ATLANTA — Here are 20 quick-hitter thoughts from Day 1 of the 2014 NFL Draft, a night that was curiously devoid of non- quarterback-related storylines after Khalil Mack became the latest honorary member of The Black Hole:
1. The NFL Network’s Charley Casserly deserves praise here: On Thursday afternoon, the former general manager of the Washington Redskins and Houston Texans caused a ruckus on Twitter when stating that Johnny Manziel was the "most overrated" prospect in this draft.
Casserly — who famously passed on Reggie Bush and Vince Young for Mario Williams in 2006 (with Houston) — even went so far to predict Manziel wouldn’t get selected until Day 2 (Friday — Rounds 2 and 3), easily the boldest proclamation of any talking head on draft day.
OK, so Casserly was off by a few slots on that one; but his larger point had ultimately been proven true: Manziel, the No. 22 overall pick with the Browns, may be a Heisman winner and one of the most prolific passers in college football history, but none of that trumps tangible size, pocket preseence or a track record for making disciplined, NFL-quality throws.
That’s not to say Manziel (7,820 yards passing, 93 total TDs from 2012-13) won’t have his share of 300-yard passing days with Cleveland. It simply means that NFL teams typically don’t invest millions of dollars on scouting resources … only to waste high draft picks on medium-sized improv QBs with average arms.
Manziel, for all the media hype that gets generated, is nothing more than a value pick in big-boy football; and for that, the Browns should be commended for essentially letting value fall into their laps at No. 22 — although they also felt compelled to move up four spots from 26 (trade with Philly).
2. Now for the bad news: In the last seven years, the Browns have traded up in Round 1 three times to land a quarterback with their second choice — Brady Quinn (2007), Brandon Weeden (2011) and Manziel (2014).
Also, check out the list of the last four quarterbacks taken at No. 22 overall (excluding Manziel) — Weeden (now a backup QB in Dallas), Quinn (only 20 career NFL starts), J.P Losman (33 passing TDs in 33 career starts) and Rex Grossman (56 career TD passes/60 INTs). Ugh!
The lone saving grace: Receiver Josh Gordon (87 catches, 1,646 yards, nine TDs last year), running back Ben Tate (free-agent signee) and tight end Jordan Cameron (80 catches, 917 yards, seven TDs) provide QB Brian Hoyer or Manziel — whoever starts Week 1 against Pittsburgh — instant credibility as a Tier III quarterback.
3. Common sense prevailed with the Texans taking South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney at No. 1 overall. Succeeding in the draft — especially with elite-level picks — is all about getting great value … and no other prospect could touch Clowney on that plane.
Any other selection, outside of Houston trading down and getting a boatload of extra picks, would have been a clear admission of not understanding how the draft works.
4. The Jaguars deserve props for grabbing QB Blake Bortles at No. 3 overall, and thus, ignoring the hype and speculation of choosing Manziel at the same draft slot.
Yes, Jacksonville needs a box-office spark to fill that stadium (is it still named after Web.com?), but it would have been a short-sighted move to draft Manziel ahead of the classically built Bortles.
Have you seen Bortles scramble from a heated rush in the pocket? Have you seen him execute a timely 30-yard sideline pattern to a fleet-footed receiver? If any quarterback resembles Ben Roethlisberger from the last nine years … it’s Bortles.
5. The Rams have all the pieces to make a Seahawks-esque run to the Super Bowl this season. Yes, QB Sam Bradford needs to keep improving and stay on the field (health-wise), and yes, St. Louis likely has a bottom-five receiving corps after Day 1 of the draft.
That aside, the Rams don’t have any other glaring holes that stand out; and the Thursday additions of Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson (No. 2 overall pick) and Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald (No. 13 overall) reinforce one of the time-tested NFL adages for draft day:
When in doubt, keep building up the trenches. It has certainly worked for the wideout-challenged Seahawks in the last few years.
6. Give the Bills credit for obeying one of the most underrated tenets to smart drafting: If you’re going to take a QB in Round 1, supply him with offensive weapons at every possible turn.
Last year, after snagging EJ Manuel at No. 16 overall, Buffalo added receivers Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin — a pair of solid, down-the-road talents in the passing game. And on Thursday, new GM Doug Whaley and his staff went for the jugular, trading up five spots (with the Browns) to land Clemson’s Sammy Watkins, easily the best run- after-catch wideout of a deep receiving class.
A word of caution: Most rookie receivers, even high-end, Hall of Fame-quality guys like Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and Dez Bryant, are hardly locks for 1,000 yards or double-digit touchdowns in Year 1. But rest assured, Watkins will undoubtedly take a quantum leap forward in Year 2 with Buffalo — especially if C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson are still going strong within the Bills’ rushing attack.
7. Remember that classic episode of The Simpsons when Homer enrolls in Clown College and ends up getting in hot water with the mob … only to be spared his life when the mob boss (aka The Don) can’t tell the difference between Homer (dressed as a clown) and the real Krusty The Klown?
Well, that long-winded trip down memory lane serves an NFL purpose here: By drafting Texas A&M’s Mike Evans at No. 7 overall, it’ll be impossible to separate Evans (69 catches, 1,394 yards, 12 TDs last year) from Vincent Jackson during Buccaneers workouts, if their practice jerseys aren’t numbered.
Both receivers are long and athletic and possess similar mannerisms for running routes — kind of like Michael Irvin/Alvin Harper (Cowboys) or Jerry Rice/John Taylor (49ers) during their respective heydays … which isn’t a bad thing.
8. The NFC North may possess the greatest four-pack of starting quarterbacks, now that Teddy Bridgewater (32nd pick, via trade) belongs to the Vikings. Just four months ago, the Louisville quarterback was being hailed as a possible No. 1 overall choice … before a wretched Pro Day nearly knocked him out of Round 1 altogether.
But there are no long-term worries here: Assuming Bridgewater wears gloves from this point forward (a la Kurt Warner at the end of his highly productive career), Teddy’s an intriguing fit for a Minnesota offense that already boasts tailback Adrian Peterson (11,812 rushing yards, 91 career TDs), WR Greg Jennings, tight end Kyle Rudolph and the absurdly athletic Cordarrelle Patterson (nine total TDs as a rookie).
Plus, if we’re going to put so much stock in random Pro Days, it’s only fair to mention Bridgewater’s bowl-game numbers against Florida and Miami from the last two seasons: 55 of 77 for 713 yards, six touchdowns (one rushing) and one interception.
The combined scores of the Cardinals’ victories over the Gators and ‘Canes: 69-32.
9. From a TV perspective, it was brutal to watch ESPN’s Jon Gruden compensate for his lack of non-quarterback draft prep by continually predicting that Johnny Manziel would be the next player chosen, pick after pick — especially when certain clubs traded up to a higher slot.
On the flip side, Manziel was the highest-ranked player on Gruden’s proverbial "board" … so his willingness to go down with that ship — as the Manziel-abandonment storyline trudged on for nearly three hours — was admirable.
10. Let’s not condemn the Lions for taking North Carolina’s Eric Ebron at No. 10, even though Detroit already has a pair of serviceable tight ends in Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria. Having a dominant tight end — like Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski — can be a game-changer for a Lions offense that moves the ball with ease between the 20s … but occasionally stalls out in the red zone.
11. Al Davis would have loved the Raiders’ choice of Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack. He’s an athletic freak, with a lengthy track record of production to boot. The only downside (sarcasm alert): Mack, who was an apparent favorite of the Houston Texans (drafting 1st), represents great value for Oakland at No. 5 … a notion that was lost on Davis during his final years.
12. Speaking of aging figures, the new and improved Jerry Jones stunned everyone by favoring substance over style — bypassing Johnny Manziel and drafting Notre Dame O-tackle Zack Martin.
In NFL circles, Jones may be the closest thing to a carnvial barker; and yet, the Cowboys were content to stay stand pat at their draft slot (No. 16) and secure an asset that holds excellent short- and long-term value.
