Rounding Up Early Buzz About This Year's Rookie Class
With the NFL draft now squarely in the rear-view mirror, the greenhorns selected will soon be called upon to contribute on the grandest stage in the sport. It's time to round up early buzz about this year's rookie class and find out the plans that teams have for some of their top picks.
It's not unusual for media and fans to speculate about a neophyte's potential role, and that's happened in spades this past week. With interest in the draft still at its zenith, there's a lot of information to be taken in. Here, we'll present you with many of the juiciest stories and rumors emanating from the festivities of draft week.
In this column, you'll learn that two teams are taking extremely different approaches to getting their first-round quarterback on the field, while another is completely bungling the process altogether.
We'll also discuss the viability of a second-round receiver being ready for training camp; where a first-round offensive lineman is projected to start; the fact that a fourth-round running back could feasibly end up starting as a rookie; and determine whether a second-round cornerback will make an immediate impact in Year 1.
Here is the roundup of early buzz regarding this year's rookie class.
Browns Want First-Round QB Johnny Manziel to "Act Like a Backup"
Sometimes, it's the little things that separate the NFL franchises that occupy the rarefied air of success from those that regularly inhabit the bottom rung of failure.
When the Cleveland Browns drafted Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, I praised the decision. For a star-crossed organization like the Browns, Manziel will bring energy, confidence and swagger. He won't be intimidated going into Cincinnati, Baltimore or Pittsburgh.
With Manziel, it's not just his on-field, improvisational genius that makes people gravitate toward him like moths to a flame; it's his charisma, unique showmanship and sense of the moment that do so.
When you draft Manziel, you draft the complete package, not just the guy who will go out there for three hours on Sunday and try to win you a ballgame. You're getting "Johnny Football" in addition to Johnny Manziel.
And that's a good thing.
That is what made it so shocking and disappointing to read this quote from hapless Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, via Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer:
(Coach) Mike Pettine said it very well ‘Johnny, right now you’re our backup quarterback and you need to act like such. We were very frank with him on Friday that that’s the expectation. ‘You’re the backup quarterback. This is a hard-working blue collar town. This isn’t Hollywood. We want you to come in here, work hard and work as hard as anybody on the team.
Wow. What a mind-numbingly ridiculous quote.
Could you imagine if the Seattle Seahawks had told their 2012 third-round pick, quarterback Russell Wilson, to act like a backup?
Instead, Seattle empowered him with the mantra of competition, and Wilson went out and won the job in the preseason from presumed starter Matt Flynn. Less than two calendar years later, the Seahawks are world champions.
Manziel wasn't drafted in the first round to be a backup quarterback; that's not what the fanbase wants. Manziel shouldn't be neutered by an organization that clearly doesn't know how to handle someone of his stature.
Per Cabot, the Browns denied the credential requests of "dozens of members of the national press" for their rookie camp this weekend, which is completely and totally asinine. Why bring in Manziel if you aren't going to enjoy everything that comes with him?
Decisions like that are what separates teams like the Browns from the Seahawks.
Hopefully at some point soon, the Browns will do right by the Dawg Pound and let Manziel off the leash.
Falcons Have Big Plans for Fourth-Round RB Devonta Freeman
The Atlanta Falcons have big plans for their fourth-round pick from last weekend's draft, Florida State running back Devonta Freeman.
In speaking to ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure after the draft concluded, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff waxed poetic about Freeman and gushed over his ability:
He's a versatile back. He has the ability to tote the rock as a lead back. He's a strong guy. He runs with some authority and some anger to his running style. He can catch the ball well. And for us, we thought he was just a real versatile addition to our running back group.
That's high praise for a fourth-round selection, and it's clear the Falcons don't have a desire to glue Freeman to the bench.
Last season, the Falcons had the 32nd-ranked rushing offense in the NFL, as running backs Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers never really got going. Some of that can certainly be blamed on the foibles of the offensive line, but the bottom line is that the running game needed an infusion of youth and playmaking ability this offseason.
Freeman brings just that, as noted by Bleacher Report's Matt Miller in his pre-draft scouting report.
Take note, football fans and fantasy enthusiasts alike, Freeman is a name to watch this season in the Falcons backfield, and he should be given an opportunity to shine.
Differences in Opinion on Potential Impact of Saints CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste
NFL Network's Mike Mayock made waves before the draft when he told Sports Illustrated's Peter King that he expected Nebraska cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste to be a first-round pick.
