The first three picks in the first round of the 2014 draft were pretty well set in stone coming in. Jadeveon Clowney was the all-world freak pass rusher who was going number one overall to the Texans. That was a virtual lock. After that the Rams were looking at Greg Robinson to be their left tackle. And at 3rd overall the Jaguars were going with a quarterback.
Who would be available to the Raiders at five overall was wholly dependent upon what the Browns did at number four. It wasn’t a bad situation for the Raiders. Either they would get Sammy Watkins to fill their desperate need at wide receiver or they would get Khalil Mack to fill their desperate need for a pass rusher. They had a need at QB as well, but the only one in this draft who could have been considered a better option than Watkins or Mack was Blake Bortles. And the Jags made him their pick at 3.
So, the Raiders had their two options ready, dependent upon the Browns. And with that selection, the Browns...traded out.
Suddenly the Bills were on the clock. Some thought they had jumped up to get local University at Buffalo star Mack. But it was Watkins they were after, and once they made the pick, it made the Raiders choice an easy one. Khalil Mack was the selection.
The Raiders weren’t out of the woods yet. They still had a huge hole at the quarterback position to fill and their next selection wasn’t until 36 overall.
The draft was through the top 20 and a second QB had yet to be taken, with the likes of Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr, and Johnny Manziel all there for the taking.
Come the 22nd overall pick, the Browns traded up with the Eagles. After taking defensive back Justin Gilbert with their pick at 8th overall, they were making a move to get one of the three top QB’s still available. Could it be Carr they want? Nope. It was Johnny Manziel who they coveted.
Come the end of the first round, the Vikings traded up to the final pick to grab Bridgewater, which meant the second round began with just Derek Carr left of the top quarterbacks in the draft.
The Browns had the third pick in the round. And had they not made the trade up to grab Manziel at 22, they would have once again been a threat to take the Raiders guy. But they got guard Joel Bitonio instead and Derek Carr was a Raider soon thereafter.
Guard was a major need for the Browns. So, you figure, had they not traded up to get Manziel, getting Carr at 35 instead, it’s quite possible their pick in the third round could have been a guard. After Bitonio at 35th overall, the next player taken who is currently playing guard in the NFL was Raiders 81st pick Gabe Jackson.
What’s ironic, I suppose, is TJ Carrie was the late round steal the Raiders got in that draft and he signed with the Browns as a free agent this offseason. So, they eventually got a piece of that Raiders class.
So, what we are looking at is several chances the Browns had to spoil the best Raiders draft in recent memory. And not just chances, but sensible opportunities based on their team needs. But as we have seen so many times; Browns gonna Brown.
But what if this one time they didn’t Brown?
First and foremost, instead of Mack the Raiders would have drafted Sammy Watkins.
The fallout would mean they don’t draft Amari Cooper in 2015. They likely take Leonard Williams in the first round. Which means they don’t take Mario Edwards Jr in the second round. With their DT selected and a DE still needed due to missing out on Mack the year before, the best pass rusher on the board in round two was Preston Smith.
Had the Browns not taken Johnny Manziel at 22, the Texans would have almost certainly taken him at 33. And had the Browns taken Carr at 35, the Raiders, still with a need at QB they absolutely had to fill would have taken Jimmy Garoppolo. Yes, the 49ers golden boy would be in Silver & Black.
Mack has not received much help in Oakland with the pass rush. He would have been in a similar boat in Cleveland. His presence seems like it would have been enough to keep the Browns from losing all but one game the past two seasons.
We wouldn’t have the memories of his point blank pick six on Cam Newton or his five sacks in one half against the Broncos or his Defensive Player of the Year Award following the 2016 season. That’s not a world anyone wants to live in.
The addition of Leonard Williams the following year wouldn’t have made up for not having Mack, though he’d certainly have been preferable to Mario Edwards Jr and we wouldn’t be talking about the Raiders lacking an interior pass rush. Just perhaps lacking an overall pass rush.
Watkins has not been the can’t miss wide receiver prospect he was supposed to be. While Coop has had his issues, he has been the better of the two, with two 1000-yard seasons in three years to Watkins’ one in four seasons.
Then again, perhaps Watkins would have had a better road with Garoppolo as his quarterback, than he did in Buffalo, which traded him to the Rams after year three. He joined his third NFL team this offseason, signing with the Chiefs on a free agent deal. He would either be entering his fifth-year option year with the Raiders or be gone as well had they not picked up his option, putting them in the position to draft a wide receiver from a weak 2018 class.
Garoppolo hasn’t lost a start, but who knows if he would be the talent he is today had he been thrown to the wolves with the Raiders instead of being allowed to sit behind Tom Brady for three seasons? We’ll never know. But it’s a fascinating thought.
Let’s review. Had the Browns not Browned their 2014 draft the Raiders could look like this today:
QB Derek Carr
WR Amari Cooper
OG Gabe Jackson
DE Khalil Mack
DT Mario Edwards Jr
It would be:
QB Jimmy Garoppolo
WR Sammy Watkins or rookie
OG Jon Feliciano
DE Preston Smith
DT Leonard Williams
That’s just weird. I can’t definitively say if the Raiders would have had a worse road with this group, though overall it does look like a downgrade.
The only for sure upgrade is Leonard Williams over Edwards. Garoppolo vs Carr is a push at this point. Watkins is a slight downgrade to Coop. Smith is a talented pass rusher in his own right (20.5 sacks in three seasons), but he is still a pretty sharp downgrade to Mack. And, of course, who knows what they would do without the tremendous pick of Gabe Jackson in the third round.