The NFL draft has not treated the Cleveland Browns franchise very well since their return to football before the 1999 season.
The Browns have drafted multiple "can't-miss" talents and have not had any real success with the drafted players that were supposed to rebuild the franchise. The 2012 NFL draft will be the latest edition of Cleveland drafting history, but Browns fans are hoping that the team's fortunes in late April are beginning to take a turn for the better.
Robert Griffin III and Trent Richardson seem to be the two biggest targets for Cleveland with the fourth overall pick in the draft.
Griffin has been getting the most media attention from national sports affiliates and Cleveland fan blogs, but many fans are not sold on his quarterbacking ability or his potential for a successful NFL career. There are also experts out there that believe Colt McCoy deserves another season with some quality weapons around him before the Browns move in a new direction.
Richardson has almost become a forgotten target with all of the Griffin hype and has been sent in every direction but Cleveland in the latest editions of mock drafts. However, Richardson should still be on Cleveland's radar, because he currently fills the biggest need in Cleveland's struggling offense.
If the Browns do not add any running backs to their roster for next season, the team will enter 2012 with Brandon Jackson, Montario Hardesty and Chris Ogbonnaya as the three rushers on the depth chart. Jackson and Hardesty are both considered huge question marks at this point in their careers due to injury concerns, while Ogbonnaya has never had a great deal of success in the NFL.
Richardson is a more dynamic back than all of those runners on the roster, and some draft experts say that he is the most talented rusher to come out in the draft since Adrian Peterson. Richardson also has a great amount of big-game experience playing against some of the best competition in college football while at the University of Alabama.
Richardson scored 35 touchdowns with the Crimson Tide in his career and rushed for almost 1,700 yards this past season as he helped lead Alabama to a national title.
The thing that makes Richardson so appealing is the fact that he is a complete player. Throughout his college games, Richardson was a quality receiving option out of the backfield and could run through any hole on the line of scrimmage.
Alabama utilized his talents in a variety of different ways and made accounting for him a headache for opposing defenses.
The Browns' rushing attack in 2011 was near the bottom of the entire NFL, and their lack of success was evident in the wins column. It is well known that it is hard to win football games in the NFL without a strong rushing game and almost impossible to win the AFC North without a strong runner in the winter months.
Peyton Hillis was supposed to serve Cleveland as that special ball carrier but will likely take his talents elsewhere sometime this spring.
Richardson is a quality player who can make an immediate impact on this Cleveland roster and continue to help the progression of players like McCoy and the other running backs. Griffin may be the popular option at this point because of the lack of offensive success, but the Browns would be taking a huge gamble by risking the future of the franchise on a relatively unknown talent.
Cleveland has been drafting smartly for the past two seasons, and it would seem very out of character to take a player like Griffin with so many other glaring needs on both sides of the ball.
However, the fans will only be able to wait and watch while the front office makes the draft decisions in April.