Here are my top 10 most intriguing players – not the top 10 picks, although there are some among them – as we get ready for three days of “upside,” “projections” and “character issues”:
1. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Who doesn't have an opinion on Manziel? The problem is too many people form their views based on his off-the-field love of a good time and attention. I see Manziel as a mixture of Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson. He's mobile like both. He knows how to overcome his average height, as does Wilson, with lateral movement. He's creative and supremely confident like RG3. You have to have a quarterback to win in the NFL. Are there safer picks? I'd say yes, Central Florida's Blake Bortles is safer with his size (6-foot-5, 232 pounds) and traditional skills. Manziel is a game-changer. High risk, high reward.
2. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Will the Texans take him as a weapon to try to slow down Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck in their division? And, if they do, are they missing out on a QB who can help them compete offensively? Clowney's big hit against Michigan way back when established his reputation, but the consensus seems to be that he's a one-of-a-kind defensive superstar quarterback hunter reminiscent of the great Lawrence Taylor. Or he could be the most overrated player ever. Don't blow it, Texans.
3. Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Some think Mack is destined for the Jaguars at No.3, but others have him going No.1 to the Texans over Clowney. If either of those picks is true, it's again a strategy to deal with Colts quarterback Luck within the division. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. had an interesting take on Mack, saying picking him at No.1 would be like choosing Robert Griffin III over Andrew Luck two years ago. NFL Network's Mike Mayock says he would go with Mack at No.1. Either way, you've got a potential superstar. Mack comes from the MAC, which seems to produce some great players outside of the normal power conferences.
4. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Watkins' stock keeps rising simply because, in today's pass-happy NFL, teams must have one or two play-making wide receivers. Watkins is not Megatron in size, but he's 6-1, 211, and that's solid. His acceleration sets him apart. He will get open. The question is whether he'll go to a team with an elite quarterback. If you're drafting high in the first round, where Watkins is projected, you probably don't have an elite quarterback. Going No.5 to the Raiders might be a nice slot, where he could revive the career of Matt Schaub.
5. Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Some analysts point to Bortles as the best quarterback in the draft because of his size, accuracy and arm strength. Others think his best fit would be coming into a team with a veteran quarterback where he can learn the NFL without the pressure of a first-year starting spot. Maybe Tampa Bay, where it is relying on Josh McCown for now, but McCown is 34 and not a decade-long solution. That might be a tough call for the Bucs, who could snag a big-time receiver like Watkins, if he's available, or Texas A&M's Mike Evans.
6. Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana
Latimer has been the surprise rising star of the mock drafts, with some projecting him as a first-round pick. How did he rise so quickly? Some of it has to do with IU's anonymous football program. Outside of this state, few people notice the Hoosiers. They didn't have a marquee quarterback, so who's paying attention to their passing game? But Latimer has great speed. ESPN's Todd McShay calls him “a perfect fit in a West Coast scheme.”
7. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
In one underwhelming Pro Day, Bridgewater erased his entire college career, or so the narrative goes. How is that possible? Why do NFL scouts insist on discounting what happens on a college field during the season in favor of an artificial workout? This could work in Bridgewater's favor. Maybe he won't go early in the first round. Maybe the drop costs him some money early. But the upside is he could develop with less pressure and get the payday based on NFL performance. It never hurts to have a chip on your shoulder.
8. Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
His older brother, David, came into the league and was beaten senseless, figuratively speaking, because the Texans had no protection. It was sack after sack after sack, and it turned him into a journeyman. He's been a huge influence on Derek Carr in developing as a quarterback and knowing what's coming in the NFL. A story surfaced this week that the Browns would like to draft Derek Carr in the second round and sign David Carr as the backup to help him develop. Hey, the Browns have had worse plans over the years. Here's the problem: Derek Carr could go in the first round, maybe to Arizona.
9. Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
Nix is not a high first-rounder, but he's intriguing because of his energy, his quickness for a 330-pound man and the fact we might not have seen his best play in college because of injury issues. He's projected as a late first- or early second-round pick, but he could be a steal for a team looking to boost its defense. It's amazing how players at Notre Dame might be the only ones who reach the NFL and face less fan scrutiny and criticism than they did in college.
10. Long-shot QBs
We're talking Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo, Northern Illinois' Jordan Lynch and Ball State's Keith Wenning. Which one of these non-power school quarterbacks gets the first call in the draft? Most mocks have Garoppolo easily going first among this group, as high as the second round. The rap on Lynch is his size and run-first mentality. Wenning had a strong senior season and is more traditionally built. The best news for these players is the fact they could be drafted later by good teams, so they can learn behind a solid, perhaps elite, quarterback.