SPORTS EXCLUSIVE: Breaking down the 2014 NFL Draft


Okay, so I typically touch on a bit of everything in this blog, from sports to music, movies, food, and of course… writing.  That said, tonight is FINALLY the NFL Draft (should’ve been two weekends ago at noon on a Saturday, but I digress) and given that this is one of my favorite days on the sports calendar, I’m devoting this edition of the Manifesto exclusively to that.  
What follows are my own thoughts on a few teams I follow, as well as a few of the notable storylines going into eight o’clock. 
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
As a longtime Bucs’ fan, I enter tonight’s draft with my first real sense of optimism in years.  Lovie Smith is a fabulous coach, and moreover, our knuckleheaded owners seem to be giving him the necessary latitude to implement his plan for the team.  The question now is: where will he go when the clock strikes zero on Pick 7?
Were it up to me, I’d take Darqueze Denard, CB from Michigan State.  I know, I know, I know.  The Bucs need a receiver opposite VJ, and that’s real.  However, this is an extremely deep draft at that position, and Jeff Tedford will still have his pick of the litter in round two. 
Denard, meanwhile, is clearly the top corner on the board, and given the Revis debacle plus Tampa’s membership of the NFC South (home to Brees, Newton, and Ryan) you can never go wrong with bolstering your secondary. 
And just to be clear… Don’t even think about a QB at 7.  None of these guys warrant a Top 10 selection, period.  Not Bortles, not Carr, and especially not Manziel (a late second-round talent, tops). 
CAROLINA PANTERS
Since trading in my Florida residency for that of a North Carolinian, I’ve kept fairly close tabs on the Panthers as they naturally occupy most of the local football coverage around Raleigh.  
So, where should the Panthers go at Pick 28, assuming they don’t trade out?  Simple.  Wide receiver.  For one, it’s far and away their greatest need, and for two, this franchise took a beating from the fan-base for botching the Steve Smith situation.  Should Carolina have kept Smith?  Perhaps, though I think you could make the case that Smith was old, and the time had come to upgrade that position. 
The only problem is, that’s exactly what Carolina didn’t do.  The Panthers signed no one in free agency, and that rankled a lot of feathers around Charlotte.  Now comes the chance for Rivera and co. to rectify that problem by drafting a shiny new toy for Cam Newton… a guy who is all but forbidden from stretching the field in Mike Shula’s POS offense, but that’s a topic for another blog in August. 
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
The Jags pick at three, and I’m anxious to see how this one shakes out.  The obvious choice here is Clemson wideout Sammy Watkins, IMHO.  I love this guy, and I truly believe he’s a star in the making. 
Still, this team has a ton of needs, not the least of which is quarterback.  Add to that the never-ending whispers surrounding a Jags’ move to Los Angeles, and if there was ever a franchise in need of a face, it’s this one.  
Johnny Football?  Maybe?  
Again, I hate Manziel as a prospect.  It’s nothing personal.  I just don’t see his game translating to the pro level.  Conversely, though, the hard truth is that Jacksonville, as a club and an NFL city, hasn’t been relevant since the Clinton Administration.  Now factor in Manziel’s upside if he does succeed (jersey sales, prime-time television slots, ad revenue… all through the roof), and the Caldwell/Bradley camp would be stupid not to at least look at him.  
Talk about a roll of the dice, though… too rich for my blood.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS
Not spending much time here, but on account of my wife who grew up a die-hard Skins’ fan, I’ll touch on it.  
Washington  is still paying the price for RG III, and thus won’t select in tonight’s first round.  When they do pick, however, they need offensive line and a tall receiver. 
Regardless of who’s under center (I’m not entirely sure it shouldn’t be Cousins, by the way), they need better protection than the garbage they got in 2013.  I mean, whatever happened to the Hogs, anyway?  That used to be the hallmark of Washington football. 
As for WR, the Skins have a fair amount of talent at that position with the addition of Desean Jackson to Garcon and Moss.  The only problem with those guys is that Peter Frickin’ Dinklage could out-jump every one of them! (A little nerd humor there, sorry).  
Get a guy with some ups, Gruden, and your offense will definitely be the better for it. 
OTHER STORIES TO WATCH…
Quarterback Roulette
As always, there’s gonna be a run on QBs.  It’s just how the NFL is built now, and regardless of the fact that none of these guys are fit to carry Andrew Luck’s jockstrap, several teams will draft them as if they were.  (Lookin’ at you, Minisota!)
Among this year’s class, however, I do like Teddy Bridgewater.  I watched his entire career at Louisville, and I love the kid.  Say what you want to about his pro day (it was one day in shorts, people), TB is sharp and he makes all the throws.  Granted, he’s a bit undersized and his arm is far from a bazooka, but for my money he’s far and away the most NFL-ready prospect of the bunch.
Bortles is solid but raw, Carr came from the same peon program that sold me Trent Dilfer, and I’ve covered Manziel. 
Aaron Murray of Georgia, on the other hand, could be a nice find in round three.
Texas to play ‘Let’s Make a Deal?’
They should, if possible.  St. Louis got a king’s ransom for RG III, and given the chance at a similar haul, the Texans should most definitely take it. 
Clowney is a gamble to me.  I know physical he’s a beast, and there’s no denying what he did at SC.  But equally as undeniable is the fact that he also took his fair share of plays off. 
In short, this guy could be the next Warren Sapp, or Booger McFarland.  Only time will tell, and considering all the other needs Houston has right now, it makes sense to let someone else take the risk and fall back for Buffalo’s Khalil Mack who fits their system better anyway. 
Soap Opera Watch
If by some miracle Manziel falls to pick sixteen, I’d pay good money to be a fly on the wall in the Dallas war room.  For all the trumpeting Jerry Jones has done on Romo’s behalf, the Cowboys’ owner LOVES making a splash, and taking the singlemost polaring figure in this year’s draft—from Texas A&M, no less—would definitely do that. 
Plus, let’s be honest, Jerry is just hypocritical enough to do it, too.
Alright guys, that’s gonna do it for this one.  To my readers who care nothing of sports, I promise to get back to the literary stuff next month.  But again, I’ve been a Draft nut for years, and I really wanted to sound off before the commissioner hits the podum tonight. 
Everyone take care, have a great weekend, and best of luck to you and your favorite team as we eyeball another year of “America’s Passion.”
Cheers, and Go Bucs!
IJM

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