NEW YORK — Johnny Manziel turned out to be a dropback passer after all.
The zig-zagging Texas A&M quarterback slid Thursday from the top of the NFL draft, where many people thought he'd be picked, all the way to the 22nd spot where the Cleveland Browns were delighted to swoop in and grab him.
The Browns, meanwhile, navigated the first round with the unpredictability of Manziel with a football in his hands. They began the night with two first-round picks — Nos. 4 and 26 — and they made three trades to wind up with Nos. 8 and 22 (and a cache of others from their maneuvering) to come away with Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert and Manziel.
In an opening round in which South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney went No. 1 to Houston, and three quarterbacks were selected — Central Florida's Blake Bortles went third to Jacksonville, Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater went 32nd to Minnesota — the biggest story was Manziel's long night at Radio City Music Hall.
"I didn't put any stock into where everybody thought I might go," Manziel said. "That's all it was was a lot of speculation. It was always a 'might.' I went into this with expectations of where I might go, but no certainty. There were obviously some teams that passed me up… and that adds some fuel to the fire."
A large cluster of Browns fans followed Manziel downstairs to the interview room, which was marked off by curtains. They stood on the other side of those, chanting "Johnny Cleveland" and "Johnny Super Bowl" as he answered questions.
Manziel said that even though he had to wait, he stayed in good spirits — even though his face didn't always show it.
"This is a great day for me," he said. "It's something that I've thought about since I was a kid. You're 12 years old, watching the NFL draft. I've always dreamed to be in that room and be on that stage one day. So my dream came true, and for me there's no disappointment. You can call it a slide. I wouldn't call it [that] at all. I was drafted in the first round of the NFL draft. For me, that blows my mind."
Cleveland did so much wheeling and dealing, it made "Draft Day" look like a documentary.
Manziel's tumble was reminiscent of the one Aaron Rodgers took in 2005 from the top of the draft to 24th, when he was taken by Green Bay, or the slide Brady Quinn endured in 2007 when the Browns finally took him 22nd, the same spot as Manziel.
When NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell read Manziel's name at long last, almost three hours into the first round, the crowd let loose a cheer that shook the aging venue.
The draft began with Houston taking Clowney, whom many scouts see as a once-in-a-generation talent.
"Growing up, I grew up the hard way," Clowney said. "A lot of people said I would never be nothing. I used to say, 'I'm going to be something some day.' … Now I'm in the NFL, and I'll hopefully be a Hall of Famer some day."
St. Louis took Auburn tackle Greg Robinson second, and after that was when the proceedings took their first twist. With the third pick, Jacksonville selected Central Florida's Blake Bortles, a 6-foot-5 quarterback who has been compared to Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger. There was a lot of speculation the Jaguars would take a pass rusher, or a receiver to add to quarterback Chad Henne's arsenal. Instead, Henne's days with Jacksonville are numbered.
Asked if he was surprised to be the first quarterback taken, Bortles said: "I would have been surprised if I was the first or the 10th. I had no expectations coming into this thing. I was just pumped to be here and be part of this atmosphere."
When the Jaguars didn't take Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins, Buffalo made a deal with Cleveland to jump up five spots and get him. The Bills, the only team to select a quarterback in last year's first round, gave EJ Manuel quite a gift — the most explosive receiver in the draft.
That enabled Oakland to select Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack, who has been compared favorably to Denver's Von Miller. Mack is just the third linebacker taken in the first round by the Raiders, following Rolando McClain in 2010 and Rob Fredrickson in 1994.
UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr was selected ninth by Minnesota, although two other locals widely projected to go in the first round, USC receiver Maquise Lee and UCLA guard Xavier Su'a-Filo, were not taken.
The draft continues Friday with the second and third rounds, followed by Rounds 4-7 on Saturday.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times