2012 NFL Draft: Cleveland Browns, Missing Pieces and the Robert Griffin III Saga

Brian StepanekCorrespondent IIMarch 6, 2012

2012 NFL Draft: Cleveland Browns, Missing Pieces and the Robert Griffin III Saga

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    "Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success."

    -Henry Ford

    Part III in a Five-Part Series

    Perhaps the hype surrounding Robert Griffin III accumulated partially in conjunction with Cam Newton's astoundingly successful rookie campaign with the Carolina Panthers. Let's look at some of the pieces surrounding Newton:

    Steve Smith, 79 catches, 1,394 yards, 7 TDs
    DeAngelo Williams, 836 rush yards, 7 TDs
    Jonathan Stewart, 765 rush yards, 5 TDs

    Can the Browns identify a 1,300+ yard receiver, ready to go for RGIII? Or for that matter, the necessary personnel to constitute a 1,500+ yard rushing attack?

    If the Browns drafted Robert Griffin III, it would take a rookie campaign of historical proportions to propel the Browns even to a 6-10 record in 2012.

    You can follow Brian on Twitter @StepanekButton

    Part I: Colt McCoy and the Bernie Kosar Complex

    Part II: Colt McCoy vs. Notable QB's in Their First 16 Starts

    Part IV: The AFC North and the Case for Robert Griffin III

    Part V: The Browns' Recipe for AFC North Success 

Only Run-Stoppers Win the AFC North

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    AFC North Division Champions since 2002, and their rank in total and run defense, relative to the NFL:

    2011 - Pittsburgh Steelers, 1st Total, 8th Run
    2010 - Baltimore Ravens, 3rd Total, 3rd Run
    2009 - Cincinnati Bengals, 6th Total, 7th Run
    2008 - Pittsburgh Steelers, 1st Total, 5th Run
    2007 - Pittsburgh Steelers, 2nd Total, 2nd Run
    2006 - Baltimore Ravens, 1st Total, 2nd Run
    2005 - Pittsburgh Steelers, 3rd Total, 5th Run
    2004 - Pittsburgh Steelers, 1st Total, 2nd Run
    2003 - Baltimore Ravens, 6th Total, 14th Run
    2002 - Pittsburgh Steelers, 7th Total, 1st Run

    As you can see here, not only is every team but one named, "Pittsburgh" or "Baltimore," but also, every team but one placed in the top 10 in both total defense and rushing defense in their respective championship seasons.

    I present to you the variable differentiating the Browns as pretenders in a division of contenders: until the Browns can run the ball effectively and stop the rush with consistent ferocity, our ceiling will remain a 10-6, 9-7 Wild Card, Cinderella season. 

Wide Receiver (Greg Little, Mohammed Massaquoi, Joshua Cribbs)

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    Necessity:
    If we were the Steelers? Severe. Since we've got other issues, Moderate.
    Now is when I say to all the Browns fans who watch too much ESPN: "nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, I told you Greg Little hadn't played a snap in two years and would take 10-12 games to shake off the rust."

    Little still may develop into a No. 1 threat. Which would leave the Browns with...one, very double-teamable threat at WR.

    The Browns gave Massaquoi more than adequate opportunity to earn his spot.

    Robiskie actually looked nice when thrown to at the end of 2010. Massaquoi, on the other hand, has gotten open about three times in as many seasons. 

    Draft Targets:
    Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State (4th Pick, 1st Round)
    Alshon Jeffrey, South Carolina (22nd Pick, 1st Round)
    Michael Floyd, Notre Dame (22nd Pick, 1st Round)
    Kendall Wright, Baylor (2nd Round)
    Rueben Randle, Louisiana State (2nd Round)
    Dwight Jones, North Carolina (2nd or 3rd Round)

    Free Agency Targets:
    Laurent Robinson, DAL
    Mario Manningham, NYG

Running Back (P. Hillis, M. Hardesty, C. Ogbonnaya, B. Jackson)

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    Necessity:
    Severe. Even if the Browns re-sign Hillis, using him as an every-down tool will take entire years off what could still be a very productive career. Ogbonnaya showed flashes of potential; Hardesty and Jackson must remain healthy if they're to keep their roster spots.

    In-House Candidates:
    Peyton Hillis, Brandon Jackson, Montario Hardesty, Chris Ogbonnaya

    Draft Targets:
    Trent Richardson, Alabama (4th Pick, 1st Round)
    David Wilson, Virginia Tech (2nd Round)
    Lamar Miller, Miami (2nd Round)
    Chris Polk, Washington (3rd Round)

    Free Agency Targets: 
    BenJarvus Green-Ellis, NE
    Michael Bush, OAK 

Significant Improvement to Rushing Game

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    Rushing Yards Absolve Sins:

    The Houston Texans and Denver Broncos both made it all the way to the AFC Divisional Playoff with QB's they weren't starting on opening day. Why? They ranked second and first in the NFL in rushing, respectively.

