With the third pick in the 2014 NFL draft, Jacksonville selected Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles.
The network cameras quickly moved from happy Bortles to Johnny Manziel. Manziel’s absent look might have suggested disappointment because he was not the first quarterback selected. It might have suggested delight because he would not have to move to Jacksonville.
Manziel did not go fifth or sixth, seventh or eighth, nine or 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th or 15th.
Drafting 16th was Dallas. This was perfect. Manziel grew up in Texas and played at Texas A&M. The Dallas war room appeared ecstatic, although all teams are or act ecstatic about their first-round pick.
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The Cowboys brain trust smiled, as if they knew a secret. Even commissioner Roger Goodell smiled as he walked to the lectern, smiled larger than he had all evening.
You know what was coming. Dallas fans were about to become more ecstatic than the executives in the war room.
With the 16th pick in the 2014 NFL draft, the Cowboys select – Zack Martin, the offensive tackle out of Notre Dame. Big guys are necessary, but they don’t create a story like quarterbacks do, especially an undersized, thrilling, halfway controversial quarterback such as Manziel.
While Manziel waited, Carolina’s NFC South competitors all made impressive first-round picks.
Atlanta parlayed its 4-12 record last season into the draft’s sixth pick, and the Falcons invested it on Jake Matthews, an offensive tackle out of Texas A&M. Matt Ryan’s protection last season was abysmal, as Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy will attest. It’s better now.
Tampa Bay drafted seventh and took another Texas A&M player, receiver Mike Evans. Evans is 6-5 but moves like a small man, quick and fast. Josh McCown, the former Panthers quarterback who signed with the Buccaneers and lives in Charlotte, ought to be thrilled.
New Orleans was scheduled to draft 27th, one pick in front of Carolina. But the Saints traded with Arizona, moved up seven spots and grabbed Brandin Cooks. Cooks is compared to former Panthers receiver Steve Smith. Cooks can fly. And Drew Brees has one more option. Collect the whole set.
Manziel, meanwhile, sipped water and attempted to look impassive. He succeeded, too. He knew the cameras were on him. I figured there would be a Manziel cam.
But that would have been cruel. So the Manziel Cam was only part time. Yet he did get more air time than any other player. If this were NASCAR, his sponsors would have won big.
Philadelphia, which does not need a quarterback, was scheduled to draft 22nd. But the Browns cut a deal with them, moved up and selected Manziel. The ovation was huge, Manziel appeared thrilled and all was right, if not with the world than with Cleveland.
The Panthers finally drafted about 11:18 p.m. They had a shot at a fine receiver, Marqise Lee, smooth and fast and poised.
They took 6-foot-5, 241-pound Kelvin Benjamin instead, which was interesting. They got a hog mollie receiver. He’s not as polished as Lee. But he might give the Panthers a quality they’ve never had, a very tall wide receiver who can play.