I had a feeling Manziel was the quarterback that the Browns were targeting. They didnít take him at #4 overall like I had in my final mock draft but they did trade up to secure what they hope will be their franchise signal caller. I am a huge skeptic when it comes to ďJohnny FootballĒ but I am actually on board with the move in this specific situation. Why? Because there was nothing Cleveland could have done in this draft that could have a greater potential impact than bringing Manziel into the fold. It is probably a long-shot considering all of the concerns there are with Manziel both on and off the field but at this point the possible rewards outweigh the risks. Itís probably going to be clear very early on whether or not Manzielís unorthodox style will translate to the next level. If Manziel struggles as a rookie it will probably lead to them picking in the Top 10 of the 2015 NFL Draft where they could have a shot at Florida St. QB Jameis Winston or Oregon QB Marcus Mariota. If Manziel hits it will be a true game changer that will completely turn around the fortunes of the franchise. Perhaps the great benefit of this move is that all those loyal Browns fans finally have reason to be excited and optimistic, even if there is a strong chance it will be short-lived. Heck, based on the spike in season ticket sales after the draft and what I can only imagine will be robust jersey sales Manzielís entire rookie contract might be covered before he takes a snap.
Most expected Kansas City to target a wide receiver or perhaps an offensive lineman with this choice but when you dig a little deeper it becomes clear why they went in this direction. Tamba Hali has been a terrific player for the Chiefs but he is making a lot of money, is going to be 31-years-old and reportedly weighing in at twenty pounds over his ideal weight this offseason. Even if Hali was going to be in the picture for the foreseeable future, which is unlikely, there was still a severe lack of depth at outside linebacker. Plus you can never have too many pass rushers. Ford has some durability concerns but when healthy he is a dynamic force off the edge. That was on full display in Mobile, AL in January when he was one of the stars of the Senior Bowl week. If you could guarantee the injury bug wonít keep biting Ford Iíd co-sign this pick in a heartbeat. However, since there is some uncertainty I would've been inclined to go with Boise St. OLB Demarcus Lawrence, Nevada OT / OG Joel Bitonio or USC WR Marqise Lee.
CINCINNATI BENGALS: DARQUEZE DENNARD, CB, MICHIGAN ST.
It was pretty clear the Bengals were targeting a cornerback with this choice but Iím not sure they thought Dennard would fall to them. With so many teams looking for a cover guy the middle of round one it appeared as though Dennard was a safe bet for the Top 20 and could even come off the board as early as #10 overall. Regardless of why he slid this is a great fit. Cincy tends to prioritize corners in the first round and had gone that route three times in the previous eight years with Johnathan Joseph, Leon Hall and Dre Kirkpatrick. Dennard makes it four in nine. This comes just in the nick of time too because Hall is coming off another major injury, Terence Newman is on his last legs and Pacman Jones is on the wrong side of thirty. Dennard isnít quite as physically talented as Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma St. or Kyle Fuller of Virginia Tech and perhaps that is why they came off the board earlier. Whatever Dennard lacks in measurables and flash he compensates for by doing all of the little things and he is one of the most aggressive, well-rounded corners in this class. Donít be surprised if Dennard and Kirkpatrick are the Bengals starting corners as early as the start of the 2015 season.
There was a point where it looked like all five of the top cornerbacks would be off the board by the time San Diego was on the clock but they actually wound up having a choice between a couple of them. The Chargers went with Verrett over Bradley Roby of Ohio St., who ran into some legal trouble shortly before the draft which may have scared some teams away. Plus while Roby is more physically talented and probably offers more upside Verrett is the better football player right now. If Verrett were bigger, both in height and bulk, he would have been long gone by now. Despite his small stature Verrett is extremely aggressive and plays like someone much bigger. That can come with consequences too though as Verrett is currently recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder. For Verrett to still go in the Top 25 overall even thought there are physical shortcoming and durability concerns is a true testament to just how impressive his film is. As long as he is healthy Verrett will be plugged right into the starting lineup and he may already be the top cover guy they have on the roster.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (f/IND/CLE): MARCUS SMITH, OLB, LOUISVILLE
First of all letís be clear in that this was not an egregious reach. Smith was a clear Top 50 talent and anyone who says otherwise just wasnít paying attention. In fact, I had been mentioning Smith as a potential late first round surprise prior to Draft Day and even had him going #34 overall in my final mock draft. Thatís not to say Smith would have been my first choice for this pick but itís not as though his grade was significantly lower than Dee Ford of Auburn, who went a few picks earlier. Philly also wisely traded down before grabbing Smith to ensure they maximized the value of their original slot at #22. Perhaps they can teach the Miami Dolphins a thing or two on that subject. Smith was most likely brought in to replace Trent Cole, who carries a large cap number and will turn 32-years-old in October. The fact that the Eagles opted for defense in the first round is probably a positive sign. It shows that even though Head Coach Chip Kellyís specialty is offense he recognized the need for help on the other side of the ball and resisted the urge to take a wide receiver in the best interests of the team as a whole.
ARIZONA CARDINALS (f/NO): DEONE BUCANNON, S, WASHINGTON ST.
When the guys they were targeting at #20 went off the board earlier the Cardinals opted to move down, picking up an extra third round pick for their troubles. Washington St. S Deone Bucannon wasnít necessarily considered to be a first round value but would have been chosen very early in round two had Arizona not nabbed him. Bucannon was clearly the second best strong safety in this class after Calvin Pryor of Louisville and then there is a big drop-off, which is why Bucannon got pushed up the board a bit. Bucannon doesnít play as fast as he ran in pre-draft workouts but he is big, aggressive and a big hitter with good intangibles who was extremely productive, leading the Pac-12 in tackles. Technically this may have been a slight reach but if they didnít pull the trigger there is a chance they would have been unable to adequately address the position later on. Bucannon will be a perfect fit alongside Tyrann Mathieu and those two along with Patrick Peterson / Antonio Cromartie form a secondary as good as any in the league.
