Suits ‘n Ties Yelling Out, “Pay the guys!”: 2014 NBA Draft Prospect Rankings

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The dust has settled and the smoke has cleared. At least a little bit. We don’t know the extent of Joel Embiid’s back issues. We still don’t know if Kevin Love will be moved before the draft. We can’t even begin to predict the multitude of draft day trades that will surely go down. But for the teams with so much hinging on this draft and the next five weeks, the final draft order provides some clarity. Or as much clarity as you can expect in a league that uses ping-pong balls to dictate the fate of some of its teams.

Here are some prospect rankings. The 2014 NBA Draft is unique in the sense that many of the players can be grouped together based on pro potential, playing style, or their respective college careers. So that’s what I did. I grouped them together and ranked them, taking who I deem to be the top 30 guys.

Note: this is not a mock draft. I, or anyone else for that matter, should not pretend to have any clue what is going through the heads of these GM’s at this time (especially considering the numerous mind-boggling selections we witness every year).

Let’s do this. (Heights and weights are most recent figures from DraftExpress).

Big name college players who don’t crack the top 30:

Nick Johnson, Patric Young, Aaron Craft, C.J. Fair, Russ Smith, Scottie Wilbekin, Sean Kilpatrick.

Whew. That’s out of the way. Now let’s do this.

Group 1: BIG Guys

No, seriously. These kids are freakin’ huge.

30. Jusuf Nurkic (6′ 11″, 280, Bosnia)

29. Mitch McGary (6′ 10″, 263, Michigan)

Jusuf Nurkic is a grown man, a pure space-eater down low. Unfortunately, his slow feet and inability to leave those slow feet pose a problem in a modern NBA that covets quickness and athleticism out of big guys. Mitch McGary is also a load, but has a nice skill set. He catches the ball well, sets hard picks, and has great touch in close. Would he have benefited from staying in Ann Arbor for another year? Probably. But the NCAA’s ludicrous, and recently amended, recreational drug policy essentially prevented him from doing so. Regardless, if McGary is in shape, he’s ready to step into an NBA rotation right now.

Group 2: “A lot of people go to college for seven years.”……”Yeah, they’re called Robbie Hummel-er, I mean, Doctors.”

This lot probably would’ve benefited from going back to school.

28. Jerami Grant (6′ 8″, 210, Syracuse)

27. Jarnell Stokes (6′ 8″, 260, Tennessee)

26. DeAndre Daniels (6′ 9″, 195, UCONN)

Jerami Grant is a bouncy athlete who excels in transition but may be a bit of a twiner. He’s too little to play the post in the NBA and another year at Syracuse would’ve given him more opportunities to hone his perimeter skills. Stokes is another big who used his mass to dominant the boards in college but doesn’t have the athleticism or measurables most teams want in a 1st rounder. He’ll get exposed if he’s on the floor for too long, but like McGary, should be ready to handle the physicality of the NBA right away. DeAndre Daniels saw his stock skyrocket during the tournament and has an intriguing length/skill/athleticism combo. But he’s very raw, needs to bulk up, and didn’t play well on a consistent basis at UCONN. Why did he declare this year? He’s not going to go in the lottery, and teams in the late 1st are probably looking for an immediate contributor to help their title bid. He may be a D-League guy to start.

Group 3: Transitional Caution

Dominant college players who might struggle against NBA competition.

25. TJ Warren (6′ 8″, 220, NC State)

24. KJ McDaniels (6′ 6″, 195, Clemson)

23. Kyle Anderson (6′ 9″, 230, UCLA)

TJ Warren was a very productive scorer and rebounder for the Wolfpack but like many guys in this draft, he may be too short to play PF and not skilled/athletic enough to play SF. He’s very strong though, and he shoots well. Warren has made serious efforts to improve his permitter game and he be able to carve out a role in the NBA. KJ McDaniels’ leaping ability allows him to get away with some things. He was able to rebound effectively without boxing out and score 17 points a game despite not being very good at anything on offense. He needs work, but at the very least projects as a plus-athlete who can help a team in transition and on defense. Kyle Anderson is one of the most polarizing prospects in the draft. He’s basically a point forward at 6′ 9″. He’s an outstanding passer and solid shooter. The fact that he’s 6′ 9″ makes those two things much easier for him. The problem is that Anderson isn’t very quick or athletic. He will struggle to create for himself in the pros and will be a major liability on defense.

Group 4: “They are who we thought they were.”

NBA-ready guards who don’t have the upside of some others on this list.

22. Shabazz Napier (6′ 0″, 175, UCONN)

21. CJ Wilcox (6′ 5″, 200, Washington)

20. Tyler Ennis (6′ 2″, 180, Syracuse)

Shabazz Napier has carved himself out a nice place in NCAA Tourney folklore, but he lacks the raw explosiveness Kemba Walker has. He’ll be fine in the league though. He’s a heady guard with an array of finely-tuned dribble moves and shots that will allow him to be a scoring threat. He has also made great strides as a floor general, though you wouldn’t know it from watching UCONN’s tourney games, where it seemed like every big possession he just dribbled around for thirty seconds before making some ridiculous shot. Again, Napier will be fine. Just don’t expect a superstar. CJ Wilcox is a polished player with an outstanding jumper, but like Napier, his lack of physical tools and short arms may limit him to bench duties. Tyler Ennis knows how to run a team. He’s an exceptional floor general also capable of turning his own offense on when he needs to. But in an NBA with so many electric PG’s, can you trust this guy to impose his will and defend when you throw him out there? Ennis leaves a lot to be desired in the athleticism department, and his steal numbers at Syracuse were heavily inflated due to him playing at the top of a 2-3 zone.

Group 5: Skilled Big Men

No explanation needed.

19. Adreian Payne (6′ 10″, 240, Michigan State)

18. Dario Saric (6′ 10″, 225, Croatia)

Payne is a better athlete and tougher defender/rebounder than most think but it is obviously his perimeter touch that has scouts excited about him. That touch, along with his size, should make him a very effective pick-n-pop guy in the NBA. A big knock against Payne is his lung capacity. But he’s most likely going to be a role player in the NBA so I wouldn’t expect that to become a problem as I don’t see him playing huge minutes. 6′ 10″ people aren’t supposed to be as skilled or coordinated as Dario Saric. He’s a very smart player but he lacks the athleticism to be a dominant wing like he was in Europe. His best bet is to become a stretch-4.

Group 6: 3 Feet High and Rising

This is a group who have seen their stocks rise in the last month or so.

17. Cleanthony Early (6′ 7″, 210, Wichita State)

16. PJ Hairston (6′ 5″, 225, North Carolina/Texas Legends)

15. Zach LaVine (6′ 6″, 180, UCLA)

14. Elfrid Payton (6′ 4″, 185, UL-Lafayette)

13. Rodney Hood (6′ 8″, 210, Duke)

After four greats years at Wichita State, it’s nice that everyone is finally starting to recognize Cleanthony Early as a 1st round wing prospect. He needs to work on his ability to create his own offense, but he runs well off screens and has impressive athleticism when he does attack the rim. After leaving UNC, PJ Hairston dominated the D-League with the Texas Legends, re-affirming his position as a 1st round prospect. He’s a knockdown shooter, a solid defender and rebounder from the perimeter, and he’s just very strong physically. He lacks the ability to create his own shot but Hairston should enjoy a long career and a “3 & D” guy at the next level. Zach LaVine is a boom or bust prospect. He’s a legit 6′ 6″ point guard with good athleticism and a nice jumper. The problem is he was buried at UCLA due to his poor decision making and inability to handle any sort of physicality. He has a long way to go, but a 6′ 6″ point guard with his upside won’t fall out of the lottery.

