A year ago, it was the rare quarterback stunner at the top of the draft – the Jacksonville Jaguars grabbed Blake Bortles with the No. 3 pick, completing one of the more impressive personnel concealments in recent memory, and leaving quarterback needy teams (like the Minnesota Vikings) scrambling for other options.
One AFC personnel man – whose team is selecting outside of the top 10 picks – claims he saw the Bortles ruse coming a year ago, and thinks the Jaguars are primed to stun the top of the draft again.
"I think the third spot could shock people [again]," the personnel man said, referring to Jacksonville. "I think they like [Amari] Cooper more than they are letting on. You hear things and they have been pretty good about what's getting out there. It's a lot like it was last year."
That would be one pick higher than anyone has anticipated a wide receiver coming off the board, as most have pointed to the Oakland Raiders at No. 4 overall as being the prime spot for either Cooper, the Alabama Crimson Tide star, or West Virginia's Kevin White. It could also trigger a wide receiver run earlier than anyone anticipated, posing a legitimate concern for multiple middle and late first-round teams that are said to be looking hard at the wide receiver crop. But before we get to that, back to the AFC personnel man, who has a rationale on Cooper.
Heading into the 2014 draft process, he believed the Jaguars would seriously consider taking a quarterback at No. 3 overall – a player he believed would likely be Bortles. But he was puzzled when some of his connections in the state of Florida told him that Jacksonville wasn't showing strong interest in the UCF quarterback, despite meeting with him at the NFL scouting combine. All of which would make sense at a later date, when general manager David Caldwell revealed that he withheld his preference on Bortles from his own staff until almost the week of the draft.
That radio silence seemingly threw off most NFL front offices. But the AFC personnel man said Caldwell tipped his hand late on Bortles in an unexpected way – with a comment to the media just days before the first round kicked off.
"He said something about [Johnny] Manziel being the guy who was most ready to be a starter in the NFL – most ready to adapt or whatever," the personnel man said with a chuckle. "All of the sudden it's 'The Jaguars think Manziel is the best quarterback?'
"Now, [Caldwell] can be conservative in some respects. But to sell that with Manziel, I knew right then that he was full of [expletive]. The day I heard that, I told one of my coaches, 'I think they're on Bortles.'"
How that translates to Cooper remains to be seen. There hasn't been a lot of buzz about the marriage of the Jaguars and the Heisman Trophy finalist, largely because Cooper doesn't seem like a natural fit. The team already has three sizable young wide receivers in Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee. If anything, the Jaguars look more like a candidate for a slot wideout later in the draft. They also added tight end Julius Thomas and have many pressing needs on defense. This is why Florida outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. has been the anticipated selection at No. 3.
But those realities didn't sway this particular personnel man, who believes the top priority of a team with a potential franchise quarterback is to find a dominant No. 1 receiver to grow with him.
"Which of their receivers has the potential to be elite at his position and how many of them were healthy?" the personnel man asked. "They were [31st] in passing [last season]. … Maybe Cooper is the best player in the draft. If that's the case, you make two positions better with that pick – and one of the positions you're improving is the most important in the game."
One thing is certain: If Cooper unexpectedly goes off the board at No. 3, it could trigger a wide receiver run that already appears to be taking shape. As it stands, the Raiders, Chicago Bears and St. Louis Rams are three top 10 teams that all did a heavy amount of scouting in this wide receiver class. After that, multiple league sources have indicated that the Vikings (No. 11), Cleveland Browns (Nos. 12 and 19), New Orleans Saints (No. 13), San Francisco 49ers (No. 15) and Houston Texans (No. 16) have all taken serious looks the top end of the wide receiver class. The Cincinnati Bengals are also sitting at No. 21 and have been eying wideouts as well.
Of all the positions in the draft, the biggest first-round feeding frenzy is likeliest to occur at wide receiver. And according to the draft plateaus, once the top three guys are off the board (Cooper, White and Louisville's DeVante Parker), things could get wild with the next rung of talent (UCF's Breshad Perriman, USC's Nelson Agholor, Arizona State's Jaelen Strong and Oklahoma's Dorial Green-Beckham).
Green-Beckham might be the name to watch out of that second tier of receivers. Most evaluators believe he has the talent to be among the first tier, if not for off-field concerns. But that hasn't stopped wideout hungry teams from bringing Green-Beckham in for a visit. Multiple sources have told Yahoo Sports that while he has been removed from a lot of draft boards, at least a few teams have done deep dives into his life that suggest they've got the green light from ownership to take him. Don't be surprised if he gets snapped up at Houston's pick at 16 or the Bengals at 21.