CAROLINA PANTHERS: KELVIN BENJAMIN, WR, FLORIDA ST.
There was no doubt that the Panthers were desperate for help at wide receiver after parting ways with Steve Smith and losing Brandon LaFell in free agency. In fact it may have been their first and second more glaring need. There is a big hole at left tackle too though following the retirement of longtime stalwart Jordan Gross. I thought Carolina might opt for a blocker with this pick then take advantage of the incredible depth this class offers at wideout. The Panthers must not have felt Cyrus Kouandjio of Alabama, Joel Bitonio of Nevada or Morgan Moses of Virginia were capable of protecting the blindside though. Benjamin is a freakish athlete who offers rare size at the position and is built almost like a tight end. Even though Benjamin is 23-years-old he is still relatively green after coming out as a redshirt sophomore. With that said Benjamin is a terror in the redzone and a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses with the potential to be a true go-to target at the next level. Had Benjamin gone back to school for one more year he could have been the premier pass catcher available and a legitimate contender for the Top 10 overall of the 2015 NFL Draft so this just might be a steal.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: DOMINIQUE EASLEY, DE, FLORIDA
This was a surprise as most expected Easley to come off the board in the second or third round. However, Bill Belichick has a clear affinity for prospects from the Gators program and isnít afraid to go against the grain on Draft Day. Easley is clearly a first round talent but he missed most of his senior season with a major knee injury, which left his stock in flux. It wasnít his first either as he hurt the other knee earlier in his college career. But who needs knees anyways! Needless to say durability is a major concern but when healthy Easley is an absolute terror, with outstanding quickness, a tremendous burst and a non-stop motor. Easley is also capable of seeing action at both defensive tackle and defensive end and that type of versatility is a trait the Pats have always valued. With Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly nearing the end of the line reinforcements were needed up front and if Easley can avoid the injury bug going forward this could turn out to be a steal rather than a reach. That is a big ďIfĒ though. With a number of other very intriguing options available along the defensive line it was risky to take a flyer on Easley so this could look either really good or really bad a few years down the line.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: JIMMIE WARD, S, NORTHERN ILLINOIS
This initially struck me as a bit of a head scratcher but after some reflection it actually makes a lot of sense. Antoine Bethea was signed to play opposite budding young star Eric Reid but he is going to be 30-years old at the start of next season and is merely a stop-gap solution. Ward is kind of a safety / cornerback Ďtweener so not only can he be groomed as a successor to Bethea but in the meantime he should be able to contribute in the nickel as well. Ward isnít an imposing physical specimen but he is the type of instinctive, hard-nose football player that will fit right in with a Jim Harbaugh team. Few expected both Ward and Deone Bucanon to be first round picks but they were the two consensus second-tier safeties and afterwards there is a significant drop-off at the position, which is why they were pushed up the board. Even though this was a slight reach in my opinion I donít fault them for maybe pulling the trigger a little early considering the relatively questionable options that figure to be available later.
When all was said and done Roby did indeed wind up in the first round. Sure it wasnít in the Top 10 overall like many thought prior to the season but he didnít freefall as many suggested when they overreacted to some poor performances early in the year either. Aqib Talib was signed to help replace Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Champ Bailey but additional reinforcements were required, especially since Talib struggles to stay healthy. Not only was this a nice value that also addressed a need but Roby has the potential to vastly outperform this draft slot if he returns to the form he showed a couple of years ago. Denver had some options with this choice, ranging from an offensive lineman to a linebacker, but with Roby still on the board there probably wasnít a whole lot to think about. Anytime a Super Bowl contender can get a major contributor, if not a starter, this late in round one it has to be considered a success.
Believe it or not this is the Vikings fifth first round pick in the last two years and seventh in the last three. That is a lot of high end talent brought into the organization in a very short amount of time. This is probably the most important of that group though because the quarterback position has been holding Minnesota back for many years. Bridgewater was my top rated signal caller in this class because unlike others I prefer to rely on three years of excellent game tape and what I know about his impeccable intangibles rather than a Pro Day workout in shorts. Thatís just me though. Even though Bridgewater was undoubtedly disappointed to slide this far it may turn out to be a blessing in disguise, just like it was for Aaron Rodgers. Unlike some of his colleagues Bridgewater is going into a situation where there are already quite a few pieces in place, most notably Adrian Peterson, Cordarrelle Patterson and Matt Kalil. That is obviously a lot more talent than heíd be surrounded by in places like Jacksonville, Cleveland and Oakland. Another benefit is that Bridgewater wonít be forced into action before he is ready since the team has a capable stop-gap in Matt Cassel. There are no sure things in the NFL Draft, especially when it comes to quarterbacks, but there is nobody Iíd feel more comfortable hitching my wagon to than Bridgewater. Both on and perhaps more importantly off the field. It was wise of the Vikings to trade up because their choice in the second round was slotted behind a bunch of other quarterback-needy teams so there was a good chance the position would have been picked over had they not been aggressive. An added benefit of selecting Bridgewater in round one is that they now control a fifth year option on his contract and wonít have to deal with the headache the 49ers may face with Colin Kaepernick.
This site is an independently operated source of news and information and is in no way affiliated with the National Football League (NFL) or the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). All information listed within this site is copyright of Scott Wright and Draft Countdown. Any reproduction, republication or redistribution of this site's content without express consent is strictly prohibited and will be pursued to the fullest extent of the law.