NEW YORK (AP) — Johnny Football fell and landed in the Dawg Pound.
Johnny Manziel, college football’s most entertaining player with the hotly debated game, was selected with the No. 22 overall pick in the NFL draft on Thursday night by the Cleveland Browns, who hope they have finally found their franchise quarterback.
Manziel sat patiently in the wings at Radio City Music Hall, waiting nearly three hours for his name to be called as everyone from Aaron Rodgers to the league’s official Twitter account tweeted about his long sit backstage. Then the Browns, who made two earlier trades, made another one with Philadelphia and selected the 6-footer and Manziel walked onto the stage and rubbed his fingers together, a signature “money” gesture that endeared him to some fans and annoyed others.
In Cleveland, some Browns backers celebrated Manziel’s selection like the team had just won the Super Bowl. Of course, the Browns have never even made it to the NFL’s showcase event and haven’t won a title since 1964 — a golden anniversary that will arrive in December. But Manziel brings hope to a team that has done little but lose in the expansion era.
Manziel now must back up the hype around him.
“The team obviously wants to win and wants to win now,” Manziel said on a conference call. “I’ve been a winner everywhere I’ve been. I’m ready to work extremely hard. ”
Manziel’s size scared some teams off, but he believes his playmaking skills translate to the pro game.
“I’m used to that by now,” Manziel said. “I’ve been scrutinized and nitpicked. I’ve proven it from my first year to my next and I always get better.”
Manziel is expected to compete with starter Brian Hoyer, who showed promise last season before suffering a knee injury.
Earlier, as Manziel waited, the Browns made two trades and selected Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert with the No. 8 pick.
With the first deal of the draft, the Browns moved down five spots and acquired Buffalo’s No. 9 pick and first- and fourth-round picks next year. Cleveland then swapped picks with Minnesota, acquiring a fifth-rounder before taking Gilbert, who they plan to play on the opposite side of Pro Bowler Joe Haden.
“He’s long. He’s fast. He’s explosive. He’s a playmaker,” general manager Ray Farmer said of Gilbert. “He’s got great arm length. He’s got the speed. He’s got the ball skills. I know some people have questioned his tackling. We cover like Browns, tackling was good, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be great.”
Gilbert scoffed at critics who say he’s a weak tackler.
“I’ve heard it before,” he said. “It’s something that doesn’t bother me at all because I know I can tackle.”
Gilbert wasn’t sure the Browns were that interested in him until he was getting ready to head to New York.
“It’s a dream come true,” Gilbert said in a conference call. “I became friends with him (Haden) not too long ago and he’s a great guy and I’m looking forward to playing with him.”
The 6-foot, 202-pound Gilbert had seven interceptions last season, returning two for touchdowns.
“I pretty much can do it all,” Gilbert said. “I’m an all-around cornerback.”
Cleveland entered the most important draft in its expansion era with 10 picks, ample ammunition for Farmer, promoted when president Joe Banner and GM Michael Lombardi were fired in February, to add talent and depth to a team that went 4-12 last season and changed coaches again.
Farmer has already shown he’s willing to make moves, and he’s expected to grab a quarterback at some point and possibly at No. 26. The Browns, who entered the draft with five of the first 83 picks, recently completed an exhaustive study on quarterbacks with Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater reportedly emerging as the top candidate.
In the end, Manziel was their man.
Falcons bolster offensive line with Jake Matthews
The Atlanta Falcons picked up some badly needed protection for quarterback Matt Ryan, selecting offensive tackle Jake Matthews of Texas A&M with the No. 6 pick in the NFL draft Thursday night.
There were three offensive linemen thought to be worthy of going as high as sixth, but Auburn’s Greg Robinson quickly went off the board at No. 2 to the St. Louis Rams. The Houston Texans chose South Carolina defensive star Jadaveon Clowney with the top overall selection.
The other two were still there after another possible Atlanta target, hybrid end-linebacker Khalil Mack, was snatched up by the Oakland Raiders at No. 5.
General manager Thomas Dimitroff took Matthews over Michigan lineman Taylor Lewan, intent on providing more protection for Ryan, who was sacked 44 times last season. Lewan was selected by the Tennessee Titans at No. 11.
“I’m looking forward to being a tackle there for quite a few years,” the 6-foot-5, 309-pound Matthews said.
He certainly has quite the pedigree. His grandfather, Clay Sr., played in the NFL in the 1950s. His father, Bruce, spent 19 years with the Houston Oilers-Tennessee Titans franchise, a Hall of Famer who made the Pro Bowl a record 14 times. His uncle, Clay Jr., also had a 19-year career, including a stint with the Falcons at the end of his playing days. And, of course, cousin Clay III is a perennial Pro Bowler with the Green Bay Packers.
