since. The son of former NFL quarterback Gale Gilbert and a 5-star recruit coming out of high school, Garrett bombed at Texas before transferring to SMU. He is a little like Pitt QB Tom Savage in that he has everything teams are looking for from the standpoint of size and ability, but he doesn't have a lengthy history of production. "He has a lot of potential," the personnel director said. "If he can get comfortable in a system, he can do some things." Gilbert was not invited to the combine, but he had an outstanding performance at his pro day, and it will be a bit of a surprise if he is not drafted by the fourth or fifth round.
Cody Latimer, Indiana WR: There are a lot of good reasons for Latimer to be a late riser. He didn't start playing football until his junior year of college, so he developed as a player late. Indiana did not allow NFL scouts to visit campus during the fall. Latimer surprisingly declared for the NFL draft with eligibility remaining. And he had foot surgery in January that prevented him from working out at the combine. At his pro day, he ran a 4.44 40-yard dash and posted a 39-inch vertical. Now some people, including Mel Kiper Jr., say they would be surprised if Latimer is not picked in the first round. But I've heard less-enthusiastic appraisals from front-office men. One general manager said Latimer is more of a possession receiver than a downfield threat, and a "borderline starter" in the NFL. "He does not play as fast as he timed," he said. Three front-office men said they could not see Latimer going before the second round, and two pegged him as a third-round pick.
Tom Savage, Pittsburgh QB: The hype about Savage moving up in the draft is real. Front-office men think he could be a second-round pick. Watching Savage throw has confirmed that he has NFL-starting-quarterback ability. And as the draft has drawn nearer, it has become apparent that any team interested in Savage will have to strike pretty early in the draft to get him.
Ryan Shazier, Ohio State OLB: No player has risen more in the post-combine period. Shazier did not work out at the combine, and then he ran a 4.36 40-yard dash and vertically jumped 42 inches at his pro day. "People didn't realize how good an athlete he was," one scout said. "They were expecting him to run a 4.5 or 4.6. You go back and watch film in a different light." The personnel director said everyone knew about Shazier's instincts, and now they know he combines instincts with athleticism. He can be picked in the middle of the first round.
Brock Vereen, Minnesota DB: He played both cornerback and safety in college, which might have worked against him early in the evaluation process. The personnel director said he thought Vereen might be best suited as a nickel corner in the NFL. But teams that see him as a safety see starting potential. "He has good awareness, and he can move in space," the general manager said. In a soft safety class, Vereen might creep into the third round.
• If being "the most popular TV show" (via The Dallas Morning News) is the goal of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, then Johnny Manziel definitely is his man.
• Manziel is on the Bucs' "short list," according to ESPN. Also on their QB short list: Doug Flutie, Eddie LeBaron, Sonny Jurgensen, Pat Haden and Russell Wilson.
• Wilson is the third-highest-paid quarterback on his team, which only makes sense if the Seahawks pay by the inch.
• Mike Holmgren said he should have coached the Browns instead of just being their president (via MMQB). The only problem is if he had coached the Browns, he would have lasted in Cleveland one year instead of two.
• When Jaguars owner Shad Kahn said, via The Florida Times-Union, "A homeless guy in Detroit has more mojo than a millionaire in Jacksonville," he did not mean to imply that it would be better for a free agent to sign with the Lions for the minimum rather than sign with the Jaguars for a multiyear, lucrative deal.
• Ndamukong Suh not showing for Lions minicamp (via AP) is not a problem—unless he continues to wear that "C" on his jersey.
• There is balance in the universe when Jase Robertson, who's known for calling ducks, aligns with Tim Tebow, who's known for throwing them.
Dan Pompei covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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