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Extra Points: Five things to know about the 2014 NFL Draft

<p>The NFL Draft has become so big that it's made stars out of the high-profile analysts who make a living covering it.</p>

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The NFL Draft has become so big that it's made stars out of the high-profile analysts who make a living covering it.

Names like Mel Kiper, Todd McShay and Mike Mayock are every bit as recognizable to the modern-day NFL fans as Lombardi, Landry and Noll are to the old-timers.

And the competition to gather information on the prospects has never been fiercer, a reality that is both good and bad. There is a lot of intelligence out there, but there is also a group-think mentality and parroting of it by some self-described scouts who don't have ability or the confidence to formulate their own opinions.

Many others throw outrageous statements against the wall in hopes of trending on Twitter and becoming the next flavor of the month.

The real stars in this process remain the NFL personnel people, the scouts who spend an inordinate amount of time beating up rental cars while traversing the roads of backwater towns all over the country.

It's best to listen to them, and after working the phones with various scouts and agents over the past few weeks, here are the five things I've learned about the 2014 NFL Draft that contradict some of the conventional wisdom out there:

DEPTH IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER

When you talk about parroting, you can't help but think about the depth of this draft. Forget about the consensus, almost everyone has fallen in line and said this year's draft is the deepest in recent memory. In fact, it's almost become a George Costanza-like prophecy: "If you believe it, it's true."

The reality is that far too many people have surmised the depth is there because of the record number of underclassman in this year's exercise.

If an NFL team is looking for a wide receiver, cornerback or quarterback prospect, this draft is certainly going to be helpful and a club in that type of situation might be wise to trade down and garner extra picks.

On the other hand, if you are looking for a front-seven difference maker on defense, it might be prudent to strike when the iron is hot. The defensive end talent drops off a table after South Carolina star Jadeveon Clowney, with only Kony Ealy of Missouri and Auburn's Dee Ford considered as bridge picks, either late first-rounders or early second-round choices.

Similarly, at outside linebacker, things will dry up pretty quickly after Buffalo's Khalil Mack and UCLA's Anthony Barr are taken with only Ohio Sate's Ryan Shazier and possibly BYU's Kyle Van Noy worthy of that late-first or early-second-round designation.

At inside linebacker, Alabama's C.J. Mosley is the only top-32 pick with underrated and undersized former Wisconsin star Chris Borland a distant second.

JOHNNY MANZIEL ISN'T FALLING FAR

"Johnny Football" is the most polarizing figure in this draft and one of the most polarizing in history. Some scouts love him and point to his ability to extend plays and make something out of nothing. Others believe his reckless style of play isn't conducive to staying healthy over a 16-game NFL schedule, and his pocket presence is simply not good enough to succeed at a consistent level.

Whatever camp you are in, forget about Manziel dropping very far in this draft.

Houston can't seriously consider him at No. 1 overall, but the Texans could be in play if they can trade back in the top 10.

Where there is smoke, there is fire in St. Louis, where the Rams simply can't believe Sam Bradford is the answer any longer and will try to peddle the former No. 1 overall pick to Minnesota and Rick Spielman, a general manager with a disturbing resume when it comes to making decisions at the game's most important position.

In Jacksonville, GM David Caldwell will probably play it safe and that means adding defense for Gus Bradley, but as things loom ever closer, the Jags have at least been lured a bit by the siren's song of Manziel's potential both on and off-the-field.

Cleveland is an obvious potential destination at No. 4 overall and if worst comes to worst for Manziel, the fallback is Tampa Bay at No. 7, which would run to the podium to select the former Texas A&M star. Heck, there is serious talk that the Buccaneers, who are likely going to trade second-year signal caller Mike Glennon over the next few days and use former Chicago backup Josh McCown as their bridge at the position, may even trade up to No. 2 to ensure Manziel calls central Florida home.

SAFE ISN'T NECESSARILY BAD

The word safe, at least when it comes to football, often possesses a negative connotation. After all, the thought of settling for the comfortable old shoe doesn't exactly inspire most fans to start thinking Super Bowl.

The best-case scenario, of course, is to get a safe prospect with an unlimited ceiling as a player and there is one of those in this draft, Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins.

Barring a serious injury or some personal peccadillo none of us are aware off, Watkins is the closet thing to a guaranteed home run this year with one scout describing him as the "most explosive player in the draft" and another calling him "a faster Dez Bryant and a better prospect coming into the NFL than Julio Jones."

Watkins also heads my annual list as the safest picks in this draft and is joined by a pair of offensive linemen, Texas A&M legacy Jake Matthews and versatile Notre Dame prospect Zack Martin, as well as Pittsburgh under tackle Aaron Donald, a player a lot of scouts have been comparing to ex-Minnesota Hall of Famer John Randle.

WAIT FOR YOUR QB

There are a lot of quarterback-needy teams in the top eight of this draft with Houston leading the way at No. 1 overall and the Vikings sitting at eight with St. Louis, Jacksonville, Cleveland, Oakland and Tampa Bay in between.

As noted earlier, Manziel is going to go rather early, but that still leaves six teams which may want to address the position at some point in this draft.

Rather than risk calamity by taking the prototypically-sized Blake Bortles in the top 10, these teams may be better off holding off until later in the first round to snare prospects like Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville (a player I still feel is a better option than either Manziel or Bortles) or Fresno State's Derek Carr.

Cleveland also holds the No. 26 overall selection in the first round and a number of others in need possess early second-round picks with the ability to move up if need be.

It's arguable that some players expected to go in the second round like Pitt's Tom Savage have just as much upside as any of the quarterbacks believed to be going in the first.

Others like Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo or Alabama's A.J. McCarron may bring lesser physical skills to the table but seem to possess a higher quarterback IQ, at least right now.

Heck, the best pure QB prospect in this draft -- at least as far as size and arm strength goes -- is former LSU star Zack Mettenenberger and he might be available in the third round or later because of some serious personal baggage.

ALWAYS TAKE TALENT OVER NEED

It doesn't matter whether you are debating over who should be the No. 1 overall pick or who should be Mr. Irrelevant, one cliche that has stood the test of time in the NFL is: "Need is the worst talent evaluator there is."

Once an NFL team starts ignoring its own board and starts reaching to fill a perceived need is when the mistakes start piling up. And that's why the horizontal draft board has become so much more important than the vertical one in today's scouting world.

"You have a wish list, but again, those things have to unfold in a perfect scenario," Kansas City general manger John Dorsey said earlier this week. "It's better to put a group of (players) together and all of a sudden one falls, don't make an immediate reaction. Make a factual reaction as opposed to an emotional reaction. It's when you make a knee-jerk reaction that you're going to make mistakes in this thing."

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