ESPN.com’s Mel Kiper Jr. lifted the curtain on his first of many mock drafts as we head into May and his preliminary output has several surprises, chief of which: Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel going No. 1 overall.
Manziel’s name has always been big, but his stock related to the NFL Draft has seen an incredible ascent. Just weeks ago, he was given a grade that pegged him being selected toward the latter half of the first round. Kiper’s partner in crime, Todd McShay, had Manziel as the third-best quarterback in what was his first mock draft—a slot that would be linked to the Cleveland Browns with the No. 4 pick. Today, however, Kiper is the next draft analyst to have the electric, headline-making quarterback at the top of his list. Here’s why:
I spoke to a number of high-ranking NFL evaluators this week, and this is the one QB anyone felt certain was a top-5 pick. So consider this an early bet, with one major caveat: Bill O’Brien just arrived, is still putting his staff together, knows a good QB when he sees one, and hasn’t had enough time (if any) to study the draft class. But we know quarterback is a major need here. O’Brien likes a QB with presence, a leader and a guy who will out-prepare the competition. And while Manziel has gotten his share of bad press, he’s a dynamic talent, and I feel he can lead at the next level; I’m not alone in that opinion. While Manziel is currently ranked No. 11 on my Big Board, this reflects the draft.
Manziel doesn’t fit the old prototypes of a QB drafted No. 1, and I have concerns about how well he can protect himself given his smaller frame, but he is a magician on the field, and is made for the current NFL. This league protects and welcomes QBs who can improvise, run and make plays beyond the playbook. It’s early, but Manziel is a special player and has the draft process to prove it further.
Kiper, as you may have noticed, has laced this entire mock draft with caveats. This makes sense given the amount of time that is yet to pass between today and the actual draft. This said, ranking Manziel first overall, ahead of more polished passers like Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and UCF’s Blake Bortles (who he has linked to the Browns at No. 4) is surprising.
Ohio State fans will have mixed emotions with regard to the mock as linebacker Ryan Shazier was completely left out of the first round. That said, Kiper has running back Carlos Hyde being selected by the Browns with the 26th-overall pick, the one that was, ironically, acquired in the deal for running back Trent Richardson. Naturally, the draftnik also insinuated that it is very unlikely to happen given the potential for a trade or a quarterback like Fresno State’s David Carr (also left out of the first round) to be selected there.
Silver lining: Kiper listed Cleveland’s situation as “a really attractive environment for a young quarterback to grow and succeed.” When’s the last time this could be said with a straight face?