Elfrid Payton is a big and quick guard who dominated for the Ragin’ Cajuns this past year. He’s a great finisher, ball-hander, and defender. He needs to prove he can consistently hit from deep though, and 3.8 turnovers per game are far too many for a college player with his talent. Rodney Hood is a tall, athletic wing who can score inside but also possesses a deadly jumper. He’s going to have to get stronger, work on his skills, and show that he’s actually willing to defend to make it in the NBA but all the talent is there. He wasn’t necessarily dominant at Duke, but it was hard to watch them and not think that this guy is an NBA starter one day.

Group 7: Jump-shooting and…Jump-shooting and…

These guys are known for their ability to hit the trey but there is much more to their games than just that.

12. Gary Harris (6′ 4″, 205, Michigan State)

11. Doug McDermott (6′ 7″, 220, Creighton)

10. Nick Stauskas (6′ 6″, 205, Michigan)

9. James Young (6′ 7″, 215, Kentucky)

Measuring in at just 6′ 2″ without shoes certainly didn’t help Spartan standout Gary Harris, but the guy is a physically strong athlete who can shoot, drive, and defend. I don’t think it’s completely out of the question that whatever team picks Harris moves him to PG a la Russell Westbrook. He’ll need to work on his vision and handles, but Harris is just too good of an all-around player to fall out of the lottery. I’m not buying the idea that Dougie McBuckets can’t play in the league. He is an underrated rebounder, defender, and distributor. Putting up a 36″ vertical at the combine certainly eases some concerns about athleticism surrounding him. He’s not gonna average 25+, but he’s going to make whatever team takes him better immediately.

The 6′ 6″ Nick Stauskas is an intriguing prospect. Some say all he can do is shoot. Some say his handling and passing abilities are grossly underrated. He won’t give you much on defense, but he just finds ways to score. I’d want Stauskas on my team over some of the more athletic wings in this class. James Young is a good athlete, a better defender than you think, and obviously a solid shooter. He doesn’t jump out of the TV in any one area of the game, though. But there were times when he put the entire Kentucky offense on his back when the other freshman were struggling. Of guys I have ranked outside the top 5, I think James Young has the best chance to become a superstar. It seems like he is just starting to realize everything he can do on a basketball court.

Group 8: Falling?

Here are a couple guys who might not go in the top 5 like we initially thought, but that has more to do with others surpassing them than anything they did wrong.

8. Marcus Smart (6′ 3″, 225, Oklahoma State)

7. Julius Randle (6′ 9″, 250, Kentucky)

I feel like I sway my opinion on Marcus Smart every other day. On one hand, he’s a physically imposing guard with experience running a team who can be a terror on defense when he wants to be. On the other hand, measuring at 6′ 3″ wasn’t that impressive and the teams he ran weren’t all that great. He also can’t shoot. Smart could go as high as #4, but could also fall into the 8-12 range if other guys standout during individual workouts. I hate to write this about a kid, but the lack of composure he displays on the court -and I’m not just referring to THE incident- is alarming.

Julius Randle is a left-handed Paul Millsap to me. That’s not an insult, you’ll take that in the top 10. He has outstanding hands, angles his body well to maximize his strength, and crashes the boards hard on both ends of the floor. While he has a decent mid-range jumper, his perimeter skills don’t seem to be as impressive as we all thought they were coming into college. He’s also not very tall for an NBA big. One time thought of as a possible top overall pick, Randle has safely settled into the 4-8 range on any list or mock draft you’ll read.

Group 9: #Upside

They have flaws. They weren’t all that productive in college. But that upside, mmmm…..

6. Noah Vonleh (6′ 10″, 245, Indiana)

5. Aaron Gordon (6′ 9″, 220, Arizona)

There are a lot of Vonleh-Chris Bosh comparisons being thrown around. Vonleh isn’t anywhere near the refined offensive player Bosh is now or was coming out of Georgia Tech, but he has a 7′ 4″ wingspan and huge hands to pair with his tantalizing athleticism. He flew under the radar this year, mostly due the fact that Indiana was awful, but a guy with his dimensions isn’t falling out of the top 10. Aaron Gordon is my man-crush in this draft. He is a dynamic and explosive athlete on every level. He’s the best leaper in this class after Wiggins, and frankly, in game action Gordon looks even more athletic than the potential top pick. Measuring at 6′ 9″ was big for him. he’s ready to be a lockdown defender right away but he doesn’t have the strength or back-to-the-basket game to be a true PF in the NBA. To play on the perimeter, Gordon will need to greatly improve his shooting and ball-handling. I’ve been enticed by Gordon for a long time now, he reminds me a lot of Paul George coming out.

Group 10: Dante Exum

Players in this group are named, you guessed it, Dante Exum.

4. Dante Exum (6′ 6″, 195, Australia)

When it comes to watching Dante Exum, most of us here in America are limited to YouTube highlight reels. But, damn, are those highlight reels impressive. Measuring at 6′ 6″ at the combine re-affirmed the idea that Exum has tremendous upside at the PG spot. He’s a smooth athlete with great burst who almost looks like he gains speed when dribbling the ball. He’s an outstanding passer, and the reports from every interview have him chalked up as a high character kid. Exum’s shot needs work though and he certainly needs to bulk up. The idea that he can’t score in the mid-range is slightly overrated though considering he never has had to because he always gets to the rim with ease against the competition he’s faced. There were reportedly multiple teams -including the Lakers- considering Exum with the #1 pick. He’s the wild card in this years top 5.

Group 11: The Big 3

The pretty-much-unanimous top three guys in the draft.

3. Jabari Parker (6′ 9″, 235, Duke)

2. Joel Embiid (7′ 0″, 250, Kansas)

1. Andrew Wiggins (6′ 8″, 200, Kansas)

Let’s start with Parker. He’s widely considered the most NBA-ready guy in this class and the odds-on favorite to win ROY. I agree. Where my take tends to shift is on his upside. He has a slow first step and at the NBA level he will be just a slightly above-average athlete. He also has an inconsistent jumper. That’s nit-picking though, this kid projects as a superstar. He’s a superbly skilled and smart player who can do everything on the court from being your leading rebounder, to your top defender, to your go-to scorer, to your primary ball-handler. He has a plethora of moves when attacking the rim. He has all the tools to develop a dominant back-to-the-basket game if he wants to, much like the player he is compared to, Carmelo Anthony. Parker doesn’t have the ceiling of Andrew Wiggins, but his floor isn’t as low.

Joel Embiid being ranked this high is 100% contingent on his back and knee checking out in medical evaluations. If he gets medical clearance, watch out NBA. He’s a long, fluid athlete with exceptional balance. This is so rare for a seven footer. In fact, you can probably count on one hand the seven footers in the history of the NBA who have the raw balance and coordination Embiid has (I can name Hakeem, Shaq, Dirk, and that’s it). Embiid will make a major impact on defense right away and his offense game is more refined than most think. He’s worked on his post game and actually has improved his touch in the mid-range. He also passes the ball and moves within the flow of the offense. This is important considerimg how far out to the perimeter most centers extend in modern NBA offenses.

