The Cleveland Browns lit up the 2014 NFL draft by taking Johnny Manziel with the 22nd pick in the first round! ESPN promoted him to the point of letting John Gruden look like a blooming idiot calling for Manziel from the first pick and each pick thereafter until it got so old that by pick 22 he was winding down. The very way that ESPN played the Manziel-hype angle demonstrates what Johnny is to the national media – a toy to play with and a way to sell advertising. Those that think the pick of Manziel makes “Cleveland” relevant have spent too much time in Hollywood or “star gazing” at Hollywood. The Chuck Booms of the world have no perspective about what is relevant to “Cleveland” despite their devotion to the city because that devotion is tainted by “Hollywood” and the lust for media hype that consumes all entertainers.
So, for a life-long fan like myself and blogger, I must and will take this draft completely out of the hype arena and into the reality arena. The very things about this Browns draft that makes the media yawn excites me. I understand the importance of scheme and “fit” and talent on the field. I respect the Cleveland Browns both historically and passionately. I want them to succeed. Specifically, I want Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine to succeed. Because if they succeed, I win as a fan and a commentator.
From a 10,000 feet perspective, it is not certain that “Trader Ray” was necessary to produce this draft or these players. There is significant evidence that Manziel may have still been there at 26 and the other trade-ups might have been unnecessary. Regardless of those speculations, the key is that the players the Browns did take are excellent players for what they are trying to do as a football team. The only exception to that analysis is Manziel but the Browns are making a huge calculated Vegas-like bet on him. So it is very hard to criticize Farmer for doing a bit of wheeling and dealing to get a player left in his “pod” of desired players at key points in the draft, including the trade-up for Manziel.
Also from 10,000 feet, Ray Farmer proved a genius with respect to preparing the team to advance in the long term, while not sacrificing short term needs. The only exception might be his inability to acquire a wide receiver in all of this. But by adding a first, fourth and sixth round pick to next year’s draft, the Browns are ready to roll to acquire what talent is needed for 2015. If you think Farmer sacrificed a Super Bowl appearance by delaying gratification, I admire your optimism.
Now lets analyze the draft pick by pick. We will focus less on the players specific measurables and skill and more on their fit and likely projections to this year’s Browns team.
Justin Gilbert, CB:
By most projections the best cornerback in the draft. His measurables are awesome based on the size and speed necessary in today’s NFL. He is a dynamic player that can do much more than simply cover receivers by dominating special teams with his kick-return prowess. Not sure if that will be used by the Browns, but the skill is there if needed. His fit as a tight man/press corner is critical for Mike Pettine’s defensive scheme. Based on the defensive coordinator coming with Pettine, there is little doubt that the Browns will be basing their defense on the Rex Ryan defensive philosophy. In that scheme, shut down cover corners are essential to allow for the creativity and frequency of blitzing needed in that defense. Gilbert was UNQUESTIONABLY ESSENTIAL to that scheme and this is why the Browns went so far to maneuver the draft to get him. A great pick for talent, scheme and fit.
Johnny Manziel, QB:
By some projections, Manziel was the best QB in the draft. He is also a lightning rod for controversy, scrutiny and another potential “black eye” for the city of Cleveland and it’s sports teams. If you wanted Manziel because he finally “puts Cleveland on the map”, you are in for a rude awakening. He will only put us “on the map” if he succeeds and the Browns win football games. That would have happened anyway if this storied franchise began to win and contend for titles. If he fails (which is a strong possibility), he will put Cleveland “on the map” again for late night jokes and ridicule. So watch what you wish for. It might not be what you think.
