With the first night of the NFL draft in the books and the widely expected first selection going to Defensive End Jadeveon Clowney for the Houston Texans, the rest of the evening was only ever going to focus around one person and so the NFL’s flagship off-season event might as well renamed itself the Johnny Football docudrama.
The NFL draft is like no other event in sport as it provides suspense and excitement without there even being a definitive winner at its conclusion. Fans will cheer or boo their team’s choices before they even see them in action for another four months.
Such is this irrationality that if one franchise stands out as the NFL’s biggest prospective champion, it’s the Cleveland Browns who quite clearly pulled off one of the biggest steals in the draft, picking Johnny Manziel with the 22nd pick.
Coincidently, Kevin Costner’s new film Draft Day follows the Browns in their struggles at the draft, but with all the twists and turns of last night, there are no comparisons.
Johnny “Football” Manziel was clearly the star of this show as his explosive and evasive style of football made him an intriguing prospect to watch, not to mention his off the field personality which has galvanised a large following of fans.
What made Manziel’s night so intriguing was that after that first pick was made, he could have gone anywhere and there would be a case for it that no doubt made sense for any team.
The first real shock of the night came at the third pick, where London’s part time team, the Jacksonville Jaguars selected Blake Bortles, a quarterback from Central Florida. Who is Blake Bortles? Well with all eyes on Johnny Football, no doubt many Jaguars fans were asking the same question. At 6’5” he fits the more stereotypical pro quarterback but with all the buzz around Manziel, Bortles was expected to go at the lower end of the first round, not at number three.
Then one by one, all the quarterback needy teams appeared to shun Johnny Football. Buffalo, Oakland, Tampa Bay, and Minnesota all passed on a player widely regarded as a franchise changer. What makes Cleveland’s selection look so good is that they had the chance to pick Manziel at number eight, instead opting to go with cornerback Justin Gilbert. A risky move that not only Cleveland was making.
Once through the initial 13 picks, Manziel was subjected to the cruel reality that his stock was far less regarded than all the hype had predicted. With a camera permanently pointed on the young quarterback whilst Roger Goodell called every name out but his, this was a moment that proved to be uncomfortable watching.
When the Cowboys came on the clock at 16, twitter was in for a meltdown. The unification of Johnny football with America’s team seemed too good to be true, but Jerry Jones showed restraint, opting not to add the player who had made a name for himself in the Cowboys state of Texas.
Rex Ryan and the Jets with the 18th pick were amongst the teams to opt against using Manziel’s services. New York has been attempting to shed its circus label ever since the Tim Tebow trade, and with Michael Vick and Geno Smith already on the roster, this decision seemed obvious if the team was to stay a respected franchise on draft day.
The big move of the night came at number 22; originally Philadelphia’s pick (where there was a legitimate argument for Manziel’s use in Chip Kelly’s office). It was at this stage on the board that a bidding war for Manziel began to play out.
Minnesota had opted against drafting Johnny Football at number nine, hoping to trade back into the first round later on to pick up the Texas quarterback. This proved costly as the Browns offered more than the Vikings were prepared to give away, the 26th overall pick and the 83rd.
Minnesota picked up Teddy Bridgewater, a quarterback from Louisville with the final pick of the first round but whether this selection was made voluntarily or out of necessity remains to be seen.
For Cleveland, they nabbed a player who has the ability to change their franchise around, something they are in dire need of having played in one playoff game in 20 years.
Browns fans now have the face of the franchise they’ve so desperately needed. But with all the brilliance Manziel’s has shown on the field and the excitement he has conjured up off it, he remains a prospect and unproven.
Where he was eventually drafted was clearly exactly what teams believed he was worth. Despite all the hype surrounding his abilities, he’s not a stereotypical pro quarterback and therefore wasn’t worth a top first round pick. Cleveland and their GM Ray Farmer got their man but didn’t give up too much in the process, playing the draft exactly how it should be played.
History however is not on Cleveland’s side. The last two quarterbacks the Browns selected at number 22 were Brandon Weeden in 2012 and Brady Quinn in 2007. Third times a charm couldn’t be more applicable.