2014 NFL Draft: Top-10 First Round Observations
It took nearly four hours, but the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft didn't disappoint, providing intrigue and plenty of surprises. Here's a look at the top-10 observations from day one
It took nearly four hours, but the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft didn't disappoint, providing intrigue and plenty of surprises. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel was clearly the main storyline, especially after he fell out of the top 10. But there were quite a few picks and trades that raised a few eyebrows across the league, from both personnel men and fans.
Ten takeaways from Thursday's first round:
end big night ... and "Manziel Watch"
Throughout the draft process, Cleveland was widely believed to be a possible landing spot for Manziel. But I'm not sure anyone would have guessed it would come at pick No. 22 in the first round after the Browns traded up with their second first round pick.
There were reports earlier in the week that the Browns would not draft Manziel at pick No. 4. But the key part of that report is "at pick No. 4," because once Manziel started to fall in the first round, the Browns saw the opportunity to trade up and get him. General manager Ray Farmer and Cleveland always had interest in the polarizing passer, but not everyone in the building was comfortable selecting Manziel in the top 10. Once he made it into the 20's, all it took was a third round pick to trade up and secure Manziel at No. 22 - ironically, the same pick the Browns drafted Brady Quinn (2007) and Brandon Weeden (2012) in previous drafts.
2. Smokescreens cleared, Clowney goes No. 1
Could it be Khalil Mack? Would the Texans trade out? Despite shopping the pick and having discussions about other players, Houston went with the top talent this draft class had to offer: South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
There were questions about Clowney's fit in Romeo Crennel's 3-4 scheme, questions about the work ethic and passion. But it comes down to talent level and he was just too good to pass up. Clowney will have a chance to watch and learn from one of the NFL's best pass rushers every day in practice ( J.J. Watt ). Regardless of how this pick turns out, no one can fault the Texans for rolling the dice on Clowney.
3. Browns trade back at No. 4, then up at No. 8, end up with ... a CB?
Sitting with the No. 4 pick, the Browns were expected to be aggressive and they were, trading back with the Buffalo Bills to the No. 9 selection and picking up a 2015 first rounder in the process. But then Cleveland traded up with the Minnesota Vikings to the No. 8 spot and everyone wondered, could this be Manziel's spot? Quite the opposite as the Browns drafted the first defensive back of this draft, Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert.
Head coach Mike Pettine wants big, aggressive cornerbacks for his defense and Gilbert fits the bill. Pettine was the defensive coordinator with the New York Jets and Gilbert will be his version of Antonio Cromartie , a quality option opposite Joe Haden , one of the NFL's top corners. He has some technique and tackling questions, but from a size (6-feet) and speed (4.35) standpoint, Gilbert has big-time potential.
4. Aggressive moves for WRs Sammy Watkins, Brandin Cooks
In the deepest wide receiver class in a long time, teams used all their resources to make sure they landed one of the top options. Buffalo used a 2015 first rounder to trade up for Clemson's Sammy Watkins at No. 4 and New Orleans used a 2014 third rounder (91st overall) to trade up with Arizona to get Oregon State's Brandin Cooks.
Both playmaking wideouts go to offenses with speed and talent already at wide receiver. In Buffalo, Watkins joins Stevie Johnson, T.J. Graham , Robert Woods , Marquise Goodwin and Mike Williams, and Cooks teams with Kenny Stills , Marques Colston and Robert Meachem . For the Bills, the move was about giving second-year quarterback EJ Manuel more weapons. And for the New Orleans Saints , Drew Brees only has so many years left, give him weapons to win now.
5. Jerry Jones passes on Johnny Football, goes safe route
The NFL world wondered, if Manziel falls to the Dallas Cowboys at pick No. 16, could Jones withstand the temptation? Manziel did fall. And Jones passed. And ironically, instead of taking one of the most exciting players in this draft, the Cowboys drafted Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin, one of the safest.
