On paper, the first round of the NFL draft unfolded beautifully for the Vikings -- and about like many of us would have predicted. They were able to extort an extra fifth-round pick from Cleveland to move one spot from 8 to 9. They took who we assume they thought was the best defensive player available at that spot. And then they traded back into the first round late, emboldened by the extra fifth and extra third (from the Percy Harvin trade) to get one of the three quarterbacks that had been discussed as being in the upper tier of this year's draft. In some ways, the NFL draft is very much about getting good value. And the Vikings got good value.
In other ways, though, the NFL draft -- especially in the first round -- is about hitting a home run. It's about finding that special talent who can elevate your team to a new level.
We thought the offensive player in this draft who defined that was Johnny Manziel. We made no secret about our desire for the Vikings to draft him -- for journalistically selfish reasons because he's a great story, for practical reasons because we thought he was that special talent and for visceral reasons because it would just be enjoyable to watch him play.
The Vikings, of course, had a chance to take Manziel at No. 8 ... and again at No. 9 after the Cleveland trade. They chose Anthony Barr instead. Reports suggested they were trying to trade back up to No. 22, presumably to take Manziel at that spot, before Cleveland edged them out. The Browns still had a lower first-round pick to offer, so it makes sense that they would win that battle.
And then the Vikings, of course, ended up swapping their second- and fourth-round picks for the final pick in the first round to take Teddy Bridgewater.
This sets us up, fair or unfair, for years of debate and progress-monitoring. The Vikings could have had either quarterback, and Bridgewater is the one they ended up getting. This made plenty of people happy, and we can understand their position. Bridgewater was once thought of as a candidate to be the No. 1 overall pick. If his stock fell just from one bad showing at his pro day, it's fairly ridiculous. He very well could be a better pro than Manziel. Nobody knows. That's the beauty and curse of the draft -- what makes it fun, what makes it maddening, what makes it so important.
But we also know others who think Bridgewater has a low NFL ceiling and that the Vikings messed up badly. Again, we don't really know. What we think about Manziel is this: the NFL in 2014 is often about improvisation and playmaking ability. The ability to read through progressions is big, but taking a play that shouldn't work and making it work is even bigger, to us. Manziel has that. He will continue to have it in the NFL. The Vikings could have had that, and they lost it. Maybe the fact that we value such a thing so much is more a reflection of us instead of anything else.
Time will tell. Bridgewater is far more than a consolation prize. He could be great. It's far from crazy to think history will judge the Vikings as geniuses instead of fools. As with any QB draft, though, this one will be remembered and followed with a great intensity.