Five things we learned on Day 1
We didn't learn anything definitive about the future of the draft in New York City, but the feel of change was in the air Thursday night. From the feel of it, the draft will be on the move. Commissioner Roger Goodell was going to use this year's draft as a test to see how the draft works in May instead of April. Scheduling conflicts with Radio City Music Hall this year and in the future put the NFL in position to find alternatives.
Those alternatives could take the draft to either Chicago or Los Angeles in 2015. Or it could take the draft to two cities in a year and increase the number of draft days to four. If the ratings are good, a mid-May draft could stay. Goodell even said the league is exploring the idea of moving the combine later than where it is now in late February.
As far as the moves contained within the draft Thursday, here are the five things we learned in the first round.
1. Cleveland Browns general manager Ray Farmer tried to appease as many people as he could: Farmer, in his first year as a general manager, knew head coach Mike Pettine wanted cornerback Justin Gilbert. He knew owner Jim Haslam would love to have the excitement of Johnny Manziel. He also had to find a way to satisfy himself with personnel moves.
The Browns were the movers and shakers by making three trades and getting Gilbert and Manziel. The sacrifice was giving up one of the five or six elite players in the draft. Farmer would have loved to have added Sammy Watkins to an offense that has Josh Gordon, Jordan Cameron and Greg Little.
Instead, he moved down five picks and got first-round and fourth-round picks in 2015, and he satisfied the personnel office. Farmer traded a 2014 fifth-round pick to move up one spot to get Gilbert. Then he traded a 2014 third-rounder to move up four spots to acquire Manziel. Giving up a third-rounder in this draft could be costing them a starter, but all of a sudden, the Browns are interesting. That's a step forward.
2. The Buffalo Bills' front office made a bold audition for a future owner: To give away a first-round pick and fourth-round pick in 2015 is a huge gamble.
But the Bills have been 6-10 forever, and to get out of the rut, the Bills jumped to the No. 4 overall pick to grab Watkins. This is an audition for any potential new ownership. Giving Watkins and Mike Williams to the current Bills offense could get EJ Manuel over the top at quarterback. The Bills play a favorable schedule that could allow them to improve.
With the death of owner Ralph Wilson and no heir, the Bills apparently have enough quality bidders to get something done. Stories have been published that the Bills could be moving toward sales bids in about 90 days.
If this move works, the current administration could have job security. Like the move to sign Mario Williams a few years ago, the Bills went for it Thursday night.
3. The 3-4 defense remains important: Seven hybrid linebackers/defensive ends went in the first round and five went to 3-4 teams. Two of the most interesting moves were for inside linebackers. The Pittsburgh Steelers passed on good cornerbacks to take Ohio State's Ryan Shazier. He was considered one of the best outside linebackers in the draft, but the Steelers' plan to use him at inside. He weighs 237 pounds. The thinking is spread offenses are forcing all defenses -- 3-4s especially -- to add speed to chase down faster players in the middle of the field or on the outside. The Steelers are younger and more athletic with a linebacking corps of Jarvis Jones, Jason Worilds, Lawrence Timmons and Vince Williams.
The Baltimore Ravens' 3-4 got stronger with the addition of Alabama inside linebacker C.J. Mosley. The Houston Texans now have J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney in their 3-4. Dee Ford gives the Kansas City Chiefs three pass-rushing linebackers. The surprise was the Eagles trading down and getting Marcus Smith, an outside linebacker rated by most to be a second-day pick.
4. The 2011 failures of first-round quarterbacks had an impact on the draft except in Jacksonville: In 2011, the Jacksonville Jaguars gambled and lost by trading a second-round pick, moving into the 10th overall pick of the first round and taking Blaine Gabbert, who was a bust.
Gambling again Thursday, the Jaguars made Blake Bortles the third pick in the draft. Unlike the Jaguars, the Minnesota Vikings, who failed on Christian Ponder, and the Tennessee Titans, who are still judging 2011 quarterback Jake Locker, weren't going to follow the same path. Those moves cost people jobs.
The Vikings took the cautious approach by trading a fourth-round choice to move from the second to the first round to take Teddy Bridgewater. The Titans didn't take a quarterback. And the Browns took a safer approach after the Brandon Weeden pick by getting Manziel at No. 22 in the first round. Now what they have to see is if taking a quarterback at No. 22 is cursed. Brady Quinn and Weeden were failures at No. 22.
5. The quality of the draft lessened the number of trades: In a draft this rich in talent, you don't want to give away quality 2014 choices. The Bills moved from No. 9 to No. 4 by giving a first-round pick and fourth-round pick next year, but no other picks this year.
Overall, there were only five first-day trades. The Atlanta Falcons ended up not wanting to sacrifice a bundle of picks to move to No. 1 and take Clowney. Instead, they lucked out and got Jake Matthews with the sixth pick. Tampa Bay got lucky and landed Mike Evans at No. 7. Four offensive linemen went in the top 12 along with three wide receivers.
Since 2004, the average number of trades over a three-day period is 26.8. Based on the start of this year's draft take the under. Three quarterbacks ended up going in the first round, but two were involved with trades. Bridgewater went to Minnesota after a trade at No. 32 with Seattle. The Browns moved up four spots from No. 26 to get Johnny Football.