Commentary | Tampa Bay Bucs pass on Manziel, pick his top target in Mike Evans

adell@bradenton.comMay 9, 2014 

TAMPA

The choice has been made, and the verdict is now in the hands of Mike Evans.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith said it was easy to make the Texas A&M receiver his first pick in the 2014 draft Thursday night.

The prevailing mood after the pick focused more on whom he didn't pick.

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel was there for the choosing at pick No. 7 and the Bucs didn't even have to trade up to get him.

It sure gives Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, a big chip on his shoulder.

Smith said Evans was the top choice he and Bucs GM Jason Licht had agreed upon all along. As for Manziel, the coach's answer sounded a little political, but that shouldn't be surprising.

"There are lot of good players in the draft, but we had to do what was best for us, and our QB position is as strong as any quarterback position I've had as a head coach," Smith said. "You know how much I like Josh McCown, and I love (backup) Mike Glennon. He is our quarterback of the future. We thought this (selecting Evans) was best for us. It was an easy decision."

Smith is said to be a conservative guy who relies on defense to win games. But the Bucs were alarmingly thin at wide receiver and at 6-foot-5, 231 pounds, Evans can pair up with 6-foot-5 Vincent Jackson to give the Bucs one of the biggest receiving combos in the NFL.

It's similar to Chicago's Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, the reason McCown had his best season as an NFL quarterback last year with the Bears.

Smith made no secret that Evans was McCown's choice and the quarterback wasn't lobbying for Manziel.

"To say he was in our ear is an understatement," Smith said.

It's best for all those Manziel lovers to throw any bitterness anyway and move on.

It's hard to fault Smith for selecting Evans, though no rational person can believe Glennon is the Bucs' quarterback of the future.

A basketball star in high school who averaged 18 points and 8.4 rebounds, Evans could be the NFL's next version of Jimmy Graham, the former basketball player who is considered an elite tight end/big receiver for New Orleans.

"This is scenario we wanted when the day began, and we are excited that it happened," Smith said. "I've been accused of just wanting defense and defense all the way, but it takes more than that to win football games. I looked at the league last year and saw what two big receivers (Jeffrey and Marshall) can do. You normally don't have two big guys who can match up like that. This combination is attractive to us."

There were Bucs fans who were clamoring for LSU's Odell Beckham, a quicker, but smaller receiver, but Smith noted that he never saw anyone catch Evans from behind.

"He ran a 4.5 in the 40, and that is good speed. He was able to score long touchdowns, has excellent hands, a great vertical and runs good routes," Smith said.

When the conversation shifted back to Manziel, Smith turned into his diplomatic self and sounded convincing. Bucs GM Jason Licht even sounded as if the Bucs could still take him.

As for Manziel, when it's all said and done in about three to five years, he could very well have the last laugh and make all those GMs and coaches who passed on him embarrassed.

A couple of guys from different generations -- Fran Tarkenton and Russell Wilson, who are short in stature -- turned and liked to run turned out to be pretty good quarterbacks.

Manziel was selected 22nd by Cleveland, which has gone through five nondescript quarterbacks. The Browns, who moved up four spots to get Manziel, could be the best fit for him.

As for Lovie and Licht, they need Evans to justify picking him at seventh.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7056. Follow him on Twitter @ADellSports.

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