ESPN's Mel Kiper posted an article highlighting his all-rookie team from the 2014 NFL season. When they were first selected in May, one would have thought that QB Johnny Manziel and CB Justin Gilbert, the team's first-round draft choices, would be prime candidates to make the team. Instead, Manziel didn't even receive a mention, and Gilbert was only mentioned in a sound-off because of how poorly his year went.
It wasn't all bad, though, as second-round pick Joel Bitonio, the team's offensive guard out of Nevada, played every snap in the regular season and garnered high honors. Kiper listed four candidates in his Offensive Rookie of the Year category: WR Odell Beckham Jr, WR Mike Evans, OG Zack Martin, and Bitonio. The honor went to Beckham, but if the star-studded receiver hadn't had the mid-season surge that he did, Bitonio could have very well received the honor. Rams DT Aaron Donald was Kiper's Defensive Rookie of the Year.
When it came down to the individual positions, Cleveland was recognized at two positions: offensive guard and cornerback:
Guards: Joel Bitonio,; Zack Martin,
This is really the class of the offensive first team, aside from the class of receivers. Both Bitonio and Martin weren't just good, they were arguably as good as any guard in the league. From a draft perspective, in each case you really see the value of versatility, as both of these guys played tackle last year and moved inside for good reason and didn't just succeed; in many cases they were dominant. Martin was the player Dallas took instead of Johnny Manziel, and Bitonio was the safe pick Cleveland took after Manziel. Both turned out fine.
Cornerbacks:, Rams; ,
A few mentions here: Undrafted K'Wuan Williams was really good for the Browns -- far more valuable than top-10 pick Justin Gilbert -- but he just wasn't on the field as often as the leaders. And I think Jason Verrett is in the mix for Defensive Rookie of the Year if he'd played the whole season. He was really impressive when he did play. Gaines was just really impressive throughout the season and will go into 2015 as the top CB on the Rams. And Benwikere proved he was an absolute steal in the fifth round.
Some people want to kill GM Ray Farmer for the type of year that Gilbert has, and I'll admit that he deserves some of the criticism. However, it's a reminder that positions are difficult to project in the NFL. Kiper's top two cornerbacks were a fifth- and sixth-round pick, and the Browns' K'Waun Williams went undrafted. Knowing what Williams can deliver, the Browns can be a little more patient with developing Gilbert. They were patient with the development of fourth-round pick CB Pierre Desir, and when he saw action in the final couple of weeks, he looked 100 times more comfortable than he had in the preseason.
Kiper also briefly mentioned the Browns at running back. He picked RB Jeremy Hill as the top rookie back, but noted, "If Isaiah Crowell and Terrence West were one person, they'd win this. That's a solid tandem for the Browns." It's frustrating to think about how lackluster the running game was the second half of the season, but I have to remember to how glorious both backs played when C Alex Mack was still in the lineup.