Let’s preface this thing by saying that yes, Sammy Watkins is easily the best talent of the 2014 NFL draft class.
This isn’t the place to debate if the Cleveland Browns should draft him with the fourth pick, though. He’s actually gone in my mock, stolen at No. 2 by the St. Louis Rams. Before him, Teddy Bridgewater—who I have rated as the draft’s top QB—went off the board to the Houston Texans.
And the Jacksonville Jaguars snagged Blake Bortles one spot ahead of them.
That’s the scenario; accept it, so we can move on to players actually still on the board.
With the fourth pick in the 2014 NFL draft, the Cleveland Browns select…
4. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Watkins may have been gone at No. 2, but the Browns luck out with potentially the most talented quarterback in the draft falling into their laps at No. 4.
I’ve watched the tape, read all of the analysis and I’m convinced Johnny Manziel is worth the risk for the Cleveland Browns. He can be the future franchise quarterback that has eluded the team for so long.
Manziel has the goods, really. The leadership, arm talent and athleticism are all there. He senses pressure well and moves the pocket while keeping his eyes down field. Name a throw quarterbacks need to make; he can make ‘em all.
He’s the type of guy who doesn’t roll over and accept failure. He’s too proud and arrogant—in a good way—for that. That determination, drive and Tom Brady-esque passion is something that can uplift his teammates and push them towards greatness.
But he has something extra, too.
Bill Walsh called it “spontaneous genius” in his QB evaluation notes. Others call it the “it” factor, that helps a player find a way to somehow make it work no matter how bad a play breaks down.
Johnny Football’s got it, and he’s bringing it to Cleveland.
The best part is, with some time to learn from Kyle Shanahan and develop while Brian Hoyer gets his chance, he could be better than anyone imagined.
26. Ra’Shede Hageman, DT/DE, Minnesota
What, a defensive lineman at No. 26?! The Browns’ front-seven is deep, you’re taking crazy pills, Mike!
Before you panic and start listing the plethora of other needs on the Browns roster, take a minute and cool down. Also, keep in mind Ahtyba Rubin is a free agent in 2015, along with Joe Haden, Jordan Cameron, Jabaal Sheard, Phil Taylor, Tashaun Gipson; you get the picture.
You also can’t just list positions of need in order and assume an NFL personnel department is going to run down it in swift fashion. The trenches are just as important as the people touching the football, so hear me out, at least.
Hageman is a physical freak. Before the 2013 season, CBS Sports’ Bruce Feldman listed him as No. 2 on his “20 Craziest athletes in college sports” piece. No. 1 on that list is Jadeveon Clowney.
His size (6’6”, 311 lbs) is ideal for a five-technique in a 3-4 defense. Plus, his experience playing both inside 1- and 3- techs make him an invaluably versatile piece for Mike Pettine’s hybrid scheme.
So, how does a player with that much upside make it to No. 26?
There are some concerns.
Hageman was a highly recruited tight end in high school and converted to defensive end once he arrived at Minnesota. He slid inside to tackle in 2011 and really began to grow into the position. However, his lack of production in his senior season led some to question his work ethic and consistency as an every-down lineman.
He’s a boom-or-bust guy in the truest sense of the phrase. But Pettine is known for being a molder of talent, and if he gets Hageman to boom, there’s no limit to how dominant the Browns’ already imposing front-seven could be.
35. Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
Now, let’s get another offensive weapon for Hoyer and Manziel.
There’s a chance Allen Robinson could be off the board here, but I’m counting on speed concerns to let him get this far. He ran a 4.60 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine, but you have to know by now that straight-line speed and quickness are two very different things altogether.
Robinson is a refined pass-catcher with long arms who has uncanny ability to high-point passes and win contested battles. His catch radius is massive, and he plays physically to gain separation at the line of scrimmage and extend plays after the catch. Think Anquan Boldin, and I’m not joking.