Wiggins didn’t remind us of LeBron, so what? Saying Wiggins had a “disappointing” freshman season is just a moronic statement. All he did was set the all-time Kansas freshman scoring record. But let’s not focus on what he has done. What about what he can do? Obviously, Wiggins is a ridiculous athlete. He makes it look effortless but he is a flat-out explosive leaper. He runs well too and is already dominant in transition. His elite lateral quickness will allow him to be an exceptional defender (remember LeBron wasn’t much on defense at this age, but the tools were there, and now he’s the best defender in the league). He really improved his shot. What’s perhaps most impressive about Wiggins is that he does all this within the flow of the Kansas offense. He passes when he should. Yes, he probably should’ve been more aggressive in their tourney loss but there are so few 18-19 year olds who have the “killer instinct” people say Wiggins lacks. LeBron developed it. Durant developed it. Wiggins shouldn’t be compared to those two because he is a very different player, but as a wing prospect, he’s as close as we’re going to get.

 

Thanks for reading! Make sure to tune into the draft on June 25th, and throw me a follow on Twitter. @ZakKondratenko.

2014 NFL Mock Draft

There are more mock drafts on the internet nowadays than there are “Which character from _____ are you?” quizzes. Why? Well, first off the NFL brand is growing in popularity every year despite some recent issues with ticket sales and that whole concussions thing. On top of that, a mock draft is a list-style article that is easy to read (or just skim through and see the picks). Why should you read mine? No reason in particular. I don’t have the time to spend countless hours watching game tape that some major scouts and draft writers do. I don’t have “league sources”. I didn’t go to the combine. But I watch quite a bit of football, don’t really have any school obligations until the end of the week, and am sick of NHL fans acting like their playoffs are gods great gift to humanity. Note: Last year, the first round of the NFL draft garnered 6.2 million viewers while the Stanley Cup Finals averaged 5.7 million. And that was with the Bruins and Blackhawks, two of the leagues most popular teams, duking it out in an epic series. No more stabs at the NHL. You get my point. The NFL still rules the sport culture in America.

A couple of notes before I dive into this thing:

– I don’t mock trades. It’s far too confusing. Just keep in mind multiple teams in the Top 5 (Houston, St. Louis, and Oakland) would all like to move down.

– I’m not capable of mocking past the first round. I don’t watch enough mid-level college football. If I was making picks in the later rounds, it’d basically be me guessing.

– I’m not mocking a running back or a center in the first round. Not only is their a lack of top prospects at those spots this year, but value metrics have basically proven that picking one of those two positions in the first (unless we’re talking about an Adrian Peterson type prospect) is stupid.

Let’s do this.

 

1. texans Houston Texans

The Pick: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

If you’ve been following football at all over the last two years you know that every NFL GM is gushing over Jadeveon Clowney. Say whatever you want about motivation and conditioning issues, but they’re not supposed to  make human beings like this. We’re talking about a guy who is 6′ 6″, has a playing weight of about 275 lbs, ran a 4.51 40-yard dash, and had some other ridiculous combine numbers to boot (37 1/2″ vertical, 4.43 shuttle). Clowney jumped into the national spotlight with his crushing hit on a poor Michigan RB a couple years ago but he has been considered a rare talent since he was in high school. Maybe he didn’t play every game  at South Carolina like it was his last, and maybe he does play too high at times and gets knocked to the ground by powerful tackles who can get their arms under him. But let’s not forget about the power of good NFL coaching.

GM Rick Smith has publicly stated Houston is looking to trade down but is anyone willing to give them an RG3-type trade package for a defensive end? Khalil Mack is a fit too, and Houston’s need for a QB is obvious but if they don’t move down they might be forced to draft Clowney. He’s easily the best pass rushing prospect since Mario Williams and most people think he trumps him too. This is a draft where different teams are coveting different QB’s. There’s no unanimous #1 guy and depending on who you ask a guy could rank anywhere from one to seven. So there’s a good chance Houston can grab one of the best QB’s in this class later.

I’d pretty much bet the bank that Clowney is going #1, the interesting question is what team ends up with the pick. If Houston ends up with JJ Watt and Clowney on the same line, I don’t think things are going to get any better for Trent Richardson.

 

2. mFYxkfP5kValdc3WtMaRGlA St. Louis Rams

The Pick: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn

The Rams, who are a solid team but own this pick due to the RG3 trade, are another team that would like to move down and load up on depth picks later in the draft. The problem is that if/when Clowney goes #1, there isn’t a guy that is going to have multiple teams coveting this pick. There will be some interest around the league in Khalil Mack, Johnny Manziel, and Sammy Watkins here but not enough to spark a blockbuster trade. The Rams don’t need Khalil Mack and they aren’t taking a QB here. It comes down to WR Sammy Watkins and OT Greg Robinson.

Not only is OT a more dramatic need for the team but a lot of people feel Robinson is the best prospect in this class other than Clowney/Mack. He’s separated himself from Jake Matthews (the next best OT in the draft) and has drawn comparisons to none other than former Rams great Orlando Pace. Robinson is still developing as a pass blocker but he’s already a mauler in the run game (watch literally any Auburn game from last year, the holes this guy plows are amazing). Some call him a product of the system and inexperienced but like with Clowney the physical tools are too much to pass up on here. He would immediately step in at RT and give St. Louis a major upgrade in the run game and has the ability to become an elite, 10-year LT as well.

 

3. newjagslogo Jacksonville Jaguars

The Pick: Khalil Mack, DE/OLB/ Buffalo

This is where the draft gets intriguing as the Jaguars could easily go with Mack or WR Sammy Watkins or a QB here and there wouldn’t be any outcry. I don’t think Watkins is an AJ Green/Julio Jones/Dez Bryant prospect like some are saying but every writer and scout I respect says he is one of the elite guys in the class and shouldn’t fall out of the top 5. And while there are questions about the future of oft-troubled WR Justin Blackmon, I think the Jaguars have a much bigger need for pass rushing help than they do for another weapon who may not even have an adequate QB to get him the ball next year.

If Clowney is the LeBron James of this class than Khalil Mack is the Carmelo Anthony. He played at Buffalo, but broke into the spotlight by dominating Ohio State in their season opener this year. Physically speaking, he’s actually just about as impressive as Clowney (6′ 3″, 250. 4.59 40 time. 40″ vertical, 4.18 shuttle). His ability to play in pretty much any scheme helps him as well. He’s also more polished than pretty much any defender in the class and he’s the easy choice for defensive rookie of the year. We all know the Jaguars needs to sell tickets and this wouldn’t be a “sexy” pick like Clowney or a QB but we’re talking about a guy who is unanimously considered an elite pass rushing prospect. In today’s NFL, that’s too enticing to pass up.

 

4. cleveland-browns Cleveland Browns

The Pick: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF

Despite what ESPN is spreading, every other reporter is swearing the Browns are not interested in Johnny Manziel here. Don’t they sort of have to take a QB here though? My money is on Bortles, despite their reported love for Derek Carr.

