By Jeff Risdon
2013: 4-12, last in AFC North
2014 line: +/- 6.5 wins
Why the Over
If the Cleveland Browns are to top even five wins, it’s on the back of the defense. This is a deep and talented unit with solid players across the board and no glaring weaknesses, a top 10 unit last season that might be even better in 2014.
The front line is one of the best in football, though it doesn’t get the national attention. Desmond Bryant, Billy Winn, Athyba Rubin, Phil Taylor, John Hughes and Ishmaa’ily Kitchen make up a versatile, tough, physical and very deep D-line. Even undrafted rookies Calvin Barnett and Jacobbi McDaniel have shown legit NFL ability in the preseason, yet they’re not likely to make the team. While the unit lacks a true star, it’s got solid starts and fantastic backups no matter how the depth chart shakes out.
The linebackers behind them aren’t too shabby either. Even after parting ways with inside backer and team leader D’Qwell Jackson, they still have appreciable talent. Outside guys Barkevious Mingo and Paul Kruger are a solid tandem. Mingo has so much speed and ability to flatten around the edge. The second-year LSU product is poised for a breakout campaign a year after being a top 10 pick. Mingo should push 10 sacks this year after bagging five as a rookie.
Kruger was a disappointment with just 4.5 sacks, though he wasn’t used as aggressively as anticipated under deposed defensive coordinator Ray Horton. He’s a more physical rusher who can also crash inside against the run. It’s a mistake to write him off, though expectations should be lowered a bit. Fortunately the team has two solid reserves in Jabaal Sheard and Justin Staples who can rotate in and generate some pass rush and chaos off the edge. Sheard actually led the Browns with 5.5 sacks and did so in just 13 games.
Rookie Christian Kirksey could be a real find in replacing Jackson. The third-round pick from Iowa is a very fluid athlete with an outstanding football IQ. I like that he’s playing behind a line that can keep him clean even though it’s a 3-man front. It’s his coverage skills that will stand out the most in 2014. With veteran Karlos Dansby next to him and mentoring him, he could blossom quickly.
Dansby remains effective. The free agent from Arizona was one of Pro Football Focus’ top ILBs last year, and it’s from a similar defensive scheme. He’s also an oddball personality that can loosen up the locker room and be a real asset for new head coach Mike Pettine. The inside duo has the ability to shut down the short and intermediate passing games over the middle, a staple of many NFL offenses. This tandem is an upgrade over Jackson and Craig Robertson, who now slides into a reserve capacity.
The secondary has a chance to be very good. Joe Haden isn’t as awesome as he thinks he is, but the confident corner is a legit Pro Bowl talent. He’s a playmaking corner who plays like a shutdown cover man…at times. More consistency would be nice, but Haden is a viable #1 corner in a league where not many of those exist anymore.
In swapping in Donte Whitner for T.J. Ward, the Browns traded a little bit of range for more reliability. “Hitner” also brings a winning mentality and real attitude to his hometown defense. He’s one of the best short-range safeties in the league and a menace to any receiver crossing the middle. Tashaun Gipson emerged as a playmaking safety a year ago, picking off 5 passes. His cover skills aren’t great, but to that end the team added (hopefully) better corner play to mitigate his lack of deep range.
I’m admittedly not a big fan of first-round pick Justin Gilbert, the speedy corner from Oklahoma State. He’s got outstanding measurable and showed great improvement in his final season in Stillwater. He could wind up being a very good #2 corner, and I do appreciate that the Browns aren’t relying on him to travel all over the field mirroring the opponent’s top wideout.
Between Buster Skrine, Isaiah Trufant, Leon McFadden and rookie Pierre Desir, the Browns do have potential to have depth at the position. Skrine has been a disappointment but still is young enough to have potential in the slot. Desir, the team’s 4th round pick, probably needs a year to get up to NFL speed but could wind up being better than Gilbert in the long run. I also like the potential of reserve safety Jordan Poyer, though it’s time for him to start showing more of it.
Offensively, the line features two elite talents in left tackle Joe Thomas and center Alex Mack. Both are no worse than the 2nd-best player in the league at their respective positions. Thomas deserves mention as one of the top 5 overall talents in the NFL today. Second round pick Joel Bitonio looks like a plug-and-play fixture at left guard between them.
Jordan Cameron has developed into a very good receiving threat at tight end. He’s got an outstanding catch radius and his route running continues to improve. His line of 80-917-7 could actually increase now that he appears to be the primary target. With superb talent but drug addicted Josh Gordon’s availability very much in questions, Cameron should challenge Jimmy Graham for the most catches and yards among TEs.
