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Six first-round picks with franchise-altering potential

It is at their own peril that professional sports teams pass on the opportunity to select a uniquely gifted player with the potential to alter the course of a franchise.

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Two years after cavalierly disregarding the chance to draft the electrifying Robert Griffin III, the St. Louis Rams twice passed on Johnny Manziel, perhaps the most exciting college football player of his generation.

While the Rams attempt to sell their fanbase on the prospect of galvanizing behind one of the NFL's least inspiring, most enigmatic signal-callers, the Cleveland Browns are already fielding hundreds of phone calls from fans clamoring for season tickets.

As Gregg Rosenthal likes to say, great quarterbacks don't just alter franchises. They transform lives.

For that reason, Manziel tops Around The League's list of Thursday night's franchise-changers.

1. Johnny Manziel, QB, Browns: All it took was one draft pick to transform the Browns' image from a league-wide laughingstock to one of the most intriguing, closely monitored franchises in the league. Where Johnny Football goes, eyeballs, television ratings and crazed fanboy acolytes are sure to follow. He has already endeared himself to the city of Cleveland by telling NFL Media's Deion Sanders that he's going to "pour (his) heart out" for the organization. If Manziel's game comes anywhere close to matching the hype, the Factory of Sadness will blossom into the Factory of Gladness.

2. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, Texans: Scroll up and read the intro again. Clowney is a rare talent. He has physical gifts that can tilt the gridiron in his team's favor. No one disputes this. The question is whether Texans coaches can keep Clowney's motor running at full tilt. Being paired with relentless 2012 Defensive Player of the Year and new role modelJ.J. Watt is the best-case scenario for bringing out Clowney's full potential. AFC South quarterbacks will be checking under their beds before nodding off at night.

3. Khalil Mack, OLB, Raiders: Embattled general manager Reggie McKenzie desperately needed this one. Having left no doubt that he can master deconstruction, he has yet to show that he can reconstruct a roster. This was an organization without a single blue-chip talent in his prime. Mack changes that. He was the No. 1 prospect on Mike Mayock's Top 100 list, a prototypical edge rusher and a box-score filler at Buffalo. If McKenzie gets his hands on a young quarterback to step in as the face of the franchise, he might just save his job after all.

4. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Vikings: Credit Minnesota's brass for recovering quickly after the Browns beat them to the punch on Manziel. Football lifers like to say the eye in the sky doesn't lie. Super Bowl champion Kurt Warner and former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah both believe Bridgewater's college game tape was the best of any quarterback in this draft. If their assessment is on the money, the Vikings have a promising nucleus on both sides of the ball.

5. Ryan Shazier, OLB, Steelers: We didn't need Warren Sapp to tell us Dick LeBeau's once-vaunted defense had deteriorated to "old and slow." While the offense was picking up steam late in the season, the swiftly declining defense was hemorrhaging big plays and failing to produce turnovers. They are now reversing Father Time by adding the fastest linebacker we have seen on film since Brian Urlacher entered the NFL as a freakishly talented former New Mexico safety, wide receiver and kick returner. Shazier and Lawrence Timmons could rival the 49ers' inside linebacker duo as the NFL's most dynamic. If general manager Kevin Colbert hits on a red-zone threat and a cornerback in the next two rounds, the Steelers might just be the favorite to take the AFC North in 2014.

6. Brandin Cooks, WR, Saints: The Sean Payton era in New Orleans is renowned for its creativity on offense. While Rob Ryan was revitalizing the defense, though, Payton's offense grew stale due in large part to a wide receiving corps that had suddenly grown stale. With no running mate for Marques Colston, running backs and tight ends accounted for 63 percent of Drew Brees' completions. Payton regained his NFC South foothold with the arrival of Cooks, a playmaking machine and the fastest wide receiver in the draft.

The latest "Around The League Podcast" provides instant reaction to all the wild happenings in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft.

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