What was far and away the most hyped first round of a NFL Draft in the history of the event did not disappoint. Quarterback Johnny Manziel is the latest inductee into the Green Room Hall of Fame. The Cleveland Browns are the talk of the NFL. There were several surprises in the top-ten picks of the first round, but the consensus best player of the class went where most expected him to go.
Here is a rundown of the 10 first picks from the 2014 NFL Entry Draft.
10 Detroit Lions: TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina
Defense was the popular prediction for Detroit here in mock drafts leading up to Thursday evening. The club had been linked with the top cornerback on most big boards, but he, as you'll read later, was not an option for the Lions, and it's possible that the team's first choice went off the board via the ninth overall selection.
Thus, the Lions went out and got the top tight end of this draft class.
Ebron is an athletic marvel, an advanced route runner who is 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds. He has the hands of the No. 1 WR, and his size makes him a terrible match-up for cornerbacks, safeties and linebackers alike. Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford probably enjoyed himself a glass of champagne on Thursday evening.
He now has a lot of weapons with which to work.
9 Minnesota Vikings: LB Anthony Barr, UCLA
Minnesota had reportedly been eying both a top cornerback and the best defensive tackle and inside pass rusher of the draft class. Instead, the Vikings moved down a spot before getting who could, with no disrespect meant toward the top pick of the draft, be the best athlete of all of the defensive players selected on Thursday night.
Barr is exceptionally quick for his size (6-foot-5, 255 pounds), and his acceleration and closing speed make him a nightmare for both quarterbacks and running backs. The worry with him is that he's very green at the position. A natural running back, Barr has played linebacker at a high level for only two years of his life.
8 Cleveland Browns: CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
The Browns, who possessed picks No. 4 and No. 26 overall as of 8:00 pm ET on Thursday evening, traded down in a deal with the Buffalo Bills that landed Cleveland Buffalo's first and fourth-round picks for 2015. Then, in a move that surprised television analysts and shocked followers of the club, the Browns went with Gilbert over Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.
It's funny how things work out.
In Gilbert, the Browns grabbed the top cornerback on several big boards, a cover-corner ball-hawk with great vision. Gilbert could also develop into an elite kick returner in the NFL. He is not a perfect prospect, though, as his tackling skills will need to be improved upon if he is to have been worth such a high pick.
Cleveland would go on to show that patience truly is a virtue, getting the phenom known as Johnny Football after trading up from pick No. 26 to No. 22.
7 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M
There's little to not like about Evans. He's 6-foot-5 and 231 pounds. He possesses a ridiculous 35-1/8" arm length. A former basketball player, Evans has what scouts often call “above-the-rim” skills. He has tremendous hands, and he isn't afraid to get down and dirty as a blocker.
Tampa Bay fans would do well to pump the breaks just a tad before knighting Evans as the next Calvin Johnson. Since Evans was a basketball player first, he does not have a long history of playing competitive football at an elite level. He will have to improve as a route-runner if he is to develop into a true NFL No. 2 wide receiver.
6 Atlanta Falcons: OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
The Falcons, if reports and whispers are accurate, coveted both Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack. It appears as if the club was not willing to mortgage its future in order to draft either player, so Atlanta instead got who could be the cornerstone of the team's offensive line for the next decade.
Matthews was, heading into last holiday season, the best offensive lineman on the big board. He was then leapfrogged by Greg Robinson, and some scouts also ranked Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan ahead of Matthews. The fall of Matthews down the board resulted in Atlanta drafting a true force in the trenches at a bargain, and don't at all be surprised if Matthews begins to get compared with Cleveland Browns tackle Joe Thomas next fall.
5 Oakland Raiders: LB Khalil Mack, Buffalo
Peter King of Sports Illustrated had, in his final mock draft, Mack going No. 1 overall to the Houston Texans. Mack set a NCAA record for forced fumbles last November, and the fact that he played at Buffalo and not at a “big school” should not cause anybody to undersell his talents. Don't take my word for it.
Ask Ohio State about what it's like to have to deal with Mack.
Mack is said to offer the full package in that he is the prototypical 3-4 linebacker. The four-year starter has the acceleration and power to get past pass-blockers, and Mack has also proven to be able to drop back into pass defense. The biggest knock on Mack is that he may not be able to transition into a starting NFL inside linebacker.
He likely won't be asked to do so.
4 Buffalo Bills: WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson
It was, following the conclusion of the first round on Thursday evening, leaked that multiple teams had Watkins atop their overall draft boards. Buffalo must have been one of those clubs, as the Bills happily gave away a future first-round pick to move up and take the Clemson product.
Watkins is one of the fastest wide receivers of this draft class. He can take the ball to the house from anywhere on the field. Watkins put on a show in the FedEx Orange Bowl last January, going for 16 catches, 227 receiving yards, and two touchdowns in a winning effort against Ohio State. Sure, the Buckeyes didn't do much of anything to stop Watkins, but that night could nevertheless have served as a preview of what could be to come on Sundays.
3 Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Blake Bortles, UCF
As much as the plight of Manziel made headlines, this pick was maybe the ultimate shocker of the first round. Bortles, at 6-foot-5 and 232 pounds, has the ideal size to play the position. His touch on his passes is underrated by some, and his elusiveness coupled with his stature has led to Bortles being compared with Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
The knocks – plural – on Bortles leading up to the draft had him drop down big boards following the NFL Combine. There are real questions about his arm strength. It is widely believed that Bortles is a pick for the future and not somebody who will be ready to lead an NFL offense this coming September.
What the Jaguars will ask of Bortles over the next several months is not yet known.
2 St. Louis Rams: OT Greg Robinson, Auburn
There were, earlier this week, rumors that the Rams could be interested in drafting Manziel before ultimately trading quarterback Sam Bradford, perhaps to the Bucs or to the Vikings. Rams head coach Jeff Fisher had, earlier this offseason, publicly backed Bradford as his starting quarterback.
It looks like Fisher wasn't lying.
Do not assume that the Rams got a player in Robinson who will, from day one, keep Bradford on his feet during games. Robinson is the best run-blocker to enter the league in years, but his pass-blocking skills need more than a little work. So long as he puts in the necessary time over the next few months, he should develop into an annual All-Pro.
1 Houston Texans: DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
Depending on what story you want to believe, Houston either grabbed the top overall prospect of the draft, or the Texans could not find a trade partner at the eleventh hour. There is, regardless of what anybody says, no such thing as a “sure-thing” to-be rookie. Clowney took plays and even games off in 2013 as he attempted to stay healthy up through the 2014 NFL Draft.
It would have been a massive gamble to pass on him, and Houston obviously didn't think the gamble was worth the risk.
Clowney is an athletic freak, a once-in-a-generation player. It's now up to Houston head coach Bill O'Brien, his coaching staff and J.J. Watt to get the most out of the pass rusher.
Watch out if they all succeed, NFL quarterbacks.