Gordon is the big variable. He’s one of the most physically gifted receivers in the league, a downfield speedster with great strength and strong hands. Alas, he’s facing a suspension of at least 8 games for repeatedly violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. It could be a full season. If he is available for even half a season it greatly augments Cleveland’s chances to compete for as many as 8 wins, but that’s an unknown at this point.
The special teams are solid, with return man Travis Benjamin an explosive threat. Punter Spencer Lanning is one of the league’s more consistent punters and can hang the ball high.
Why the Under
Go ahead, name one viable NFL wide receiver on the roster other than Josh Gordon. When the first name that comes to your lips is Andrew Hawkins, you know there’s a problem.
Sure, Miles Austin and Nate Burleson are on the roster. Those are recognizable names, but injuries and age have robbed both of much of their skills. They combined for 63 catches and one touchdown as part of significantly better passing offenses in Dallas and Detroit, respectively. Austin does have some potential to top 50 receptions, but it’s no safe bet. Burleson is an awesome locker room presence, but that can only do so much.
Hawkins, a free agent defection from rival Cincinnati, is one of the quickest and niftiest players in the league. Unfortunately his incredible YouTube work has never really translated into greatness on the field. The 5’7” slot man has just 86 receptions and 4 TDs in his three seasons. He’s a nice player, but over his head as the #2 option.
Of course, with Gordon’s looming suspension Hawkins could very well be the de facto No. 1 wideout. Pair that with the quarterback chaos, and this Cleveland passing offense sure looks like the worst in the NFL. In a league where everything is geared towards high-octane, precision passing attacks, the Browns are going in the opposite direction.
Ah yes, the quarterbacks. I covered Brian Hoyer’s relative blandness earlier this summer. Nothing I’ve seen in two underwhelming preseason efforts has changed my mind; he’s a suitable backup, nothing more. Then there’s this Johnny Football guy…
I want to believe in Johnny Manziel, I really do. I think his unconventional, improvisational style can work in the NFL, and his arm and eyes are both underrated. I think his general contempt for traditional football structure and common sense can galvanize a team around him. But at some point he’s got to start approaching a middle ground with the firmly entrenched ways and means of life in the NFL instead of flipping it the bird, or drinking champagne on an inflatable one.
The macro problem is that this is a franchise ravaged by instability, irresponsibility and chaos. They’ve had more coaches in the last four years than the rival Steelers have had in 40. This latest edition marks the seventh major overhaul since the Browns returned to the field in 1999.
The constant schematic changes, personnel philosophies and draft strategies have taken a major toll. Even though there is real talent on this team, it doesn’t have any cohesion or continuity.
Now the embattled owner (thanks to his scrupulous business practices with Flying J) turns the reins over to a rookie head coach, an offensive coordinator noted for being unsuccessful, and a cult of personality rookie quarterback already being either lionized or demonized by fans and fellow NFL players. It’s a recipe for disaster.
I have concerns about other spots as well. I don’t trust Billy Cundiff as the kicker, a valuable position for a team that figures to wind up in several lower-scoring duels. I’m not crazy about the right side of the offensive line, though I do think Bitonio will be decent enough as a rookie. Ben Tate is too injury-prone to handle being the lead back, and visionless rookie Terrence West doesn’t move my needle much. The safety and inside linebacker depth isn’t great, but that’s getting nitpicky.
The Browns opened last season 3-2 and have since lost 10 of 11, including the final 7 last year. The bigger question might not even be how many games they win on the season, but when their losing streak will end. They will be decided underdogs in their first five games (@PIT, NO, BAL, @TEN, PIT) before they get to what appears to be some winnable games before a brutal final stretch.
It’s a shame a talented defense and a rookie head coach I genuinely like are destined to suffer through one of the most publicized losing campaigns in recent memory. A bad offense is going to be even worse with the incessant quarterback controversy and a schedule which offers several strong defenses. The nonstop cycling of divergent leadership regimes, all with their own styles and peculiarities, have left this team a complete mess.
The good news is that they have two first-round picks next year, and between their own pick and Buffalo’s pick (an absolute steal by GM Ray Farmer) they could very well own two top 5 picks. They really aren’t that far from being a decent team, they just need some stability and cohesion. It won’t happen in ’14. These Browns go 3-13. They’re a strong “under” bet.
Cleveland Browns, IQ
By Jeff Risdon
I know, college football season hasn’t even started yet. So why put out a mock draft now?