     

Right Tackle (Tony Pashos)

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    Necessity:
    Severe. I use "severe," in this case with consideration to the very thin free-agent market at this slot. (This is why I hope they trade down, both picks.) I feel like I'm being melodramatic with all these holes, but this substantially contributes to my point that an RG III era in Cleveland would be doomed from the start.

    We have one legend at offensive line in Joe Thomas, and a serviceable starter, maybe more, in Alex Mack. Other than that, to describe the Browns' offensive line as a "work in progress," even feels generous.

    Draft Targets:
    Mike Adams, Ohio State (22nd Pick, 1st Round)
    Zebrie Sanders, Florida State (2nd Round)
    Bobby Massie, Ole Miss (2nd or 3rd Round)

    Free-Agent Targets:
    Jared Gaither, SD 

Weak-Side Linebacker (Scott Fujita)

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    Necessity:
    Moderate. Fujita is one of the Browns' most reliable pros when healthy. At best, this upgrade could resemble the kind of on-the-fly rebuilding done in Pittsburgh and Baltimore: with a productive, wily veteran molding a young, raw successor.

    At its worst, however, this transition will almost certainly end with Fujita going down to injury and some guy we didn't plan on starting at linebacker.

    In-House Candidates:
    Kaluka Maiava

    Draft Targets:
    Dont'a Hightower, Alabama (22nd Pick, 1st Round)
    Bobby Wagner, Utah State (2nd or 3rd Round)

    Free-Agency Targets:
    Curtis Lofton, ATL
    Dan Connor, CAR 

Left Guard (Jason Pinkston, Eric Steinbach)

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    Necessity:
    Severe. Pinkston remains unproven; he could still develop, but the Browns should hedge their bets. Oniel Cousins and Artis Hicks impersonated sieves as well as anyone, when they got the chance.

    Eric Steinbach will in the best-case scenario provide the Browns with two more quality seasons, but realistically it's time to focus on rebuilding around the ball in Berea. 

    Luckily for the Browns, someone else will enjoy the privilege of their services next season. That means even if Pinkston turns out to be the next Nate Newton, we still need some depth.

    Draft Targets:
    David DeCastro, Stanford (22nd Pick, 1st Round)
    Cordy Glenn, Georgia (2nd Round)
    Brandon Washington, Miami (2nd Round)

    Free-Agency Targets: 
    Carl Nicks, NO
    Ben Grubbs, BAL 

Cornerback (Sheldon Brown)

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    Necessity:
    Mild. The Browns could potentially get a few more very productive seasons out of Sheldon Brown, who's been an unmitigated success in combination with Joe Haden. The Browns could still use a young flex talent in the defensive backfield; where's Anthony Henry when we need him?

    Draft Targets:
    Morris Claiborne, Louisiana State (4th Pick, 1st Round)
    Dre' Kirkpatrick, Alabama (22nd Pick, 1st Round)
    Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina (2nd Round)
    Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech (2nd Round)

    Free-Agency Targets:
     
    Brandon Carr, KC
    Cortland Finnegan, TEN 

Right Guard (Shawn Lauvao, Eric Steinbach)

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    Necessity:
    Moderate. Shawn Lauvao flashed some nice run-blocking potential in 2011, and could be a fit for the future. That said, the Browns could draft two guards in 2012 and still find themselves looking for two permanent solutions in 2013.

    Draft Targets:
    David DeCastro, Stanford (22nd Pick, 1st Round)
    Cordy Glenn, Georgia (2nd Round)
    Brandon Washington, Miami (2nd Round)

    Free-Agency Targets:
    Carl Nicks, NO
    Ben Grubbs, BAL  

Defensive End (Jayme Mitchell)

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    Necessity:
    Severe. In a division where the champion almost always stops the run better than anyone in the NFL, any defensive-line deficiency will prevent a first- or second-place finish, regardless of the pieces on offense.

    Draft Targets:
    Melvin Ingram, South Carolina (22nd Pick, 1st Round)
    Courtney Upshaw, Alabama (22nd Pick, 1st Round)
    Whitney Mercilus, Illinois (2nd Round)
    Nick Perry, Southern Cal (2nd Round)

    Free-Agency Targets:
    Mario Williams, HOU
    Michael Bennett, TB (RFA)
    Matt Roth, JAX 

Passing Remains Essential

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    On Conference Championship weekend, only the Baltimore Ravens couldn't boast of a top 5 passing attack. None of the top 10 passing offenses in 2011 achieved their status with a new quarterback, with the possible exception of Michael Vick in Philadelphia.