The wait is almost over and the NFL draft is near. Thursday night starts off the three day event which is the most covered sports event of the year. The NFL draft is not just the three day affair, but it is talked, written about and scrutinized 52 weeks and 365 days a year.
The New Orleans Saints pick 27th overall in Round One and speculation is rampant on what will occur draft night.
I really do believe that the Saints will seriously explore the possibility of moving up in Round One to acquire one of the top “speed” receivers in the draft in either USC’s Marqise Lee or Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks, but the guy most “Who Dat” followers want, LSU’s Odell Beckham, will be long gone before the 20th overall selection.
Matter of fact Beckham could surpass Michael Clayton as the highest drafted Tiger wide receiver in the modern era of the NFL draft. Clayton was the 15th overall selection in the 2004 NFL draft.
A trade back in Round One for extra picks later in this very rich draft class is also a possibility.
But I really believe the target wide receiver for the Saints in Round One is USC’s Marqise Lee. Lee has had a very tough journey to the NFL.
Lee’s parents are both deaf and he communicates with them via sign language. He had a very difficult childhood and he moved a number of times throughout his childhood staying with his mother and grandparents.
His father was not regularly involved in his life and both of his brothers were involved in gangs. One of his brothers was murdered in a gang-related shooting and his other brother was in jail in Arizona on an attempted murder charge.
He started high school living in a foster home before a high school friend’s family took him in. Lee blossomed into one of the best prep receivers and track athletes in the country when he came out of Serra High School in California.
Marqise was not just a good player as a freshman and sophomore, but a dominant player in the PAC-12 and the best receiver in the conference.
Headed into the 2013 college football season I ranked Lee as the 7th best player available for the 2014 NFL draft and now there is a strong chance he could be available at the #20 spot in Round One.
Despite being derailed by injuries as a junior Lee owns or shares 22 USC records and he caught 191 passes for 2,864 yards, averaged 15.0 yards per catch and scored 24 touchdowns for USC.
He also averaged 28.5 yards per runback on 40 kickoffs and he returned 2 back for scores. In three seasons Lee accounted for 4,144 all-purpose yards and scored 27 touchdowns.
Lee was such a great athlete that he competed on the Trojan track team as a long-jumper and sprinter.
Former USC defensive line coach/recruiting coordinator and interim head coach Ed Orgeron is a huge fan of Marqise Lee.
“As a person Marqise is a fine young man, very polite and very respectful,” said Orgeron. “He grew up in the inner city and had a tough childhood, but he is someone that you really pull for. As a player he was terrific for us at USC, but he still has plenty of untapped potential. If he is there in the 20’s in Round One he is a steal of a pick for whoever gets him.”
Stanford head coach David Shaw says that Lee is one of the best wide receivers he has ever seen.
“Marqise Lee is the best college wide receiver I’ve seen since I scouted Randy Moss,” Shaw said.
He is a value pickup for whatever team selects him if gets further than the 18h overall selection, he’s that good. In my opinion, if the Saints decide to trade up for a wide receiver, the choice is USC’s Marqise Lee.
If the Saints decide not to trade upward in Round One there are three players to watch for late in opening round. Ohio State outside linebacker Ryan Shazier, Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller and Alabama inside linebacker C.J. Mosley are three that could be on the board when the Saints pick at #27.
Shazier was a prep defensive end at Plantation High School in Florida. He originally decided to verbally commit to Florida, but when head coach Urban Meyer decided to retire due to health reasons he took recruiting trips to LSU and Ohio State before he changed his mind and became a Buckeye
The 6-1 ½, 238 pounder has led the Buckeyes in tackles the past two seasons and recorded 306 tackles over the last three seasons.
Shazier ran an eye-catching (4.36) 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine, but what was impressive over the past two seasons was watching the big plays generated by the super-quick flow linebacker.
Over the past two seasons Shazier has recorded 39 ½ tackles for losses, 11 quarterback sacks and 7 forced fumbles.
And he is also a very good cover-linebacker and this is so important in a league that stresses matches downfield.
His speed, ability to create negative plays and his top of the line coverage skills and foot speed make him an inviting target late in Round One.
Like Shazier, one of the most underrated players in the draft class of 2014 is Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller. Fuller comes from a very athletic family.
His older brother, Vincent Fuller, was a standout at Virginia Tech and he played safety for the Tennessee Titans, Detroit Lions and New England Patriots.
Another brother, Corey Fuller, played wide receiver at Virginia Tech and he was drafted in the sixth round of the 2013 draft by the Detroit Lions.
His younger brother, Kendall, is a standout cornerback for the Hokies.
Fuller started 7 games as a true freshman for the Hokies and has been a fulltime starter the past three seasons.
The fleet footed Fuller has recorded 32 pass deflections and 6 pass interceptions the past three seasons and he has also been a strong run defender racking up 141 tackles despite missing time late in the 2013 season due to a sports hernia injury.
The 6-0, 192 pounder has very good one-on-one coverage skills and excellent ball reaction skills.
He is also very effective coming off the edge as a blitzer and he has been a standout on special teams.
Fuller would be a quality selection at the #27 position.
One player that I think has an outside shot to still be hanging around at the #27 spot would be Alabama inside linebacker C.J. Mosley. Like what happened to current Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan in 2011 I could see a scenario that occurs that has Mosley falling to the Saints’ pick.
While it is not the most likely event to occur no one thought Deuce McAllister, Will Smith and Cameron Jordan would last as long as they did in Round One.
I have Mosley rated the 23rd best overall player and he has lived up to his high school press clippings at linebacker. In high school Mosley recorded over 500 tackles.
