The Cleveland Browns enter this offseason with plenty of issues to overcome after last season's 4-12 finish. Fortunately for the Browns, there is a lot of room, and means, to improve for the team this season.
With two first-round picks, one in the top five of the draft, roughly $20 million in cap space and some of the more difficult positions in the NFL to fill filled already. The Browns turnaround may not take as long as a 4-12 finish would imply.
Undoubtedly, working on the offense is the team's biggest priority this offseason as Colt McCoy needs more weapons if Pat Shurmur is ever going to properly evaluate him as a potential franchise quarterback.
Despite the fact that the Browns' best card in the offseason is that fourth overall choice in the NFL draft, I believe the Browns would be better suited to bring in a defensive star, providing the right one is available.
Last season, the Browns offense ranked 30th in the NFL, while the defense ranked fifth in the league. Statistically, the Browns defense was led by their secondary. At least on the surface of the team's statistics they were.
The Browns secondary was ranked second in the NFL against opposing passers, but a big part of that is teams ran 534 times against them which was the second highest total in the league. The Browns also faced the second-lowest number of pass attempts in the whole league.
Therefore, the team's 184.9 passing yards surrendered per game loses some of its glamor. Even after taking that into consideration, the Browns' secondary isn't the first place you would start to rebuild for a successful season in 2012, but it may be the most prudent move for the team's first pick of the 2012 NFL draft.
Picking fourth, the Browns aren't guaranteed to be left with anyone on the board in April. However, the consensus seems to indicate that the best players left on the Browns' board will be some combination of Trent Richardson, Moris Claiborne and Matt Kalil.
Because of the likelihood for Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III to go first and second overall, the Browns must only wait on what Minnesota does with the third pick to see who falls to them.
As things currently stand, it makes the most sense for the Vikings to select Matt Kalil, a tackle from USC. With Adrian Peterson's status unclear, instead of taking Richardson, the Vikings will likely look for new ways to protect Christian Ponder and use the passing game more.
In that scenario, the Browns would be left with plenty of options, but the two best players on the board would be Claiborne and Richardson. In true 2+2 journalism, many analysts will see Peyton Hillis is a free agent and instantly put Richardson in Cleveland.
That's generally why most journalists would never work out as GMs.
Selecting a running back in the top five is not a value choice, no matter how talented a player he is in today's NFL. Some of the best running backs in the league weren't taken early in the draft while some of them weren't taken at all.
Maurice Jones-Drew, who led the league in rushing last year, wears number 32 because all 32 teams passed him in the first round. Arian Foster never heard his name called as he went undrafted. Ray Rice was a second-round pick.
When you look at the backs taken in the top 10 in recent years, the fortunes are for the most part fairly bleak. CJ Spiller was taken ninth in 2010 and has shown some flashes but not been an overwhelming success in Buffalo. Darren McFadden is a brilliant talent who was taken in 2008 but cannot stay healthy, while Adrian Peterson is a star but who knows what to expect from him after his torn ACL.
Investing so heavily in a running back doesn't make much sense when the depth at the position league wide and in the draft is so good.
A position where the league is lacking in talent is at cornerback. The Browns already have a cornerback as close to any to be called shutdown in Joe Haden, but the opportunity to have two players of Haden's caliber is something that hasn't been seen in the modern era of the NFL.
If the Browns were to draft Claiborne, they would have the best cornerback pairing in the league, maybe not instantly but easily judging by potential, since Jonathan Joseph and Leon Hall played together in Cincinnati.
Cornerbacks don't come cheap in the NFL anymore but with the rookie wage scale now in place, the Browns could be the first team to build a financially feasible defense on two shut-down corners. While Nnamdi Asomugha and Asante Samuel are very good, and Darrelle Revis with Antonio Cromartie is another brilliant pairing, both of those groups have their obvious flaws.
Once Claiborne adjusts to the NFL, which admittedly could take a year or two, it would be difficult to determine which is the cornerback worth attacking. It's obvious in New York and Philadelphia that Samuel and Cromartie are the guys who have inferior coverage skills.
Because the NFL is a passing league nowadays, a cornerback's value is intangibly higher than a running back's.
Just because they take Claiborne as well, it doesn't mean that the team still can't get a very good running back to aid McCoy on offense. Both Chris Polk and Lamar Miller are projected by most NFL draft experts to be available for the Browns second first-round pick.
In the NFL, it is difficult to find cornerstones and much easier to find the role players to compliment them. Having two cornerstone players at cornerback is a major advantage for the Browns.
With Phil Taylor on the defensive line, Joe Thomas at left tackle, Alex Mack at center, Greg Little emerging at receiver and McCoy potentially being a franchise quarterback, the Browns would have cornerstones in place in all of the most difficult positions to fill.
With Sheldon Brown and Dimitri Patterson as depth behind the two young starters, the Browns secondary would be set if TJ Ward and Mike Adams can both return from free agency and injury.
The Browns offense may be in trouble, but it is easier to find the offensive pieces that the team is missing in free agency opposed to adding the type of talent that Claiborne adds to the defense. With what is essentially three first round picks in this year's draft, the Browns can afford to take somewhat of an unconventional approach with their top pick.
And by unconventional I don't mean taking a running back.
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