This year’s NFL draft, by far, has been hyped up more than any other I can recall in recent memory. And as convoluted as it was to decipher teams’ interests and smokescreens, the first round played out equally unpredictable.
It’s hard to think back and remember a time when even the first pick in the draft wasn’t cemented a week in advance. Never before can I recall so many teams in the market to trade up or down, but nobody knows when they would pull the trigger. And has there ever been as polarizing a prospect as Johnny Manziel, who drew the cameraman’s attention until he finally was selected?
Those are just some of the factors I took into account when I put together my five biggest takeaways from the first round.
1. Bortles to the Jags, Manziel to the Browns and Bridgewater lands with Vikings
Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater went from potential No. 1 overall picks to possibly falling out of the first round altogether.
But last night, the Jaguars pulled the trigger on the hometown kid and selected their quarterback of the future third overall ahead of Sammy Watkins and Khalil Mack, who we considered the most likely picks. Coach Gus Bradley was with Seattle when the team nabbed Russell Wilson in the third round, but he’s doing things his own way, and I like that.
The Manziel free fall has drawn comparisons to that of Aaron Rodgers and Brady Quinn, and those players’ careers have obviously gone in opposite directions. Johnny Football will have to beat Brian Hoyer for the starting gig, but don’t we all get a sense he’s going to be under center at some point this year?
Bridgewater’s stock plummeted since his Pro Day workout, but it’s good to see the one-time No. 1 quarterback prospect go in Round 1. He’ll have a chance to sit behind Matt Cassel and develop under Norv Turner.
2. When it was all said and done, Texans choose Clowney
Was it going to be Jadeveon Clowney or Mack, or was there a trade with Atlanta in the works? The Texans put all that speculation to rest when they nabbed Clowney with the top pick. Now the team sports one of — if not — the more fearsome bookend rushes in the NFL between Clowney and J.J. Watt.
The Texans were probably shocked to see Bortles drafted two picks later, but it seems as if they’re inclined to take a different approach at quarterback. They could draft Derek Carr atop Round 2, or perhaps they’ll acquire Ryan Mallett from New England and land an A.J. McCarron or Zach Mettenberger in Round 3.
Regardless, they took the best player available for a team not even close to contending. Bortles or Manziel wasn’t going to make them a competitor in 2014, so taking Clowney was ultimately the correct choice.
3. Bills, Giants, Lions and Saints take game-changing offensive players
Buffalo wanted to provide second-year quarterback E.J. Manuel with more weapons, and they delivered. The Bills traded up for Sammy Watkins, the consensus No. 1 wideout, giving the team a game-breaking offensive weapon. Along with Robert Woods and C.J. Spiller, the Bills offense is on the rise
The Giants pulled off a bit of a shocker, choosing Odell Beckham Jr. over an offensive or defensive lineman. ODB provides another weapon for Eli Manning, who is looking for a bounce-back season. Beckham and Rueben Randle can line up wide with Victor Cruz in the slot, giving the G-Men a very dangerous receiving corps.
The Lions couldn’t get ahold of Watkins, but found a Jimmy Graham-esque tight end in Eric Ebron to team with Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate. Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi hails from New Orleans, where Graham was the focal point of the receiving corps. That bodes well for Ebron, who should see a lot of attention with double teams coming for Megatron.
The Saints lost Lance Moore and Darren Sproles in free agency and Marques Colston isn’t getting any younger. So they bolstered their young receiving corps with Brandin Cooks to pair up with Kenny Stills, giving Drew Brees a host of weapons to work with. They moved up because they saw something they liked in Cooks, so perhaps Sean Payton has something special in mind for the rook.
4. Questionable moves by Cardinals, Eagles
The Cardinals had a chance to draft Manziel or Bridgewater — even before they swapped picks with New Orleans — but instead took safety Deone Bucannon. If the team wanted a safety, they could have taken the higher-rated Jimmie Ward, but was that position the team’s biggest need?
A successor to Carson Palmer made more sense, in my opinion, or a pass-rusher in Dee Ford or Kony Ealy. Ford went 23rd to Kansas City and would’ve been available for Arizona at No. 20.
The Eagles also moved back and nabbed linebacker Marcus Smith. This was a need, but I don’t know if Smith was the right choice. At No. 22, the aforementioned Ford was available. As was Darqueze Dennard or Jason Verrett, two of the top-rated corners that could’ve solidified Philly’s secondary.
Based on the team’s interest in so many wide receivers, it doesn’t make sense the team wouldn’t scoop up Marqise Lee to team up with Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper to soften the blow left by the departed DeSean Jackson.
5. Rams, Jets, Packers and Bengals get “value” picks
There was talk that Aaron Donald was not going to make it past No. 8, but the Bucs, Giants and Vikings all passed on him to give St. Louis a “fearsome foursome.” Along with Robert Quinn, Chris Long and Michael Brockers, the Rams have a front four that rivals that of San Fran and Seattle.
Calvin Pryor wasn’t expected to make it past Chicago, but now Rex Ryan has a talented safety to bolster his defensive backfield. The Jets may have needed a corner or receiver more, but Pryor was too good to pass up at No. 18.
The Bengals probably didn’t expect Dennard to be on the board all the way at No. 24, but somehow the Jim Thorpe Award winner fell into their laps. Adam Jones and Terrence Newman aren’t getting any younger, and Leon Hall is coming off a season-ending injury. Dennard and Dre Kirkpatrick give Cincy a strong cornerback tandem going forward.