While Manziel is flashy and would command the headlines, Martin is a plug-and-play blocker who will line up at guard for the Cowboys and quietly make several Pro Bowls in his career. The Cowboys need defense, but with Anthony Barr, Aaron Donald and Ryan Shazier off the board, Dallas stuck to the draft board and took the top player. Very wise choice, in my opinion.
6. Draft history - No first round RBs in consecutive years
While not a surprise, it's still notable that not one running back was drafted in the first round, making it consecutive drafts without a back in the opening round. The devaluation of the position has been clear over the past few seasons for several reasons, including short shelf lives and the ability to find quality runners in the middle rounds.
If a running back isn't drafted in the first eight picks of the second round, it would mark the first time in NFL history that a running back is not drafted in the top 40 picks. Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde and LSU's Jeremy Hill have the best chance to be the first back off the board, probably in the second round, but how early?
7. Vikings steal Bridgewater with pick No. 32
Minnesota showed plenty of pre-draft interest in Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, but ultimately the Vikings decided to go in a different direction with their top 10 pick. But as the first round went on, Bridgewater's name wasn't called and the Vikings saw an opportunity, moving up with the Seattle Seahawks to get their quarterback at pick No. 32.
A team source told me offensive coordinator Norv Turner pounded the table for Bridgewater, and general manager Rick Spielman listened. It was an excellent maneuver by the Vikings, bringing some hope to a question spot on the Minnesota roster.
Only three quarterbacks were drafted in the first round: UCF's Blake Bortles No. 3 overall, Manziel and Bridgewater. Fresno State's Derek Carr, Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo and others will need to wait until Friday to see where they'll be playing football in the fall. The Houston Texans pick No. 33, the first pick of the second round and a potential landing spot for one.
8. Bortles only passer in top 20
The Jacksonville Jaguars did extensive research on this quarterback, searching for "the guy" to take the bad taste of Blaine Gabbert out of the franchise's mouth. Some thought Manziel could be that guy or possibly Carr or Garoppolo, who the Jaguars staff coached at the Senior Bowl. But Jacksonville surprised most and drafted in-state star Bortles No. 3 overall.
Bortles needs some technique work, but his size, arm talent and poised demeanor in clutch situations convinced the Jaguars that he was worth a top-three pick. And it's a great landing spot for him because he won't be expected to play right away with Chad Henne already on the roster, allowing the Jaguars to bring him along at his own pace. Time will tell if he's the top quarterback from this draft, but Jacksonville certainly thinks he will be.
9. Ozzie Newsome loves those Alabama players
Good football players just seem to find the Baltimore Ravens and with Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley still on the board at No. 17, the pick became a no-brainer for general manager Ozzie Newsome and Baltimore. An Alabama alum, Newsome has dipped into the Crimson Tide pool of talent before and as long as the Ravens are comfortable with his durability, Mosley is a great fit in Baltimore.
With Ray Lewis a few dozen yards away at Radio City Music Hall on the ESPN set, Mosley held up his Ravens jersey. It's not easy to replace a future Hall of Famer, but Mosley is extremely instinctive and is like an extra coach on the field with his knowledge, anticipation and passion for football.
10. Marcus Smith first big surprise first rounder
Pass rushers are king and in a draft where edge rushers weren't the strongest group, we anticipated many names being moved up the draft board. Louisville defensive end/outside linebacker Marcus Smith went much higher than most thought he would, landing at pick No. 26 to the Philadelphia Eagles .
A former quarterback, Smith emerged as the defensive leader for the Arizona Cardinals and finished the 2013 season with 18.5 tackles for loss, 14.5 sacks and four forced fumbles, earning AAC Defensive Player of the Year honors. In Philadelphia's 3-4 scheme, Smith fits as a pass rusher who can stand up, put his hand on the ground and be a versatile weapon for Chip Kelly's defense. So while he was a surprise in the top 30 overall picks, Smith is exactly what Philadelphia was looking for in the first round.
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