To be honest, if you are not a great pass rusher, the linebacker position has been devalued in some quarters similar to that of the halfback spot.
But over the past two seasons the 6-2, 235 pound Mosley had been quite a force in the SEC totaling 215 tackles and 23 tackles for losses.
Watching Mosley closely since he left Theodore High School he is one of the most instinctive defensive players in this draft class and also one of the top cover-linebackers available in 2014.
During his Alabama career Mosley had 19 pass break-ups and 5 pass interceptions.
Mosley is a quality athlete who rarely takes a false step to the football, he is a 1st class openfield tackler and he is a physical player at the point of attack.
In the best draft class I have ever done from a depth standpoint in 27 years and the window of opportunity there for the Saints to make a serious run to the Super Bowl in 2014 who they select and how quickly they can contribute will help them get that down that tough road.
Just remember on a very good 2013 New Orleans Saints team the contributions of the rookies in Kenny Vaccaro, Kenny Stills, John Jenkins, Terron Armstead and Khiry Robinson, and the potential of offensive center Tim Lelito, tight end Josh Hill, outside linebacker Rufus Johnson, cornerback Rod Sweeting, quarterback Ryan Griffin and defensive tackle Glenn Foster.
This shapes up as one of the most intriguing draft days I have ever done.
Here is my take on Round One
1. Houston Texans- Jadeveon Clowney-DE. South Carolina
2. St. Louis Rams (from Wash. R.)- Greg Robinson-OT. Auburn
3. Jacksonville Jaguars- Khalil Mack-OLB. Buffalo
4. Cleveland Browns- Sammy Watkins-WR. Clemson
5. Oakland Raiders- Johnny Manziel-QB. Texas A&M
6. Atlanta Falcons- Jake Matthews-OT. Texas A&M
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers- Mike Evans-WR. Texas A&M
8. Minnesota Vikings- Blake Bortles-QB. Central Florida
9. Buffalo Bills- Eric Ebron-TE. North Carolina
10. Detroit Lions- Taylor Lewan-OT. Michigan
11. Tennessee Titans- Justin Gilbert-CB. Oklahoma State
12. New York Giants- Anthony Barr-OLB./DE. UCLA
13. St. Louis Rams- Odell Beckham, Jr.-WR. LSU
14. Chicago Bears- Aaron Donald-DT. Pittsburgh
15. Pittsburgh Steelers- Darqueze Dennard-CB. Michigan State
16. Dallas Cowboys- Ha Ha Clinton Dix-S. Alabama
17. Baltimore Ravens- Zack Martin-OT./OG. Notre Dame
18. New York Jets- Brandin Cooks-WR. Oregon State
19. Miami Dolphins- C.J. Mosley-ILB. Alabama
20. Arizona Cardinals- Teddy Bridgewater-QB. Louisville
21. Green Bay Packers- Timmy Jernigan-DT. Florida State
22. Philadelphia Eagles- Marqise Lee-WR. USC
23. Kansas City Chiefs- Calvin Pryor-FS. Louisville
24. Cincinnati Bengals- Bradley Roby-CB. Ohio State
25. San Diego Chargers- Dee Ford-DE./OLB. Auburn
26. Cleveland Browns(from Indy Colts)- Derek Carr-QB. Fresno State
27. New Orleans Saints- Ryan Shazier-OLB. Ohio State
28. Carolina Panthers- Kyle Fuller-CB. Virginia Tech
29. New England Patriots- RaShede Hageman-DT. Minnesota
30. San Francisco 49ers- Louis Nix III-DT. Notre Dame
31. Denver Broncos- Jason Verrett-CB. TCU
32. Seattle Seahawks- Austin Seferian-Jenkins-TE. Washington
Watch for the Centers
In the draft class of 2014 there are two centers, Colorado State’s Weston Richburg and USC’s Marcus Martin that rate as solid second round pick selections.
Richburg, 6-3, 300, played quarterback as a freshman at Bushland High School in Texas before growing out of the position.
His durability is a strong point to his game as he has started 49 times for Colorado State which is a school record. What jumps out about Richburg is how athletic he is for a 300-pounder and he plays the game with excellent leverage skills.
At the 2014 Senior Bowl Richburg was one of the few offensive linemen who won his fair share of battles with the most dominant player on the field in Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald. While he still needs some work on his pass protection techniques Richburg excels as a run blocker and he gets a strong initial surge up the field.
Marcus Martin was considered one of the elite offensive linemen on the West Coast when he came out of Crenshaw High School in California.
As a true freshman he started the final 10 games of the 2011 season and became the first Trojan true freshman to start at offensive guard since 2004.
Martin started again at offensive guard in 2012 before being moved to the offensive center spot in 2013. He earned 1st team All-PAC-12 honors as a junior and started all 13 regular season games for the Trojans before dislocating his kneecap in the season finale and he did not play in the Las Vegas Bowl. Martin announced after the season that he was giving up his senior season of college football to turn pro early.
The 6-3, 320 pounder has made the rounds to a number of teams including the New Orleans Saints lately as they put a final look in on his kneecap injury from the 2013 season.
In watching film on Martin is a very good technician as both a run blocker and pass protector and a very alert player out on the field. He fires off the snap quickly and does a nice job controlling the man in front of him and he did a very good job in his only season at center for the Trojans.
Martin still needs to become a more physical player at the point of attack with defenders, but he is smart, explosive in firing off the snap, technically sound and he has good quickness/agility skills in adjusting to movement upfront.
Both these young men have seen work at both guard and center in college and their versatility is a huge plus. In one of the toughest positions you will find on the field to start as a rookie in my opinion both Martin and Richburg look like good starting offensive centers in the NFL, but they may both start their NFL careers at the guard spot.