The NFL draft is way more than just the first round
Most NFL fans will only watch day one of the NFL draft.
They'll care about the star power of Jadeveon Clowney, the shock appeal of where Johnny Manziel is drafted and how far Teddy Bridgewater might fall.
And all of that is fair.
Outside of an actual game, the opening night of the NFL draft is the most gripping piece of reality television sports fans watch all year long. Players are wearing suits and smiles instead of jerseys and helmets. The draft has become an interactive way to connect to the incoming players in the league.
But here's what separates casual fans from the diehards: the latter group knows that building a franchise happens in rounds 3-7, and even the undrafted process.
Using rosters from the last three Pro Bowls (2012-2014) There have been 172 players selected for the prestigious game.
A whopping 37 percent of 2014 Pro Bowlers were selected in the third round or later.
Round No. of players Percentage
1st Round 88 51%
2nd Round 21 12%
7th Round 3 .5%
Undrafted 21 12%
The idea here isn't to downplay the importance of first-round picks, because clearly, they make up the overwhelming majority of the Pro Bowl. The Browns and Rams are the only teams going into the draft who possess multiple first round picks, definitely a luxury. If the Browns were able to select a cornerstone piece to add to fellow first rounders Joe Thomas and Joe Haden, they'd be setting themselves up nicely.
But rounds three-seven can alter the direction of a franchise, especially from a skill-player standpoint. Once certain players immediately become stars, people tend to forget where they came from. Jimmy Graham, Jamaal Charles, Jason Witten, Frank Gore, Steve Smith and Lance Briggs were all third-rounders. Robert Mathis, a fifth rounder, led the NFL in sacks in 2013. Steelers receiver Antonio Brown gives AFC north opponents fits. He was a sixth-round pick.
In later rounds, teams should be drafting on talent and potential; not a specific positional need. Players that may seem like long term projects are sometimes worth the risk. The Browns have capitalized on this in the past, hauling in Jordan Cameron in the 2011 fourth round. Although it'll be tough to judge on paper right away, it's important for Cleveland to have a complete draft, even if the picks just seem like depth at first.
Consider the way perennial powerhouses operate. The San Francisco 49ers boasted eight players in the 2013 Pro Bowl and seven of them were home grown. Even with linebacker Patrick Willis in his prime, the 49ers opted to pick Navarro Bowman, also an inside linebacker. Some teams would've shied away, with Willis already becoming a dominant player. But the addition of Bowman has taken the 49ers defense over the top.
The Seattle Seahawk similarly built their team first, then plugged in a quarterback as the final piece. Russell Wilson, a third round pick, signed a four-year, $3 million deal. As opposed to Washington's Robert Griffin III, who signed a four-year, $21 million contract. The extra cap space has helped Seattle remain flexible. Unless you are 100 percent sure about a guy, a first round pick doesn't necessarily have to be a quarterback.
Draft experts and general managers miss on grades every single year. Keep in mind that a large chunk of players who reach excellence in the NFL come from the late rounds of the draft.