There are a couple of reasons. First, consider this a sort of “watch list” for players who I believe could wind up as first-round picks next May. I haven’t really perused other mock drafts to this point, so the players populating this list are talents I believe are either already highly regarded or will emerge to that level in the ’14 season.
Second, it’s always fun to look ahead and try to project where NFL teams will be nine months from now. What might they be looking for in the ’15 draft? Obviously that’s quite difficult to predict, as several teams will have coaching and front office changes.
The order here is based on current (as of 8/18/14) season win total over/under lines in ascending order. In cases of ties, I broke those ties with my own forecast for which team will win more games. The draft order here is technically impossible, as it does not account for division winners and playoff seeding. Get past that, folks…
1. Oakland Raiders: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon. Sure they just drafted Derek Carr in the second round. They cannot afford to look past a superior overall prospect and dual-threat weapon like Mariota. He needs some passing polish, but the physical tools are all there for Mariota to be Colin Kaepernick’s equal, if not superior. He’s just a junior, so it’s far from a given that he declares.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon. Ducks go 1-2 in this premature edition. IEO, as he’s known in scouting shorthand, enters the season as my personal No. 1 overall player. He’s got size, speed, vision, instincts and playmaking flair. He has a chance to be the best CB in the NFL at some point, something that cannot be said of any first-rounders in the last 2-3 drafts.
3. Cleveland Browns: Sammie Coates, WR, Auburn. He’s a downfield demon with legit 4.3 speed, impressive for a rocked-up 6’2”, 200+ pounder. Coates is dripping with potential. If he shows he can improve his footwork on routes and concentration over the middle, he’s going to be the first wideout taken. The Browns need every weapon they can get for Johnny Football, and character concerns are going to matter. Coates
4. Cleveland (from Buffalo Bills): Vic Beasley, Edge, Clemson. The booty for dealing the pick that became Sammy Watkins to Buffalo is the top pass-rushing prospect heading into the season. Beasley has a lightning first step and great closing burst to the ball. He fits better as a 3-4 OLB as he appears fairly maxed out at about 245 pounds.
5. Minnesota Vikings: Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford. The Vikings already have a solid pair of tackles in Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt, but Peat could be too skilled to pass on here. He’s got outstanding length and quick feet, a natural left tackle. The Vikings do like to trade picks, too…
6. Tennessee Titans: Leonard Williams, DT, USC. He’s the closest thing I’ve seen to Ndamukong Suh since the Lions stud was dominating at Nebraska. A violently strong interior presence with the athleticism to play anywhere along the line, the rising junior has everything NFL teams want. The Titans have a sturdy young line with Jurrell Casey, Mike Martin and Sammie Lee Hill, but Williams gives them real star potential up front. Have to think that if they’re picking this high they’ll look strongly at a QB, however.
7. Houston Texans: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State. It might seem inconceivable for the reigning Heisman winner and field general of the national champs is not a top 5 pick, let alone No. 1 overall. I think he’s a victim of hyper-scrutiny about his character, but also his surprisingly spotty mechanics and accuracy. He can--and I suspect he will--iron the on-field issues out, and that should be enough to convince the Texans to trust him with the keys to the franchise.
8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa. The Bucs offensive line is in the process of a major turnover, and Scherff has the potential to be the centerpiece of a rebuilt front. Physical and relentless, he’s likely a right tackle at the next level, but could be an awesome one. When I graded him for the ’14 draft he came out ahead of No. 11 overall pick Taylor Lewan, a similar style of player. Scherff isn’t as athletic, however.
9. New York Jets: Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State. If you liked Mike Evans in the ’14 draft, Strong is your kind of receiver. Big and strong (no pun intended) with a huge catch radius, the 6’4” junior is a better route runner than Evans already. He’s a viable potential No. 1 receiver, something the Jets could pair nicely with a talented No. 2 in Eric Decker.
10. St. Louis Rams: Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA. If the Rams miss out on the playoffs once again, it’s likely Sam Bradford’s fault. That means it’s time for a change, and that change is the rangy Bruins junior. He’s a divisive prospect already, as some (I raise my hand high) worry about his accuracy as much as they are tantalized by his huge arm and great size.
11. Washington Ethnic Slurs: Landon Collins, S, Alabama. Washington drafted a pair of safeties in 2013, but Philip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo have yet to emerge past decidedly average journeymen Ryan Clark and Brandon Meriweather. Collins is a do-it-all safety with strong tackling skills and solid instincts vs. the pass, giving them a long-term solution at a position of growing importance. Collins is just a junior.
