Exploring Every Team Need the Cleveland Browns Must Address in 2012 NFL Draft

Barbara BrunoContributor IIMarch 25, 2012

Exploring Every Team Need the Cleveland Browns Must Address in 2012 NFL Draft

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    Decoding the inscrutable Cleveland Browns’ offseason strategy requires a reliance on the belief that Randy Lerner, Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert actually want to win. 

    Winston Churchill relied upon this principle when asked about the Soviet Union’s international intentions:

    "It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest."

    Yeah, and it took another 50 years for the Iron Curtain to fall.

    Assuming Browns fans don’t want to wait that long, where does Cleveland go after a defensively mediocre and offensively absent free agency period? Going back to that winning desire?

    What the Browns must gain on that magical week in April is a minimum of three offensive starters. Any other scenario signals yet another “better luck next year” season.

Running Back: Trent Richardson Anyone?

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    Although fully on record as being a Chris Ogbonnaya fan (I even learned how to spell his name without having to keep looking it up), let’s get real. The Browns’ passing game is, at best, going to be a work in progress.

    Cleveland absolutely must draft a starting every-down back. Preferably someone who can pound the rock 25 times per game—from September to New Year’s. Um, is Emmitt Smith circa 1995 available? No?

    Then it’s probably going to be Alabama’s Trent Richardson. Universally the top-rated rookie RB, Richardson is a thick-bodied young man who can run the 40-yard dash in around 4.5 seconds.

    Despite the minor knee procedure in February, he is still expected to be the first runner off the board. As an added bonus, Richardson has some pass-catching ability, though no one is going to confuse him with Marshall Faulk at this juncture.

    He’ll almost certainly be available at No. 4 unless someone in Minnesota loses their collective tiny mind and passes up offensive lineman Matt Kalil. And Morris Claiborne.

    Cleveland must currently be mulling over the possibility of trading the fourth pick to Tampa Bay, who has interest in Richardson to round out its recent spending spree. Or it might entertain bids for whichever of Kalil or Claiborne is still undrafted. Gentlemen, start your draft clocks.

    Whether the Browns wish to pick up this essential rushing component so high or take a rusher later is the only real question. Will they follow the new tradition of not over-paying for a runner with a short professional lifespan?

    If so, the Browns may well try to snag one of the following:

    David Wilson (Virginia Tech): In one year as a college starter, Wilson averaged 5.9 yards per carry and ended up as the ACC Player of the Year. He ran a 4.40-second 40 at the combine and has proven to be a decent receiver with 22 receptions last season. 

    Doug Martin (Boise State): Deceptively powerful and elusive.

    Lamar Miller (Miami): Over 1,200 yards and nine scores running, with another TD receiving. He is probably big enough to take a pounding while still being fast with a 4.38-second 40 time and good moves on the field. 

    Or there is LaMichael James (Oregon), who has the real speed of the bunch (4.37-second 40 with a 1.60 split). But he is more of a third-down option, who probably can’t take the pounding needed right now in Cleveland.

    If the Browns do not draft Richardson with the fourth pick, they will probably wait until the lower rounds to grab a running back. Unless they reach for Wilson at No. 22 or No. 37.

    Finally, there is the draft-three-and-hope-one-is-the-next-Peyton-Hillis theory. Whatever. As long as it includes some big young guys with powerful legs, fans will be relieved.

Wide Receivers: Justin Blackmon? Stephen Hill? Both?

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    Take two and call me in June. One would think that the Browns would try to snag a high-profile “sure winner” in the first round. Mike Holmgren’s legendary status as a West Coast offense guru would even lead one to expect that the Browns will take a wide receiver before they deal with the running game—Cleveland winter weather be damned.

    Don’t you just know that Colt McCoy had a serious case of ball-catcher envy every time he looked at A.J. Green? McCoy may or may not be as good as Andy Dalton, but Green is sure-as-heck better than Mohamed Massaquoi.

    Is it safe to say that every football fan in America knows the Browns have to collectively upgrade their WRing corps? Opposing DBs were blanketing so thoroughly that half of the time you couldn’t see the name on the Cleveland jersey.

    Browns fans probably don’t care which of the top wide receivers land in Cleveland:

    Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State. Aside from a truly ill advised haircut, Blackmon is everyone’s No. 1 wide receiver this year. Despite not running at the combine due to a sore hamstring, Justin has been a consistent top-tier college receiver for the past two years. Which is not a bad accomplishment for someone who is finishing his junior year. He is the first player other than a QB to win the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year in 12 seasons. This kid will not make it out of the top 10 draft picks, so if the Browns want him, they have to take him first.

    Michael Floyd (Notre Dame) and Kendall Wright (Baylor) follow on most “Top WR” lists. Floyd will probably go first since he is 6’3” and Wright is 5’10.” Let’s face it; Cleveland could use them both.

    Juniors Reuben Randle (LSU) and Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill would be next and possibly available at No. 22. However, Hill is getting a lot of buzz these days, so he may well go solidly in the middle of the first round. That’s what happens when you take everyone’s breath away at the combine.

