Tuesday, May 01, 2012

2012 Browns Draft Thoughts

This post was originally supposed to go up last Friday, but due to travel and familial commitments, I could not get it up until today.  I think it still is accurate, so enjoy.

The Cleveland Browns had their fans soaring as high as they have ever been since returning to the NFL following their selection of Trent Richardson in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Finally, the most nondescript offense in the league would have an identity, and the Browns would have a marquee player for the first time since Bernie Kosar (and a marquee back since perhaps Jim Brown). Even though the Brownies had to trade up one spot (when it later became apparent that they probably didn't need to), Richardson was worth it (the draft party I was at seemed content with any bounty as long as it didn't include our #22 or #37 picks). The draft was already a win, and the bruising right tackle or speedy receiver added at #22 would be icing on the cake.

Then, in typical Cleveland sports team fashion, the Browns slammed their fans back to earth with the selection of Brandon Weeden, a 28-year old “QB of the future” who has to be the only player of such distinction to ever be three years older than the incumbent he's replacing. The move was shocking, deflating, and left Browns fans dumbfounded. Colt McCoy had a disappointing second season, but he had one NFL-caliber receiver (raw rookie Greg Little, who excelled largely due to his athleticism and size), a quarter of a season (maybe) of quality running back play (the rare moments when Peyton Hillis was both healthy and motivated), and the most uncreative play-calling in the league (save for the rare tight end dive up the middle). With Richardson in the bag, and options at receiver and tackle available, it seemed the Browns were in prime position to finally give McCoy the support he's never had as a pro.

Instead, they pulled the rug out from under him, drafting his replacement, and then even going as far to talk about Weeden as if he's already the starter. Which I suppose he'd better be, since his retirement clock is already ticking. An interesting tidbit I discovered at the aforementioned draft party is that Kellen Winslow is only 3 months older than Weeden (a fun game we were playing is looking up who was younger than the Browns new QB; Brady Quinn, for one, is younger than Weeden). Weeden's age is the most obvious issue with drafting him, but it does bear discussion. Assuming the Browns give Weeden the same rope McCoy got—2 years—Weeden won't be “ready” to be a quality NFL signal-caller until his third season, when he'll be 31. The Browns will already have to start looking for his eventual successor just as he's finally becoming a viable QB himself.

And if the Browns have doubts about McCoy's ability to be a starting quarterback, then why not give him one more shot with a better supporting cast, and if he falters again, draft an actual franchise QB next year? Weeden isn't as good and never will be as good as Matt Barkley or Landry Jones, so why not just wait until those better options are available to replace Colt? With the Dophins' selection of Ryan Tannehill, every other NFL franchise except the Browns has made a significant investment in the quarterback position in the past few years. Barkley or Jones would have been relatively easy for the Browns to obtain, I would think, and makes the selection of Weeden at 22 even odder. Who else was taking him between 22 and the Browns' second round pick at 37? Denver, maybe, but that's it, and if the Broncos had taken him, I would consider it a blessing. Weeden's ability to operate under pressure scares me, and I could see him turning into the NFL version of Joe Bauserman. While Weeden can get the ball down field much better than McCoy, I don't know how well he will be able to do it with James Harrison breathing down his neck. The biggest positive about the Weeden pick to me is that he isn't Tannehill. If we were going to get a QB, at the very least, let it not be Tannehill.

As for Richardson, he should give Browns fans something to cheer about for four years, and then leave for big money in free agency (hopefully; Michael Turner is the only big money running back I can think of who has actually earned his contract). The more interesting part of his selection was the picks the Browns gave up to move into position to snag him. Will they come back to bite Cleveland?

Here are the past five years of Cleveland 4th Round Picks:

2011 Jordan Cameron, TE (102), Owen Marecic, FB (124)
2010 None
2009 Kaluka Maivia, LB (104)
2008 Beau Bell, LB (104), Martin Rucker, TE (111)
2007 None

Not too much to get excited about.  Bell never played a snap for the Browns, while Rucker didn't play much more.  Marecic looks overmatched as an NFL fullback, and Jordan Cameron is still looking more like a project than the next Jimmy Graham.  Maivia is a good special teams player who provides solid depth at linebacker, but asking him to play anything more than spot duty is asking for trouble.  The point is, the player the Browns may have selected in the 4th round probably wasn't going to be that good anyway (the Vikings selected WR Jarius Wright out of Arkansas, a tiny receiver who is better underneath than working down the field).  I would trade all five of these guys plus Wright for Richardson, not to mention Scott Solomon and Robert Blanton (the rest of the Vikings' haul).

The rest of the Browns' draft was both puzzling and intriguing.  I liked Bobby Massie more than Mitchell Schwartz, but Heckert & Holmgren have earned the benefit of the doubt in their second round evaluations (T.J. Ward over Taylor Mays in 2010; Jabaal Sheard over Da'Quan Bowers last year).  John Hughes is a hell of a director, but I don't know if he's a 3rd round defensive tackle.  Phil Taylor and Athya Rubin did need someone to give them an occasional rest, but the Browns ended up getting a superior player for that role when they snagged Billy Wynn in the 6th, so a more pressing need probably could have been addressed in the 3rd.  The selection of OLB Emmanuel Acho immediately before Wynn makes the 6th round the non-TRich highlight of the Browns' draft day.  Travis Benjamin is a super fast receiver who can't catch and is teeny-tiny, while Ryan Miller is Jason Pinkston v. 2.0.  Trevin Wade is a nickel back who showed flashes of being more, but not enough to get himself drafted before the 7th round.  James Michael-Johnson should provide similar special teams play and linebacker depth to the aforementioned Maivia, and Brad Smelley will hopefully put a merciful end to the Owen Marecic experiment at fullback.  There is a lot of depth players, but I don't know how many of these guys will be making an impact this fall and winter.  Hopefully, I'm not saying the same thing about Weeden.    

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