AFC 16 in need of sophomore season reboots: Manziel feels most heat, followed by No. 1 pick Clowney

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·NFL columnist
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As rookie seasons go in the NFL, it was something like a teenager flunking a driving test by sideswiping every car in a DMV parking lot. Only after the wreckage comes to a halt do you realize the keys should have never been handed over in the first place.

This was Johnny Manziel's 2014 season. And his offseason, for that matter. This is why the Cleveland Browns quarterback needs a sophomore reboot more than any other second-year player in the NFL.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Looking back, Manziel's accomplishment last season has amounted to little more than a highlight reel for those who were thirsting for his failure. If you didn't like the cocky "money" gesture, or the high-profile social life or his arrogant "wreck the league" boast, Manziel's failure was a karmatic gift. But if you are the Browns, last season was a monumental letdown best swept away and forgotten forever.

Nothing really went right for Manziel. There was the briefest of flashes on Nov. 30 against the Buffalo Bills, but in hindsight, even that small glimpse of success was built on plays that utilized Manziel's legs as much as his arm. Hemmed inside the pocket his final two games – both starts – the Browns offense was nothing short of a disaster. And that's how we ultimately remember Manziel's rookie season, without even taking into account his off-field escapades or stint in rehab.

[Related: NFC's 16 sophomore in need of reboots for 2015]

It's clear that 2015 is make or break for Manziel's NFL career. Either he gets it together and becomes productive and undistracted in his work (which can be accomplished as a backup), or the Browns will likely be inclined to eat the remaining $4.62 million in salary cap charges prior to 2016 and seek other long-term options. And should that ever happen, it promises to be a surrender rife with finger-pointing over who ultimately wanted Manziel in Cleveland in the first place.

For the time being, expect the staff to stay on message. Josh McCown will remain the theme at starter, with Manziel billed as the developing and learning understudy who is often supported by encouraging statements. Such as: "We all feel good about where he is," Browns coach Mike Pettine told reporters of Manziel's progress in organized team activities. "You can see he showed some frustration out there [in workouts] because he wants it to be perfect. He wants it to be done right. He wants to do it the way that we're coaching him to do it. He's probably been the hardest guy on himself."

That "hardest guy on himself" thing? Don't expect that to last much longer. Cleveland's preseason opener is roughly two months away, and with Manziel locked into the backup slot, he'll conceivably get more snaps in the exhibition games than any of the other quarterbacks. And if his preseason is anything like his final two games of 2014, the preseason might turn out to be the last time we hear Pettine say Manziel's name in 2015.

Here are the rest of the AFC players looking for a sophomore reboot this season:

AFC NORTH

Baltimore Ravens – Terrence Brooks, S

Brooks played 245 defensive snaps and 11 games – not awful for a third-round pick. For the most part, Brooks had an up-and-down first season that suggested plenty of talent to work with. But the campaign ended in devastating fashion, with a torn ACL and MCL in Week 15. It was the kind of injury that typically would wipe out a player's second season as they worked to get back onto the field, back into shape and then overcome the mental hurdles that come with the territory. But Brooks is remarkably ahead of schedule and looks like a player who will be ready for training camp, barring any setbacks in his progress. He has already been scrimmaging with the first string defense in offseason workouts, suggesting a big leap forward. Considering his knee injury occurred in December, a spectacular reboot could be in the cards.

Ryan Shazier (Getty Images)
Ryan Shazier (Getty Images)

Pittsburgh Steelers – Ryan Shazier, LB

Last preseason, Shazier had moments where it appeared he was going to be an absolute terror for Pittsburgh. And despite being on the reboot list, there were enough of those moments in the regular season that made you recognize how great he could eventually be. But that's going to take Shazier adding some bulk and strength, and also slowing down his game a little. The Steelers' promising first-round pick often over-pursued and found himself out of position in 2014. Those mistakes can't continue. Shazier also spent the offseason trying to address his bulk and strength – two areas that will have to improve to make his style of play sustainable. His ankle and knee problems undercut his progress last year. And that physical letdown allowed guys like Sean Spence and Vince Williams to steal opportunities. If he's healthy, he should start this year and obliterate his snap count from his rookie campaign (283).