He’s not a burner, but he does accelerate well and is a physical runner with run-and-catch ability.
71. Brandon Thomas, OG, Clemson
What did I say about the trenches?
Cleveland needs to find some more compatible offensive linemen for Kyle Shanahan’s zone-blocking system. Brandon Thomas is the Browns’ guy here in the third round.
He played the last two seasons at left tackle after switching from guard the previous season. His elite upper body strength—on tape and in the weight room (35 bench press repetitions at the combine)—project him as an excellent slide-and-drive zone blocker.
83. Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood
Tall cornerbacks are all the rage thanks to the Seattle Seahawks, and the growing size and athleticism of NFL receivers doesn’t hurt Pierre Desir’s cause either.
Desir of Lindenwood, a small D-II program, did his draft appeal some favors with an impressive showing at the Senior Bowl. Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com said he demonstrated the best “fluidity and speed” of the group of cornerbacks in Mobile, Ala.
After the Senior Bowl, I took a deeper look and Desir passes the eye test. His 25 interceptions in college are also an indicator of impressive ball skills, to go along with his appealing size (6’1”) and excellent athleticism.
102. Yawin Smallwood, ILB, UConn
Pettine already described Yawin Smallwood from Connecticut, but may or may not have known he was doing so:
“To me, it is a size and speed league for sure,” Pettine said, per Nate Ulrich of Ohio.com. “Given the nature of spread offenses, I’ve always been one I’d rather have smaller guys that are faster. Sometimes the best place where that shows up is usually with your linebacker corps. You look for run-and-hit guys who can go sideline to sideline.”
Signing Karlos Dansby was a great idea and first step to achieving his vision of the Browns LB corps. Adding a young and talented player like Smallwood to develop and ease into the role would be an even better one.
123. Kenny Ladler, FS, Vanderbilt
Secondary depth is never a bad thing, especially with a guy who can potentially fill in at either safety position and eventually become a starter. Kenny Ladler is known equally for his jarring, fumble-inducing hits as his instincts and quickness in coverage.
133. James White, RB, Wisconsin
Oh, you wanted another Big Ten running back, did you?
Sorry, Buckeyes fans, but James White makes much more sense here for the Browns than Carlos Hyde does in the second round, especially after the team inked Ben Tate to a two-year deal on March 15. There’s also little—if any—sense in selecting a running back for Shanahan’s rushing game before the third day of the draft.
White (5’9”, 204 lbs) is a quick and deliberate runner who has good burst and vision. I compare him physically and by the way he plays to Cincinnati’s Giovanni Bernard (5’9”, 208 lbs).
He’s an excellent all-around back capable of being an every-down rusher if necessary due to an excellent pass-blocking acumen and ability to catch the ball effectively out of the backfield.
164. Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon
Why not, right?
I’m not saying Colt Lyerla is the next Rob Gronkowski, but the comparisons are certainly there. Although, I’m not sure Gronk ever admitted to cocaine use—via court summons—and accumulated as many speeding tickets as the former Oregon Duck. Greg Little and Josh Gordon can help him with that, though, right?
Like Gronk he is a physical standout who has all the potential in the world on a football field. I’m not sure you’ll find anyone who questions that take. Lyerla staying out of trouble is the main concern.
Some team is going to gamble on him, though. Why not the Browns at the top of the sixth round before others decide to take the chance?
195. Chandler Jones, WR, SJSU
The Browns add another weapon to round out, what I think was a very successful draft. Right, guys… Right?
Despite missing the combine—a legitimate snub—Chandler Jones is destined to be that next late-round receiver everyone scratches their heads about in two years.
Don’t believe me, just wait.
He’s a terrific route runner, fluid and snappy out of his breaks and has a knack for finding open spaces in defenses. His quick feet and explosiveness help him create separation and get in position to make plays.
Jones projects inside to the slot, a position the Browns could definitely use some added depth.
Mike Hoag is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America, DBN writer and a Browns featured columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHoagJr.