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As I've mentioned many times during the past few months, there isn't a ton of separation among the top three quarterback prospects in the 2014 draft. I have UCF's Blake Bortles ranked No. 9 overall on my board with a grade of 93, with Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater at No. 15 (91 grade) and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel at No. 16 (91 grade). But there isn't a consensus regarding these quarterbacks among teams, and evaluators could place varying levels of importance on different deciding factors.

With that in mind, we are taking a look at how the three QBs fared in key categories with the help of ESPN Stats & Information's Sharon Katz, explaining the cases in which the stats do or don't back up what I've seen on tape from these three passers.

Downfield passing

Katz: Bortles had the shortest average pass distance (7.8 yards past the line) of these three last season. However, when he attempted a pass downfield, Bortles was extremely accurate. Among automatic qualifier conference quarterbacks, only Tajh Boyd (54.7 percent) had a higher completion percentage than Bortles on passes thrown 20 yards or longer downfield (minimum 30 attempts). It is important to note that even though he ranks third of three in this category, Bridgewater was among the nation's top quarterbacks on intermediate passes. On passes between 6 and 14 yards downfield, Bridgewater had the highest completion percentage of any AQ quarterback (75.5 percent) and did not throw an interception in 151 attempts. About half of his passes of this distance were to the left or right sidelines (often regarded as more difficult intermediate passes), and he completed an AQ-high 74.3 percent of those sideline passes.

McShay: These results are dead-on compared to what I see on tape from all three of these guys.

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IRVING, Texas -- Day 2 of reviewing the Dallas Cowboys' last five drafts continues today with the Class of 2010.

If you want our thoughts on the 2009 draft, click here.

First-round pick: Dez Bryant (No. 24 overall)

Bryant
Bryant
Number of picks: 6

How they did: The Cowboys landed two building-block players in Bryant and Sean Lee. Bryant is coming off back-to-back 90-catch, 1,000-yard seasons and is dynamic. Lee is the leader of the defense and its best player, when healthy. Health has been a key issue for Lee since he has yet to play a full season because of injuries.

Sixth-round pick Sam Young is still in the league (Buffalo Bills) and the Cowboys landed a draft pick in return for their seventh rounder Sean Lissemore in a trade last summer with the San Diego Chargers. Lissemore was a quality pick but no longer a scheme fit with the change to the 4-3.

Pivotal pick: Injuries at Penn State kept Lee (No. 55 overall) out of the first round, but the Cowboys were willing to be patient with him because they sensed a special talent. He loves football in a way few players love the game and he is willing to put in the work. Had Lee been healthy, the Cowboys would not have been able to get him in the second round. Lee has been a playmaker since he joined the team and the Cowboys gave him a $42 million contract extension last summer.

Best pick: Bryant (No. 24 overall) slipped because of offseason concerns but the Cowboys moved up to get him and felt they could provide him with the best atmosphere to succeed. They did this less than two seasons after trading for Roy Williams and seeing Miles Austin make the Pro Bowl in 2009. They didn't need a wide receiver, but Bryant was too good to pass up. Williams was eventually cut and injuries led to Austin's departure this offseason. Bryant is now one of the best receivers in the NFL and coming off his first Pro Bowl.

Worst pick: Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (No. 126 overall) put together a fantastic highlight tape and he tested great at the NFL scouting combine and at a pro day. Unfortunately his skills from Division II Indiana (Pa.) never translated. He played cornerback, but the Cowboys made him a safety and when that didn't work they made him a receiver. He was supposed to be a top kick returner but averaged only 21.7 yards per return. Seven picks after Owusu-Ansah the Seattle Seahawks took safety Kam Chancellor in the fifth round.
Mock drafts are an ever-changing beast. In the case of the Houston Chronicle's John McClain, this week's about-face was a big one.

After sending Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel to the Houston Texans in his first two drafts, his mock revealed today has the team selecting Jadeveon Clowney.

While I've never gotten the sense that the Texans are all that enamored with any of the quarterbacks -- in part because of statements made by both general manager Rick Smith and head coach Bill O'Brien -- McClain has vehemently insisted the Texans will take a quarterback with the top pick. The thought has crossed my mind that the team's comments could very well have been smokescreens.

When Houston signed quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, McClain wrote it was another sign that the Texans will take a quarterback with the top pick. Less than two weeks ago, while poking a little fun at himself for thinking the Texans would take Reggie Bush first overall in 2006, he reiterated his tendency toward a quarterback.

I texted McClain to ask for a couple lines about why he made the switch.

"Bortles started but was benched for Manziel, who was sacked by Clowney," he quipped. "I have 3 mocks left and I hope to get one right."

Chances are, he will!

Draft season is misinformation season. Some of what we reporters hear in our research is true. Some of it isn't. It's hard to separate what we know from what we think we know. It's best not to take mock drafts (or ourselves) too seriously.

And while there is a growing sentiment that Clowney will be the Texans' choice, consider this: Clowney is also the Texans' best chance at trading the first overall pick.
Could North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron be about the surest thing the Tennessee Titans could draft if he's on the board at No. 11?

It's not a big position of need with Delanie Walker on the roster.

Ebron
But the Titans do have a head coach who was an NFL tight end in Ken Whisenhunt. Whisenhunt's tight ends coach has been an NFL head coach with two different teams. Mike Mularkey was also a NFL tight end.

"I highly doubt Ebron would be available for the Titans," ESPN.com's resident scout, Matt Williamson said. "But I do think they would love to have him. Still, I am high enough on Walker that tight end wouldn't be my top priority."

Ty Schalter of Bleacher Report did an interesting piece on he likelihood of players panning out based on how they ultimately score in Pro Football Reference's Approximate Value.

Schalter looked at first- and second-round picks over 10 drafts whose players have at least three years of NFL experience.

"Just 14.8 percent of top-pick tight ends go three years without standing out," Schalter writes. "An incredible 81.4 percent of them make a big impact in either their first or second years. Just one tight end in this entire data set, Anthony Fasano, flopped in his first two seasons and blossomed in his third. Generally speaking, if a tight end hasn't become good after two years, he isn't going to."

Recent history bodes well for a top-rated tight end contributing early. How much that plays into the thinking of the team that takes him is something we may never know.

Examining the what-if QB question

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Only one team in the last 40 years has drafted a quarterback in the first round the year after picking one within the first two rounds -- the Carolina Panthers, who chose Cam Newton in 2011 to replace Jimmy Clausen, a second-rounder.

Could the New York Jets become the second team?

Unlikely, but it's a good talking point because of the uncertainty regarding the top three quarterbacks -- Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel. In his weekly Monday Morning Quarterback column, Sports Illustrated's Peter King notes that four quarterback-needy teams in the top six are thinking hard about waiting until after their first pick to address the position. The teams: The Houston Texans (No. 1), Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 3), Cleveland Browns (No. 4) and Oakland Raiders (No. 5). The Minnesota Vikings (No. 8) didn't make the list, but they're also looking for a quarterback.

If one of the top three quarterbacks gets past the Vikings, it's possible he could fall all the way to the Jets at No. 18. What, then? It certainly would add to the drama at Radio City. Would the Jets, only one year removed from choosing Geno Smith in the second round, take another quarterback?

First of all, this isn't a Carolina situation for two reasons: Unlike Clausen, Smith showed some promise as a rookie. In addition, the Panthers owned the No. 1 pick when they drafted Newton, who was deemed a legitimate franchise quarterback. Most talent evaluators agree there are no quarterbacks of that ilk in this year's draft, just a group of intriguing prospects that fall into the good-not-great category.

Some believe the most likely to fall is Bridgewater, once considered a top-five pick. (Sound familiar, Geno?) If he slips to the Jets, they'd have to ask themselves: Is he better than Smith and could he be our starting quarterback in 2015? Personally, I'd pull the trigger if it were Manziel.

The organization is hopeful that Smith can become their long-term starter, but it's not sold on him. If that were the case, Michael Vick wouldn't be here. If the Jets have a strong conviction on Bridgewater (or any others), and he's clearly the best player on their board, they should take him. This is a quarterback-driven league, and you can't have sustainable success (where have we heard that before?) without a good quarterback.

That said, it would an upset if the Jets go in that direction. They have too many other needs and they're not ready to abandon Smith after only one season. If they picked a quarterback, the Smith trade rumors would begin about 30 seconds after the selection. Could you imagine Rex Ryan's reaction if his general manager picks a player that probably wouldn't be able to help until 2015? He'd have to pull a Sir Laurence Olivier to convince the fans he's on board with that one.

A similar situation played out in 2006, when the Jets were looking to move on from Chad Pennington. With the fourth pick, they resisted the quarterback temptation, passing on Matt Leinart to take tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson. They later looked into trading up for Leinart as he began to slide, but they wisely made no deal, walking out of the first round with Ferguson and center Nick Mangold.

In the end, this could all be a moot point because you know how teams react around draft time: When they're desperate for a quarterback, they panic and reach. If it turns out that Bortles, Bridgewater and Manziel are picked in the top 17, it would benefit the Jets, as it would push a "need" player or two down to them.
The Pittsburgh Steelers continue to examine the best cornerbacks in this year's draft, playing host to TCU's Jason Verrett on a pre-draft visit Monday.

Verrett is considered a top-five cornerback in this draft, and he could be taken as early as the bottom half of the first round. It's likely a stretch for the Steelers to select him at No. 15.

If Verrett slid into the second round, he would be a possibility for the Steelers, even though the team typically doesn't address the cornerback position until the middle rounds. Cornerback is a need for the Steelers because 33-year-old Ike Taylor is heading into the final year of his contract. Verrett totaled 43 passes defended and nine interceptions in three productive years at TCU.

The Steelers had Darqueze Dennard, one of the most highly rated cornerbacks, in for a pre-draft visit earlier this month.

The Steelers also brought in Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton and Arizona cornerback Shaquille Richardson for pre-draft visits Monday. It's a surprise to see Crichton meeting with the Steelers because he projects to be a defensive end in a 4-3 defense. He has limited experience in dropping into coverage, and he's not seen as an ideal fit for an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense like the one the Steelers employ.

A second-round prospect, Crichton finished with 7.5 sacks last season. He was recently rated as the seventh-best defensive end by Mel Kiper.

Richardson is projected to go in the fifth round. He's a long-armed defender who had some inconsistencies in coverage last season.
Over the last two weeks, we took a look at the last 10 first rounds from the Detroit Lions -- all of the drafts that had Martin Mayhew as either the team's general manager or assistant general manager.

This week, we're looking specifically as the Lions' drafts since 2009, when Mayhew has been in charge. This will be a look at the entire class, not just the first round picks, which garner the most attention.

We'll take a peek at each of the drafts, what worked, what didn't and one pick that in retrospect we would change with Detroit. Hopefully, this can also give a window into the way Mayhew drafts and some of the decisions he has made in the past that could help influence the 2014 draft and beyond.

[+] EnlargeMatthew Stafford
Rodger Mallison/Getty ImagesThe Lions scored a hit with Matthew Stafford -- the top overall pick of the 2009 draft.
Complete draft (pick number in parentheses): Round 1 -- Matthew Stafford, QB, Georgia (1); Round 1 -- Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Oklahoma State (20); Round 2 -- Louis Delmas, S, Western Michigan (33); Round 3 -- DeAndre Levy, LB, Wisconsin (76); Round 3 -- Derrick Williams, WR, Penn State (82); Round 4 -- Sammie Hill, DT, Stillman (115); Round 6 -- Aaron Brown, RB, TCU (192); Round 7 -- Lydon Murtha, OT, Nebraska (228); Round 7 -- Zack Follett, LB, California (235); Round 7 -- Dan Gronkowski, TE, Maryland (255).

Picks left on the 2014 roster: 3 (Stafford, Pettigrew, Levy)

Picks left in the NFL at the end of the 2013 season: 5 (Stafford, Pettigrew, Delmas, Levy, Hill)

Best pick: Stafford. This might seem like the easy selection, but in his first five seasons in the league he has set franchise records and actually become the best Lions quarterback since Bobby Layne. Of course, that's not exactly a high bar considering the motley group of quarterbacks between Layne and Stafford, but he is a strong-armed quarterback who turned out to be, by far, the best quarterback in his draft class.