Cincinnati Bengals – Darqueze Dennard, CB

Some thought Dennard could materialize as the best cornerback from the 2014 draft, but he quickly showed that his discipline wasn't where it needed to be. From a physical standpoint, Dennard's diet wasn't the kind of things top flight cornerbacks maintain. And anything less than peak conditioning and a deep knowledge of the playbook wasn't going to crack a lineup with two veteran starters (Leon Hall and Terence Newman) and two backups that were also former first-round picks (Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick). So maybe Dennard was behind the eight ball from the start, and that translated to 77 defensive snaps. But with Newman out of the picture via free agency, Dennard is expected to vie for the slot with Kirkpatrick (who has already proclaimed himself a starter going into 2015). Whoever loses out is going to take a significant backseat in terms of playing time, unless Jones drops out of a nickel role and is largely a return man who occasionally fills secondary gaps when needed.

AFC SOUTH

Jacksonville Jaguars – Marqise Lee, WR

Lee played a respectable amount of snaps in 2014 (501), so it's hard to say his rookie season was a loss. But it certainly wasn't anything near what the Jaguars or even Lee had in mind. The 39th pick overall, Lee dealt with ankle and hamstring issues during the first half of the season, and then some confidence issues the second half. Clearly he was mentally swimming in the playbook for almost the entire campaign. Both limited his ceiling, as he caught 37 passes for an underwhelming 11.4 yards per catch average. It also didn't help that Lee's wide receiver draft class was so strong, with so many others drafted after him making major statements in their first year. The Jaguars took some of the blame (while also pointing a finger at former offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch) for pushing Lee too hard and also feeding him too much in the scheme. He caught up some toward the end of the season and enters 2015 healthy and with opportunities now that Cecil Shorts is gone. But he's also learning a new offense, too. Regardless, he can't afford a repeat of his rookie year – not with talented and refined wideouts coming out of the college ranks in droves.

Jadeveon Clowney (AP)
Jadeveon Clowney (AP)

Houston Texans – Jadeveon Clowney, LB

It doesn't get much worse than when your No. 1 overall draft pick undergoes three different surgeries in six months. That encapsulated Clowney's rookie campaign, which saw him go under the knife for a hernia, torn meniscus and finally, the dreaded microfracture surgery that ended 2014 campaign in December. Oh, and he was bitten by former teammate D.J. Swearinger's dog this offseason, too. In between all that, his first season of growth (aside from mental reps) was basically wiped out. He played four games, starting two and notching seven tackles with no sacks. Of course, the Texans are saying they are encouraged by his rehab up to this point, but really, what else would they say? The reality is that Clowney won't be on the field until August at the earliest, and that's when he'll begin getting himself in football shape. He's lost almost an entire year of physical refinement and reps within the Texans' scheme. The faster he gets 2014 behind him, the better. But he should start the 2015 reboot knowing that everyone is antsy for him to contribute.

Indianapolis Colts – Ulrick John, OT

It was a deep dig to find a Colts player for the reboot list. Arrest-prone linebacker Andrew Jackson was a candidate, but Indianapolis cut him this offseason. And the rest of the Colts' 2014 draft class? Well, it largely lived up to where it was drafted and showed positive signs of future development. The only guy still on the roster who didn't really make a dent last season is John, who broke his ankle in the first week of training camp and missed the season. His time away wasn't exactly wasted, though, as he added 20 pounds of bulk to his frame to get to a more NFL-ready 310. He also showed up to meetings all last year, getting in every last mental rep. And, well, after losing a year he might still have a shot to make the roster. The Colts' offensive line went through constant shuffling last season, and finding another tackle for depth would be a welcome development.

