Highlighting the Biggest Surprises of the 2014 NFL Draft Process
The 2014 NFL draft has been ripe with juicy stories. Some of these stories have been more substance-based than others, but it certainly hasn't been a boring NFL offseason.
This list is dedicated to the most surprising aspects of the draft process that we never saw coming nor could we possibly predict with any reasonable accuracy.
With the draft nearly upon us, it's time to reveal the biggest surprises over these last few months of predraft news.
Fair warning, quarterbacks make up a big part of this list.
Hey, it's just been that kind of year, I suppose.
Michael Sam Becomes the 1st Openly Gay Draft Prospect in NFL History
It’s been a long time coming in professional sports, made possible by people like Wade Davis. Wade’s fascinating story of struggle as a gay man trying to make a living in the National Football League over a decade earlier is told by Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman.
Michael Sam’s journey into the NFL will be unlike anyone’s before him. He will attempt to become the first openly gay man to ever play a down in the NFL.
This has been a story of inspiration and social evolution but also a stark reminder of how much further we need to go—both as a society and as a league.
The reactions to the former Missouri pass-rusher and SEC Defensive Player of the Year have been mixed among players and executives in the NFL. However, the overwhelming narrative surrounding this historic event has been one of support—at least it appears that way on the surface.
There’s little doubt Sam will face some degree of discomfort from players and fans on whatever team he signs with, but those should be minimal and mostly muted with continued support.
The NFL will be keeping a close eye on how its first openly gay player is treated, especially in the wake of the Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin bullying saga.
The first question to be answered about Michael Sam will be whether or not he ends up getting drafted this May. Sam did have a lackluster showing at the NFL Scouting Combine back in February, putting up some of the worst measurables of any prospect at his position this year. This gives teams even more reason not to draft him.
Drafted or not, Sam will be given an opportunity to make an NFL team. Which organization will give him a shot, and will he make it?
I personally doubt his athletic ability and size combination for the NFL. Sam is a savvy player with good instincts, but it is certainly not a foregone conclusion that he makes a 53-man roster.
Adam Muema Leaves the Combine Early
Back in February, Adam Muema decided to leave the scouting combine early because God said it was his destiny.
This was one of the more bizarre stories to break during the predraft process. San Diego State running back Adam Muema rushed for 1,244 yards and 15 touchdowns for the Aztecs in 2013 and was considered one of the top prospects in the nation, which landed him a coveted spot at the annual scouting combine held in Indianapolis.
To the surprise of many, Muema abruptly left the combine before his position group was set to perform on the field. He told the Union-Tribune that he was “following God.”
Apparently God told him that if he didn’t work out at the combine he would end up playing for the Seattle Seahawks.
Muema followed up the news by disappearing for several days. Not even those close to him knew his whereabouts during that time. It was later learned that he spent those days at the airport, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
His saga continued with a Twitter rant that had the sports world enthralled. Within this rant Muema announced he would not be playing football next year: “I Don't believe there would be a Football season next year! Unless we're going to a new planet Earth!”
Muema seemed to be under the impression that the world was coming to an end.
I guess God changed his plans about him playing for the Seahawks—unless, of course, the team has some unknown relocation plans that involve another planet.
It’s safe to assume Muema doesn't have an NFL future at this point.
Teddy Bridgewater’s Media-Driven Free Fall
When the football world first turned its focus to the NFL draft process many months ago, Teddy Bridgewater seemed to be a prospect at the top of everyone’s list. Yet it seems with each passing week his stock continues to plummet as his draft projection has gone from the top of the first round to the bottom of it and, in some cases, out of Round 1 altogether.
Many seem to believe that a poor outing at his pro day contributed to his free-falling draft stock. Whatever the reason, the Bridgewater “hate” seems to have enraged the Twitter community, which has interpreted his sliding value as both disrespectful and unfounded.
Bleacher Report’s Gary Davenport details this phenomenon with an interesting angle.
I’ve personally never seen much more than a few clips from Bridgewater’s pro day, but based on the tape alone, I never had him as the top quarterback on my board. That honor goes to Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M. I even have Blake Bortles and Brett Smith ranked ahead of Bridgewater.
The big question for Teddy is going to be centered on his intellectual ceiling more than anything. From what I can tell, he seems to show a great deal of intelligence and certainly enough to be a starting quarterback in the NFL working exclusively from the pocket.
But the thing is, TB underwhelmed immensely with both size and athletic ability. He also is not known to have an overly powerful arm. With these elements combined, it means the distinguishing quality that is going to make or break his career will be centered on his mind. This is the reason there has been so much nitpicking about his interviews, personality and IQ.
So looking at it from that angle, do you believe Bridgewater is going to be one of the smartest players in the NFL? If the answer to that question is no, you should probably ask yourself what makes him worthy of a first overall pick—because it sure isn’t athleticism, arm strength, size or strength.