That being said, if the multiple flaws translatable to the NFL that Manziel possesses are conquered or controlled, his good traits could make this a draft to remember for our lifetime. He has a quick release, enough arm strength to function at the pro level, enough accuracy on short/intermediate throws to be successful, and an uncanny ability to sense pressure and escape it. Those traits are good a good fit with our scheme and he has enough talent to pull it off. If it weren’t for all of those critical talent/character flaws in his game, his chance of boom would be better than bust. I will outline the flaws in depth in a separate analysis but by way of summary here they are: 1) A sense he needs to escape when he doesn’t and then run 2) Inability to go through full progressions with his reads 3) Predictable methods of pocket escape that places his offensive tackles in “no win” scenarios 4) Questionable accuracy on deep throws 5) Instincts to run before finding open receivers 6) No demonstrated ability to slide and step up in the pocket to throw 7) No demonstrated ability to command the game from behind center – strictly shotgun/pistol 8) Virtually never pitching or handing the ball off on read options 9) No demonstrated ball skills to handle play-action sets and create deception without the ball 10) Serious questions about work ethic, sense of entitlement, ego getting in the way of progress, and willingness to be a student of the game (knowing playbook better than anyone, studying game film of opponent, etc.). I’ll stop there and save the rest for later. As a Brown’s fan, I am hopeful but far away from crowning “Johnny Football” as the savior of Cleveland sports. We did that recently with a much more talented basketball player and it didn’t work out so well.
Joel Bitonio, OG/OT:
A very solid pick based on fit and scheme. He is a very talented run blocker that some analysts described as a “road grader”. The Browns desperately need that type of player on their line. He has a mean streak as evidenced by his game film and can open holes. He is versatile and that is something the Browns need going forward. One source said that he could eventually end up as a Pro Bowl caliber center. That is very positive perspective. Since he has been an offensive tackle, I am convinced his pass protection skills will be reasonable. But, based on the scheme the Browns have revealed with this draft, he looks excellent in the second round.
Chris Kirksey, LB:
This pick seems to me to be based strongly on need vs pure talent. Kirksey was by some accounts worthy of a third round pick, but probably not at 71. Farmer was aware that Craig Robertson has substantial difficulty in coverage. Robertson has the speed and skill set to accomplish the task but apparently not the instincts. Kirksey seems to possess those skills and demonstrated them at the college level. His size and weight does make it difficult for me to see him as an every down linebacker (not quite 6’2″ and 233 lbs), but he should help on special teams right away and as a situational linebacker. I think this was a good pick considering the void we have at middle linebacker along side Dansby.
Terrance West, RB:
This thick muscular yet diminutive runner should be a sight for sore eyes for Browns fans. He immediately fills a gap on our roster that would have been intolerable as the season progressed. Again, going for talent that fits the scheme, Farmer proved that he studied the talent on the draft board while also listening to his coaches. This is a winning combination when drafting. It is clear that the Browns are transitioning from the team with the most passing attempts in the NFL to a team that runs effectively and uses that to set up the passing game. This is the Seattle model and actually fits the Pittsburg model when they have the talent to accomplish it. That model fits especially well in the AFC North.
West did run in a league with far less talent than the NFL and will be challenged at the next level for sure. He runs inside with power but has the moves and elusiveness to evade tackles. With the increased size and speed of defensive lineman, the lower center of gravity and thick bodies of these types of runners have been successful at the next level. I think West will succeed as well. He is not a “change of pace” runner when compared to Ben Tate, but he is complementary to Tate’s style providing consistency for the offensive line. I will discuss the clear changes in the Browns offensive philosophy and how the personnel changes match that change in a later post.
Pierre Desir, CB:
Another great fit and a value pick in the 4th round. Desir can play the press man coverage and was a player in our “top 100” for the entire draft. He has the size and skills needed to start immediately in the Browns dime packages and probably some nickel packages as well. He is not nearly as fast as Gilbert but should be fast enough for those packages. Plus, he played at a small college level so that doesn’t always translate to the NFL. Time will tell if he has the talent to start on the outside in the future. Regardless, in the fourth round, to provide depth at a critical position in Pettine’s defense is clearly another good pick.
This draft was very productive for the Cleveland Browns and they clearly are a better team today than they were several days ago. Ray Farmer only picked one player that doesn’t seem to fit the offensive and defensive schemes of the coaching staff. That player, Manziel, could overcome his lack of fit with hard work and dedication. If he succeeds, it will be a historically good draft. If he fails, Farmer will forever be saddled with the albatross of picking one of the most celebrated busts in draft history.