12. Arizona Cardinals: Dante Fowler, DE/OLB, Florida. Fowler is a rising junior with freak closing speed and lateral quickness for a 275ish-pound edge player. He’s not afraid to get physical. If he can clean up his positional discipline and continue to wreak havoc in backfields, he could go a lot higher than 12th. I think the Cardinals are better than this slot, so for them to add another impact piece to their solid defense would be quite fortunate. Fowler and Calais Campbell would be a devastating DE/OLB duo to try and block.
13. New York Giants: Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M. Ogbuehi continues the strong line of premium tackles in College Station. He’s not quite as high-end as Luke Joeckel or Jake Matthews, but he’s a high-floor talent who is ready to start right out of the box at either tackle spot. The rebuild of the Giants offense continues by building up the front and adding skill position weapons in the next few rounds.
14. Miami Dolphins: Devante Parker, WR, Louisville. Long and strong, Parker proved he could make the tough catch from Teddy Bridgewater. Now he gets to break in a new QB at Louisville. His projected 4.55 speed waters down his draft stock a bit, but there might not be a better catcher of the football in the next draft. He’d make a great complement for Mike Wallace to help Ryan Tannehill’s progression in Miami.
15. Kansas City Chiefs: Ty Montgomery, WR, Stanford. A blazing speedster with reliable hands, Montgomery would immediately upgrade a Kansas City receiving corps that scares Chiefs fans more than it does opponents. In his junior season, he can elevate his stock by improving his footwork and selling his moves better.
16. Carolina Panthers: P.J. Williams, CB, Florida State. A fluid athlete with a very high football IQ, Williams will get a lot of exposure playing for the Seminoles. He can elevate himself higher than this if he makes more impact plays as a junior. He would immediately step into Carolina and be their No. 1 corner.
17. San Diego Chargers: Shilique Calhoun, Edge, Michigan State. He’s a fierce pass rusher with explosive athletic metrics, a perfect fit along a Chargers front that needs more sizzle off the edge. His ability to play both end and 3-4 outside backer gives the defense more options. The junior reminds me of Mario Williams.
18. Dallas Cowboys: Randy Gregory, Edge, Nebraska. Another player who is going to divide the draft community, Gregory has potential to be a dynamic edge rusher with a great first step. If he can even out some truly ugly ’13 game tape (Michigan, among others), the rising junior would bring speed and length to what appears to be a brutal Dallas defense.
19. Pittsburgh Steelers: Devin Funchess, TE/WR, Michigan. He’s a hybrid receiver along the lines of Eric Ebron or Tyler Eifert, a wideout in a tight end frame. The junior offers great potential as a seam-stretcher and giant slot presence. He could blossom with more consistent QB play, something he would get in Pittsburgh with Big Ben.
20. Atlanta Falcons: Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia. The two-year drought of first round running backs ends with the eminently talented Bulldogs junior. He will remind some of Steven Jackson, others of Marshawn Lynch. With Jackson nearing the end, the Falcons could add the local product to bolster and balance the Matt Ryan-centric offense.
21. Detroit Lions: La’el Collins, OT, LSU. A massive and punishing line presence, Collins offers the Lions options up front. LaAdrian Waddle and Riley Reiff are both versatile, which would allow Detroit to find the best combination to help fuel their high-powered offense. Yes, once again the Lions do not take a first-round corner…that’s what free agency is for.
22. Baltimore Ravens: Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State. With Darqueze Dennard now a Bengal, the Ravens tap his Spartans mate to be their own shutdown corner. The rising junior has size and attitude, two attributes in high demand in the NFL today. Of all the picks I’ve made here, this is the one that is the most likely to actually come to fruition.
23. Chicago Bears: Derron Smith, S, Fresno State. Smith is a playmaking cover safety, something the Bears desperately need. He lacks size but doesn’t lack punch when he’s flying all over the field. He’d make a great fit for Chicago in the pass-happy NFC North, a division I think they win in 2014 despite a still-leaky defense.
24. Philadelphia Eagles: Noah Spence, Edge, Ohio State. The rising junior performed at his best against top competition, and he’s an impact player against both the run and pass. His game is similar to Kyle Van Noy from the ’14 draft, and Spence has the similar lack of power and strength that he can build up to improve his stock.
