Commentary

Five predictions for 2014 draft

Expect Houston to trade No. 1 pick and QB drama to be dominant storyline

Originally Published: May 7, 2014
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Change is in the air for the NFL draft.

Because of a scheduling conflict at Radio City Music Hall, the NFL moved the draft back two weeks. This move allows the NFL to study the future of the draft. The result could mean mid-May drafts, spreading the event over four days and moving it out of New York City.

I predict the draft will be in Chicago or some other city next year. The NFL will start to put draft sites up for bid and possibly move it from city to city in future years. The Radio City Music Hall conflict has opened the door for change.

Here are five other predictions for the draft:

1. The Houston Texans will trade the first pick in the draft. The Texans switched to a 3-4 defense in 2011 and went from being one of the worst defenses in the league to one of the best. But maintaining the outside linebacker position is dragging down the roster. The franchise is drafting high at outside linebacker too often and neglecting other positions. It let former first-rounder Mario Williams and former second-rounder Connor Barwin walk instead of paying them. They have been replaced by Whitney Mercilus and Brooks Reed, first- and second-round picks.

If the Texans take Jadeveon Clowney, they will have used two first-round and two second-round picks on outside linebacker/defensive end types since 2009. If they can't make a trade, it makes sense to take Clowney if they think he's the best player in the draft. But it makes more sense to trade. At the very least, the Texans could likely get a second-round pick this year and a first-rounder next year from the Atlanta Falcons to drop to the sixth overall pick.

The Texans will start by asking for a second- and third-rounder this year and a first-rounder in 2015 along with some midround choices. If they trade down, they probably could get their quarterback -- Johnny Manziel or Blake Bortles -- along with having two of the top five picks in the second round and a first-rounder next year. The alternative is taking Clowney and possibly giving up draft choices to trade into the first round to get a quarterback. Making the trade down is more logical.

2. Four quarterbacks will go in the first round, but their selections will be dramatic. Manziel will be the first quarterback taken. He is going to either Houston or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with an outside chance of him going to Cleveland. If the Minnesota Vikings pass on Bortles at No. 8 -- which is likely -- the next three quarterbacks could slide into the 20s and be picked by teams trading from the second round to get them.

Derek Carr of Fresno State said he has heard from four or five teams willing to trade up into the first round to get him. That's understandable. The Browns have a first-round pick at No. 26 and could target him if they draft a different position at No. 4. Houston, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Minnesota and maybe Tennessee are in the hunt for quarterbacks.

The Browns may have to move up from 26 to get Carr. Jacksonville and Minnesota might move into the first to get Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater, which creates interesting scenarios. The playoff teams drafting in the final 12 picks of the first round will be acquiring additional picks in a talent-rich draft to facilitate the weaker teams looking for quarterbacks.

[+] EnlargeMike Evans
AP Photo/Bob LeveyA probable top-10 pick, WR Mike Evans could compel interested teams to trade up.

3. At least two first-round trades will involve wide receivers. The Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions would love to find a way to land wide receiver Mike Evans, but there is no way he will fall to the ninth and 10th spots. The Buccaneers need a receiver and would have a tough time passing on Evans if he's available at No. 7.

The Lions might be willing to move a couple of spots for Evans, but the Bills might be willing to invest more heavily. It's not out of the question for them to move into the top three or four to get Sammy Watkins. Something will happen up top. Expect the San Francisco 49ers to trade up from No. 30 to get into a spot to get a top receiver. The 49ers have 11 picks, including an extra second and two extra thirds.

4. Four offensive linemen will go in the top 12. The St. Louis Rams will take either Jake Matthews or Greg Robinson with the second pick. Let's say the Rams take Matthews. Either Oakland or Cleveland will get Robinson. If the Falcons can't trade up and don't have a shot at Robinson or Matthews, they will take Taylor Lewan. Next up will be Zack Martin of Notre Dame. If tight end Eric Ebron goes in the top 11, I see Martin going to the Giants at No. 12.

5. Five wide receivers will go in the top 22. Watkins and Evans will likely go in the top seven. Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandin Cooks will go in the mid-teens, possibly to the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Jets. That could leave Marqise Lee for the Philadelphia Eagles, who have the 22nd pick. But don't forget the 49ers. They know they would have to trade above the Eagles to get one of the top five receivers, and they have the ammunition to make a deal happen.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer

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