    Can we stop saying that the combine isn’t a huge part of this process? It’s the audition version of “What have you done for me lately?” Hill has stretch-the-field speed for days—something for which most Cleveland fans would give anything except their season tickets.

    Randle helped himself with an excellent pro day workout, according to the NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks. Great hands, good speed and excellent route running will get him drafted by at least the second round.  

    However, pulling a hamstring could throw a red flag for Randle as well as Blackmon. Teams tend to turn a blind eye, but they can’t catch balls if they are constantly on the bike.

    As with running back, if money permits, the Browns need to take a probable star and load up on some solid maybes.

    The running game may hypothetically be the “quarterback’s best friend,” but Colt McCoy won’t complete anything if he can’t see the brown jerseys for the DBs.

Offensive Line: Wanted—Big Men with Quick Feet

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    McCoy also won’t complete anything if he can’t throw from the standing position. Fans may cringe more over a Colt sack due to his cherubic looks, but Ben Roethlisberger couldn’t take the pounding McCoy has endured since he rose to the starting job.

    The right side of the line has been so famously fragile that defenses didn’t even have to try rushing from the other side. Why take on Joe Thomas when you could simply collapse the right guard and right tackle directly into No. 12’s face? How sophisticated does the defensive game plan need to be, for Pete’s sake?

    Cleveland fans need to find the RT version of Thomas in this draft. That person may not be obviously available in the current crop, but Browns fans had better hope Holmgren and Heckert have been doing a ton of due diligence when it comes to this position.

    Matt Kalil will probably not be available and he’s a left tackle anyway.

    Mike Adams (Ohio State) is a good athlete who needs some technical work.

    Jonathan Martin (Stanford) has the advantage of both height and smarts.

    Riley Reiff (Iowa) has risen to the No. 2 slot on many mock draft boards after impressive performances in February and March. He credits wrestling experience with giving him good hand technique. Plus, he comes out of Iowa, fast building a rep as “O-lineman U.”

    At guard, the consensus seems to be David DeCastro, also of Stanford. Gee, it’s starting to look as if Andrew Luck had some help. Some even think DeCastro can start from the gate, contributing immediately as a run blocker. Are you paying attention, Mr. Heckert?

    Georgia’s Cordy Glenn is also a tenacious run blocker. See earlier slide on the obligatory running back pick(s). Did I mention that he’s 6’5” and 348 pounds? He’s also not half bad in pass protection, though it’s not his strongest suit due to lack of quickness off the snap.

    Some Browns faithful are still hoping that the team will re-sign guard Eric Steinbach. He was released after missing all of last season with a back injury that required surgery. Yikes. Whether this is

    a) even a good idea

    b) any more than just a rumor or

    c) truly wishful thinking about a popular player who has contributed significantly to the community

    remains to be seen.

    The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Mary Kay Cabot doesn’t think it’s going to happen—and she would know better than any other media source. 

    Bill Parcells may be the last executive ever to pick an offensive lineman with the No. 1 selection, but there is a reason that he, Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin have multiple Super Bowl wins. And that reason goes far beyond franchise quarterbacks. It reflects their unwavering commitment to stout, cohesive and consistent offensive lines. Ask Eli Manning

Quarterback: Colt McCoy or the QB De Jour?

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    Maybe Colt McCoy could start the NFL support group for “Plan B” quarterbacks. He could take Alex Smith, Matt Hasselbeck and Kevin Kolb on a retreat where they resurrect their self-esteem and stoke the “I’ll prove you wrong” fires.

    Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow could come in for couples' therapy.

    According to Mike Holmgren, Cleveland was “aggressively involved” in throwing draft picks at St. Louis in order to move up and snag Robert Griffin III.

    It even took the former coach several days to come out in lukewarm support of his existing QB:

    "I’m not down on Colt McCoy at all. But I will always—and as long as I’m in a position like this—we are always going to look for quarterbacks. Make that pile a little bit bigger." 

    Gee, don’t strain a praise muscle, there, Mike. I'm sure Colt is positively thrilled to be atop your quarterback "pile."

    I wonder if this sounds familiar to Tim Tebow. And we know how that ended up.

    Will Plan B become Plan C (or would that be Plan A, Part Deux?) if Heckert drafts either Ryan Tannehill or Brandon Weeden? 

    If the Browns reach for Ryan Tannehill early, they might as well put up a billboard (since there’s a lot of that going around these days): “Colt—it’s just a matter of time.”

    Tannehill has a whopping 19 college starts. Well, Mark Sanchez only had 16 and that turned out…well, maybe that’s not the best example.

    For a young man who was considered a potential fourth-round pick going into the 2011 college season, Tannehill's rise has been nothing short of meteoric. By midseason, he was being projected in the second round and now he is being discussed as the fourth overall pick in the entire draft. 

    He did throw for 5,000 yards in less than two seasons and completed 67 percent of his passes. Like McCoy, he suffers a bit in long-ball accuracy. His experience as a wide receiver is testament to his athletic talent, but surely no one is thinking that he is anything other than a project. Surely.

    Brandon Weeden is the old man of the draft at age 28. He, too, is a versatile athlete who had been playing baseball before returning to college. His maturity was on national display in the all-star games and at the combine.

