As the selections ticked by on Day 1 of the NFL Draft, Browns fans were treated with the lowest of lows, but ultimately left with the highest of highs—and some uncertainty in between.
In the span of four hours, Ray Farmer and the Browns played with every single emotion a Cleveland fan could have, whether pro-Watkins, pro-Manziel, pro-Mack, or any other player. It all began when Jacksonville passed on Sammy Watkins, the wide receiver out of Clemson, only for the Browns to trade down, once again ridding themselves of a possibly elite wide receiver for future assets. Forgiveness quickly arrived once I saw the deal included Buffalo’s 2015 first-round pick. But, the subsequent trade up from nine to eight, in what most fans presumed was a move for quarterback Johnny Manziel, and the selection of Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert was the knockout blow to my JFF-in-Cleveland dreams. Between picks nine and twenty-one, I slowly recovered and began talking myself back into Teddy Bridgewater, the most common quarterback linked to the Browns. And then it happened.
I could lie and write about how I am just as excited for Justin Gilbert to wear orange and brown as Johnny Manziel. But, that simply is not the case. A few weeks ago, I gave in to to the Johnny Football hype in a way I never remember doing before. Maybe I feel this way because I am in the 18-24 demographic that his personality meshes with best. Or maybe I believe in Manziel because he is a fearless, competitive leader who blends his unique style with elite athleticism, arm strength, and a quick release. But then again, could one of the main reason why myself and so many other believe in Manziel be that he is a complete and total mystery? Mel Kiper Jr., draft analyst extraordinaire, in his final rankings of the top 300 players in the draft, said of Manziel, “This is the most difficult evaluation of a QB I’ve ever done.” The fascination of how he his personality fits in the NFL and how his playing style translates to the pro game captivates not just myself, but America as a country. On the ESPN broadcast, Manziel was mentioned 113 times by name, more than the top five draft pick combined, according to Deadspin.
Whether you love Manziel or not, taking someone of with his lineage of success and talents with the twenty-second pick is both rare and exciting. In the past few years, the quarterback position became so highly valued that NFL teams reached for anyone with a pulse that could played the position in college, leading to the infamous Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, and Christian Ponder selections at eight, ten, and twelve, respectively, in the 2011 NFL Draft. The amazing thing is that teams knew everything about each player, none of the three living up to expectations in college. But, because they looked the part, ran pro offenses, and did not have big personality issues, the Titans, Jaguars, and Vikings handed their new first round quarterback their respective team’s future. In recent years, the Browns have selected similar “safe” quarterbacks in Brandon Weeden, Brady Quinn, Colt Mccoy, Charlie Frye, and more. The difference between Manziel and the failed quarterbacks of Cleveland’s past is easy to find: Competitiveness, unique style, leadership, mobility, flamboyant personality, and mystique. Many of these traits are why Browns fans so badly wanted Colt Mccoy to get another chance, regardless of his lack of success.
Call me crazy, but I truly believe that of any situation that Johnny Manziel could land in, Cleveland is far and away the best. In college, he always had a stalwart left tackle in Luke Joekel and Jake Matthews protecting his blind side. With his frail frame, if Manziel was drafted by another team, he could suffer from the lack of experience feeling pressure from behind which could lead to possible injuries. Also, the Browns have Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon as Pro Bowl receiving threats. The additions of Ben Tate as a rushing/receiving threat out of the backfield and Andrew Hawkins in the slot combined with Greg Little’s corpse, whatever Dion Lewis and Nate Burleson can add, and any weapons Ray Farmer drafts on Days 2 and 3 give Manziel the firepower he desires. Even if he needs to sit a year to adjust to the pro style/speed, Brian Hoyer is a competent NFL quarterback and will be a worthy competitor to Manziel. At offensive coordinator, Kyle Shannahan has experience building an successful offense for a unique talent. In Washington, he created the system that Robert Griffin III ran his rookie year and they ended the season 10-6 with a playoff berth. If Manziel fails, it will not be because Cleveland is the place quarterbacks go to die, but because he simply does not have the talent to play in the NFL. And therefore, I feel extremely confident in gambling the twenty-second pick on a player with such upside.