13. The Panthers deserve some praise for drafting Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin (28th pick) and bolstering a non-existent receiving corps (tight end Greg Olsen excluded).
But GM Dave Gettleman’s mission won’t be complete until Jordan Matthews, Marqise Lee, Cody Latimer, Davante Adams or Donte Moncrief are also part of the Panthers’ draft class.
At 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, the uber-athletic Benjamin has a ton of potential. But he’s also an unpolished talent — and that learning curve won’t be accelerated if he’s drawing constant double teams on passing downs this fall.
14. Of the Steelers’ last 18 draftees (including Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier on Thursday), 16 players have hailed from power-conference programs of the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12, Big 12 and ACC.
The club’s rationale: Pittsburgh targets prospects who had to fight their way up a college depth chart … and those who have already been exposed to the highest level of competition before entering the pro scene.
15. Barring any subsequent trades, the Texans will own the first pick for the Friday (Round 2) and Saturday (Round 4) draft sessions, allowing GM Rick Smith ample time to reset the club’s draft board and field trade calls from other teams.
That’s a huge advantage for a 2-14 team that has playoff-caliber talent in key spots.
16. If there’s a "sure thing" from Thursday’s crop of offensive draftees, it would be O-tackle Jake Matthews — the seventh member of his extended family to make the pros … and the highest overall draftee among the Matthews clan, whose NFL success goes back numerous decades.
As the Falcons’ top pick (No. 6 overall), Matthews is the ultimate plug-and-play lineman for a club that desperately required a talent infusion along the line. The kid has the requisite size, strength, quickness and mental capacity to be an annual Pro Bowler, well into the next decade.
17. Switching gears … the real fun starts on Friday, as we find homes for the next crop of fantasy superstars at tailback — a group that includes Bishop Sankey (Washington), Carlos Hyde (Ohio State), Ka’Deem Carey (Arizona), Jeremy Hill (LSU), Tre Mason (Auburn), Andre Williams (Boston College), Storm Johnson (UCF), Isaiah Crowell (Alabama State), Terrance West (Towson) and Devonta Freeman (Florida State).
Any of these backs could end up being the next LeSean McCoy or Doug Martin in fantasy circles … provided they land in the right system and have minimal competition in the backfield.
Which brings us to this: The Jaguars picked the perfect year to seek out a new tailback. Maurice Jones-Drew plays in Oakland now … and Toby Gerhart is not the long-term answer in Jacksonville.
18. The Browns took honors on Thursday in one department — executing three trades in Round 1, with two moving down (eventually taking Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert) and one going up (the Manziel-related deal with Philly).
19. One more Manziel note: Earlier on Thursday, with the Ravens on the clock (No. 17) and the Jets on deck, a New York-based writer predicted, via Twitter, the Jets would shock everyone and take Manziel — even though the franchise already has Geno Smith (incumbent starter) and Michael Vick at quarterback.
I’m no betting man, but the odds of head coach Rex Ryan — who’s reportedly under a ‘playoffs-or-bust’ edict from the Jets’ front office — signing off on a long-term QB in Round 1 had to be extraordinarily long.
Under Ryan’s watch, the Jets have been a defense-first operation, and the selection of Louisville safety Calvin Pryor reinforces that belief system.
20. There are three ways to view the Giants’ selection of LSU receiver Odell Beckham Jr., and each perspective may be correct in the long run:
1) On the heels of Eli Manning’s middling 2013 campaign (3,818 yards passing, 18 TDs, 27 INTs), the Giants’ brass felt compelled to supply their star quarterback with another certifiable weapon.
2) Despite his six-touchdown flurry from Weeks 5-11 last year (including a bye week), wideout Rueben Randle (41 catches, 611 yards) apparently doesn’t have the chops to be a long-term No. 2 receiver.
3) Beckham was the Giants’ highest-ranked player on the board at No. 12, and has the capacity to overtake Randle, Mario Manningham, Jerrel Jernigan and even Victor Cruz as the franchise’s alpha-dog receiver.