High-stakes suspense envelopes the three-day draft starting on
Thursday that is the lifeblood of the National Football League, the
mechanism that distributes the primary talent flow into the league
from the college ranks.
Top candidates including linebacker Khalil Mack, wide receiver Sammy
Watkins and offensive linemen Greg Robinson, should have the
guessing game over their NFL future settled in the first round, but
one of the main threads of intrigue will not be resolved until
Friday or Saturday.
Michael Sam, the decorated defensive lineman from the University of
Missouri who has been projected as a middle round pick, is expected
to become the first openly gay player ever drafted by having his
name called at Radio City Music Hall.
Sam, the Southeastern Conference's Defensive Player of the Year
after leading it with 11.5 sacks, may be selected on Friday when the
second and third rounds are held, or he could have to wait until
rounds four through seven are conducted on Saturday.
There is also the chance that Sam, who may be seen as too slow to
play linebacker and not tall enough to thrive on the line, could be
passed over following a so-so performance at the NFL Scouting
Combine in February.
Presuming Sam is drafted, that will set up another challenge for him
– to make the final roster of the drafting team this summer to
become the NFL's first openly gay player.
"I just wish you guys (would) see me as Michael Sam the football
player, instead of Michael Sam the gay football player," Sam told a
throng of reporters after going through a slew of drills and
interviews at the Scouting Combine.
The Houston Texans select first, followed by the St. Louis Rams,
Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders to round
out the top five in an order fashioned by worst record all the way
to Super Bowl winning Seattle Seahawks at number 32.
Team plans are treated as top secret, and speculation abounds on
whether some clubs will try to trade up to snare a prized target by
providing extra picks to a team hoping to fill additional spots by
moving down in the draft.
Pass rusher extraordinaire Clowney of South Carolina has long been
presumed to be the likely top pick, but questions about his work
ethic led some experts to suggest he could be overtaken.
Quarterbacks are often the wild card factor in the draft, as teams
without a productive passer can be willing to wage a big price on
what is widely considered the most critical position on the
Manziel, the undersized yet electrifying quarterback dubbed "Johnny
Football" during his Heisman Trophy winning days at Texas A&M, is an
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Many pundits expect the scrambling quarterback to be taken within
the top five or 10 spots, while others say Manziel could slide out
of the first round over worries he would not hold up to the physical
punishment doled out by NFL defenders.
Other highly rated quarterbacks available include Blake Bortles of
Central Florida, Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville and Derek Carr of
Watkins, a standout receiver from Clemson, has been acclaimed as the
best of a deep class of pass catchers.
Other receivers who could join Watkins as a first-round pick include
Mike Evans (Texas A&M), Odell Beckham Jr. (LSU) and Brandin Cooks
Despite the comprehensive scouting of college game tapes and the
examinations - physical and mental - administered during the NFL
combine, the draft annals are littered with flops.
Some of the biggest busts have come from top picks made on
quarterbacks who did not pan out and set their franchises back for
seasons on end.
Number one overall picks in recent years have been lavished on such
underwhelming NFL quarterbacks from JaMarcus Russell (Oakland in
2007), David Carr (Houston in 2002) and Tim Couch (Cleveland in
Unsurprisingly, those three teams are still looking for a franchise
The inexact science of the NFL Draft is also illustrated by teams
who have catapulted to success with less heralded players.
Three-time Super Bowl winning quarterback Tom Brady of the New
England Patriots was taken in the sixth round of the 2000 draft,
while reigning Super Bowl champion QB Russell Wilson was picked in
the third round in 2012 by the Seattle Seahawks.
(Reporting by Larry Fine; Editing by Frank Pingue)
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