NEW YORK – Let's say there's a wide receiver who was the best at his position in a major conference, leading in yards for two years in a row, and he was 6-foot-2 with sub-4.5 speed. Would he be a first-round NFL draft pick?
And let's say there's another receiver with nearly the same height and weight as Calvin Johnson (6-5, 240 pounds), with big-game experience, huge hands (10 ¼ inches) and rapid improvement through his final season in college ball. Would he be a first-rounder?
Penn State's Allen Robinson and Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin would probably be first-round locks in any other draft year. In 2014, with a bevy of wideouts possessing first-round talent, those two receivers could go in the second or even the third round.
Then there are the quarterbacks: hot stocks with slippery mocks. Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville), Blake Bortles (Central Florida) and Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M) could all go early on Thursday night or fall out of the first round. In most other years, at least one quarterback draws swoons from general managers and scouts. This year, it seems every quarterback is wearing a hazmat suit.
The intrigue at both positions – the boatload of talent at wide receiver and the hard-to-figure status of the big three quarterbacks – might make this year's second round more important than any in recent memory. Front-office careers are made and lost with first-round choices, but with so many underclassmen entering this year's draft (98), the most franchise-defining choices might be made in the second.
It's almost a sure bet that some teams are going to look very good after Day 2. A year ago, Jacksonville Jaguars fans were looking ahead at the possibility of their team choosing between Jadeveon Clowney (South Carolina) and Bridgewater. Now, it's not out of the realm of possibility that the Jags could get both players (at pick Nos. 3 and 39). It's similar for a team like the Houston Texans or the Oakland Raiders, who could trade down with a team like the Atlanta Falcons or Detroit Lions, watch one of those teams draft Clowney, and still get a top defensive tackle like Aaron Donald (Pittsburgh) or Anthony Barr (UCLA) and then get a developmental quarterback in the second round. (The Texans could even trade down and still get Buffalo's Khalil Mack, who is a pass rusher like Clowney with the same 40-yard time and a better vertical jump).
The Carolina Panthers picked a good offseason to help Cam Newton find some targets. They let Steve Smith go earlier this year in a decision that has worried many in Charlotte, but imagine a target like Benjamin in Carolina's offense. It's even possible that the Panthers could have wide receiver options in the first round and again in the second: a problem position could become a source of depth in two days.
It's not just Benjamin and Robinson, either. Jarvis Landry (LSU), Donte Moncrief (Mississippi), Jordan Matthews (Vanderbilt), Martavis Bryant (Clemson) and Davante Adams (Fresno State) will all probably be around in the second round on Friday. And if there's a run on receivers in the first Thursday, suddenly the demand for those players starts to spike. What might be most interesting about the first two days is that teams trading down in the draft might make out a lot better than teams that trade up. Dropping 10 spots or even a round could still yield the player a team originally targeted. If there are deals over the course of the first two days, some teams might end up feeling that they got desired talent "for free."
The most thrilling (and nerve-wracking) part of all this second-round drama will center on the quarterbacks. Falling prospects like Bridgewater and rising names like Tom Savage (Pittsburgh) could create a logjam of passing talent in the second round. It's likely that at least one of the quarterbacks picked in Round 2 will end up with a first-round career, and it's quite possible that particular passer will be taken after someone who ends up struggling in the pros. What will a team like Tampa Bay or Oakland do if Bridgewater, Savage, Derek Carr (Fresno State) and Jimmy Garoppolo (Eastern Illinois) are all available in Round 2? One of those players, if not more, will be a steal in Round 2.
Lastly, the second-round depth might have the effect of turning the traditional last-shall-be-first quality of the draft on its head. San Francisco, for years on the doorstep of a Super Bowl, has six picks in the top 100 (and 11 total). Even one of those selections could make a major difference for a team that's already close to a championship. Or, the Niners could bundle some picks and trade up for another receiving weapon on offense. (Frank Gore, incredibly, is still the horse at running back and shows little sign of needing help.) Seattle made one crucial move in trading for Percy Harvin that cemented its Super Bowl title. The Niners might make a decision this Friday that lifts them past their rivals.
Or they could simply wait for all that talent to come to them. It's unlikely Colin Kaepernick would complain if his team took a sure-handed receiver to complement Michael Crabtree.
Someone like, say, Allen Robinson or Kelvin Benjamin.
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