I project TB’s NFL career to plateau as a mid-level starter, falling somewhere between 12 to 20 on average. This certainly has value, but is that worth an early first-round pick in a draft as stacked as this one?
Tom Savage Enters the 1st-Round Conversation
Just as a Bridgewater’s stock seems to be falling, former Pittsburgh QB Tom Savage’s value is on the rise. In fact, Savage is such a hot name right now that some analysts project him as a first-round talent.
Bleacher Report’s Chris Simms has Savage ranked as his second-best QB in this draft.
Savage has the strong arm and size (6'4", 228 lbs) NFL teams covet. But his decision-making and productivity in college are major question marks.
Of the top 20 QB prospects in this draft, only Logan Thomas had a lower career touchdown-to-interception ratio than Tom Savage’s 36-19. Savage also managed only a 57 percent completion rate for his career—yet another stat only Thomas has done worse at.
At this point, it would not be a surprise to see Savage get drafted higher than Teddy Bridgewater, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend it.
Bridgewater may not have Savage’s arm strength and size, but he does make smarter decisions on the field and shows much better accuracy from the pocket and on the move. Albeit, Savage was ransacked each week by a subpar offensive line and was forced to make decisions under duress with much more frequency.
The QB Shuffle
Looking at this quarterback group as a whole, has there ever been so much shuffling and indecision over the ranking order this late in the process?
Depending on whom you talk to or what you read, or even when you read it, the order in which these QBs should be drafted has fluctuated more than Oprah’s dieting habits in the 90s.
Some have Derek Carr; some love Blake Bortles. Teddy Bridgewater is a name at the top of the list for several analysts. Johnny Manziel, Tom Savage, Zach Mettenberger and even Jimmy Garoppolo have been mentioned among the year’s best.
According to Gregg Rosenthal, per NFL.com, Johnny Manziel seems to be the current consensus for the top-ranked QB for now.
“In a poll of 17 NFL personnel people conducted by Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, eight of them chose Manziel as the top quarterback. Four chose Blake Bortles, while two folks chose Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr. Even Zach Mettenberger got a vote.”
If Manziel is truly considered the top QB in this draft, there is still no consensus on where he is projected to go in Round 1.
Regardless who you have as the top QB, one thing most people seem to agree on is there is no slam-dunk franchise quarterback in this draft class.
In fact, if Manziel is drafted in the first round, he would be the lightest quarterback (207 pounds) drafted in the first round since 2003, per NFL.com.
It could be if Bridgewater’s pro day contributed to his free fall, maybe Manziel’s circus pro day in pads and a helmet helped his stock to climb.
Maybe tomorrow Derek Carr will be the consensus top QB available.
Clowney Walking to the Beat of His Own Drum
Jadeveon Clowney doesn’t seem to have much concern with his perception as a blue-chip diva who has never experienced hard work in his life.
Clowney has had to answer a litany of questions over the past few months about his dedication and work ethic. At the combine in Indianapolis, he refused to do positional drills after running a blazing 40 time.
Even his former college head coach, Steve Spurrier, struggled to compliment his former superstar’s work habits. In an NFL AM interview per Pro Football Talk, Spurrier had this to say:
“Even though his production this year wasn’t near what it was last year, he had two or three guys waiting on him just about every play. His run defense was very good, though, and he chased down a bunch of guys and made tackles. His sacks — he had to run around two or three guys just about every game. I don’t think teams will quite do that in the NFL, but we’ll have to wait and see.”
Clowney must not be getting too tired of such questions considering he recently decided to forego any more private workouts after Brandon Thomas tore his ACL during a private workout—this according to Peter King of MMQB via Pro Football Talk.
The problem with this is that Clowney should not be so afraid of injury that he refuses to train hard for the upcoming season. This brings into question how hard he trains in the offseason and in preparation for the sport he will eventually make a living at.
In truth, private workouts are not supposed to be more difficult or risky than the workouts he does while on his own with his personal training staff. This is certainly cause for concern considering Clowney, the 2012 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, is widely viewed as the most talented prospect in this class.
Record Number of Underclassmen Declare
This year's NFL draft has already been historic in one regard. A record 102 underclassmen have declared for the NFL draft. That is a whopping 39.7 percent increase over the number who declared for the 2013 draft.
If all of those players somehow happen to get drafted, they will account for nearly one-third of all the players drafted this year. But that scenario is unlikely to happen. There is no doubt when this draft is over there will be a number of disappointed underclassmen who will be second-guessing their decision to leave school.
In Daniel Jeremiah’s latest top 50 rankings on NFL.com, only 22 of the 50 prospects are seniors. This is a big reason why many analysts are considering this draft class to be one of the deepest in a long time.
Essentially there are two rounds of first-round-caliber talent to be mined in just a few days' time. Teams should be licking their chops at a chance to get significantly better by the time this draft is over.
Ryan Riddle is a former NFL player who writes for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter for more draft coverage.