The 2014 NFL Draft is projected to be very strong and extremely top-heavy. There is a franchise quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, one of most highly rated defensive ends in NFL Draft history, Jadeveon Clowney, and a prototype wide receiver in Marqise Lee.
All three players are at positions of need for the Oakland Raiders, who are projected by every mock draft, power ranking and all the bookies in Las Vegas to be one of the three teams picking at the top of the 2014 NFL Draft (along with the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Arizona Cardinals).
Raiders’ GM Reggie McKenzie sent several players packing this offseason, replacing them with stop-gap measures as he finalized his cleansing of the mangled salary cap he inherited. A few promising rookies and the return of Charles Woodson won’t change the fact that Dennis Allen will be coaching a less talented roster this fall than the one he led to a 4-12 record in 2012.
Vegas currently has the Raiders Over/Under bet for wins in 2013 at 5.5 games, tied with the Cardinals for second lowest, just above the Jaguars at 5 games, (these three teams also have the longest Super Bowl odds).
The 2013 NFL Draft was universally hailed as an average crop with few true impact players, little discernible difference in talent among the top 15 picks in the first round and it included one of the weakest quarterback classes ever.
The 2014 Draft is much sexier. There is an elite defensive end and a stud quarterback who would’ve both been locks to go No. 1 overall in the 2013 Draft as sophomores, and a wide receiver who would’ve also been the first player chosen at his position if sophomores were eligible for the NFL Draft.
While the reality of a long season ahead is sobering, finishing with one of the worst records in the NFL in 2013 could jumpstart the rebuilding in Oakland – especially if the Raiders’ nearly $70 million of 2014 cap space is spent wisely.
Jadeveon Clowney has been the No. 1 player in his class since high school, a 6-foot-6, 274 pound, heat-seeking missile, said to run a 4.46 40-yard-dash (feel free to read that again). If Julius Peppers had a faster younger brother, his name might be Jadeveon. Clowney’s devastating hit against Michigan has become legendary, named as the top play in all of sports at the 2013 ESPY’s. But Clowney does stuff like that all day long, and this kid’s got a nasty streak that might help the Raiders’ defense bring back the mean ‘ole days.
Considered by some as the highest rated defensive end prospect in NFL history, this South Carolina Gamecock will be eating QB’s for breakfast on Saturday’s in the SEC this fall, and he is a lock to be taken first or second overall in next year’s draft.
Teddy Bridgewater was a four-star dual-threat quarterback coming out of high school, and in his two years at Louisville he has leaped up mock drafts to the top of a very deep 2014 quarterback draft class with his incredible poise, accuracy, strong arm and mobility. Named a Freshman All-American by numerous sources Teddy was even more impressive as a sophomore, and at 6-foot-3 220 pounds he has ideal size.
Raised under difficult circumstances in Miami even before his mother was diagnosed with cancer, this young man is mature far beyond his years, offering leadership and intangibles similar to those that Russell Wilson brought to the Seattle Seahawks last year.
Teddy is deceptive with his play-action fakes, displays great mobility in the pocket, eluding defenders while always keeping his eyes downfield; Bridgewater is a mobile QB who looks to make big plays — with his arm.
USC’s Marqise Lee probably won’t be drafted ahead of Bridgewater or Clowney, but Lee’s first two years with the Trojans have shown how dynamic he can be as a receiver and returner. If one of the current Raider quarterbacks showed starting potential in 2013, this explosive playmaker would be an excellent way to accelerate his growth, and augment the offense.
Oakland’s home opener against the Jaguars in week 2 could be huge, and the loser of that game may be glad they lost once the 2014 NFL Draft rolls around, (although head-to-head isn’t a tiebreaker in draft order).
Look at it this way, if the Raiders season is starting to spiral out of control this fall, you’re going to have ample reason follow the best players in all of college football, and after seeing the impact these special talents can have — you’ll be awful grateful the Raiders didn’t trade their 2014 first-round pick for Carson Palmer.