Looking at the big picture, if I am even able even act rationally for just a moment and put down my JFF temporary tattoos, the moves the Browns made make complete sense in every way. With the fourth-overall pick, Cleveland passed on Sammy Watkins, but in the process, gained an extremely valuable future first-round pick to move down just five spots. The wide receiver draft class is extremely deep, and even though Watkins is a great talent, selecting someone at a position not nearly as deep, such as cornerback, was seen as a better value.
Unfortaunatly, the Browns had to trade up one spot, from nine to eight, to select cornerback Justin Gilbert. It may seem seems indefensible, but as I am not inside the war room, I do not have the intel Ray Farmer and Co. may have received. Possibly, another team (the Lions?) were trying to trade up to the eighth pick in order to jump the Browns and select Justin Gilbert, the sole player Cleveland targeted with their trade down in the first place. At the same time, looking at the move from the outside, sacrificing a mid-round pick to move up one spot and select a corner ahead of a team unlikely to one seems at the very least, questionable.
The selection of Justin Gilbert, although at the time giving possibly irrational Manziel-to-Cleveland fans heart attacks (yep, that was me), was a very solid selection. We all just watched Richard Sherman and the Seattle secondary completely dismantle the record-breaking Denver Broncos offense in the Super Bowl. Combining with Joe Haden, Gilbert has the physical tools and playmaking ability to play lock down coverage on the opposing number two receiver. This will allow the smaller in stature Buster Skrine play against slot receivers along with second year cornerback Leon Mcfadden. Not only is Gilbert a good player, but he is a great value. In the first round, nine defensive backs were selected, including five cornerbacks. But, on days two and three of the draft, talented cornerbacks will be extremely difficult to find. Unlike some positions such as running back or wide receiver, the cornerback class is very top-heavy, with the most talented defensive backs only available in the first round. Had the Browns decided to stay at 26 and select a cornerback, Bradley Roby would likely have been the top on the Browns’ draft boards, not a pick that would have inspired much confidence in Cleveland fans familiar with him at the Ohio State University. With Haden as a franchise player, Mike Pettine desired a physical, athletic cornerback to play opposite him to improve the increasingly prevalent pass-heavy offenses in the NFL.
Since I thoroughly covered my feelings on Manziel above, I’ll just skip over my commentary on him and quickly compliment the Browns on moving up to take him at twenty-two. If you truly believe that a quarterback could be a franchise quarterback, show some conviction and move up to take him. A third round pick to move up a few picks will be well worth the price if Manziel ever reaches his potential.
In all the pre-draft analysis, mock drafts, leaked info, no one could ever imagine that the Browns would leave the first day of the draft with their top-rated cornerback, top-rated quarterback, an extra 2015 first found pick, and seven more pick in the next two days. Heck, check out what I wrote about my dream scenario of Day 1:
A realistic dream scenario involves Ray Farmer calculatedly rolling the dice on Johnny Manziel at No. 4 and selecting a falling Justin Gilbert or Darqueze Dennard at cornerback or Odell Beckham at wide receiver with the No. 26 pick. This scenario would allow my dreams of Johnny Manziel in orange and brown to be realized while still landing a stud cornerback or a bona fide number two receiver.
You can only imagine how happy I am about the first day. Not only was my dream scenario fullfiled, but the Browns even acquired a 2015 first round pick from the Bills. Had the Browns never had the opportunity to select Johnny Manziel, Ray Farmer may have never lived this draft down from some fans’ perspectives. But, he managed to give the people what they want, in Manziel, what the team needs, in Gilbert, and a future asset, the first round pick from Buffalo. All in all, the draft lived up to its hype and Ray Farmer and the Browns came out smelling roses.
How will they follow that up? After what happened in the first round, I would be a fool to even try and guess. But with Ray Farmer, Mike Pettine, Alex Schiener, and Jimmy Haslem at the helm, I feel supremely confident in the direction they are taking the Cleveland Browns.