Tennessee Titans – Bishop Sankey, RB

Sankey was the running back in the 2014 draft that most predicted would have the biggest impact, but it really never materialized. Sankey saw 361 snaps and led the Titans in rushing with 569 yards, but it wasn't due to efficient production (3.7 yards per carry). With Shonn Greene the only other heavy load running back on the roster, Sankey was going to get opportunities regardless. To be fair, he wasn't helped by a bad offense, a mediocre line and inexperienced quarterbacks. But Sankey didn't make miracles happen on his own, either. In 152 carries, he never went longer than 22 yards. Making all of this worse, of course, is that Cincinnati running back Jeremy Hill was taken with the pick after Sankey. Hill's stat line: 1,124 rushing yards, nine touchdowns, 5.1 yards per carry. Sankey will get another shot, but he better produce quickly. There is a lot to like about the rookie running back (David Cobb) the Titans took this year, too.

AFC EAST

Buffalo Bills – Cyrus Kouandjio, OT

Kouandjio was once considered a potential first-round pick, leading the Bills to believe they'd gotten a steal when he slid to 44th overall in the 2014 draft. But that excitement was quickly extinguished when Kouandjio showed up with the wrong kind of bulk and with a lower frame that wasn't providing much power at the point of attack. Before he could really find a groove, he was struggling to hold blocks and was quickly demoted to second string (and he was largely disappointing there, too). Moving him from tackle to guard didn't help much, either. By the time his rookie season ended, Kouandjio hadn't played in a single game and was looking like a blown pick. But being a second-round pick buys some patience, and he'll get another opportunity to prove himself this preseason. He has shed some weight and worked on becoming stronger below the waist. He is also back at right tackle and working with the first team offense in the offseason. Whether the opportunity to reboot pays off will be hashed out in August.

Dexter McDougle (AP)
Dexter McDougle (AP)

New York Jets – Dexter McDougle, CB

McDougle is a prime example of how quickly things can change in the NFL. Drafted in the third round in 2014, McDougle was supposed to be a starting caliber cornerback, or at worst a key developmental piece in the secondary. But he was lost with a torn ACL shortly after the first preseason game, and didn't see a regular-season snap. Now he is finally healthy, but staring at a far different roster. The top three cornerback jobs have been iced by Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Buster Skrine, leaving McDougle angling for the fourth slot. His main competition? The once highly regarded Dee Milliner, who was the ninth overall pick in the 2013 draft. Milliner is dealing with his own injury rehab and may not be back on the field until the regular season, which cracks open a door for McDougle. But he's going to have to show that he has retained his speed and change of direction before the Jets make any kind of decision about his future. One way or another, it looks like it's either Milliner or McDougle – one of them may get walking papers in the preseason.

Miami Dolphins – Billy Turner, G

The expectations for Turner to contribute in 2014 might have been a little misplaced, even for a third-round pick. He was coming out of North Dakota State as a project – someone who most teams believed had to be moved from tackle to guard. The Dolphins would oblige that transition, but Turner was dogged for nearly two months by a sprained toe that he suffered in August. From there, he never distinguished himself enough for even a rotational role at any position on the line. And it wasn't until the final week of the season that Miami had nothing to lose and got Turner 17 snaps on offense. But the offseason brought a change of luck to this reboot, with both guard spots being vacated in Miami and Turner in line to be a starter on the right side. With a season of study and practice under his belt, the project label will begin to peel away. And he has already spent this offseason getting wailed upon in workouts by free-agent pickup Ndamukong Suh. But if Turner can't keep handsomely-paid quarterback Ryan Tannehill upright, that opportunity won't last long.

New England Patriots – Dominique Easley, DT

Vince Wilfork's mini-rebirth last season galvanized the Patriots' defensive line starters in 2014. In a way, that was bad for Easley, who settled into a supplemental role, notching 10 tackles and a sack in 270 defensive snaps. Perhaps most disappointing, Easley suffered a knee injury in December that landed him on injured reserve and caused him to miss out on valuable playoff reps and Super Bowl experience. Easley didn't require surgery on the knee this offseason, which is a huge plus considering he tore the ACLs in both of his knees while playing for the Florida Gators. Those injuries led to him slipping to the Patriots at the end of the first round in 2014. After spending a season under Wilfork's wing, Easley will be on his own and is expected to see his role increase significantly as an interior pass rusher in New England's sub-packages. His knees, though, will be watched very closely and handled conservatively.