    If he fell to the Browns later in the draft, McCoy might be able to believe that the team views him as the starter, with Weeden as the nearly-perfect second-string passer.

    Ah, but Holmgren’s best buddy, Seneca Wallace, not only has the backup job sewed up—he still wants to start.  Hmmm.

    Somewhat lost in the annual QB hype is Kirk Cousins. One of the only quarterback prospects who was enough of a risk-taker to throw at the combine, he also scripted his own plays for his pro day.

    The Michigan State product shone in Indy, but had more mixed results in his workout. Coaches were impressed with his script and his deep throws/ball speed, but generally concluded that accuracy was of concern.

    However, Mr. Cousins was seen having dinner with Mr. Mike Tomlin of Pittsburgh. Heck, the Browns should take the kid just to keep him away from the Steelers.  

    Or perhaps Holmgren is lusting after USC’s Matt Barkley, who will not enter the draft for a year. Great, we could have this whole conversation again next March. I’ll save this slide.

Special Teams: My Kingdom for a Punter! Well, Not Really.

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    Will Reggie Hodges be healthy enough to be the Browns’ punter in 2012? Since Cleveland released Richmond McGee and hasn’t re-signed Brad Maynard—one hopes so. Not that the Browns would draft a punter anyway (at least not without risking universal wrath), but they might be looking for a Punter Plan B.

    Place kicker is set now that Phil Dawson has signed his franchise tag contract.

    But, (no hate mail please) Joshua Cribbs certainly seemed to have lost the magic touch in the return game. So, one of those four wide receivers the Browns are undoubtedly going to draft should double as a return specialist.

To Claiborne or Not to Claiborne?

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    This is where Cleveland fans hope that the “rebuilding” term will help the team not do something insane—like taking a cornerback with their first draft selection.

    That works when you are the Green Bay Packers. Not when your last season finished at 4-12. Just a friendly reminder of the status quo.

    Yes, Morris Claiborne is one of the top five athletes in this draft, period. Yes, putting him opposite previous draft gem Joe Haden would give the Browns two top-drawer corners for a long time.

    Yes, he broke 4.4 in the 40 and has so much talent that he is in this position after only switching to CB in 2009. (Wow, by the way.)

    But just in case you didn’t read any of the other slides in this article, the Browns need offense. Lots and lots of offense.

    So, the only thing about Morris Claiborne that needs to affect Holmgren and Heckert is whether or not the Minnesota Vikings pick him at No. 3. If they don’t, the Browns will be in position to trade down and stack up some more draft picks.

    And that would be a great idea.

    There’s a lot of talk about Claiborne’s left wrist surgery.  Pshaw. If it’s not below the waist, it doesn’t matter. If he could catch, he’d still be a wide receiver.

The Rest of the Defense

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    The most dynamic move Cleveland has made since free agency began was cutting DE Jayme Mitchell. Isn’t that a sad statement?

    While this decisive action was both warranted and showed some strength of will, the team still needs a pass rusher on that side of the D-line. Juqua Parker will certainly help, but defensive lines function on depth—especially when you’re chasing Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco around twice a year.

    Frostee Rucker will be a great addition in run defense and locking up LB D’Qwell Jackson and DB Dimitri Patterson were both good moves.

    With Jackson around, the only true linebacking question will be whatever punishment Scott Fujita will suffer as a result of the Bountygate scandal.

    The Browns sported the second best pass defense in the National Football League in 2011. It was, alas, the one area of shining success.

    The team let Mike Adams get away to the Denver Broncos. There were 39 safeties on nfl.com’s list of free agents. Cleveland has thus far signed none of them.

    Notre Dame’s Harrison Smith and Oklahoma State’s Markelle Martin are second/third-round projections who might help the team.  

    If the team really does have Sheldon Brown play safety, Patterson will be playing cornerback opposite Joe Haden. That’s not a bad combo, though Patterson has fared better at the nickel spot. Young Buster Skrine showed some promise in 2011, but that does not mean that the Browns won’t be tempted at the corner spot.

    CB Claiborne has currency value. In addition, with Dre Kirkpatrick struggling at the combine and contender Janoris Jenkins not staying out of trouble, Browns supporters should hope that the team will steer clear of cornerbacks entirely in the first round.

    South Carolina’s Stephen Gilmore and Virginia Tech’s Jayron Hosley could be great values in round two. That is, if Holmgren doesn’t stick with the “All Offense” plan. Well, that should be his plan, anyway.

    An unnamed writer at Cleveland.com wrote: “With so many holes to fill on the roster, the Browns can't go wrong with their No. 4 in the upcoming NFL draft.” 

    If I were that blithely optimistic and writing for the Browns, I wouldn’t give my name either. Of course they can go wrong.

    "Those who [ignore] history are destined to repeat it." From one British statesman to another, Edmund Burke’s words apply without question to the Cleveland Browns’ upcoming tactics.

    Are the Browns building through the draft? Well, now they are, for sure. So, forget the bricks, boys—go after some main beams!

    Check out my commentary in The Huffington Post: Tim Tebow—Taking Care of Business.