Bucs take safe route at No. 7, miss out on exciting Johnny Manziel opportunity
MAY 09, 2014 12:29a ET
TAMPA, Fla. -- Johnny Manziel was there. The memory of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' first round in this NFL draft will be those four words. Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans, the Bucs' pick at seventh overall, could go onto a long and successful career and win over pewter-and-red hearts on both sides of the bay.
But we'll always remember those four words: Johnny Manziel was there. All those hopes, all those photoshopped pictures of the former Heisman Trophy winner in a No. 2 Bucs jersey, all those cries on social media and radio airwaves for him to become Mr. Big Buc of the future.
Gone. Gone. All of it gone, as fast as a stiff embrace from Roger Goodell.
"Today is Mike's day," Bucs general manager Jason Licht said, "and we couldn't be more happy right now with Mike."
Licht is supposed to say that. But he and coach Lovie Smith passed over a chance. They passed over an opportunity to honor the peoples' vote and inject instant energy at Raymond James Stadium. Much later, at No. 22 overall, the Cleveland Browns ended Manziel's purgatory and closed a wait that was much longer than expected.
So Evans it is. But Smith and Licht missed a chance to be bold. They chose safe over the possibly spectacular. They chose a yawn over yells for "JOHN-NY, JOHN-NY" from now until Week 1 and beyond.
Even Evans -- one of Manziel's closest pals -- seemed surprised by Johnny Football's fall.
"Any team that would have gotten Johnny Manziel would've been getting a great player," said Evans, who became attractive for the Bucs, in part, because of Manziel's influence on his development. "I didn't think -- just seeing the league -- that he would be going to Tampa. I thought he should have went No. 1, first off, him being my best friend."
Evans is a low-risk pick. He fills a need that was clear after the Bucs traded troubled wide receiver Mike Williams to the Buffalo Bills on April 4. He had 1,105 yards receiving with five touchdowns in 2012 and 1,394 yards receiving with 12 touchdowns in 2013. At 6-foot-4, 231 pounds, he's a large target who has a chance to make circus catches seem easy. Licht said the Bucs have their "twin towers" in place, a catchy nickname that's sure to stick.
All that promise could become true.
Still, drafting Evans is like slapping a double into center field instead of swinging for the upper-deck seats beyond right. There's a certain ho-hum feeling to this pick. None of that is Evans' fault, a fine player, one who fills a need, one who Licht insisted was "our guy," one who could become a solid pro.
But Thursday felt flat at One Buc Place.
Manziel's selection would be fun, flashy, a bolt of lightning. Evans' was predictable and down-the-middle, one of those everybody-saw-this-coming moments.
"There are a lot of good players," Smith said. "You see a lot there. But it's what's best for us. Just talking about our quarterback position, our quarterback position is as strong as, to me, any quarterback position I've had when I've been a head coach. You know how much I like Josh McCown as our starter here. But I love Mike Glennon. Mike Glennon is our quarterback of the future here. So why would we want to add a third quarterback to the mix?"
Talk about a curveball. Glennon is the Bucs' quarterback of the future? Smith was so fast to name McCown -- a 34-year-old journeyman -- the Bucs' starter that the ink on the contract for Jay Cutler's former backup in free agency had barely dried. The Bucs' changing-of-the-guard behind center seemed almost assumed.
So Manziel isn't better than Glennon, a third-round pick last year who threw five interceptions in his last five games? The same quarterback who went 4-9 with a chance to become the guy after Josh Freeman was swept into a dustbin?
Sorry, that line is a tough sell.
"I was hoping I'd go to Tampa," Evans said. "I feel it's a great fit for me. I was hearing from my agent that they liked me a lot. Other teams liked me. But anything that happened in this draft, I was just happy that I got the call."
This was a good day for Evans. But it could have been a better day for the Bucs, for a fan base that needs more reason to believe again.
Johnny Manziel was there. Now, he's gone.
It will be hard to forget.