NEW YORK – While fireworks probably are being planned on the shores of Lake Erie in Northeast Ohio, South Texas might be on the verge of crumbling into the Gulf of Mexico.
Johnny Football is headed to Cleveland, not Houston.
The Texans ended 130 days of noggin-numbing, pre-draft over-analysis by picking Jadeveon Clowney — and not dazzling quarterback Johnny Manziel — with the first pick of the 79th NFL draft on Thursday night at Radio City Music Hall.
Clowney, the University of South Carolina pass rusher, had been deemed by most analysts as the most talented player in the draft. Houston GM Rick Smith decided to pair him with one of the league’s best inside pass rushers — fourth-year Texans vet J.J. Watt.
NFL Network’s Mike Mayock calls Clowney the most talented edge rusher on earth. Already.
But most Houstonians don’t give a flyin’ frickin’ football.
All year they’d been insisting their team take “Johnny Football” — arguably the best dadgum football player ever to come out of that football-mad state, mister.
But the Texans passed. And then so did 20 other teams as the three-hour, 39-minute opening night of the draft inched along.
Once the Philadelphia Eagles went on the clock at No. 22 overall, the Browns pounced.
Remember that controversial trade last September, when Cleveland seemingly pulled the plug early on its 2013 season by trading running back Trent Richardson to Indianapolis?
Well, the Browns used the first-round pick they got in return for that Alabama flop (slotted at No. 26 overall), traded up four spots with Eagles, and grabbed their Manziel prize.
“I’m going to pour my heart out for this team and for this organization,” Manziel said on stage, after donning a Browns cap to the loudest applause of the night.
It was Cleveland’s third trade of the first round. They entered the night with the Nos. 4 and 26 picks and wound up choosing at Nos. 8 and 22.
Maybe this No. 22 QB pick will work out better for the Browns. Their Brady Quinn (in 2007) and Brandon Weeden (in 2012) selections were epic fails, as virtually all of their quarterback decisions since coming back to life as a franchise in 1999 have proved to be.
Manziel, a wizardly playmaker in college who won the Heisman Trophy as a redshirt freshman in 2012, had to wait nearly three hours to be selected, as the TV cameras locked on him backstage.
“It was a little nerve-racking,” Manziel said. “But at the same time, I went into the situation telling myself that everything would happen for a reason, that I would land wherever I did tonight for a purpose.
“I thought it would all work out for me, and I truly believe leaving here tonight that the situation did work out for me. I’m in a great place.”
Manziel wasn’t the first — or second — Texas A&M player picked. His left tackle last year, Greg Matthews, went No. 6 to Atlanta, and Manziel’s favourite Aggies receiver, monster-sized Mike Evans, went No. 7 to Tampa Bay.
Manziel was the second quarterback drafted. University of Central Florida’s Blake Bortles went first, and early.
The Jacksonville Jaguars snared Bortles at No. 3, somewhat of a surprise. Not that some talent evaluators didn’t rate Bortles No. 1 among this year’s passers.
Former NFL quarterback Jim Miller — now a SiriusXM NFL Radio and TV analyst — has rated Bortles as the best of the 2014 bunch since February, and Miller was among the few last year who ranked EJ Manuel as the top quarterback.
Bortles, an athletic 6-foot-5, 232-pounder, is strong-armed, savvy and has drawn comparisons to a slightly smaller Ben Roethlisberger.
Expect Chad Henne to start the season for the Jaguars, while Gus Bradley and his coaching staff quickly ready Bortles — a native Floridian — to take over at some point this fall.
The only other quarterback taken in Round 1 was Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, with the last pick of the night at 11:45 p.m. EDT. The Minnesota Vikings traded up from the second round to take him with Seattle’s No. 32 pick.
The first trade of the night came early, when the Buffalo Bills traded up from No. 9 to take the Browns’ No. 4 overall pick.
As we urged earlier this week, with their Round 1 pick the Bills took the best pass-catcher available — and the best, some analysts say, that has come out of the college ranks since Calvin Johnson in 2007: Clemson University’s Sammy Watkins.
“I wasn’t really surprised,” Watkins told QMI Agency minutes after being selected. “When I was on my (pre-draft) visit (to Buffalo), they kept telling me they would get me.
“But I thought it was all jokes and games. It’s definitely a blessing that they trusted me and believe in me. I just can’t wait to get started.”
Asked what he brings to the Bills offence, which aches for a top-level pass-catcher, Watkins told QMI Agency: “Whatever they need. That explosive guy, that home-run guy. I can be a possession receiver. It depends how they want to use me.”
Watkins said he knows of Bills quarterback EJ Manuel’s abilities because his Clemson Tigers teams faced Manuel’s Florida State teams in ACC play.
The trade was expensive for the Bills. They gave up their first-round pick next year, as well as their fourth-rounder in 2015.
Not even half an hour later, the Browns traded back up from No. 9, swapping spots with No. 8 Minnesota to take the top cornerback prospect, Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert.
The Browns surrendered their fifth-round pick on Saturday to the Vikings. To move up for the Manziel pick, the Browns sent the Eagles their third-round pick on Friday.
In recent days, there had been ample speculation that Buffalo might finally become No. 1 in the NFL. That is, the University of Buffalo might produce the No. 1 player in the NFL draft.
UB linebacker Khalil Mack, however, was passed over four times until the Oakland Raiders grabbed him at No. 5.
At No. 2, the St. Louis Rams selected Auburn left tackle Greg Robinson, a draft pick they acquired in the blockbuster 2012 trade with Washington that allowed the Redskins to grab quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Robinson will help to protect Rams beleaguered fifth-year quarterback Sam Bradford. It was a solid, necessary pick for Jeff Fisher’s Rams.
Rounding out the Top 10, the Detroit Lions picked the top tight end, super-athletic Eric Ebron of North Carolina. The Lions offence now boasts “Megatron” Johnson, former Seattle No. 1 wideout Golden Tate (a free-agent signing) and Ebron, who will instantly become one of the league’s most athletic tight ends.
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has no excuses now.
Just like the Houston Texans talent evaluators. Even if they’re already neck-deep in the Gulf of Mexico.