It's only January and the 2012 NFL Draft is still more than three months away, but speculation is already running rampant about what the Cleveland Browns will do with their first pick (fourth overall).
Will they pursue Heisman-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III and give up on Colt McCoy? Will they bring in running back Trent Richardson to bolster their injury-riddled rushing corps?
Will they hope wide receiver Justin Blackmon falls to them in order to finally get that big-play pass catcher fans have been clamoring for? Will they bite the bullet and draft an offensive tackle like Matt Kalil or Riley Reiff in the hopes of finally ending their problems on the right side of the line?
Or will they (perish the thought) trade down yet again?
The Browns have given us no indication of the direction they plan to go in just yet, so for now, it's up to us to make our best guesses.
Some of the aforementioned players will absolutely be off the board before the Browns pick, and unless the Browns are willing to trade up (unlikely), they will be out of our reach.
But some of them will be there, and while some seem more likely to last until the fourth pick than others, we won't know for sure until draft day, so it's worth looking at all the possibilities.
There are other players whose stock might rise between now and draft day and thus become attractive potential picks for the Browns, but for now, drafting one of these five players (and the possibility of trading down), seem the most likely scenarios.
Cast your vote in the comments below for what you want to see the Browns do with their first pick in the 2012 draft!
The issue of whether the Browns should try to draft quarterback Robert Griffin III has been discussed ad nauseam over the past few weeks.
I'll refrain from recapping the whole should-they-or-shouldnt-they issue of Griffin as it relates to Colt McCoy's future or the possibility of bringing in a guy like Matt Flynn here (refer to this article for more details on that).
What it essentially boils down to is that it depends on whether the Browns think they're weak enough at quarterback with McCoy at the helm for that to trump all of their other problem areas.
McCoy supporters, those who fear the consequences of drafting another small quarterback, and those who fear the Heisman Curse are all against drafting Griffin, as are those, such as myself, who are against drafting any quarterback with the first pick because the team has greater needs at other positions.
Those who don't care for McCoy or who firmly believe in drafting the best player on the board regardless of position (which could very well be Griffin, depending how the draft shakes out) would argue in favor of RGIII as the Browns first pick.
There is also the risk factor to consider. With so many other needs at so many other positions, it makes the possibility that Griffin could be a bust even more daunting.
If the Browns draft Griffin and he flops, not only did they waste their pick on a bust, they also lost an opportunity to fix one of their other problem areas. Taking a risk is OK for a team with fewer needs, but for the Browns, it would be disastrous if things played out that way.
Granted, I'm not saying Griffin will be a bust (in fact, I very much doubt he will be) but even if he does play well, if it doesn't fix the Browns problems on offense, then the pick is still a bust of sorts even if the player himself technically isn't.
Bottom line: I don't hate the idea of drafting Griffin, but I don't love it, either.
While I can't get the idea that the Browns should spend their first pick on an offensive lineman to finally put their issues in that area to rest, I'm intrigued by the idea of running back Trent Richardson.
Unlike Griffin, Richardson would fill a hole we KNOW exists on the team, rather than one that may or may not exist depending on whether Colt McCoy improves when he has a better team around him than he has thus far in his career.
It comes up surprisingly infrequently in offseason discussion, but the Browns have major problems at running back, and problems that won't be going away any time soon.
At this point, it seems unlikely that the Browns will be re-signing Peyton Hillis. That leaves them with Montario Hardesty and Chris Ogbonnaya as the top two running backs on the depth chart.
That should be the most frightening thing you've ever heard. WAY scarier than Colt McCoy keeping the starting job at quarterback.
Hardesty hasn't been able to stay healthy, and that is unlikely to change. Ogbonnaya did a terrific job filling in at a job he probably never expected to get, but he is at best a fill-in, occasional type of player in the type of productive offense the Browns are aiming to build.
That means that currently the incumbent for the starting RB position in 2012 for the Browns is, uh, nobody. There are certainly other ways than the draft to acquire a running back, but you won't find one cheaper who can likely give the same level of production as Richardson likely will.
Richardson is the right kind of back for the system and is a much hardier, sturdier guy than the fragile fellows who made up the Browns rushing corps in 2011.