25. Cincinnati Bengals: Corey Robinson, OT, South Carolina. Bengals fans are used to a former SEC behemoth anchoring the offensive line. As Andrew Whitworth approaches his mid-30s, Cincinnati reloads with the 6’7”, 330ish Robinson. He’s still fairly raw with his technique, but you can’t coach his length and brute power.
26. Indianapolis Colts: Ellis McCarthy, DT, UCLA. The junior’s upside is similar to the good Nick Fairley, a disruptive gap penetrator with both power and quickness. McCarthy has to be reminded he’s big at times, but guys his size (6’4”, 325) with his movement skills from a major program typically don’t last long on draft boards.
27. New Orleans Saints: Ramik Wilson, ILB, Georgia. A tightly-wound tackling machine with decent range, Wilson would make a great fit in Rob Ryan’s aggressive, oft-unconventional defense. He could lead the nation in tackles in 2014, but his best NFL attribute might be his cover skills in the short and intermediate range.
28. San Francisco 49ers: Deontay Greenberry, WR, Houston. Every year there are a couple of surprise first round picks, and it’s often the 49ers who make one. Greenberry is a long, speedy monster along the lines of Dez Bryant or Demaryius Thomas. He needs to show his strength more frequently, and then the junior can take the NFL draft process by storm.
29. Green Bay Packers: Alvin Dupree, Edge, Kentucky. Dupree is a player I think will blossom going forward as he gets stronger and learns how to better use his hands. He’s already physical and has nifty feet for a 260-something pound edge rusher, and he’s also shown he is fluid in space. Great fit for a zone blitzing team like Dom Capers’ Packers, who can use him opposite Clay Matthews.
30. New England Patriots: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama. This is probably lower than you’ll see the talented Cooper in most mock drafts, but his lack of any elite trait will water down his stock. That doesn’t mean the Patriots won’t be getting a potentially great receiver, as his sticky hands, route savvy and professional polish are all already evident.
31. Seattle Seahawks: Rashad Greene, WR, Florida State. The player Greene most reminds me of is former Seahawk Golden Tate, who took the money and ran to Detroit. He’s comfortable lining up in the slot or outside, has superb hands and body control and he can make tacklers miss. He’s not as fast at Tate, but the reigning Super Bowl champs can use his NFL-ready game.
32. Denver Broncos: Josh Shaw, CB, USC. The onetime Florida star recruit has the traits of a hybrid corner/safety a la Kenny Vaccaro or Calvin Pryor, two recent first round picks. His high football IQ and great burst out of breaks should translate well to the NFL. Denver needs to keep reloading secondary talent.
Next 10 players picked: Shawn Oakman, DE, Baylor; Marcus Peters, CB, Washington; Cameron Erving, OT, Florida State; Denzel Perryman, LB, Miami; Ty Smabrailo, OT, Colorado State; Stefon Diggs, WR, Maryland; Jordan Jenkins, Edge, Georgia; Reese Dismukes, C, Auburn; Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington; Christian Covington, DT, Rice
Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins, Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, New York Jets, Draft, Draft Misc
By Jeff Risdon
Normally the first preseason game for each NFL team has a certain, predictable flow. The starters play a series or two, and then most fans go from watching intently to sporadically paying attention when the announcer exudes excitement. For fans in the stands, which are typically about 30 percent full, the noise level is generally equitable with a Houston Astros-Florida Marlins game played in front of tens of lower-bowl fans at Minute Maid Park.
The Cleveland Browns' game at Ford Field in Detroit did not follow that pattern. Even though the game itself was a major yawnfest--the Lions won 13-12 on a TD pass from Kellen Moore to Corey Fuller with just over a minute to go--there was palpable buzz throughout the stadium all evening.
Johnny Football was in town.
Mr. Manziel made his NFL debut, wearing No. 2 for the white-on-white visitors. The most celebrated rookie since Tim Tebow did not start, and only took a handful of snaps before halftime. Yet he was the overwhelming national story despite a rather uneventful showing in a decidedly uneventful contest.
The numbers were uninspiring but acceptable for a debut: 7-for-11 for 63 yards, 6 carries for 27 yards, no turnovers, no touchdowns generated. Compared to current starter Brian Hoyer they look outstanding, but that’s another story…
Manziel was the focus of attention for every single person in Ford Field last night. When he ran onto the field for pregame warmups, the sizeable contingent of Browns fans rose up and cheered as if they’d heard LeBron James was heading back to Cleveland and bringing Kevin Love with him. It was raucous and emotional.