I don’t personally think Bortles will pan out as a franchise QB but some of his highlights and measurables are quite enticing. He’s big, athletic both inside and outside the pocket, and has a good enough arm. He’s not an elite thrower and needs to improve the mental aspect of his game but he reminds me of Jake Locker a lot, and if Locker can go 8th overall Bortles should go higher. The Browns have built an interesting core of pass catchers and at this point the only thing holding them back is a decent QB. Is Bortles the guy? Maybe. I’m still a firm believer that Manziel is the right pick here but everything I’ve read the last two days (well, everything other than ESPN) says Manziel isn’t going here.

 

 

5. Oakland-Raiders-Logo Oakland Raiders

The Pick: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh

Here’s my first surprise pick coming from a team that has been known to make some pretty surprising picks. You’ll see Sammy Watkins mocked here a lot if the board falls this way, and that’d be a fine pick, the Raiders desperately need weapons. Then again the Raiders need pretty much everything and it doesn’t seem as if they’re committing to being competitive this coming season. Why not build your team in the trenches? Aaron Donald is not only the clear-cut best DT in this class but he’s a dynamic pass-rushing prospect from that position, which is rare and incredibly valuable to a defense (see Geno Atkins, Ndamukong Suh).

Donald is a bit under-sized but his burst off the line is ridiculous and he was incredibly productive in college (had multiple 11 sack seasons at Pitt). This is no doubt a reach, most consider Donald in the 8-15 range as far as this years prospects go, but the Raiders reach quite often. The new management should be looking to build in the trenches as one of the Raiders problems in the draft recently has been they load up on guys with impressive 40 times and sort of forget about their defensive line, often choosing to overpay veterans. The Raiders will also be begging to trade down if both Clowney and Mack are gone here (they have just four picks in the top 200). They need a QB too but since Bortles is gone here there’s a great chance whatever other guy they’re looking at will be available later. The pick may very well be Sammy Watkins and I wouldn’t complain, but Donald would immediately make one of the most dreadful units in the league better. Donald would also make a nice, diverse pair with run-stuffing DT Pat Sims.

 

6. 299 Atlanta Falcons

The Pick: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan

The Falcons desperately need both pass rushing and pass blocking and they’ve been actively engaged in trying to move up seeing as the top three guys for them; Clowney, Mack, and Robinson, will all surely be gone by this pick. The problem is the team is still recovering from the Julio Jones trade and doesn’t have the ammo a team like the Rams or Texans are looking for. Matt Ryan needs help. He’s got talent on offense and this is probably a team that is just a few players away from becoming a legitimate contender again. After Clowney and Mack there’s a big dip in pass rushers so if the draft plays out like this the Falcons pick will likely come down to the best two OT’s available; Taylor Lewan and Jake Matthews.

Matthews’ stock has taken a slight hit due to his relative lack of athleticism whereas Lewan has been a bit of a sleeper throughout the entire draft process. At 6′ 7″, Lewan could probably benefit from adding some weight to his 307 lb frame but he’s a dominant athlete and pass blocker. He plays angry too, which is often the biggest problems top blocking prospects initially face when coming into the league. Lewan was a blue-chip recruit and was a four year starter for Michigan. He’s not a Jake Long-type prospect but he’s a solid top 15 talent with perhaps the most upside of any offensive player in the draft. He would start at LT for Atlanta right away.

 

7. bucs Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Pick: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

If the draft plays out the way some expect, with one of the QB’s and Watkins both going in the top five, the Bucs will look to trade down. They like Manziel, but that’s not the right pick given the board and their needs. Their needs really don’t align with the top of the draft. But in this mock, luckily for them, the best WR in the draft happens to fall to them. Sammy Watkins would pair with Vincent Jackson to provide a dominant WR duo for whoever the Bucs QB-of-the-future ends up being. WR Mike Evans is in play here too, especially if Watkins is gone, but Watkins is considered the clear-cut best WR in the class and Evans’ game may resemble Vincent Jackson’s too much anyway.

Watkins is a fluid athlete who accelerates quickly and doesn’t lose much speed making his breaks. He’s not as fast as someone like DeSean Jackson and despite his decent size he’s not as physical as someone like Dez Bryant, but Watkins is a polished prospect with a nice combination of talents. Good ball skills, a great route runner who can line up anywhere on the field, and he gives whoever drafts him a major boost in the return game. From a fantasy football perspective, Watkins is the most interesting player in the draft. Most have him going in the top five, but there’s no way he falls past the Bucs if he’s still in.

 

8. 5e371227-7882-45ba-ac02-a5c9d6250716 Minnesota Vikings

The Pick: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

The Vikings are the team most likely to draft a QB in the first round. With the way the draft will play out it’s almost a guarantee that Manziel and/or Bortles will be in play here while the other elite guys they could take (Clowney/Mack) will be out. They could look at CJ Mosley but that’d be a reach. Depending on what you read you’ll hear different things about which QB the Vikings prefer but everyone agrees it’s either Bortles or Manziel. In this case, Bortles is gone. Easy choice for the Vikings and even if Manziel struggles out of the gate he should be an upgrade. For what it’s worth most report the Vikings having Manziel at the top of their QB board.

Manziel is a better pro prospect than many think and made some great strides in the pocket last season. He’s developed decent accuracy and his lack of arm strength is being blown way out of proportion. He can make all the throws, as he has proven throughout the draft process. His throws do tend to float but with the NFL trending towards taller pass-catchers that’s not the problem it once was. My biggest concern for Johnny Football is his durability. He’s going to get destroyed if he doesn’t change his style of play. I am confident that Manziel will be the best QB in this class, whether that means he’s an actual franchise QB I don’t know. The talent is there.

 

9. bills Buffalo Bills

The Pick: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

The Bills could very well be safe in this case and take Jake Matthews, a guy who would start on their O-line right away. But their WR core of Stevie Johnson, Robert Woods, and (now) Mike Williams probably needs some help and in this mock one of the drafts most intriguing prospects in available. A TE is also in play here but that’d be too big of a reach for a team that just needs to upgrade their talent in general.

The physically imposing (6′ 5″, 230, 38″ vertical) Mike Evans bailed Johnny manziel out quite a bit. He has a ridiculous catch radius, exceptional body control, uses his size, and has very good hands. His biggest weakness isn’t his straight line speed as much as it is his burst and cutting ability. But Evans won’t likely be lining up inside very much. This is a guy you send down the sidelines and if he has one-on-one you just throw it up to him. He can really help a QB who struggles with accuracy, which EJ Manuel most definitely does. The Bills aren’t as far aways from being a wild card team as people think and if Evans can come in and help EJ Manuel (and get the other guys favorable match-ups) the Bills offense could become much more efficient. They already have a playoff ready defense.

 

10. cwuyv0w15ruuk34j9qnfuoif9 Detroit Lions

The Pick: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

There’s a bit more clarity here after the Lions signed Golden Tate but it’s still anyones guess. The Lions need to upgrade at CB, TE, SLB, and DE. Looking at the board I’d guess they’re choosing between TE Eric Ebron, CB Justin Gilbert, pass rusher Anthony Barr, and ILB CJ Mosley. All would be fine picks here as the elite prospects are all off the board. Corner jumps out to me as the biggest need (doesn’t it always seem like Detroit needs secondary help?) despite a couple of signings this offseason. They re-signed Rashean Mathis, but’s he’s marginal starter at best and is 33.