Thus far in his career, Stafford has thrown for 17,457 yards, 109 touchdowns and 73 interceptions. While his accuracy (career 59.5 percent passer in the regular season) and decision-making are still major questions for him entering his sixth season with the Lions, the team has completely committed to him after giving him a massive contract extension prior to the 2013 season. For better or for worse, Detroit will be at the mercy of the play of its newly-engaged quarterback.

Worst pick: Williams. The third round pick signed a three-year deal with the Lions when he was drafted out of Penn State and didn't even it make it to the end of his first contract before being released. Williams played in 18 games during his two seasons with the Lions and caught nine passes for 82 yards. He never caught a touchdown. Even more telling -- he only had 17 targets and only 14 yards after the catch in his career.

Best value pick: Levy. The No. 76 overall pick, Levy took a step this season toward becoming one of the top linebackers in the NFL. He had 118 tackles in 2013 -- the second time in his career he topped the 100-tackle mark -- and also had six interceptions. He was Detroit's second-best defensive player in 2013 behind Ndamukong Suh and appears to be heading into the prime of his career. He graded out as the seventh-best 4-3 outside linebacker in the league this season by Pro Football Focus and the third-best in pass coverage. Considering the mess that was the 2009 draft, if teams were to re-draft today, Levy could have been a late first-rounder in 2009.

One pick I'd change (other than the worst one): This one will be a little bit shocking, mostly because it is a higher pick and not fixing part of the Lions' late round miscues this season. If I had to switch one pick in this draft, it would have been taking Jairus Byrd over Delmas in the second round. This has little to do with Delmas' production as he was a good player for the Lions and a starter during his time with the tea,. Rather, Byrd went less than 10 slots later and has turned into a Pro Bowler who was too expensive for Detroit during free agency. He would have offered more stability at the position than Delmas did and would have been healthier as well.

Draft grade overall: B. Detroit got four starters out of this draft class -- Stafford, Pettigrew, Delmas and Levy -- and a contributor for four seasons in Hill. That's not terrible out of a 10-pick class where four of those picks were sixth or seventh round selections. The Lions ended up hitting on their first four picks in that draft with those four starters. Detroit should want that type of success rate every draft. The reason the grade on this draft is not higher is because none of the starters have made a Pro Bowl yet or been named All-Pro. But they have been solid starters and two of those players, Stafford and Levy, could end up at that elite level soon.
With 25 days until the NFL draft begins, here is another potential draft prospect for the Baltimore Ravens:

MARTAVIS BRYANT

Position: Wide receiver

School: Clemson

Height/weight: 6-4, 2111

Round projection: Second or third round

File this away: Bryant set a Clemson school record with a career average of 22.1 yards per reception.

Good: Bryant is a dynamic vertical threat because of his height and above-average straight line speed. His long arms and ability to jump makes him a good target in the red zone (all four of his catches inside the 20-yard line went for touchdowns). He is constantly moving the chains, with 83.3 percent of his catches resulting in first downs. His 4.42-second 40-yard dash time was tied for fifth among wide receivers at the combine.

Bad: Playing opposite Sammy Watkins, the best receiver in this draft, Bryant has the label of being a complementary receiver and not a No. 1 one. There wasn't consistent production from Bryant, who had one 100-yard game last season. He disappeared late in games with five fourth-quarter catches. Concentration trouble led to him not catching the ball cleanly at times.

Bottom line: Bryant has been linked to the Ravens because his ability to stretch the field would work well with Joe Flacco's strong arm. I don't see the Ravens taking him in the second round because Bryant is too one dimensional. If he was available in the third, he could be considered by the Ravens. But his playmaking ability has caused some to think he'll get drafted higher than expected.

Eagles will focus on best available player

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As of now, the Philadelphia Eagles hold six picks in the 2014 NFL Draft.

It's their fewest amount of selections since 2003.

This is subject to change since trades can be made and extra picks can always be acquired.

One year after having the No. 4 overall selection, the Eagles will pick No. 22 in the first round.

Philadelphia has its own selection in rounds one, two, three, four, five and seven. The Eagles previously had the New England Patriots' pick in the fifth round in a trade for Isaac Sopoaga, but they traded it to the New Orleans Saints in the deal for Darren Sproles.

The Eagles traded their sixth round draft pick to the Patriots in the Sopoaga trade.

In the second round, the Eagles will pick No. 54. Then in the third round, they hold the No. 86 overall selection.