Jake was drafted three spots higher than his dad. Bruce was the No. 9 pick by the Oilers in 1983.
“That’s one thing now I can rub in my dad’s face. I was drafted ahead of him,” Jake quipped. “But he was a great player. I’ve got a long way to go to catch up to him.”
Matthews will be the seventh member of his family to play in the league, also following older brother Kevin and another cousin, Casey. And Jake has a younger brother, Mike, who starts at center for Texas A&M.
“We have a great reputation in the NFL,” Jake said. “I’m going to try to keep that reputation going. We’re just a bunch of guys who work hard and do things the right way and perform.”
Ryan will surely be glad to hear that. He was pounded mercilessly by opposing defenses, who took advantage of a leaky line that had been left bare as Dimitroff focused on stockpiling offensive skill players in recent years. The Falcons also finished last in the league in rushing, another major problem that could be traced to the line and turned Ryan and the offense into a one-dimensional sitting duck.
The Falcons, who had hoped to contend for the Super Bowl after coming up just short the previous season, slumped to 4-12 for the first losing season of the Dimitroff era.
Matthews will surely move right into the Falcons’ starting lineup at right tackle, across the line from left tackle Sam Baker.
“Jake Matthews epitomizes exactly what we were looking for.” Dimitroff said.
Matthews will get a chance to face his cousin his very first year. The Falcons travel to Green Bay to face the Packers and Clay III, a four-time Pro Bowl linebacker, in a Monday night game Dec. 8.
“I’m fired up about it,” Jake said. “Talking to my dad, some of his greatest memories in pro football were going against his brother. Clay is an All-Pro and a stud. It’s going to be a huge challenge. But I know that’s why Atlanta picked me. To go in and take care of the quarterback, take care of Matt Ryan. I’m going to go in and prove that I can.”
Speaking by video conference from New York, Matthews said he felt all along the Falcons would take him. He had an official visit and a private visit with the team, coming away impressed by coach Mike Smith and his staff. The Falcons clearly took a liking to Matthews, right down to his footwear.
He is partial to cowboy boots, which he donned with his suit for the draft.
Someone asked his shoe size.
“Fifteen Double-E,” Matthews replied, holding up the sole of his huge boot in front of the camera, blocking almost the entire screen. “Extra big.”
Bucs select WR Mike Evans 7th overall in NFL draft
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans with the seventh overall pick in the NFL draft on Thursday night.
New coach Lovie Smith has made improving an offense that ranked last in passing and total offense in 2013 has been a major priority this offseason. He and first-year general manager Jason Licht decided adding the second-highest rated receiver in the draft was more important than making Evans’ college teammate, Johnny Manziel, the team’s quarterback of the future.
“We wanted to add a player who could give us another dimension than we had,” Smith said of the 6-foot-5, 231-pound Evans, who averaged just over 20 yards per reception last season, finishing with 69 catches for 1,394 yards and 12 touchdowns.
The Bucs will play him on the side opposite of another big receiver — Vincent Jackson, a five-time 1,000-yard receiver, including the past two seasons in Tampa Bay.
“I’ve been accused of wanting just defense, defense,” Smith said. “I know it takes more than that.”
Smith inherited a team that went 4-12 last season and hasn’t made the playoffs since 2007. The Bucs signed seven projected new starters in free agency, including quarterback Josh McCown, and Evans will be expected to move into the lineup right away, too.
In selecting a receiver, Smith and passed on an opportunity to upgrade in couple of other critical areas — offensive guard and defensive tackle.
The new regime has been aggressive in overhauling the roster, releasing Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis and underperforming offensive linemen Davin Joseph and Donald Penn and bringing in McCown, defensive linemen Michael Johnson and Clinton McDonald, cornerback Alterraun Verner, center Evan Dietrich-Smith and tackle Anthony Collins in hoping of spurring a quick turnaround.
Barring a trade, Tampa Bay has one pick in every round, except the fourth, over the next two days.
Pre-draft questions surrounding the Bucs focused on the prospect of the team selecting Manziel, if the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner had been available at No. 7. Like the Texas A&M quarterback, Evans played just two seasons for the Aggies, finishing with 151 receptions for 2,499 yards and 17 TDs.
Smith has said repeatedly since the day he was hired that his goal was to make the Bucs, who haven’t won a playoff game since capturing their only Super Bowl title 12 years ago, relevant again.
Drafting Manziel would have done that instantly, spurring ticket sales in a lagging fan base and giving the franchise a player that would boost the club’s profile nationally.
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