Justin Gilbert is the best CB in this class. He might not be quite as lauded or as polished as Darqueze Dennard but Gilbert is the superior talent and comes without the “character concerns” (which probably means the Lions take Dennard). Gilbert backpedals and changes direction with ease and has this remarkable ability to seemingly have his eyes on both the QB and WR at the same time. He’s got the ideal body and is also a solid tackler who can play physical off the snap too. Another bonus is that he’s a major threat in the return game and can take any pick back for six. The biggest concern for Gilbert is his footwork technique and tendency to “grab”. That’s a penalty every time in the NFL. But coaching should fix that. He’s the best CB in the class and the Lions need a physical corner who can also move if they want to compete with the likes of the Bears and Packers.

 

11. 1053 Tennessee Titans

The Pick: Anthony Barr, DE/OLB, UCLA

The Titans signed Shaun Phillips to help their awful pass rush as it transitions to the 3-4 but Anthony Barr is still definitely in play here. As is a CB. Tennessee addressed their needs at OT and ILB through free agency so this pick may very well come down to Barr or Dennard/Kyle Fuller. Shaun Phillips is 33 though and while he should be productive for a couple more years getting a blue-chip pass rusher (which some consider Barr to be) would really help this defense moving forward.

Barr’s stock isn’t as quite as high as it was a year ago, where some thought he was even a better prospect than Clowney, but he’s an NFL-ready pass rusher. He struggles in the run game and is terrible in coverage but lining up in the 3-4 should help minimize his weaknesses. As a pass rusher he’s tremendously well-balanced and agile not to mention the fact that he’s just a dynamic physical presence. At 6′ 5″, 250 with long arms and tremendous burst there’s certainly some Aldon Smith in Barr. We’ve seen teams takes somewhat raw but talented pass rushers high recently and have it pay off. I wouldn’t consider Barr “raw” but he definitely needs to address his weaknesses if he wants to be an every down player. But teams salivate over pass rushers, and Barr is by far the best pass rushing prospect in this draft after Clowney and Mack.

 

12. NY-Giants-logo1 New York Giants

The Pick: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M

The reason the Giants fell off is because they completely ignored their aging linebacking and offensive line units in the draft. Now they desperately needs multiple LB’s and lineman. They could be one of the teams that attempts to move up, but I’m not mocking trades, and in this case Jake Matthews falls right into their lap. Some consider Matthews a top five prospect, so he presents great value and fills a need at pick 12.

Matthews is without a doubt the most polished and NFL-ready pass blocker in this class and is also a great run blocker. He uses his arms exceptionally, which helps hide the fact that he has terrible feet and isn’t a great athlete. That is why I think he’ll fall. Taylor Lewan has much higher upside and as we saw last year with the Chiefs taking Eric Fisher over Luke Joeckel that is what teams are coveting in tackle prospects. Regardless, the worst case scenario for Matthews is probably becoming a decent starting-caliber RT. The Giants can’t really afford to pass that sort of guarantee up if it’s available here.

 

13. mFYxkfP5kValdc3WtMaRGlA St. Louis Rams

The Pick: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama

If the Rams keep the #2 overall pick and take Robinson they’ll almost certainly be looking for secondary help here. They don’t really have a single good starting safety and Clinton-Dix is one of the best players on the board here. They could definitely go corner or receiver here too and Odell Beckham out of LSU has been rocketing up draft boards.

But Clinton-Dix is a smart player with ideal size and athleticism. The fact that he just just destroys ball carriers helps too. The concerns with him are all mental as he often plays too aggressively, trying to go for the big hit instead of just wrapping up. He projects as plus-safety immediately and would certainly help the Rams. Louisville’s Calvin Pryor has been climbing up boards and has established himself as the clear #2 safety but he’d be a reach here. And if there’s a team looking to cash in on the WR or secondary help available here the Rams will certainly listen to any trade offer.

 

14. Bears-logo Chicago Bears

The Pick: Kyle Fuller, CB/S, Virginia Tech

The Bears have done an excellent job improving their offense the last couple of drafts. The problem is their once-elite defense has aged, fallen apart, and is now completely reliant on turnovers. They’ll almost certainly take the top defensive player on their board here with the exception of pass rusher. Safeties, CB’s, DT’s, the Bears have needs all over their defense and despite a couple of re-signings these needs are still, well, needs. Charles Tillman simply isn’t very good in coverage anymore. They signed a couple of safeties as well but none of them are solid starters and Bears fans are still having Chris Conte nightmares.

Kyle Fuller might not be quite as sound in man coverage as Darqueze Dennard or be as intimidating as Calvin Pryor but he’s an extremely versatile, NFL-ready guy. He can play literally anywhere in the defensive backfield. Outside, in the slot, safety, doesn’t matter. A team that needs as much secondary help as Chicago really can’t pass that up. Fuller isn’t elite in any one area of the game and he’ll never be an All-Pro talent but you can plug him in pretty much anywhere right away and he’s going to be a solid player. Bonus points for being the best blitzer from the secondary in this class.

 

15. steelers-logo Pittsburgh Steelers

The Pick: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State

The Steelers pretty much have to go CB here given the depth of this class and their embarrassing play at that spot last season. They can address their pass rush and get Big Ben some weapons in the later rounds. They couldn’t cover anybody outside last season.

Dennard is the most NFL-ready cover corner in this class and would immediately become the Steelers best guy in the secondary. They need a guy they can throw outside with confidence seeing as they have to play both Josh Gordon and AJ Green twice a year. Dennard isn’t an elite athlete but he has exceptional ball skills and is as polished as college corners come. He’s got nice fluidity and is also very good in run coverage. Much like Kyle Fuller, Dennard might not have the upside of some 1st-round CB talents, but he’s ready to be a good starter right away. A Steelers team that feels they’re still a contender needs that.

 

16. Dallas-Cowboys-Logo-Teach-Me-Genealogy Dallas Cowboys

The Pick: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville

Dallas would love Anthony Barr, Aaron Donald, or Ha Ha Clinton-Dix here but in this case they’re all off the board. DT Timmy Jernigan is an option but it’s recently been revealed he failed a drug test and that could lower his stock. America’s Team could also use some some help on the interior of their O-line but I don’t think Jerry Jones has the balls to do that two years in a row. If the board plays out this way, the Cowboys are sort of stuck here. CJ Mosley is an option though.

Some feel Clavin Pryor is the best safety prospect in this class due to his ability to hit like a linebacker and cover deep. He’s an intriguing talent but played in a strange scheme in college that required no man coverage out of him. He’s also prone to penalties. The Cowboys need at safety might not be as dramatic as their need at inside linebacker but Pryor’s stock has been rising whereas CJ Mosley’s has been sinking. But if both Barr and Donald are taken, Cowboys fans will likely be upset with this pick no matter what.

 

17. 98772 Baltimore Ravens

The Pick: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama

A bit of a surprise and reach here. If either Clinton-Dix or Pryor are in, that’s the easy pick for Baltimore. This is a tough pick to mock because Ozzie Newsome did a great job filling his needs already (WR, C, ILB, TE were all addressed). Michael Oher is gone and while the Ravens are confident in Eugene Monroe on the left side they certainly need a mauling run blocker. Ray Rice needs the help.