Even with just six picks, the Eagles won't change their strategy of how they select players.

"The way we formulate our draft board is basically like an expansion team," Eagles general manager Howie Roseman told the Philadelphia Daily News. "It's like we have no players and let's make sure we have a clear mind. It's very hard to go in and know maybe the weaknesses that you have on your team and not grade players up a little bit because of that. But we try to grade all the players in the draft like we don't have any at that position."

Roseman added that the Eagles must be focused on taking the best player available, even if it means selecting a standout player at a certain position where there isn't a specific need.

"When you look at your team and try to look out 3-4 years, it becomes increasingly difficult to see who's going to be on your team," Roseman told the Philadelphia Daily News. "I mean, this is such a fluid game. Rosters turn over 15-20 percent in a normal offseason. To sit there and be really confident in what you're going to have as you go forward, it's hard. You don't want to force a position and you don't want to not take a position just because of what you have at the moment. You have to take the best player. And you have to build your team for the long term and look at the draft as long-term decisions for your football team."
With 26 days until the NFL draft begins, here is another potential draft prospect for the Baltimore Ravens:

TERRENCE BROOKS

Position: Safety

School: Florida State

Height/weight: 5-10, 198

Round projection: Second or third round

File this away: Brooks ran the 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds, the top time by a safety at the NFL combine.

Good: A former cornerback, Brooks covers a lot of ground with his speed. When playing center field, he makes good initial reads and doesn't put himself in bad positions. With good upper body strength, Brooks plays much bigger than his size and is an aggressive hitter. He has the reputation of being a driven player.

Bad: Brooks isn't much of a playmaker because of bad hands. He drops a lot of interceptions. Brooks doesn't always wrap up, which leads to missed tackles. There's a question about his leaping ability, especially when defending bigger receivers.

Bottom line: Brooks is a quality fallback option if Northern Illinois' Jimmie Ward is gone before the Ravens draft in the second round. The Ravens are looking for a rangy free safety, and Brooks certainly fills that role. There's very little risk with Brooks. Even if he isn't ready to start right away, he will be a core special teams player.
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After going 2-14 in 2012, Kansas City hired head coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey, whose first big move was to trade a 2014 second-round pick for quarterback Alex Smith.

In 2013, the Chiefs got off to a 9-0 start and went to the playoffs, but they dropped five of their last seven regular-season games and lost to the Colts in heartbreaking fashion in their wild-card game.

ESPN.com's Jeff Chadiha recently wrote a piece stating that no team in the league faces more pressure to hit it big when the draft arrives next month than Kansas City.

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With two picks in the first round, most pundits have the Cleveland Browns taking some combination of quarterback, receiver and/or cornerback with the fourth and 26th picks.

ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay's mock draft 4.0 Insider makes a lot of sense for the Browns.


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In this Insider piece Insider, Todd McShay offers his latest mock draft for the first two rounds of the May draft.

Below, we will review McShay's choices for the San Francisco 49ers for the first two rounds. The 49ers have an extra pick in the second round as part of the 2013 Alex Smith trade with the Kansas City Chiefs. Insiders can see who McShay has the 49ers taking and my thoughts on his choices below.


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The Steelers have the 15th overall pick in the 2014 draft after finishing 8-8 last season, and taking a cornerback, wide receiver or defensive lineman with their first-round pick would make a lot of sense.

Todd McShay’s fourth 2014 NFL mock draft is out today and he has the Steelers addressing arguably their biggest need with their first pick, taking Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard and making the 5-foot-11, 199-pounder the first cornerback taken in next month’s draft.


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With so many core players from last season returning, along with the few veteran free agents they signed this offseason, the Cincinnati Bengals are in relatively good shape when it comes to draft needs.

They aren't looking for many immediate impact players, but they still would like to add cornerbacks, defensive ends, versatile offensive linemen who can play multiple positions, outside linebackers and quarterbacks to add to their depth chart. Players at those positions could end up having tremendous value in later years as the Bengals continue building for the future.

With less than a month until draft weekend, ESPN Insider Todd McShay released his fourth 2014 mock draft Insider on Thursday. His first-round Bengals pick is one football fans across the Buckeye State ought to find intriguing.


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