Leading up to the 2014 NFL Draft most of the buzz was about Johnny Manziel – Johnny Football. Because the draft was three weeks later this year, it allowed more time for Manziel and his larger than life persona to suck the air out of the draft for the other top-rated players, including the other quarterbacks, in the draft.
When NFL Commissioner stepped to the podium at Radio City Music Hall in New York on Thursday night and announced that Houston had selected South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney with the No. 1 pick in the draft some of the air returned to the room. But Manziel still loomed large over the evening.
Manziel had to sit and wait as all kinds of players and scenarios unfolded around him. He saw an offensive lineman, a block buster trade, a minor trade, a linebacker, two dynamic wide receivers, another quarterback, one of his Texas A&M teammates, a cornerback, and a tight end go in the first 11 picks of the draft.
You could feel Manziel sweating as the ESPN cameras kept focusing on him more than any of the other 30 college players in the green room at Radio City Music Hall on Wednesday night. He waited and waited and waited some more as speculation built as to whether he would go to Cleveland at No. 8 or Minnesota at No. 9 or Dallas at the No. 16 pick.
Clowney was a no-brainer pick for Houston. He had started drawing attention two years ago as he burst on the scene in South Carolina as a dominant pass rusher. There is little question that his skills will transfer to the NFL.
Houston has given new coach Bill O’Brien, who was hired in January to replace Gary Kubiak, a dominant weapon on defense. Clowney will join J.J. Watt on the Texans defensive line. He had 13 sacks in 2012, but only had three sacks in his final season with the Gamecocks, but primarily because he was getting double and sometimes triple teamed. Clowney is being compared to Bills great defensive end Bruce Smith. And the Texans who lost 14 straight games after starting 2-0 last season, need some kind of jolt.
“It feels great. I’m ready to get to work, get to the NFL and play some football," said Clowney.
He didn’t know until six minutes before the draft that the Texans were going to take him.
“I was nervous. Who are they going to pick? Who are they going to pick? I’m ready to live up to them. I’m ready to get to work. I’m going to take my game to the next level,’’ Clowney said.
It was the first time since 1996-97 that there hasn’t been a quarterback taken in back-to-back years the NFL draft.
With the No. 2 pick the Rams selected Auburn tackle Greg Robinson, who left college with two more years of eligibility remaining, with the second pick in the draft, giving quarterback Sam Bradford some much needed protection. Robinson is an athletic tackle, but his pass protection has been questionable. His technique can develop because he has all the raw athletic material to work with. The Rams could use Robinson at left guard until he’s ready to move into the prime spot of left tackle.
Jacksonville, with the No. 3 pick, made Blake Bortles of Central Florida the first quarterback selected in the draft, leaving Manziel hanging. Bortles won’t have to leave the state of Florida. The 6-5, 235 pounds Bortles looks like a Ben Roetheslisberger clone and played in a pro-style offense at Central Florida.
“It’s awesome. I get to stay in Florida. I can’t wait,’’ Bortles said. “I’m so excited I can’t wait to get to Jacksonville and playing football and start competing and doing all I can to be the best that I can be.
The first trade was between Buffalo and the Browns, which allowed the Bills to climb from No. 9 to No. 4. With that pick the Bills selected Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, an explosive playmaker with game breaking speed. He’d better be worth it because the Bills traded away their 2015 first and fourth round picks. The Bills picked up receiver Mike Williams of Tampa Bay in free agency. It gives them a dynamic playmaking duo.
Later Cleveland Browns traded their fifth round pick (No. 145) to Minnesota to flip-flop spots and jump up to No. 8 to take Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert.
The Oakland Raiders used the No. 5 selection to take University of Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack, a speed rusher off the edge with a nose for the football.
With the No. 6 pick the Falcons selected tackle Jake Matthews, Manziel’s teammate at Texas A&M. Matthews comes from a football family. His father Bruce Matthews, a 19-year Hall of Famer, played in Houston and Buffalo and his uncle Clay Matthews was a linebacker in Cleveland. His cousin Clay Matthews III is a linebacker in Green Bay. Seven members of the Matthew’s family have made it to the NFL, but Jake Matthews is the highest drafted member of that group.
“NFL has been a dream of mind since I was a kid. I feel so blessed,’’ Matthews said. “It’s a pretty good group and some pretty big shoes to feel.’’
Tampa Bay took receiver Mike Evans with the No. 7 pick and Cleveland decided to bypass Manziel with that No. 8 pick and took Gilbert. Everyone thought the Vikings, who have struggled with quarterback Christian Ponder, would jump at Manziel at No. 9. Instead they selected Anthony Barr, a linebacker from UCLA, who can provide them with an edge rusher.
The Lions had Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders announce their No. 10 pick, which was North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron, who will stretch the middle of the field the way that receiver Calvin Johnson does down the sidelines.
Tennessee selected Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan with the No. 11 pick. And the Manziel slide had officially begun.
Things broke perfectly in the draft for the Giants at No. 12. They had their pick of playmaking receivers and cornerbacks and quality offensive linemen. They used it to take LSU receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. It’s a very good selection for quarterback Eli Manning, who will be looking to find a replacement for Hakeem Nicks, who went to Indianapolis via free agency.
“It’s time to bring home a Super Bowl. Let’s get one,’’ Beckham said.
The Rams used their second pick in the first round, No. 13, to select Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald, a big, speedy edge rusher who has drawn comparisons to Warren Sapp. The Bears used the No. 14 pick to take Kyle Fuller, a cornerback from Virginia Tech. Pittsburgh selected Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier at No. 15.
Manziel was still waiting.
The Cowboys passed on Manziel and selected Notre Dame tackle Zack Martin with the No. 16 pick.
That’s when it became painful to watch Manziel, whom many had predicted would go No. 1 overall, squirm under the glare of the lights and the weight of draft day expectations.