The draft is complete, and with another three-day football extravaganza in the books and a whole week for football fans worldwide to sit back and decompress, it’s time to reflect on who made the most noise in the draft. Add in a full week of media coverage behind us and we’re set to break down who’s generating the most buzz after their weekend in New York City.
We’ll start with the team that clearly made the biggest splash of the weekend in Radio City Music Hall.
Buffalo snagged Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins with the pick — a player many in Northeast Ohio wanted for Cleveland — but the Bills gave up a lot for him.
Now, with Minnesota on the clock at eight, the Browns were again back to making more moves. Cleveland moved up again, swapping picks and a fifth-rounder with the Vikings, and “Johnny, Johnny” chants filled bars and draft parties all over Ohio. Minutes later, another stunner: the Browns selected Oklahoma State corner back Justin Gilbert. Browns fans everywhere were shocked and depressed, thinking Manziel had slipped through their open and welcoming arms.
But less than two hours later, their prayers were answered.
Farmer moved back up, this time trading the 26th pick with Philadelphia in exchange for the 22nd selection, which he used to take Manziel — and Cleveland exploded.
Credit is due to the Browns Backers. Their draft party erupted with cheers, and the Cleveland fans who went to their local Kinkos to get giant printouts of Manziel photoshopped in a Browns uniform were finally justified. Cleveland ended the evening with Gilbert, arguably the top corner in the draft to pair with Pro Bowler Joe Haden, and a young Texan who they hope will be the quarterback of the future.
The buzz only grew from there.
Days later, quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains told an Arkansas ESPN affiliate that Manziel had sent him a text telling them to “come get” him, so they could “wreck this league together.” Talk about a made-for-TV story.
The next day, Manziel was in rookie minicamp, donning a red No. 2 jersey — the same number worn by former first-overall pick Tim Couch, and the same jersey that became the league’s top-seller almost overnight — and answering questions from the local media, only because national media members were barred from practice.
The Browns have taken cautious steps to quell the frenzy around Manziel. But with such a big name now on the roster, it might be hard to quiet the noise around Berea, Ohio. Browns fans surely hope this is only the beginning of constant national attention.
St. Louis Rams
St. Louis took the new, conventional approach to the draft. The Rams grabbed Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson — a player with a ceiling that seems higher than the St. Louis Arch — and then added Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald later in the first round. Two solid selections for a team that needs desperate help protecting franchise quarterback Sam Bradford, and a fourth first-rounder to add to the Rams’ menacing defensive line.
But the biggest attention-grabber came on Day Three, when the Rams selected Missouri outside linebacker/defensive end Michael Sam in the seventh round.
Nearly everyone knows the story around Sam, the first openly gay player to be selected in the NFL Draft. The footage of him sobbing after getting the call from the Rams has made the rounds on television and the Internet. As soon as Sam spoke at his introductory press conference, cameras and flashbulbs were firing incessantly. Intended or not, that probably won’t be slowing down any time soon.
A nearby NFL franchise, led by an experienced coach in Jeff Fisher who is more than equipped to handle an increase in media attention, is likely the perfect place for Sam to begin his quest to make it in the NFL.
The Rams were one of the first topics mentioned on news networks nationwide, transcending media outlets from NFL Network to CNN. The Gateway to the West became the Gateway to the Buzz last week. And it’s likely that it is only the beginning.
Minnesota took the pick from Cleveland and selected UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr with the ninth selection. It was a solid, quiet move for the Vikings, but their attention came later.
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman took a chance, albeit a minor one, sending second and fourth round picks to Seattle for the 32nd pick. Their re-entry into the first round was made with clear intentions: Spielman was out to get his franchise quarterback.
Minnesota took Louisville signal caller Teddy Bridgewater with the pick, which, according to Bridgewater, satisfied his desires. He was later quoted as saying Minnesota is where he wanted to be — not Cleveland. This is where we enter the realm of buzz.
Bridgewater went on the Dan Patrick show and left the Browns for the dogs, pun unintended. Once considered a strong candidate for the first overall pick, Bridgewater wasted no time in expressing how much he didn’t want to be in Cleveland, and how much he really loved Minnesota. Luckily for him — and the Vikings — the two are now married with the 32nd pick and a rookie contract. A week later, Spielman was on record gushing about Bridgewater, and how he believes he has the “it” factor (buzzword alert!) to thrive as a Viking.
Whether he and/or Manziel succeed will be left for time to tell.
Monday opened with more shots of Bridgewater wearing his No. 5 quarterback jersey in Vikings minicamp and questions of a quarterback competition looming in training camp. Minnesota is building a new stadium – which is still a couple years from completion, but still! – and the Vikings will be all over NFL news for the rest of the offseason.
Potentially for good reason, too.
Jacksonville hasn’t seen the light of success since David Garrard was scrambling for big gains in the playoffs in Pittsburgh. It’s been a revolving door at quarterback, with Chad Henne bouncing between the bench and the starting lineup, and former top pick Blaine Gabbert.
It remains an uphill battle for whoever it is under center for the Jaguars, but they might finally be turning the corner. That man is currently Henne, but he’s essentially manning a role new to the league known as transitional quarterback. He’s a glorified Brett Favre or Drew Brees (in San Diego); he’s a placeholder for the next man of the future.
That man is Blake Bortles.
The Jaguars made it clear that they had identified their guy early in the draft, selecting the former Central Florida quarterback with the third pick. Bortles has said all of the right things since being picked, going on and on about how he loves being in Jacksonville, and how the grandeur of the NFL has been shell-shocking at times. He’s gotten a decent amount of attention nationally, but since he is from the area, having grown up in Oviedo, Fla., and played in Orlando as a star at UCF, he seems to have an advantage. Rebuilding the roster continues with the addition of Southern California receiver Marquise Lee in the second round, who joins Cecil Shorts III in the receiving corps — but Bortles might have help from Henne, behind whom he will likely sit and learn for a while.
For a guy who made it clear at the NFL Combine that he might need a season or two to learn the pro game, there can’t be a better situation, right?
The Jaguars hope so.
Buffalo selected Watkins, highly regarded as the consensus top receiver in the draft. They sent next year’s first round pick to Cleveland in order to move up and grab their guy.
It’s rare that teams get first round picks for players or picks. The fourth pick was definitely a coveted one, and Buffalo thought so highly of Watkins that they chose to gamble next year’s draft on him. It could pay off — the Bills could see a major improvement with the likes of Watkins in the starting lineup — or it could be a big mistake, with the Bills struggling to another 5-11 or 6-10 season and entering the offseason without a first-round pick.
History bodes well for Buffalo, too, since they dealt picks to the Browns to move up to take Watkins. The last time Cleveland did that, Atlanta swapped and selected star receiver Julio Jones. I’d say that’s worked out pretty well for the Falcons, save for Jones’ struggles with injuries last season.
If Buffalo gets similar production out of Watkins, the trade was 100 percent worth it.
Less than 24 hours later, Buffalo sent former star receiver Stevie Johnson to San Francisco for a conditional fourth-round pick that could become a third round selection. If that doesn’t reek of confidence in a team’s newest pick, I don’t know what does. Again, time will tell if Bills GM Doug Whaley is right on his big gamble.
That’s the beauty of this time of the year: we know nothing except for players’ college careers, all of which were pretty fantastic, considering they were among the select group chosen by NFL teams. It’s all left up to the uncertainty of the future.