Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel was always going to be the star of the 2014 NFL Draft. That he was, but in a much different way than many envisioned at the beginning of Thursday night. Manziel eventually found a home, and it is with a franchise that has been infected by a culture of losing for over a decade.
But are the Cleveland Browns finally ready to turn their franchise around after years in the gutter? Is there at least one franchise owner out there that will, in years to come, be wishing he would have grabbed Manziel when he had the chance? Only time shall tell. But for now, here are 10 of the most interesting storylines from this year’s NFL Entry Draft.
10. No Jerry Football
The final week leading up to any NFL Draft is the silliest part of the so-called “silly season” in that rumors and reports about potential deals that may or may not occur come out of nowhere. One such story that emerged earlier in the week was that the Dallas Cowboys, specifically franchise owner Jerry Jones, wanted to grab the phenom known as Johnny Football if Manziel fell down to pick No. 16.
Fall Manziel did, and yet Jones and the Cowboys instead went with offensive tackle Zack Martin.
Martin is an incredible talent, the type of big man who can feature at five different spots on an offensive line. He doesn’t help the defense of the Cowboys, however, nor does he bring the excitement that Manziel would have brought to the Dallas fan base.
It’s still very early into the process, yes, but Jones could end up regretting not swinging for the fences here.
9. Wrong About The G-Men
I have, since last November, been monitoring roughly eight reputable NFL mock drafts as they pertained to the New York Giants. While tight end Eric Ebron was, in early mocks, linked with the Giants, the consensus opinion was that Big Blue would go either offensive line or defensive line with the twelfth overall pick of the ’14 NFL Draft.
The Giants passed on both the previously mentioned Martin and on defensive tackle Aaron Donald for wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Beckham, who will serve as a weapon for quarterback Eli Manning and possibly as the team’s future kick returner, broke the LSU single-season all-purpose yards record in 2013.
8. Mock Drafts 360
Mock drafts often, as they evolve, come full circle. The belief in early mocks was that the Rams would select an offensive lineman, either Auburn tackle Greg Robinson or Jake Matthews out of Texas A&M, with the second overall pick. This was strengthened in February when head coach Jeff Fisher publicly stated that he and the Rams were committed to Sam Bradford being the team’s starting quarterback.
A funny thing then happened in March. The Rams began to be linked with play-makers such as linebacker Khalil Mack and wide receiver Sammy Watkins. There were also reports that the Rams would have been willing to trade down. In the final week leading up to the draft. St. Louis even floated out a smokescreen that the team could pull off a shocker and draft Manziel.
The madness of the speculation came to an end on the Wednesday before the draft, when it became clear that the Rams were set on taking Robinson. That is exactly what the team did on Thursday evening.
7. Tight End?
The Detroit Lions were going to take the best defensive back available with the tenth overall pick. That was a given in mock drafts for months leading up to the draft. It was perceived that the only way the Lions would pass on a cornerback or on a safety is if a top offensive lineman (Jake Matthews) or linebacker Anthony Barr (more on him later) would fall to Detroit.
Neither did, and yet Detroit picked tight end Eric Ebron.
This isn’t to say that Ebron isn’t a true weapon on offense. He could, were he to reach his maximum potential, put up numbers comparable to those of New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham. Giving quarterback Matthew Stafford another weapon isn’t a bad thing, but the Lions left fans and analysts surprised with how they attacked the first round of this draft.
6. High Barr
Manziel was by far the most polarizing prospect of this draft. Anthony Barr was probably second on that invisible list. Barr, at 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds, is freakishly quick for his size, and he has natural instincts for getting to the quarterback and for tracking running backs down.
He is also the greenest defensive player of any that were on the board.
Barr was meant to be a star running back at UCLA, but that day never came. He struggled to find playing time in his first couple of years in college before being converted into a dominant pass rusher. Two years of stellar play was not enough to impress some teams, however, who reportedly had Barr in the late teens or early 20s of their overall boards.
The Minnesota Vikings had no plans on waiting that long to get their guy, drafting Barr at No. 9 and one spot ahead of division rivals Detroit.
5. WRs vs. DBs
There were, in mock drafts and draft conversations held in the weeks leading up to May 8, discussions on which would be the hotter commodity between wide receivers and defensive backs. It looked like there was about to be an early run on wide receivers early on. Three (Watkins, Mike Evans, and Beckham, Jr.) went in the top twelve.
Cornerback Kyle Fuller then went off the board 14 picks deep. With Fuller and Justin Gilbert no longer available, seven defensive backs were picked up by teams in the second half of the round. That has resulted in several talented wide receivers, Marqise Lee from USC and Allen Robinson out of Penn State, falling into the second round.
4. The Logical Move
It was hardly a secret that the Houston Texans had, since last January, been shopping the first overall pick to any team willing to discuss the matter. Rumor was that the Atlanta Falcons were the least likely team to pull off such a trade, and it seemed more and more likely as draft day approached that a deal would get done, largely because of the Texans supposedly lowering their asking price for the rights to the pick.
It never happened. The majority of analysts and reporters who believed that defensive end Jadeveon Clowney would be the first player taken in this draft were proven right when a teary-eyed Clowney emerged out of the Green Room wearing a Texans cap. The once-in-a-generation pass rusher will be lined up with J.J. Watt, and the Houston defense now looks downright scary.
3. Where Insiders Were Right On QBs
The supposed draft stocks of the top quarterbacks of this draft class all took hits following the NFL Combine. No prospect suffered through the draft process more than did Louisville starter Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater, the projected No. 1 overall pick of this class last September, had himself a very good final college football season.
Then, it very quickly all went terribly wrong for him.
Bridgewater has smaller hands than originally thought. He is perceived, by some, to be too slender to excel on Sundays. He famously threw without wearing a glove at his pro day, and he looked absolutely horrible when doing so. Only one team, the Vikings, deemed Bridgewater worthy of being worth a first-round selection, and the Vikes moved up to get their man with the final pick of the round.
2. Where Insiders Were Dead Wrong On QBs
It had been widely reported for weeks that Cleveland Browns general manager Ray Farmer had Bridgewater atop his quarterbacks wish-list. Farmer and the Browns passed on Bridgewater at No. 4. They passed on him at No. 8. Cleveland then moved up later on in the first round to select a different quarterback.
You have to give those within the Browns organization credit for getting so many to bite on what we now know were smokescreens.
And what about Blake Bortles? Bortles was, in the hours leading up to the draft, thought to not even be in the conversation to go third overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Rather than go with Mack, Watkins or with Manziel, the Jags surprised many in the football world when they made the call to take Bortles so early in the draft.
1. Johnny Cleveland
The next time a high-profile player falls down a draft board, you can be sure that highlights of Manziel waiting…and waiting…and waiting…in the Green Room will air on ESPN and on NFL Network. Like former Cleveland Browns first-round pick Brady Quinn and current Green Bay Packers starter Aaron Rodgers before him, Manziel sat as potential suitors, at least eight, passed on the Johnny Football sensation.
Heck, the St. Louis Rams passed twice.
The Browns, who had picks No. 4 and No. 26 overall at the start of the night, expertly read the actual draft board before using that second selection that was acquired last September when the team traded running back Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts in order to move up to pick No. 22. Manziel was then introduced to the waiting crowd by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, and the city of Cleveland went crazy.