AFC WEST

Dee Ford (Getty Images)
Dee Ford (Getty Images)

Kansas City Chiefs – Dee Ford, OLB

Dee Ford once famously said he was better than Jadeveon Clowney. Statistically, he was close to being right in his first NFL season. But it wasn't exactly a great thing. Much like Clowney's rookie season in Houston, Ford had almost no impact during his first campaign at the highest level. Unlike Clowney, it wasn't because Ford was constantly injured. Ford was simply bad, getting 122 defensive snaps in 16 games and producing only seven tackles and 1 ½ sacks. While he seemed to understand the concepts of playing outside linebacker in the classroom, he wasn't processing that information on the field, and it left him looking completely lost at times. None more embarrassing than when he thought a Frank Gore run against the San Francisco 49ers was a play-action pass, leaving Ford to appear on film as if he was purposely running away from Gore as the back came around left end. All in all, it was a forgettable year that sometimes happens when players transition from college defensive end to NFL outside linebacker. But if it happens during his second year reboot, Ford will likely find himself dangled to a 4-3 scheming team that can stick him back at end.

Oakland Raiders – Shelby Harris, DE

Take heart, Raiders fans. It's likely been a long time since anyone needed to reach all the way to a seventh-round pick to find a player who didn't quite live up to his draft position as a rookie. That shows a very promising start for Oakland's 2014 class. Like all final-round picks, Harris was a long shot to even make the Raiders' roster (even for a 3-13 team). Harris actually snagged a spot on the 53-man roster at the start of his rookie season, but was cut and signed to the practice squad after failing to touch the field in the first two games of the season. The Raiders activated him for a final look in Week 17, and Harris chipped in two tackles despite playing only eight defensive snaps. His sophomore reboot might be even tougher now that the team has drafted Mario Edwards Jr. and Max Valles. Edwards in particular is expected to devour most of the time on the other side of Justin Tuck. Throw in C.J. Wilson, and Harris will have to show he's got something if he wants to cling to a fifth defensive end spot.

San Diego Chargers – Jerry Attaochu LB

Attaochu had some exciting moments his first season despite playing only 182 defensive snaps. He started with a bang with a strip sack and blocked punt against the Arizona Cardinals, but quickly fell victim to hamstring issues and had a promising rookie season derailed. This is a familiar storyline for the Chargers, who have seen their fair share of talented players never fully live up to their talent because of constant lingering injuries. And Attaochu was at least partially to blame, after not relaying to the medical staff that his hamstring still didn't feel fully healed after missing essentially three games early in the season. He went back into the fray in October against the Raiders and reinjured the hamstring, leading to another shelving for three more games. By the time he returned, his rookie season had settled into a platoon role and he received limited snaps the rest of the way, largely in pass rushing situations. Now? Attaochu is healthy again and the Chargers are expecting a big rebound year from a guy they moved up to get in the 2014 second round.

Denver Broncos – Cody Latimer, WR

Well, when you draft a wide receiver in the second round and then put him on a depth chart with Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas, you get what you're asking for. The Broncos basically got an unmotivated second-rounder, who knew he didn't have the pressure of having to produce on Sundays. Latimer didn't help his situation last season by taking a laid back approach to pretty much everything that comes along with NFL preparation. He checked out mentally rather than latching on to Peyton Manning and learning all he could. And that ended up stunting his growth in 2014. A year later, with Welker and Julius Thomas both elsewhere, an opportunity has opened for Latimer. And it would have been nice if he had worked hard to be ready for it last season. Instead he has been playing catch-up all offseason, including in the weight room and classroom. He better begin his second-year reboot on the right foot, because Manning isn't one to wait around. If Latimer isn't all-in by now, his quarterback is probably already eyeing other options.