Enter one of the drafts most intriguing prospects, Cyrus Kouandjio. He’s a beast at 6′ 7″ 325 and he could probably add another 10 lbs and not lose anything. He’s both quick and strong and from an upside standpoint only Robinson tops him in this draft. He had an inconsistent season in 2013, many thought he should’ve gone back to Bama, but his raw talent could see him land in the 1st round. Newsome has taken on quite a few projects in recent years and this one could pay out huge if Kouandjio improves his technique.

 

18. 98792 New York Jets

The Pick: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina

There’s a very good chance Ebron goes higher (Pittsburgh and Baltimore both could take him). The Jets, even with a couple of moves this offseason, desperately need talent on offense. Especially at TE. Eric Ebron isn’t anything as a blocker but he’s a fluid athlete who runs great routes and catches the ball at its highest point. He will create mismatches right away.

The Jets could definitely afford multiple upgrades in the secondary but in this mock Gilbert, Dennard, Fuller, Clinton-Dix, and Pryor are all off the board. Whether the starting QB is Mike Vick or Geno Smith, both play a style that would benefit greatly from having an elite TE (think how effective that Vick-Alge Crumpler combo once was). It remains to be seen if Eric Decker can be a #1 WR but having Ebron running down the middle will certainly help open things up for him. The Jets could go WR too, but Ebron is more highly-touted than any of the WR’s in play here.

 

19. Miami-Dolphins-Logo Miami Dolphins

The Pick: Zack Martin, OG/OT, Notre Dame

I’m aware the Dolphins have a new logo. I refuse to acknowledge it though.

The whole Martin-Incognito thing left even more holes on an already terrible O-line. Miami signed Brandon Albert which should give them a great player at one of the tackle spots right away but they still need three starters on this unit. Luckily for them, in this mock, Zack Martin is still in.

Martin can literally play anywhere on the line and could go as high as #12 to the Giants so this is not a reach by any means. Despite playing mostly tackle at Notre Dame his body is probably better suited to be on the interior in the NFL. And he projects as a plus-plus player at guard. He has exceptional technique, using his arms and butt to get low on defenders. While not an elite athlete, his athleticism is underrated because, frankly, he’s white. He can handle NFL defensive lineman, no doubt. The Dolphins continue to make splashes in free agency and they’re probably a good o-line and a little development from Tannehill away from dethroning the Patriots. Martin would certainly help.

 

20. Arizona-Cardinals-logo Arizona Cardinals

The Pick: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State

The Cardinals are in an interesting position as they have a good-enough QB in Carson Palmer right now but need to look towards the future. Luckily for them, Carr is a talented but raw prospect who would definitely benefit from sitting out for a year or two. The team could certainly go safety or tackle here but the top prospects at those spots are gone. And with the signing of Jared Veldheer their need at tackle isn’t as extreme as most thought.

Personally, I am torn on Derek Carr. He’s without a doubt the best pure thrower in the class and is an underrated athlete but he struggled against good defenses in college and as with any QB who played primarily out of the gun there are questions about his ability to make reads and drop backs in NFL schemes (though I think in todays NFL that is less of a concern). The Cardinals are in a nice position to take a risk here though. If Carr doesn’t pan out, no biggie. With the way the CBA works now they won’t be committed to him financially. They can just try and find another QB whenever Palmer hangs up the cleats.

 

21. green-bay-packers-logo-nfl Green Bay Packers

The Pick: CJ Mosley, ILB, Alabama

The Pack desperately need a safety but there aren’t any worth taking here. Mosley presents good value at #21 and fills a need. The Packers will use this draft to fill a few holes and add depth as their core on both sides of the ball is in place already. Green Bay scored big taking Lacy out of Alabama last year, maybe the Crimson Tide can help them again. TE is an option given the uncertainty surrounding Jermichael Finley but I don’t think Ted Thompson is one to panic.

Mosley is widely regarded as the best ILB in the class and while his stock isn’t as high as it was coming into the season he still projects as an above-average NFL starter and is ready to play right away. That’s what Green Bay is looking for, guys who can improve their team now, even if they don’t have tremendous upside. He inconsistent as a tackler but he’s a great athlete who plays smart and can deliver punishing hits when he lines them up right. His athleticism allows him to stay on the field and not get exposed in coverage. It also allows him to get away with over-committing to a spot in the run game, he’s good at recovering from his mistakes.

 

22. philadelphia-eagles-logo Philadelphia Eagles

The Pick: Jimmie Ward, SS, Northern Illinois

Philly is definitely in an interesting spot if this is how the draft plays out. They have many needs that aren’t too dramatic (CB, WR, ILB) whereas their biggest need (safety) has seen its top prospect go already. I think the Eagles may surprise some folks by taking one of the draft late-risers and most intriguing guys, NIU safety Jimmie Ward.

Ward is an exceptional athlete in all situations he’s put in. He’s probably the best cover safety in the class already despite being fairly raw as an overall prospect. He misses a lot of tackles because he leaves his feet and he’ll have to adjust that in the NFL. He’s physical and has great closing speed as well. The biggest knock against him is his size (5′ 11″, 193) but we’ve seen some under-sized safeties dominate (cough cough Earl Thomas). Due to his solid lateral movement, Ward could become a slot corner if his size prevents him from being a safety.

 

23. cheifs Kansas City Chiefs

The Pick: Odell Beckham Jr, WR, LSU

Everyone and their mother is mocking a WR to Kansas City and it’s easy to see why considering their only reliable target is their RB. Andy Reid will be thanking his lucky stars if he gets to choose between Beckham Jr. Lee, and Cooks here. Beckham Jr. has risen up draft boards and many think he could go closer to the top 10 than this. He’s emerged as the third best WR prospect in this deep class.

He’s an exceptional route runner who anticipates defenses well and has great cutting ability. He accelerates fast. The big knock against him are his hands, which have improved but still need work. He’s also a little guy who doesn’t block well or project as a big time red zone guy. With that being said, he’s ready to get open in the NFL right away. And if he can do that consistently people will forgive some of his flaws.

 

24. bengals-tiger-logo Cincinnati Bengals

The Pick: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State

The Bengals would love Dennard or Fuller to fall to them here but that didn’t happen in this mock. Their corners are all either aging, recovering, or unproven. Bradley Roby and Jason Verrett are both legitimate options here. They also need some help at C and DE. But the Bengals have built an impressive core through their last few drafts and have begun to take the “best available player” approach. That very well could be Ryan Shazier, who projects as an immediate starter at WILL and would allow the team to move Vontaze Burfict and Rey Maualuga back to their natural positions.

Shazier is a polished player who’s ready to make in impact in both the pass defense and rush defense. He’s extremely rangy, allowing him to chase down RB’s. He also always seems to take the right angles on his blitzes.  The biggest concern with Shazier is his size. He could improve his tackling and coverage techniques as well but he’s one of the those rangy athletes both 3-4 and 4-3 teams are starting to look for at LB. (Think Lavonte David or Kiko Alonso).

 

25. San_Diego_Chargers San Diego Chargers

The Pick: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU

Given the depth of the position at the top of this class, the Chargers will almost surely pick a CB here. In this mock, it comes down to Verrett or Roby. If the Bengals chose one of the two then that question is answered. Verrett is undersized, but he’s exceptional in coverage. That’s what the Chargers need.