While Mayock's prophecy didn't come to fruition, Jean-Baptiste was selected by the New Orleans Saints in the second round at No. 58 overall, and thanks to that publicity and his size (6'3"), Jean-Baptiste will be counted on to make an immediate impact for an undermanned group of Saints cornerbacks.
Curtis Conway corroborated that point on NFL Network's "Path to the Draft," saying the Saints are counting on big things from Jean-Baptiste.
But ESPN.com's Mike Triplett preaches caution, scribing that Jean-Baptiste will only be the "fourth or fifth" option on the depth chart when Week 1's tilt with the Falcons kicks off.
There's no question that Jean-Baptiste will play a major role in the Saints secondary; what is up for debate is just when that role will materialize.
Will Broncos Second-Round WR Cody Latimer Be Ready for Training Camp?
The Denver Broncos' selection of Indiana receiver Cody Latimer in the second round of the draft was a classic example of the rich getting richer.
Despite joining an extremely talented receiving corps that features the likes of Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Emmanuel Sanders (not to mention tight end Julius Thomas), Latimer has the ability to come in and make an instant impact.
That's an opinion shared by Vic Lombardi of CBS Denver, who wrote after the draft that he expects Latimer to compete for a starting job "this year."
That sound you just heard was a combination of the rest of the AFC West sighing and Broncos fans and fantasy football players alike drooling over the prospect of Latimer catching passes from Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.
But Mike Klis of The Denver Post threw water on the raging fire of optimism, reporting that Latimer might not be ready for training camp as he recovers from a fractured fifth metatarsal in his foot.
Latimer will be a player to watch over the next few months. If he can heal properly and stay on the field, he could end up evolving into a significant cog in the Broncos' offensive machine.
Vikings Prepping First-Round QB Teddy Bridgewater to Start as a Rookie?
When the Minnesota Vikings traded back into the first round and selected Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater at No. 32 overall, it was assumed that they had acquired their signal-caller of the future.
As it turns out, it looks like Bridgewater could also be their passer of the present.
Speaking after the draft of his rookie quarterback, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer told Matt Vensel of the Star Tribune that Bridgewater "will play when we feel like he’s ready, if he’s the best guy, which we hope that he will be. We always want to have competition."
That spells impending doom for the presumed starter, Matt Cassel.
While Cassel went 3-3 in six starts last season and threw 11 touchdown passes against nine interceptions, there's no reason to believe that he'll beat out Bridgewater for starting duties in Week 1. The Vikings have a new offensive coordinator in Norv Turner, so it's not like Cassel has a significant advantage in learning the new system.
Plus, Zimmer's quote indicates that the job is Bridgewater's to lose.
Expect Bridgewater to be under center in Week 1 when the Vikings visit the St. Louis Rams.
Cowboys First-Round OL Zack Martin Will Start at Right Guard as a Rookie
The Dallas Cowboys made a phenomenal choice when they drafted Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin with the 16th overall selection.
The only query surrounding Martin's arrival is just where he'll slot in on Dallas' talented offensive line.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett spoke of Martin's versatility to David Helman of DallasCowboys.com, saying, "People believe (Martin) can play center – a lot of people argue he can play all five spots on the offensive line. Initially we’ll give him a chance to work inside as an offensive guard and see how he holds up there."
Nick Eatman of DallasCowboys.com provided further clarity, suggesting that Martin will start at right guard, supplanting incumbent Mackenzy Bernadeau.
With Martin in the fold, the Cowboys should possess one of the finest young offensive lines in the NFL, as he'll add needed punch and toughness in the interior as a rookie.
Jaguars Want to Sit First-Round QB Blake Bortles for Entire 2014 Season
When the Jacksonville Jaguars selected Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles with the third overall pick, the assumption could easily have been made that he would immediately be thrust into the starting lineup.
But that's not the plan crafted by Jaguars general manager David Caldwell. In an interview with ESPN Radio's Mike & Mike, Caldwell was asked about when he thought Bortles would be entering the starting lineup:
To be honest with you, probably 2015. We'd like to give Chad (Henne) this whole year and go with Chad this year. Blake's got some development to do. We're going to be getting him ready, so come 2015 he's ready to compete for that spot.
There's no doubting Bortles' physical attributes, but he does enter the NFL as a raw prospect, so this is a smart move from Caldwell and the Jaguars.
While it's likely that Henne will start the majority of the season, expect Bortles to start a few games once the team fades out of playoff contention.
Nick Kostos is an NFL featured columnist for Bleacher Report and an executive producer for SiriusXM's Mad Dog Sports Radio. You can follow him on Twitter here.
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