Lions fans booed just as vociferously. It wasn’t the typical canned raspberries thrown at every opponent, either. This was genuine enmity towards Johnny F’ing Football, and it was louder than when Isa Abdul Quddus picked off Tyler Thigpen to seal the victory for the host Lions.
I sat in Section 116, right between the goalposts in the east end zone. My section was roughly 25 percent Cleveland fans, and at least 50 percent of those making the two-and-a-half hour trek were wearing some form of Manziel worship. Sure, there was the awesome vintage Brian Sipe jersey and a few Joe Haden and Josh Cribbs ones too, but you could almost smell the newness of all the Browns gear.
You could also sense the newness of the NFL game for Manziel himself. There is a big difference between what works against Sam Houston State or even Alabama and what will work in the big league. Manziel is learning this the hard way, though he seems hellbent on still singing “My Way” as he absorbs both the lessons and the hits.
On two different occasions, Manziel either didn’t see or blatantly ignored open receivers and opted to instead hoof it out. The fact that he was successful in doing so is almost a negative, because without seeing the downside of his errors he will be less likely to learn from them.
Still, it was exciting to watch him operate. He has the rare je ne se quoi of a Brett Favre or Steve Young, the ability to string out a doomed play and turn it into something positive and thrilling. His artful dodging proved quite necessary playing behind Cleveland’s truly awful second-team offensive line, and not one player he threw to is likely to ever catch more than 10 passes in any season.
Mechanically, Manziel was fine. Those who question his arm strength or ability to find throwing lanes are simply ignorant, as both are already NFL-caliber and superior to Hoyer, the man whose job he will be usurping any minute now.
He certainly drew the attention from the Lions defense. His first run, a delayed B-gap scamper after two quick pass reads failed to produce an option, changed the way the Lions linebackers played him the rest of the game. Whether by coaching order or simple recognition, they were more aware of containment responsibility and less apt to give him open lanes.
On another rep, impressive and speedy Detroit defensive end George Johnson blasted towards him unblocked, but Manziel calmly slid forward and kept his eyes down the field with a sort of threatening stagger. It was a play that could easily have been vintage Young or, perhaps more accurately analogous, Jeff Garcia.
The fans, well…they enjoyed the ride. From the Manzealots cheering his every play to the behemoth (appropriately donning a Shaun Rogers jersey) spilled over two seats in the row behind me chanting “Die Johnny” for the entire third quarter, they got their preseason money’s worth. For the most part, Lions fans were playfully and nervously accepting of all the Manziel mania.
Detroit was a great place for his debut. No fans can possibly empathize with Cleveland’s long-suffering faithful than the one team with an even more dubious NFL playoff history. Browns fans were rightly encouraged to have faith in their unconventional messiah, just as Barry Sanders once brought those same hopes and faith to the title wasteland that is Detroit. The Lions fans got to feel even better about their own starter, the hyper-talented but inconsistent Matthew Stafford, in the process.
Manziel was better than Hoyer. He was better than Detroit backup Dan Orlovsky, who probably should lose that role to Kellen Moore, who was--astonishingly--the best QB on the field. Johnny Football handled himself like a true professional on the sidelines and in the postgame. He was actively engaged in sideline powwows and had many a positive head slap for teammates coming off the field.
It’s just one game, and a meaningless one playing with and against mostly non-NFL players at that. Yet Manziel largely passed his first test by simply not failing as so many seemingly want him to do.
I still don’t know how his career, or even his rookie campaign, are going to turn out. Anyone who says they do is either delusional or selling something they don’t own. I’m encouraged by many things I saw, yet I also see just how far he still needs to travel down the road to being a franchise quarterback. It’s going to be a great trip to watch.
Cleveland Browns, IQ
Johnny Manziel might not be the answer either, but at least he has the potential to be something that Brian Hoyer can never achieve: greatness. If Browns fans cannot accept that, the factory of sadness will only continue to get into a deeper depression.
The Texans may have picked the LeBron James of the NFL, Vikings had a jackpot pick in Teddy Bridgewater, a potential new No. 1 WR for the Saints and the other best picks for each team.
The Browns, Bills, Texans and Jaguars made the most noise in the draft.
This was indeed a deep draft, with more prospects than ever evaluated as worthy of being drafted, but it was still filled with surprises.
Great first rounds for the Rams, the NFC North as a whole, Bengals and Chargers, while the Eagles and Patriots received thumbs down, while Cleveland had the most intriguing night.
The two extra weeks of NFL Draft season have led to way too much smoke and speculation. It's one of the most confusing drafts ever, with beat writers for the same teams often wildly differing in their own projections and information.