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2014 NFL Draft: Johnny Manziel madness moves to Cleveland

By Frank Cooney | NFLDraftScout.com

Draft coverage: Draft picks and grades | Prospect Rankings | Mock drafts | News

The prime-time Johnny Manziel drama disguised as the 2014 NFL Draft finally reached a climax Thursday night when the star quarterback was selected by the Cleveland Browns with the 22nd overall pick.

It seemed somehow appropriate, as the Browns are the featured team in the current movie, "Draft Day."

Now the real-life drama, the controversy that is Manziel -- the Texas A&M superstar formerly known as Johnny Football -- simply moves to a new stage, in Cleveland. And Manziel says he is ready.

"I am going to pour my heart out for this organization and try to be the football player I know I can be," Manziel said.

Manziel was the second quarterback taken in the draft. The Jacksonville Jaguars selected UCF's Blake Bortles at No. 3. Two other Texas A&M players were also taken in the first round. Offensive tackle Jake Matthews went to the Atlanta Falcons at No. 6 and wide receiver Mike Evans was selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at No. 7.

The Browns traded a third-round pick (No. 83 overall) to the Philadelphia Eagles to move up from No. 26 to No. 22, where they selected Manziel.

Choosing Manziel was a gutsy move by Cleveland, which has gone through turmoil for years, most recently with changes in the front office, which now houses new general manager Ray Farmer and coach Mike Pettine.

On the other hand, it may not take a lot of guts to give Manziel a shot considering Cleveland's designated starter is Brian Hoyer, who was injured last year. The Browns' previous recent attempt to draft a quarterback was in 2012, when they also spent a No. 22 overall pick to take Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden, who failed miserably and was traded to the Dallas Cowboys.

The Browns also signed free agent quarterbacks Vince Young and Tyler Thigpen earlier this month.

Manziel, from little Kerrville and Tyler, Texas, soared to success in 2012 when he dramatically marched Texas A&M through its first season in the tough Southeastern Conference while becoming the first freshman to win a Heisman Trophy

In only two seasons, Manziel used a so-called playground style of play to collect 9,989 total yards (7,820 passing, 2,169 rushing) and 93 touchdowns (63 passing, 30 running).

However, his value in the NFL was -- and still is -- a matter of hot debate. He measures only 6-feet, 3/4-inches, which, when paired with his runaround style, draws comparisons to former NFL great Fran "The Scram" Tarkenton.

And, in an era when a celebrity's every move is tracked on Twitter or TMZ, Manziel's off-field life as a sophomore was depicted as something more insidious than sophomoric. In that regard, he entered this draft with a reputation, whether deserved or not, similar to that of Joe Namath in the 1960s.

Despite conjuring up the names of two Hall of Famers, Manziel is far from embraced by nit-picking scouts and coaches who wonder about his height, his swashbuckling instincts and his personal life.

Even as he was in New York before the draft this week, the debate over where and when he might be drafted dominated all media coverage.

As usual, he took it in stride, tweeting about the sights ("We're a long ways from Hill Country") while using the hashtag #justakidfromKerrville, referencing his hometown before becoming a prep star in Tyler, Texas, and a national star at Texas A&M.

Hours before the draft, Manziel was asked how he felt about negative things being said about him.

"I have kept my head pretty high," he said. "I have stayed pretty true to myself and my family through this process. Through this, there is always going to be points where they build you up to tear you down, and that's how it's been for me ... but at the same time, never too high, never too low for me.

"I've really enjoyed it. There hasn't been anything that's got under my skin or anything like that. I've really enjoyed the process."

Moments before the draft began, Manziel tried once again to make it clear he will give his all for his future team.

"Whatever team decides to jump on, I will pour my heart out for that organization, for that team, for that GM, for that owner," Manziel said. "I am really looking forward to it."

This shows that Manziel's spirit is as resilient as his play on the field. Among his detractors was Texas defensive coordinator Vance Bedford, who also has experience as an NFL coach.

"Problem players in college become rich problems in the NFL," Bedford wrote via @CoachBedfordUT.

Bedford was quickly under fire for the critique, but said it wasn't personal.

"No one took a@shot at manziel. Get a life people. Spread qbs have struggled in the NFL. The eagles run the spread in the NFL," Bedford tweeted.

Then, in trying to explain further, Bedford dug a deeper hole.

"Manziel is a top 10 pick by the scouts," he wrote. "I wish him the best. He played backyard ball for 3 years. Now he will have to learn how to be a Qb. ... How many spread QBs have success in the NFL. You must play under center."

Well, to answer the question, quite a few spread-formation quarterbacks are having success in the NFL these days.

That concern may have been true at one time if we conveniently forget, for example, that Billy Kilmer was a single wing quarterback at UCLA before playing for the San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins. However, recent history shows the NFL is ready to accommodate various quarterbacking styles, including those that rely on long snaps in the shotgun, pistol and other formations that employ a spread look.

And it is not all that new. Quarterback Alex Smith, who was a spread quarterback in college, has had some success with the 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs. His replacement with San Francisco, Colin Kaepernick, as well as the Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson and Washington's Robert Griffin III also were primarily shotgun quarterbacks in college.

There is a guy in Denver named Peyton Manning who also takes the long snap often because his footwork is less than nimble. OK, that long snap certainly backfired in the first play in the Super Bowl, but only after carrying him to an NFL-record passing season.

Still, Bedford's comments, however misguided, illustrate how Manziel has polarized football coaches, scouts, fans and maybe even some players.

Heading into the draft, the controversy and drama was reminiscent to that created by former Florida Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow, who was a first-round pick by the Denver Broncos in 2010 and managed to win a playoff game before moving to the New York Jets and then failing to make the roster with the New England Patriots last year.

However, the differences between Manziel and Tebow are stark. Unlike Tebow, Manziel probably will never consider starting a religious ministry, and on the field, his ability to pass the ball is conspicuously better.

--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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