Reviewing the Cleveland Browns' 5 Biggest Scouting Combine Takeaways

Samantha BuntenAnalyst IFebruary 29, 2012

Reviewing the Cleveland Browns' 5 Biggest Scouting Combine Takeaways

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    It was an encouraging weekend for Cleveland fans, who saw their front office, which is oft-criticized for its supposed passivity, appear very active at this week's NFL combine.

    As is expected in these early stages of pre-draft activity, the Browns didn't take any real action in terms of trading picks and the like, but they were unusually (at least for them) vocal, proactive shoppers.

    The Browns were without GM Tom Heckert, who unfortunately had to miss the combine due to previously undisclosed health issues that ultimately resulted in heart surgery.

    Fortunately, the word out of Berea is that Heckert is recovering and will still be very much involved in the draft process.

    But the combine must go on regardless of who isn't able to attend, and go on it did for the rest of the Browns' talent evaluation contingency.

    Following are five things we can take away from the combine for the Browns in 2012. Please be sure to leave your own thoughts on the Browns' combine activities in the comments below.

1. Look out NFL: It's 2012 and the Browns Are Not Messing Around

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    Perhaps the Browns finally got to the point where it made sense to them to start making some major moves. Perhaps pressure to save their jobs has lit a fire under them. Maybe they really like Robert Griffin III. Or maybe they're just bluffing.

    Regardless of the "why" though, for the first time in a long time, the Browns looked aggressive and proactive in terms of scouting and pursuing draft picks, clearly evident in their interest in trading up to get the No. 2 spot from St. Louis in order to draft Griffin. 

    For the past few years, the Browns have largely used events like the combine to look for potential trade partners going in the other direction—in other words, they've been sellers for a long time.

    But this year they've given every indication that they'd at least like to be buyers, and they weren't shy about letting everyone know it.

    Granted, it may not be an accident that their interest in trading up was made so public. After being repeatedly harangued for being gun-shy and conservative, this is an excellent show of willingness to be proactive and to take a leap.

    This doesn't necessarily mean that the trade interest they conveyed is all for show, but that's definitely part of the agenda. Fortunately for Browns fans though, that seems to be far from the only part.

    In case I haven't said it enough over the last few weeks, I am vehemently against trading up to the No. 2 spot to get Griffin.

    I will say, however, that it really is nice to see the Browns take such an aggressive, proactive approach so early in the draft process. We haven't seen anything close to that from them in a very long time.

2. ...But Unfortunately, Neither Are the Rams

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    With the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft, the St. Louis Rams are sitting on a gold mine...and they know it.

    Indianapolis will almost assuredly take QB Andrew Luck with the first overall pick, leaving the second pick as the first one whose fate is open to debate at this point and slapping it with a premium price sticker.

    This is thanks to the shortage of talent at quarterback in the early rounds of this draft and the number of teams who are shopping for it.

    Not in need of help at QB themselves, the Rams hit the jackpot with respect to their slot in the draft this year. They don't really need it, and have what seems like half the league wants it.

    This is, of course, unfortunate for the Browns, who will thus probably have to pay an exorbitant rate to get a hold of the pick if they decide they want it badly enough.

    While it doesn't appear that there will be as many suitors for the pick that will ultimately send Griffin to his future home as there seemed to be a few weeks ago, there is still plenty of competition.

    More of it may drop off, depending on what happens with Matt Flynn, Peyton Manning and other free-agent QBs, but it isn't as though if the Browns just wait it out; they'll be the only buyer still willing to put an offer on the table.

    Just looking at the obvious competition, Washington and Miami will most certainly still be sniffing around, barring a deal for a marquee free agent.

    Rumors suggest that the Rams are seeking a deal similar to what the Chargers got from the Giants for QB Eli Manning in 2004. The cost for Manning to the Giants was two first-round picks, a third-rounder and a fifth-rounder.

3. So Is Griffin Worth the Cost?

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    If we assume that the price paid for Manning back in 2004 is about what the Browns or any other team might expect to pay for the No. 2 pick, two questions need to be asked:

    First, can the Browns truly afford to mortgage their whole draft on any one guy, no matter who he is?

    And second, is Griffin personally really guaranteed to be worth that cost?

    The answers, of course, are inextricably linked.

    Ask anyone in New York if they think Eli Manning was worth mortgaging an entire draft for. I guarantee that the answer you will get from 100 percent of those surveyed will be a very emphatic "yes."

    The Giants took a huge risk on Manning. It paid off in the best form of profit in the NFL that is possible: Super Bowl rings. Huge risk, huge reward.

