BEREA, Ohio — Johnny Football fell and landed in the Dawg Pound.
Johnny Manziel, a Tyler native and college football’s most entertaining player with the hotly debated game, was selected with the No. 22 overall pick in the NFL draft on Thursday night by the Cleveland Browns, who hope they have finally found their franchise quarterback.
Manziel sat patiently in the wings at Radio City Music Hall, waiting nearly three hours for his name to be called as everyone from Aaron Rodgers to the league’s official Twitter account tweeted about his long sit backstage.
Then the Browns, who made two earlier trades, made another one with Philadelphia and selected the 6-footer and Manziel walked onto the stage and rubbed his fingers together, a signature “money” gesture that endeared him to some fans and annoyed others.
In Cleveland, some Browns backers celebrated Manziel’s selection like the team had just won the Super Bowl. Of course, the Browns have never even made it to the NFL’s showcase event and haven’t won a title since 1964 — a golden anniversary that will arrive in December. But Manziel brings hope to a team that has done little but lose in the expansion era.
Manziel now must back up the hype around him.
“The team obviously wants to win and wants to win now,” Manziel said on a conference call. “I’ve been a winner everywhere I’ve been. I’m ready to work extremely hard. “
Manziel’s size scared some teams off, but he believes his playmaking skills translate to the pro game.
“I’m used to that by now,” Manziel said. “I’ve been scrutinized and nitpicked. I’ve proven it from my first year to my next and I always get better.”
Manziel is expected to compete with starter Brian Hoyer, who showed promise last season before suffering a knee injury.
Earlier, as Manziel waited, the Browns made two trades and selected Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert with the No. 8 pick.
With the first deal of the draft, the Browns moved down five spots and acquired Buffalo’s No. 9 pick and first- and fourth-round picks next year. Cleveland then swapped picks with Minnesota, acquiring a fifth-rounder before taking Gilbert, who they plan to play on the opposite side of Pro Bowler Joe Haden.
“He’s long. He’s fast. He’s explosive. He’s a playmaker,” general manager Ray Farmer said of Gilbert. “He’s got great arm length. He’s got the speed. He’s got the ball skills. I know some people have questioned his tackling. We cover like Browns, tackling was good, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be great.”
Gilbert scoffed at critics who say he’s a weak tackler.
“I’ve heard it before,” he said. “It’s something that doesn’t bother me at all because I know I can tackle.”
Gilbert wasn’t sure the Browns were that interested in him until he was getting ready to head to New York.
“It’s a dream come true,” Gilbert said in a conference call. “I became friends with him (Haden) not too long ago and he’s a great guy and I’m looking forward to playing with him.”
The 6-foot, 202-pound Gilbert had seven interceptions last season, returning two for touchdowns.
“I pretty much can do it all,” Gilbert said. “I’m an all-around cornerback.”
Cleveland entered the most important draft in its expansion era with 10 picks, ample ammunition for Farmer, promoted when president Joe Banner and GM Michael Lombardi were fired in February, to add talent and depth to a team that went 4-12 last season and changed coaches again.
Farmer has already shown he’s willing to make moves, and he’s expected to grab a quarterback at some point and possibly at No. 26. The Browns, who entered the draft with five of the first 83 picks, recently completed an exhaustive study on quarterbacks with Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater reportedly emerging as the top candidate.
In the end, Manziel was their man.