A periodic look at some of the most intriguing draft prospects in sports
There's actually drama at the top of the draft this year
Quarterbacks have been taken first 12 times in the past 15 seasons, but this is shaping up to be one of those outlier drafts. USC's Matt Barkley and West Virginia's Geno Smith (above) are considered the top two passers, but nobody has any idea how high they'll go.
"It's the most confusing quarterback class I've seen in the last eight or 10 years," says NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock. "Is Geno Smith going to Kansas City at No. 1—or will there even be a first-round quarterback?"
Smith, the onetime Heisman front-runner, has to explain some real stinkers in 2012 (blowout losses to Texas Tech, Kansas State and Syracuse) and why he skipped last month's Senior Bowl; Barkley would have been top five material if not for senior-year struggles before a shoulder injury sidelined him in mid-November. Smith will throw in Indy—a rarity for top-rated QBs and a surefire sign that he has something to prove—but Barkley was reported on Monday to have pulled out.
And if a QB doesn't go No. 1, the league might make a little history
No guard has led off the NFL draft since its inception in 1936. But there's a chance of that this year, given the reputation of Alabama's Chance Warmack, who many consider to be the top-rated prospect. The pool of offensive linemen runs particularly deep—as many as eight could go in the first round. And while tackles will always be valued higher than guards, the 6'3", 320-pound Warmack is just special enough to tempt the likes of Andy Reid, a former O-line coach who inherited the No. 1 pick when he took over the Chiefs. At the very least, Warmack is the type of worker who will come out of Indy with a lot of new fans.
The search for the next read option quarterback starts here
Teams will be looking for a copycat Colin Kaepernick—but they probably won't find him this year. None of the top QBs are considered great fits for the offense that Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson played in so effectively in 2012. Smith is more athletic than Barkley, but he's a pocket passer who's not a fantastic running threat. A few guys come close to fitting the mold, and if they dazzle in Indy, they'll likely come off the board on Day 2 or 3: Arizona's Matt Scott, Miami of Ohio's Zac Dysert and Florida State's 6'5", 240-pound E.J. Manuel.
Manti Te'o, meet the NFL—and its media
Nobody will draw a crowd like the Notre Dame linebacker (below), whose bizarre fake-girlfriend melodrama fascinated the nation in January. If Te'o hopes to move beyond the humiliation and launch a pro career from a spot in the second half of the first round, how he answers a host of difficult questions will be critical.
"This is the beginning of an uncomfortable few months for him," says Mayock, who did color commentary for Notre Dame games on NBC last season. "My advice to him would be, 'Put your best foot forward, look people in the eye, and be up front, regardless of how embarrassing the situation is.'"
SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE
A fish fell from the sky—dropped from the talons of an osprey—onto the field during batting practice at the Nationals' spring training facility in Viera, Fla.
DAVE WILLMAN/FOTOLIA.COM (FISH)
PETER READ MILLER (BARKLEY); JOHN BIEVER (SMITH)
DAMIAN STROHMEYER (TE'O)