Verrett can get pushed around and doesn’t give you much in run support but he’s so fluid, runs with WR’s easily, and has the best ball skills of any CB in this draft. He’s not capable of following a big, elite WR all around the field but NFL schemes are shying away from that strategy anyways (unless you have Revis or Verner). Despite his size, Verrett plays tough. Again, he probably won’t give you much run support in the NFL but his coverage skills are hard too overlook this late in the round if you need a CB.

 

26. cleveland-browns Cleveland Browns

The Pick: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State

If the Browns take a QB at #4, which I have them doing, it’s unlikely the try and move this pick. They’ll probably take the best player on their board. Brandin Cooks might just be that guy. He would give them a flat out dynamic group of pass catchers.

Cooks is the most explosive WR in this class. He gets to his impressive top speed quickly and it looks like you’re playing Madden when he’s running in the open field. He’s little (5′ 10″, 189) but he has pretty strong hands and angles his body well so he actually manages to make some tough catches. Obviously he will be pushed around by the better corners in the NFL but chances are those guys are going to be covering Josh Gordon.

 

27. New-Orlrans-Saints-Logo New Orleans Saints

The Pick: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State

Roby is the 5th corner I have going in the first round. You may think because the Saints signed Champ Bailey that they aren’t looking at a CB, but he’s more of a stop-gap solution and honestly isn’t even very good anymore. Besides, Roby has been labeled as immature and if that’s really the case he could certainly use a mentor like Bailey. The Saints could look at center here but this draft doesn’t have a first round prospect at that spot, Marcus Martin out of USC would be a slight reach.

Roby ran a ridiculous 4.34 at the combine. He’s sort of a workout superstar and is very raw at this point but his speed and athleticism allow him to bump and run with anyone despite the fact that he’s not overly physical. Roby has as much physical talent as any CB in the draft. The Saints are solid enough right now to make this pick and hope for the best.

 

28. carolina_panthers_logo_3989 Carolina Panthers

The Pick: Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia

The Panthers are going to go either WR or OT here. With Jordan Gross retiring and the depth at WR in this draft, OT becomes the priority early. They need to make sure they get a guy who can protect Cam Newton’s blind side too. There are plenty of guys who project as starting RT’s remaining but that is not what Carolina needs.

Moses is huge and posses both great feet and hands. He gets about as low as a 6′ 6″, 320 lb man can get. He’s not a good run blocker and probably never will be but he’s as ready as any tackle in this class to handle elite pass-rusher right away. If the Panthers can get a solid starting LT at pick #28, they’ll be thrilled.

 

29. New_England_Patriots_logo New England Patriots

The Pick: Louis Nix, NT, Notre Dame

The Patriots are always a tough team to mock but Louis Nix, the best NT in this class, falling to #29 seems like an easy choice. Vince Wilfork’s days are limited, and as last season proved, it’s essential to have a space-eater in the middle of Belichick’s defense. It wouldn’t be too surprising to see the Pats go for a TE or interior O-lineman here but Nix seems like a great fit and a great value pick.

Nix is a monster and an exceptional bull rusher as well. The knee is a concern, as is conditioning, but apparently everything has checked out with him. He played at over 340 lbs last year and while he is nimble his ideal playing weight is probably around 330. That would help keep him on the field and allow him to change directions faster, which he’ll need to do since he won’t be able to simply overpower every single guy he sees in the NFL.

 

30. san-francisco-49ers-logo San Francisco 49ers

The Pick:Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri

San Fran is loaded with picks and many expect them to try and move up to grab one of the top WR’s or CB’s. I think their is enough depth at both those spots for them to wait and instead go with the best player on the board here. Kony Ealy is one of the best players left and seems to be a nice fit.

Ealy plays a bit high and is raw but his athleticism is off the charts. He’s no Clowney or Mack but he’s not that far off. He does have a few dominant moves (both his spin and swim are NFL ready). He’s also shown some ability to play standing up. He can bat balls down at the line too. Ealy might not play a ton for San Fran right away, he needs to greatly improve in coverage and run support, but his pass-rsuhing upside is as huge as you can hope for this late in the first.

 

31. Broncos_logo Denver Broncos

The Pick: Carl Bradford, OLB, Arizona State

Broncos will be looking at all LB’s here and with Mosley, Shazier, and now Ealy all gone Carl Bradford emerges as the top option.

He won’t be an elite pass rusher like in college and tends to get thrown around but he’s a fluid athlete who excels in coverage, has great instincts, and has a nice first step as well. He’s somewhat limited physically but his versatility (plays DE, OLB, MLB) and football IQ should allow him to contribute right away to a team that needs linebacker help.

 

32. seattle-seahawks-super-bowl-parade-info Seattle Seahawks

The Pick: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State

Obviously, the defending champs don’t have any glaring weaknesses. But despite re-signing Sidney Rice they could use a long-term outside WR. Allen Robinson probably doesn’t have the upside of some of the other WR’s, but he’s ready to start right away.

Not an elite runner, Robinson relies on his fluidity and large frame to get open. He’s also extremely physical when going for the ball. He won’t be pushed around in the NFL. He does run a bit upright though and doesn’t seem to trust his hands, he often tries to bring the ball into his body when he shouldn’t. But like I said, Robinson is ready to go right away and would certainly help the Seahawks overcome the loss of Golden Tate.

 

That’s all, folks. Here are some notables who I don’t think go in round 1:

Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

Marqise Lee, WR, USC

Dee Ford, DE, Auburn

Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State

Winter Is…Going to Stop Coming Eventually??: Why ‘Game of Thrones’ is Doomed

Don’t worry, there are no spoilers ahead.

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Let’s make one thing clear; I’m an obsessive ‘Game of Thrones’ fan. I read and (mostly) love the books. I watch and (mostly) love the show. Hell, I almost went to go see that garbage ‘Pompeii: 3D’ movie just because the actor who plays Jon Snow is in it. But on top of being a fan of everything Westeros I’m also a person who uses logic. And can do math. And can throw even my most fanboyish emotions out the window to look at and asses something honestly. When I look at it with my head and not my heart I see one clear-cut, indisputable fact…

The hit HBO series ‘Game of Thrones’, from a longevity standpoint, is completely fucked.

It may not be what you want to hear, but it’s the truth. Every reason why we’ll never see the epic ending author George R.R. Martin plans on writing make its way on the tube fall into one of four categories.

1. Martin’s inability or unwillingness to finish the book in a timely manner.

2. Current flaws with the show that will even become more clear in the coming season.

3. The cast aging.

4. Money.

I’ll start with the first one, which you can piece together with a few minutes of Wikipedia research. Martin started his epic series off with ‘A Game of Thrones’ in 1996. The series continued with ‘A Clash of Kings’ (1998), ‘A Storm of Swords’ (2000), ‘A Feast for Crows’ (2005), and ‘A Dance with Dragons’ (2011). The final two books in the series have both been announced but have no release date and we have been given no indication that Martin has finished the next one yet. Though he has said he expects each of them to be around 1,500 pages, we really don’t know anything else. He’s gives teases on his website, posting a chapter or two, but as far as a date for this all to conclude?