    That's the problem with trades like this; they guarantee either success beyond your wildest dreams or failure beyond your worst nightmares. There is no in-between.

    This is what a move like this would come down to for the Browns as well. If Griffin ultimately takes them to the Super Bowl, it will be the smartest thing they've ever done.

    If he doesn't—even if he plays well individually—it will be the most epically bad trade the city of Cleveland has seen since Frank Lane was trolling around the Indians locker room in the 1960s selling off All-Stars for peanuts.

    All in all, that means that in order to make good on the price on his head, Griffin will not only have to be successful enough to justify the fact that the Browns traded up for him in general, but he'll have to be good enough to be worth more than every player picked in the slots traded to the Rams for him. Combined. 

    Of course that value will be subjective to the Browns' needs. What he or the players drafted with the picks traded for him would be worth to another team is irrelevant.

    It actually makes it a much simpler equation for Cleveland: He gets us to a Super Bowl, he would have been worth 10 times the price paid.

    He doesn't, and he's a bigger failure than Mike Junkin, Tim Couch, Brady Quinn, Gerard Warren, Courtney Brown and Mike Phipps all rolled into one giant Frankenstein of a trade bust of the sort of magnitude that destroys dreams and creates fanbase-wide acute drinking problems. 

4. Other First-Round Options

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    I know this is hard to believe based on the pattern of press coverage (and I'm as guilty of this as the next Cleveland writer), but there actually were players aside from Griffin at the combine.

    And as much as RG3 Fever appears to have taken over a large contingent of the fanbase, we do all still have to consider other options.

    Those of us who are against trading up for Griffin would emphatically encourage this. And those who are in favor still need to take a look at it, as at this point there is nothing even close to an official deal in place to trade up.

    Years of living in Cleveland should have taught us all that if it can go wrong, it will, so there absolutely has to be a contingency plan in place for when the Raiders end up outbidding the Browns for the No. 2 pick so they can draft a punter. 

    I'm kidding of course, but the point is that we cannot count our RG3s before they've hatched, so the Browns need a backup plan. Cleveland could be outbid, it could decide the price is too high, or someone could see a slight hitch in Grffin that makes the risk look too great.

    Regardless of what the hang-up might be, there is enough of a chance that there will be one that we need to make sure we're don't have Griffin tunnel vision.

    I like USC's Matt Kalil as an alternative. He's the only player who would be available at No. 4 who I think is both worth the draft slot and a sensible choice for Cleveland based on its needs.

    Griffin or no, the Browns need major help in fixing their offensive line or any quarterback they send out there will be running for his life on every play.

    I don't see WR Justin Blackmon as a smart choice at No.4 and RB Trent Richardson's stock is wavering, but the Browns could also trade back and take a lesser WR or OT or they could move for the best player on the board, which may wind up being CB Morris Claiborne at that point in the draft.

5. D'Qwelling Our Fears About the Linebacking Corps

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    Lost in the shuffle of all the RG3 rumor madness is a move so important that it should still be a headliner in its own right: The contract extension of LB D'Qwell Jackson.

    Jackson entered the offseason as an unrestricted free agent. He also entered it as the heart and soul of the Browns' defense—both its best player and its undisputed emotional leader.

    While it was pretty certain that Jackson wouldn't be leaving the Browns this winter, thanks to the option to franchise if a deal couldn't be reached, it was, prior to the new agreement, a serious concern that 2012 could be his last year in orange and brown. 

    But the Browns front office, quietly amid the combine chaos, put together a deal with Jackson that will keep him in Cleveland for five years at a cost of $42.5 million ($19 million guaranteed).

    This news, in addition to just being a fantastic turn of events in general, is relevant to the combine not just because it happened contemporaneously to it, but because it impacts some of the Browns' draft needs.

    First, it lessens the urgency of the team's needs at linebacker, and further lessens its need to spend a very early pick on a LB.

    Second, it makes accuracy that much more critical for the Browns in the draft at other positions. Reason being that money allocated to Jackson, while well-spent, is now tied up and cannot be paid out to, say, a free-agent wide receiver going forward.

    Make no mistake, the Browns still have some cash to spend before they hit the salary cap, and yes, they could potentially afford a solid FA wide receiver, but they can't make that kind of move if it eats up all their free capital, and they have less room to make an error on who they sign because the smaller budget allows less room for missing the mark.

    That means evaluating amateur talent correctly is at that much more of a premium for the Browns. With a large sum now tied up in Jackson, the pressure is on even more for them to get as much as they can out of the draft, making accurate evaluation at the combine absolutely critical.