2014 NFL Draft: Cooney's Calls on special prospects
Publisher Frank Cooney identifies favorites and those he would not draft contrary to strong public support in the 2014 NFL Draft. Bottom line: This is Johnny Manziel's draft.
Like those before it, the 2014 NFL Draft has special players who have already burned memories into the database of our brain as we grapple with the intoxicating what-if factor concerning their futures.
We will recall and discuss these memories, these players, for decades, either regardless of how they fare in the NFL or because of it.
For various reasons those players for me in this draft include, first and foremost, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, along with Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley, Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr and Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans.
And those reasons range from simple intense curiosity to believing some will be elite stars or surprise busts in the NFL. We will get back later to who goes in what category.
NFL Films allows us to re-live historic game moments we witnessed live, and I had the good fortune to be there for numerous plays so historic they have names, including The (Jim Marshall) Wrong Way Run, The Holy Roller, Ghost to the Post, The Hit, The Sea of Hands Catch, The Catch, The Catch II, The Fog Bowl, The Fumble, The Snowball Game, Red Right 88, and more.
But these pre-draft memories are more personal, discussed, argued or just shared with respected colleagues, coaches, scouts, general managers, even owners.
From the 1970s, when I referred to Oakland's Al Davis as the Managing General Genius because he was, there are special memories discussing tight end Raymond Chester, his surprise 1970 No. 24 pick out of little Morgan State and the even more surprising 1973 first-round selection of punter Ray Guy.
At the East-West Shrine game practices in 1972, smooth San Diego State cornerback Willie Buchanon was the topic of talks with true personnel genius Ron Wolf, then with the Raiders (Buchanon was the No. 7 pick by the Green Bay Packers, but had a fabulous career shortened by a stunning injury).
Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s when he helped start NFLDraftScout.com, Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh was infinitely engaging and passionate discussing prospects, most memorably defensive back Ronnie Lott, wide receiver Jerry Rice and quarterback Jake "The Snake" Plummer, whom he likened to Joe Montana.
In 1989, there was Paul Zimmerman, Sports Illustrated's Dr. Z, raving on during lunch at an NFL league meeting in Palm Springs about Michigan State offensive lineman Tony Mandarich, whose career was mangled by steroids. Zimmerman, whose indomitable spirit still shines despite multiple strokes, managed to chuckle about Mandarich over dinner years later.
More recently there were bonding moments with staff members of NFLDraftScout.com.
Before the 2005 draft, our then fledgling analyst Rob Rang and I watched at an East-West practice when 6-foot-4, 264-pound Southern Illinois running back Brandon Jacobs (formerly an Auburn backup to Carnell "Cadillac" Williams and Ronnie Brown) lowered his pad level to waist-high on a goal-line play and bowled over several defenders. His stock soared right there.
Later, at the Indianapolis combine, while with our chief operating officer Derek Harper, Maryland defensive end Shawn Merriman's mere demeanor, which was dynamic, was unforgettably impressive. Jacobs was drafted by the New York Giants in the fourth round, well after both his former Auburn teammates, and Merriman was the 12th player selected, by San Diego.
These more recent memories are somewhat devalued in a world where you can Google tall Giants running back or San Diego linebacker steroids and Wikipedia is on top of the list with Jacobs or Merriman.
For now, special players and feelings about the 2014 draft are fresh, personal and not yet ready even for the intricate analytics of Google.
Frankly, here are the defining players and feelings even before the draft begins Thursday:
This is the Johnny Manziel draft. Whatever team has the guts to draft him will instantly boost its fan base, until or unless Manziel confirms those nabobs of negativity who gripe about his flamboyant, swashbuckling, playground style during his two unforgettable college seasons, or that he is short or careless with the ball.
I probably wouldn't be in sports if it weren't for another unique player I admired as a San Francisco youth. He had a horribly twisted batting stance. He caught the ball glove-up, waist high. But he was mesmerizing. If the Giants were behind by two runs heading into the ninth inning and he was up third, I figured if the first two could get on, Willie Mays would win with a home run. And he did that so many times that he is a legend. Mays celebrated his 83rd birthday on Tuesday.
I was reminded of those Mays moments last New Year's Eve, watching Texas A&M against Duke in the Chic-fil-A Bowl. With two seconds left in the half, Duke led 35-17 after five consecutive touchdown drives and was averaging about 10 yards a play. When Duke opted to end the half with a gimme, 18-yard field goal and a 38-17 lead, I thought Manziel would Mays them.
He did, finishing his final college game throwing for 382 yards and four touchdowns and running for 72 yards and another touchdown. Texas A&M won, 52-48, in my mind by the four points they eschewed at the half when they did not count on the Manziel factor.
So, despite understanding the flaws and drawbacks inherent in Manziel, the high moment of this draft will be when we learn who has the guts to take him.
This draft also has elite prospects, whose abilities are such that I might hear about their great careers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection meeting if I should be fortunate enough to still be around.
In order of potential -- Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson, South Carolina pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney and possibly Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins. All of them can be as good as they want to be, barring injuries.
Then there are these players who could and should be All-Pro or Pro-Bowl selectees multiple times -- Texas A&M tackle Jake Matthews, Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley, and maybe Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack, if he proves he can make the big step up.
Here are players I expect to do surprisingly well, regardless of where they are selected or raps against them -- Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr, Auburn defensive end Dee Ford and Stanford inside linebacker Shayne Skov.
Finally, despite respected opinions to the contrary, these are players I would not draft -- Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr and Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans.
Of course those last three could also wind up the ones being discussed someday by the Hall of Fame committee. But that's my call now and if I'm still there for the discussion, I will recall this day as a fond memory.
--Frank Cooney, founder and publisher of The Sports Xchange and NFLDraftScout.com, covered the NFL and the draft since the 1960s and is a selector for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
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