How This NFL Draft May Define the Careers of 3 Young General Managers

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How This NFL Draft May Define the Careers of 3 Young General Managers
Tony Dejak/Associated Press

The 2014 NFL draft is over. And like any draft, some interesting moves were made. Some I feel are genius, while others are puzzling. Draft-day moves can define a general manager's career.

And this particular draft may define the careers of three young GMs.

 

Ray Farmer, Cleveland

Tony Dejak/Associated Press

Ray Farmer has been the Cleveland Browns general manager for less than four months.

He was elevated to the position shortly after the Browns hired Mike Pettine as head coach. He spent the past year as Cleveland's assistant general manager under Mike Lombardi. Having spent that time with the organization, he knew the personnel and what was needed.

With that understanding, he handled the first round like a seasoned vet. The Browns had two picks in the first round, with the first being the fourth overall pick and the second at No. 26.

The trade Farmer made with Buffalo to trade down from No. 4 to No. 9 was robbery. Both teams had high first-round picks, and they agreed to swap those selections with Cleveland getting Buffalo's first- and fourth-round picks in 2015.

Farmer then traded up one slot to No. 8 and selected Oklahoma State corner Justin Gilbert, who, according to my ratings, was the top corner in the draft. With their second first-round selection, Farmer and the Browns traded up four slots from 26 to 22 to select Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Jason Miller/Getty Images

The Browns filled two needs with those picks and did it without overdrafting Manziel. Farmer was patient and traded up when the time was right, getting Manziel where he had value at No. 22.

In the second round, Farmer selected offensive tackle Joel Bitonio from Nevada. This was another value pick in that Cleveland had to upgrade the offensive line. It was after this pick that things got confusing with a pertinent, non-draft development.

News broke Friday night that the Browns' top wide receiver, Josh Gordon, tested positive for marijuana and is facing a year-long suspension. Going into the second and third round Friday, Farmer had to understand this was happening, as front-office personnel know about these things long before the media finds out.

Through the premium rounds of the draft, where the best talent was available, the Browns did not draft a receiver in a class in which the wide receiver position was a highly touted strength. This defies logic, as the team doesn't have much depth at the position.

The Gordon story raises some interesting questions: Did Farmer know about the situation Thursday before the draft began? If he did, why did he draft a corner with Cleveland's first pick instead of taking an impact receiver?

Going into the season without a top player at the receiver position is extremely dangerous for this franchise, particularly if the coaching staff turns the offense over to its new rookie quarterback.

At this point in the offseason, it may be to late to do something about it.

 

Doug Whaley, Buffalo

Bill Wippert/Associated Press/Associated Press
Far left.

Last May after the 2013 draft, Whaley was promoted from assistant general manager to general manager of the Buffalo Bills. Whaley is a well-respected personnel man who for years worked under general manager Kevin Colbert in Pittsburgh. He was hired by Buffalo in February 2010.

With the Bills mired in a playoff drought—they haven't made the postseason since 1999—Whaley wanted to make an impact in his first draft. He indeed made that impact...but with, in my opinion, one of the worst draft-day trades I can remember.

As I mentioned above, he traded the Bills' 2015 first- and fourth-round picks to move up from No. 9 to No. 4. to select wide receiver Sammy Watkins. Yes, Watkins is gifted and my highest-rated receiver, but when you are a poor team, do you mortgage your future with this trade? 

Whaley told Peter King of Monday Morning Quarterback

We’ve got to win. We’ve got to win now. Fourteen years of not making the playoffs. Fourteen years. The people here deserve so much more. We need to give them more. We need to give them a winning team. We need to do it for the people of this region, and we need to do it for Mr. Wilson.

That is the type of deal you make when you are one player away from a potential championship team, not when you have been out of the playoffs for years.

Leon Halip/Getty Images

The Bills aren't one player away. They have a second-year quarterback in EJ Manuel who has yet to prove he is the answer. He spent a good part of his rookie year injured. We won't know about Manuel until the end of the 2014 season, and maybe not even then.

In the second round, Buffalo selected Alabama tackle Cyrus Kouandjio. Granted, Kouandjio has talent, but he is damaged goods. As has been reported multiple times since the combine, several clubs failed Kouandjio on their medical because of a knee. With no first-round pick in 2015, every pick this year has to count.

Whaley has to hope the Bills are in the playoffs this year. If they aren't, the first-round pick he gave up is going to sting even more. With the team up for sale, having no premium pick is not going to make a new owner happy.

Not only has Whaley mortgaged the Bills' future with Day 1's first-round trade and the second-round selection, but he bet on his own. 

 

David Caldwell, Jacksonville

USA TODAY Sports
Second from right.

I have known Caldwell since he was a young scout with the Carolina Panthers. He is a very bright and accomplished personnel man. In this, his second draft with the Jaguars, he made a bold move by drafting Blake Bortles.

The Jaguars have a strong need at quarterback, and sitting with the third pick in the draft, Caldwell selected the Central Florida product.

There are mixed opinions around the NFL and the draft community on Bortles. I have been very outspoken with my opinion that he was not a top-five pick. I feel he is more of a late first-round type who needs development. I recognize Bortles' physical talent, but I feel he is raw and not ready to be a starting quarterback in the NFL.

Caldwell felt Bortles was the best quarterback in the draft and that he can be a championship signal-caller in the future. What's interesting is Caldwell told ESPN's Mike & Mike on Friday the Jaguars' plan is for Bortles to sit and learn in 2014 behind Chad Henne and step in as the starter in 2015.

That is the perfect plan, exactly what Bortles needs. By sitting and learning the pro game and not being rushed in to play, it will give him time to gain confidence and develop his game. The problem with many quarterbacks drafted high is that they are forced to play before they are ready, and it ends up hurting them.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

It's the reason many of them bust.

The other thing that Caldwell did in this draft was acquire wide receiver talent. Jacksonville's top receiver, Justin Blackmon, is currently under suspension, and no one knows when or if he will be able to return.

Because of that, the Jaguars had a huge need at the receiver position. In the second round, Caldwell drafted USC's Marqise Lee and Penn State's Allen Robinson.

Going into the 2013 college season, I felt Lee may be the most talented receiver in this class. He didn't play as well in 2013 as he did in 2012, and that's why he fell to the second round.

Robinson is a big (6'2", 220 lbs), sure-handed possession receiver whose play is much like Blackmon's. The two will complement each other and, along with Bortles, grow together. 

If Bortles becomes what Caldwell thinks he can develop into, this draft could be the landmark event that turns around the Jacksonville franchise.

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