The only argument against drafting Richardson that I can see at this point is if by some miracle, OT Matt Kalil is still on the board, and even then it still isn't an easy decision.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the least likely scenario of those mentioned here for the Browns on draft day: Cleveland trades up to get big-shot wide receiver Justin Blackmon.
And then there is the second-most unlikely scenario: Blackmon is still left on the board when the Browns select their pick.
Either way, it doesn't look good for all those who were hoping to see the Browns finally go after a marquee receiver with their top pick, because it doesn't look like there will be one available to them.
Blackmon will likely be selected before the Browns pick in the fourth slot, and if you believe the Browns will trade up to get him, it may be time to bring back that unicorn I wanted to sell you last offseason during a similar situation.
And after Blackmon, I don't see another WR, at least at this point in the game, who I would be willing to spend a No. 4 pick on.
That means that unless Blackmon miraculously falls to fourth, he's going home with someone else on draft day.
And if Blackmon does somehow fall to the Browns, are we 100 percent certain we should take him?
While I do think Richardson on an offensive tackle would fill a greater need for the Browns than Blackmon would, and while I would prefer the Browns get their WR through free agency than the draft, I have to say, it would be really tough to pass him up if he were still on the board.
It's very difficult to leave that sort of talent sitting there at all, much less if, like the Browns, the best player on the board actually does fit a category of need for your team.
The situation with OT Matt Kalil is much like the one with Blackmon in that unfortunately, it's very unlikely he'll still be on the board when the Browns pick, and they're no more likely (actually probably less so) to trade up for him.
Kalil should be more attractive to the Browns than nearly any other player slated to go in the early first round of the 2012 draft.
It's tough to argue the Browns are more desperate at any position than they are at OT, and while the idea of spending the first pick (especially with said pick being so early in Round 1) on an offensive lineman is spectacularly unsexy, it might be the smartest thing the Browns could do for themselves.
The problem, of course, is that whether the Browns decide they want to go that route or not, the option probably won't be available to them. Based on the way the draft will likely shake out considering who drafts ahead of Cleveland this year, there's very little chance Kalil won't be snapped up by someone else before the Browns make their pick.
And while they could very well decide that as unsexy as it would be, it would be worth spending that fourth pick on an OT, there's no way they'll be trading up to get one, even a guy as good as Kalil.
Plan B might be Riley Reiff, another OT likely to be selected in the first half of the first round. While I don't hate the idea of Reiff and think he could be a tremendous help to the Browns' troubled offensive line, there's no way he's worth a No. 4 pick.
That means to get him the Browns would have to trade down.
The Browns have made a habit of habitually trading down in or out of the first round of the draft in recent years, and most fans are getting fed up.
While the trade down mentality actually did make sense in some cases for the Browns, I can appreciate why it frustrates the fan base. Further, while that may have been an appropriate move in the past at times, it's debatable whether it makes sense this year.
On one hand, there's a good argument in favor of it in that the Browns have kind of a bad slot for their particular needs this year. Drafting fourth may put them in a difficult position in that two of the players they might want (Blackmon and Kalil) will likely be off the board.
Sometimes it's better to trade down if you can't get what you want rather than spending too high a pick on a player who isn't worth the slot or who you simply don't need.
However, what of Richardson? He'll likely still be there when the Browns pick, and there's no denying they could really use his help. It all depends on whether or not the Browns think they need to take him with the fourth-overall pick, or if they think they can trade back a few spots and still snag him.
Trading back minimally makes more sense than trading way down into the late first round or trading out, since the Browns have too many needs not to make an early selection this year, but it all depends how the draft shakes out.
Maybe they trade back for Richardson because they can get away with taking him at a later slot than fourth. Maybe they trade back for Reiff because fourth is too high to take him.
Maybe they trade back for another player whose value would be similar who has yet to break into the early first round on draft boards. Maybe the trade back because there simply isn't anyone to take who makes sense and is worth the slot at No. 4.
Whatever the decision though, if the Browns plan to trade down, they had better have a good reason for it or they'll have a mob of fans storming Berea with trenches and pitchforks.
Trading down can definitely be justified for the Browns during the 2012 draft, but they'll have to choose their words and their reasoning for it very carefully.