NFL Draft Deals, Steals, and Surprises

The 2014 NFL Draft started as everyone expected it to with Roger Goodell saying Jadeveon Clowney’s name. From there, the first round of the 79th annual NFL Player Selection Meeting traveled into unanticipated and interesting directions.

“I had no idea,” Central Florida quarterback Black Bortles confessed of his selection by the Jacksonville Jaguars with the #3 pick. “I had no idea what was going to happen.” Neither did the rest of us.

A surprise followed that surprise. The Buffalo Bills traded their #9 and next year’s first and a fourth-round pick for the #4 pick of the Cleveland Browns. The Bills snagged speedy open-field threat Sammy Watkins out of Clemson. Watkins joins newly acquired Mike Williams to forge a strong receiving corps that sets up second-year quarterback E.J. Manuel nicely for success. Moving out of next year's first round, on the other hand, sets Buffalo up for more failure.

The Raiders surprised at five in doing not the unexpected but what experts demanded in taking University of Buffalo outside linebacker Khalil Mack. The Tampa Bay Bucanneers, in need of a quarterback, stunned former coach John Gruden—but not Mel Kiper—by bypassing Johnny Manziel for his teammate Mike Evans, who hugged his daughter and broke down in tears upon hearing the news before embracing Johnny Football. Cleveland, who started with the fourth pick, swapped their #9 acquired from the Bills and a fifth-round pick for Minnesota’s #8. Despite a need at quarterback, the Browns selected Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert, a pick that elicited a chorus of "wows" from the broadcasters and audible shock from the Radio City Music Hall assemblage. The Vikings then selected UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr, described by Mel Kiper as “a work in progress,” to the surprise of everyone, including Barr, who didn’t even attend the draft.

The Raiders, Browns, Vikings, and other teams with quarterback needs overlooking Manziel made camera shots of the popular former Heisman Trophy winner increasingly awkward. As the draft drifted to teams such as the Bears, Giants, and Steelers who remain quite comfortable with their passers the prospect of Manziel, number one on some boards and not even in the first round in other mock drafts, slipping deep into the first round appeared quite real. The ESPN Johnny Watch showed a sad face growing sadder. The player who brings drama on and off the field characteristically brought drama to a hall accustomed to it.

The Saints moved up to the twenty spot by giving their #27 and a third round pick to the Arizona Cardinals. New Orleans selected Oregon State wide receiver Brandin Cooks to provide a small, speedy target for Drew Brees. The fastest wide receiver in the draft looks to provide yards after the catch on screens and quick slants as well as stretch the field on deep balls.

The Johnny drama ended when Cleveland switched their second first-round pick and third-round pick with the Eagles for their #22. Roger Goodell’s announcement, much anticipated up to that point, came across as a redundancy. Manziel explained to Suzy Kolber, “I bring a winning attitude and a lot of emotion.” Last night, at least for several hours in primetime, fans glimpsed emotions they hadn’t seen in the Manziel before.

Bill Belichick surprised by staying in the first round. He surprised no one by selecting another University of Florida product in injury-plagued defensive lineman Dominique Easley. Even Aaron Hernandez in jail, Tim Tebow in last year's camp, and Brandon Spikes in Buffalo can't stop Belichick from Gator hunting. 

The Super Bowl Champions traded out of the first round by giving up their #32 for Minnesota’s #40 and #108. The Vikings then drafted a quarterback who up until a few months ago appeared atop some mock drafts in Teddy Bridgewater.

Cleveland, by addressing their quarterback needs, adding a marquee defensive back, and snatching Buffalo’s 2015 first-round pick in the process, appear as the draft’s big winner at this point. A few thoughts…

  • Texas A&M and Louisville both watched NFL teams scoop up three players in the first round.
  • Teams selected neither a running back nor an inside linebacker in the first round, demonstrating just how devalued the rushing game has become in the pass-happy NFL. It marks the second consecutive year of a first round without running backs.
  • The Texans, in need of a quarterback, open the second round staring at their past and future all at once. Derek Carr, younger brother of David Carr, the first pick in franchise history, appears as the best talent available and quarterback plays as the Texans’ greatest need. But David Carr wasn’t exactly a smashing success—he wasn’t a Ryan Leaf-like bust, either—so it’ll be interesting to see how Houston uses this pick.
  • Speaking of pedigrees, the Atlanta Falcons selected Texas A&M tackle Jake Matthews, son of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews and cousin of Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, to protect Matt Ryan’s blindside. Matthews, whose selection of Bill Conti’s “Going the Distance” as his walk-up music shows he has better taste than his peers at Radio City Music Hall, boasts a total of eight relatives with NFL experience.
  • More than a third (11) of first-round selections hail from an SEC school.

The second and third rounds continue tonight at 7 p.m. Few stars remain but many stars remain to be made. Russell Wilson (3rd round), Richard Sherman (5th round), Jimmy Graham (3rd round), Tom Brady (6th round), and Colin Kaepernick (2nd round) demonstrate that although the later rounds possess fewer sure things they surely possess hidden gems that will have GMs kicking themselves in the future.


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