The NFL Draft is always full of surprise and intrigue, but this year’s may be the gold standard against which all subsequent drafts are compared. We saw trades happening both early and often, early picks that seemingly came out of left field and image after image of an increasingly angry Johnny Manziel as he slipped down the draft board. It was exciting.
Even in a draft chock full of surprises, there were a few storylines that shined above all the others.
The Quarterback Slide
The biggest shock of the draft came early as the Jacksonville Jaguars selected UCF QB Blake Bortles with the third overall pick. The pick was not surprising from a needs standpoint. The Jags have been searching for a franchise quarterback for seemingly forever and Chad Henne is a stopgap option at best. Taking Bortles over Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel, however, was a shock.
In the days before the draft, Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell expressed his love for Manziel, saying he was the most pro-ready quarterback in the draft. It was all a ruse though, and Caldwell confirmed afterwards Bortles was his guy all along.
The question now becomes whether or not the Jaguars found the franchise quarterback they have been so desperately searching for. Bortles certainly has the upside to be a top starter for a long time, but he has a lot of maturing to do. It would be ideal for Bortles to sit behind Henne for at least some of next season, but after dedicating such a high pick, it may be difficult for Jacksonville to sit him very long.
Despite a quarterback going top-three, there was not much quarterback love to be found after Bortles.
Manziel had to wait all the way until pick No. 22 for the Browns to select him, and Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater did not hear his name called until the Vikings selected him with the last pick of the first round. Fresno State QB Derek Carr to the Raiders at pick 36 overall and the Patriots’ stunning selection of Eastern Illinois QB Jimmy Garoppolo at pick 62 overall rounded out the quarterbacks selected in the first 115 picks. A stunning series of events considering some people thought as many as five quarterbacks could go in the first 40 picks.
This quarterback class was among the most underwhelming we have seen, and that was underlined by the lack of signal callers selected early. It will be interesting to see if any are able to develop into a quality starter in the league.
Browns Wheeling and Dealing
Before we could even catch our collective breath following the Bortles selection, Cleveland and Buffalo took it away again with a mammoth trade. The Bills sent their 2015 first-round pick to Cleveland in order to move up from ninth overall to fourth overall to select Clemson WR Sammy Watkins.
Watkins will be an excellent playmaker for E.J. Manuel and gives the Bills the big play ability they have been missing from the wide receiver position, but a first-round pick is a steep price to pay for a wide receiver. Watkins will have to be a very special player for Buffalo to justify the cost.
This trade also has to be questioned from the Browns’ perspective. It is still murky how much the Cleveland decision makers knew of Josh Gordon’s potential suspension when making their first-round decision, but wide receiver was a big need even before the Gordon news. As it stands now, the Browns will enter the 2014 season with Greg Little, Nate Burleson and Andrew Hawkins as their top three wide receivers. Not exactly the stuff of dreams.
The Browns were not done dealing after the Bills trade and quickly swapped the ninth overall pick they received from Buffalo for the eighth overall pick held by the Vikings. As soon as the trade came through, speculation began about the Browns coming up to pick Manziel, but that was not their man, at least not yet.
The Browns instead used the pick on Oklahoma State CB Justin Gilbert. Gilbert is a fine player and was the top corner on a lot of people’s boards, but why give up a fifth-round pick to move up the one spot? It was very unlikely the Vikings are anyone else wanted to use the eighth overall on a corner, and even if they did a lot of teams had Virginia Tech CB Kyle Fuller rated higher than Gilbert.
It was an unnecessary and costly move considering the amount of talent available in the fifth round.
Again, the Browns were not done moving around. The final deal of the Browns’ first round had Cleveland swapping the 26th overall pick and a third rounder for the Eagles’ 22nd overall. Twitter was abuzz after this trade. Surely this was Johnny Football’s time.
Finally, mercifully, it was.
It was quite a move for Cleveland. They read the quarterback market correctly and were able to get the guy most people thought they coveted at pick four a full 18 picks later while helping their defense and adding a first-round pick in 2015.
For Manziel, he fell into one of the better positions for a rookie quarterback. He may be without Josh Gordon or really any weapons besides Jordan Cameron, but he will get to work with a coach in Kyle Shanahan with a proven record of success using a young, mobile, somewhat impulsive quarterback.
Expect Shanahan to take a page out his own Robert Griffin III book. He will get Manziel moving out of the pocket and give him the opportunity to make big plays both with his legs and by pushing the ball downfield.
Shanahan should also use Manziel’s mobility and the read-option game to make the Browns’ rushing attack more potent. That should spell early success for Ben Tate and, once Tate is injured, success for Towson RB Terrance West, who the Browns acquired by moving back into the third round, or Alabama State RB Isaiah Crowell, who the Browns signed as an undrafted free agent.
The Browns were certainly the most active of any first round team and among the most active of the entire draft. It will be interesting to see if these moves help the Browns finally jump into playoff contention.
Missouri DE Michael Sam’s Long Wait
The talk of the late rounds was the slide of Missouri DE Michael Sam, who did not come off the board until the Rams took him with the 249th overall pick.
Sam is attempting to become the first openly-gay athlete to compete in the NFL, and as such he has earned national headlines and attention from sports fans and non-sports fans alike. Understandably then, a ton of attention was paid to his draft stock. Unfortunately for Sam a lack of a true position and a lack of even serviceable measurables for a pass rusher pushed him way down draft boards.
Now that he is drafted, attention will switch to his roster status. Sam will likely have to beat out one of Sammy Brown or Eugene Sims to makes the Rams’ final 53, and even then he will be limited to just a situational pass rusher. He may be best served spending a year developing on the practice squad.
No matter what happens with Sam moving forward, his selection is truly a watershed moment for the NFL.
Titans Plug Non-Existent Hole
The Tennessee Titans shocked the world when they selected Michigan OT Taylor Lewan with the 11th overall pick in the draft. Lewan is a talented player worthy of being selected in the top-15, but the Titans were not the team to do it.
Tennessee had a ton of needs on both sides of the ball, but offensive line was not among them. They have All-Pro Michael Roos at left tackle for at least one more season, solid guards in Andy Levitre and second-year player Chance Warmack, and second-year center Brian Schwenke is only going to get better.
The only weak link on the offensive line is newly-acquired Michael Oher, but Tennessee gave him $9.5 million guaranteed barely a month before the draft. There is no way they will sit Oher after giving him all that money. That leaves few scenarios for Lewan to be a Week 1 starter, and it is borderline criminal for a team with this many needs to leave pick 11 without a Week 1 starter.
Perhaps this signing is for the future. Roos is quality, but he is not going to play forever. Once Roos leaves or retires, Lewan could kick out to left tackle and hold down that position for a long time. If future was the idea, though, why not go quarterback? The fact that Jake Locker’s fifth-year option went unused is sign enough they are not sold on the former first-round pick, and they were in a prime position to snag Manziel or Bridgewater.
The move was perplexing and easily the worst pick of the first round.