Now time for that math thing. For this series, Martin has averaged a book every three years. That’s not a terrible rate considering the scope and length of these novels. This series is grounded in literature and reality much more than something like ‘Harry Potter’, where the author patched up every plot hole and mystery by inventing some new form of magic. ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ demands that you see things from the various perspectives of a seemingly limitless cast of characters, that way you understand the world they live in from every angle. The upcoming season (debuting April 6th) will cover the second half of the third book. That means that starting in 2015, the series will have four more books to cover and two of them haven’t even been completed yet. Martin, at age 65 and overweight, is reportedly very healthy but the thought of Martin passing away before he gets a chance to finish the series will always rest in fans’ minds. Martin claims to have given major plot points to the producers in case that were to happen, but without Martin’s words on the page, would the show really be able to capture these characters?

To simplify things, here are the two potential issues that the series not being completed yet raises. A) Martin dies before he finishes the series. And B) The show catches up to the books. Issue B is the more likely and alarming of the two. ‘Game of Thrones’ COULD NOT survive a hiatus of even a year in order to give Martin more time. Delaying even a single episode of a show is financial suicide. TV is all about buzz and anticipation. Sure, ‘The Sopranos’ took some time off but the average viewer of that show is very different from the average ‘Game of Thrones’ viewer. ‘The Sopranos’ wasn’t as much about what happens next as it was about why things happened and the impact it had on the protagonist. ‘Game of Thrones’ is a bit more of a typical show in the “I wonder what’s gonna happen next week?” sense. Also, with the amount of child actors and young men and women in the cast the show could not afford any hiatus. (We’ll get into issues that the cast aging presents later).

Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are smart dudes, and they’ve addressed these issues. They’ve stated that they don’t want to do anything to hurt the momentum of the show, since momentum and “buzz” is really what TV is about, and would consider ending the show before the novels. They may be forced to go that route, but the content on our screens would almost surely suffer if they didn’t have a novel to dive into.

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So we haven’t actually talked about the content on the show yet, now’s the time. Critics and fans agree, ‘Game of Thrones’ is fucking awesome. Never has television seen a series so epic with such a vast cast of characters. Despite being held back by its medium, it never feels like its being held back. The acclaim keeps pouring in and gets more positive with every season. All that jazz is both a gift an a curse. ‘Game of Thrones’ is NOT a “perfect” piece of television. It doesn’t have the tight narrative, impeccable cast, and thematic ambition of shows like ‘The Wire’ or ‘Breaking Bad’. I’m as big of a fan as anyone but the show has its flaws.

The first is something that the show can’t help given the scope of the novels. There are just too many people and too much going on to keep track of. Even serious fans find themselves having to look up who’s who. It’s difficult to feel attached to a character when he/she is only getting 15 minutes of screen time an episode because there are other stories to deal with. This isn’t the shows fault, the novels are even more ambitious and potentially confusing. And the bigger problem is even more is about to happen this season and in the future. Sure, a lot of people die in ‘Game of Thrones’ but with seemingly every chapter (or episode) it feels like there are two new names for us to keep track of. This isn’t a problem if you’re an obsessive reader who’s read all the books multiple times. But for the average TV viewer who still can’t differentiate the Tyrell’s from the Bolton’s, this is a HUGE problem. A lot more people are introduced in the books that haven’t been adapted to TV yet. And there’s no sign that Martin will stop creating characters with the final two books. After all, it is what he does best.

The show has also completely butchered a few characters and storylines. In the novels, Sansa is one of the most complex and interesting characters. On the show, she’s the one fans pick on. I don’t necessarily think they’ve done a bad job with her and her story, but that is the general consensus. Given that (Minor Spoiler Alert) she isn’t getting killed anytime soon, this could become an even bigger problem. Bran Stark and Theon Greyjoy have also received mixed reception from both critics and fans. Both their stories in the third season seemed forced and whenever they were on screen it felt like everyone was just begging for them to cut to Tyrion or Daenerys.

The producers have done a great job casting the show (aside from a few choices) but it still feels uneven. Unfortunately there really are no “main” characters in this series. That’s just how Martin wrote it. This presents a problem on TV. We like seeing Arya a hell of a lot more than we like seeing Theon, why should they get a similar amount of screen time?

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The ‘Harry Potter’ film adaptions worked because the characters aged at least somewhat parallel to the actors that portrayed them. But Martin never gives us an explicit idea about how much time the books stretch over or how much the characters age. Arya is supposed to be a young girl but actress Massie Williams (16) is already outgrowing her and the meat of Arya’s story hasn’t even popped up yet. The same could be said for all the young characters on the show. Even IF this show did one season a year through all the novels and had no hiatus this is still going to be a major issue. Will the fans buy Bran looking like he’s 20? Or will they buy certain major roles being re-cast? The answer is no. It’s that simple. There is absolutely no way these actors are going to be able to pull off these roles three years from now. I get that makeup and camera artistry can do some amazing things but….no.

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The first season of ‘Game of Thrones’ had a then-record $60 million budget. The next two seasons saw a budget increase of (reportedly) 15%. Even as the most expensive show in the history of television, ‘Game of Thrones’ still has to cut a few corners to make up for what it can’t afford. The producers have handled this beautifully and it’s really not noticeable unless you’ve read the books. But this still presents an issue as the story is only going to get bigger and will cost even more money to produce without completely screwing the fans over. Think the battle at the end of season 2 was epic and expensive? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

This would be less of an issue if HBO wasn’t a premium cable channel. If ‘Game of Thrones’ was on “regular” TV it could just drastically increase ad prices and due to the popularity of the show advertisers would still likely pay for the space. But it’s on HBO. It’s also the most commonly illegally downloaded show in history. People also share their HBO GO information so friends can catch it online. It’s simple, ‘Game of Thrones’ is bigger than HBO. Unless the executives at HBO figure out a creative way to generate revenue from this show it will likely start to lose them money, possibly as early as this season.

While HBO itself is a $20 billion entity of the Time Warner company no company can afford to be spending so much dough (an estimated $90 million for season 4) on a set of ten episodes that so many people are watching for free.

Also, we’ve already seen some of the cast penetrate the silver screen and see their celebrity rise. This will surely continue to happen and HBO is going to have to throw a lot more money at the stars to keep them around. Take fan favorite Daenerys (played by Emilia Clarke) for example; Clarke was just cast as Sarah Connor is the re-boot of the Terminator franchise. If she becomes a legitimate Hollywood leading lady, why the hell is she going to stay on ‘Game of Thrones’ if they don’t pay her HUGE sums of money? TV contracts for actors usually change from season to season because the network doesn’t know how long the show will go on. These talented actors on ‘Game of Thrones’ hold all the leverage.

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I hope I’m wrong. I hope Martin finishes the books ASAP. I hope Benioff and Weiss address the issues on the show with grace and artistry. I hope HBO finds a way to keep cutting the checks. And maybe all these people will do just that. They are, after all, much smarter than you or me. It’s just that looking at it realistically, I don’t see it happening. I don’t see them concluding this series on TV unless they rapidly rush things or deviate greatly from the source material. I don’t see them finding a way to keep Arya believable when Massie Williams is 20. I don’t see the forces of HBO being able to fight off the internet and keep their copyrighted material protected.

Us fans need to emotionally prepare for the fact that one of these days, in the near future, winter will not be coming.

Enjoy season 4 everyone!