It's another championship Sunday in the NFL. And, like almost every championship Sunday, I'm wearing a Browns jersey (this year, it's Brady Quinn) and remaining hopeful for the future. I intend to go through the same routine in a couple weeks.
Like many of you, I would rather choose death over rooting for either Baltimore or Pittsburgh, so I thought it'd be worth while to discuss the next important hurdle in fixing another Browns disaster; the 2009 NFL Draft.
I've Googled my fair share of NFL Mock Drafts, and so far there are some positives, but a notable amount of negatives. With our next coaching staff in tow, I thought I'd offer the newbies a few pieces of draft advice so they can start their Cleveland tenure on the right foot. With so much doubt already surrounding Eric Mangini, it'd be tragic if he started his Browns career with an awful draft.
Defense, Defense, and More Defense
The Cleveland Browns glaring weakness is the same as it was last year; our Swiss cheese defense couldn't strike fear into a troop of girl scouts. Shaun Rogers is a start, and corners Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald hopefully got their inexperience out of the way, but there's still a load of work to be done.
The biggest area of weakness, linebackers, should be addressed with the early picks, especially if Mangini insists on keeping the 3-4 defense. With zero depth at the most important aspect of a 3-4 defense, this suggestion is so obvious that the only thing left to do is to fear the Browns ignoring it.
The good news is this year's draft squad is pretty stacked at the linebacker position. If you ask me, the two biggest names to go after are Wake Forest's Aaron Curry or USC stalwart Rey Maualuga.
There's a lot to like about Aaron Curry. He's got both the size and speed necessary to be a dominant pass rusher, while also being a solid run stopper. And with his ability to tackle effectively, he could give more than a few lessons to the majority of our defense.
A huge upside to Curry is his durability. Curry started for three straight years and never once missed a game due to injury. So, instead of watching Courtney Brown's annual season-ending injury routine, Browns fans could actually see a defensive draft pick show up consistently on game day.
Maualuga doesn't really present much of a downside either. The USC All-American and Chuck Bednarik Award winner is being compared by many scouts to Troy Polamalu. Even though Polamalu is a Steeler, Browns fans should put their hatred aside and realize how badly our team needs a hard-nosed, aggressive player like him, and Maualuga could be just that.
Picking either of these two with our first-round selection would be the best way to go, but it can't stop there. The Browns should take as many defensive picks as they can, so as to build depth and slowly, but surely create a talented defensive squad. Perhaps even bringing in a new generation and drafting Clay Matthews III with a late round pick to see if he can pick up where his father left off might be a novel idea.
Be Wary of Drafting from Ohio State
Let me first state that I, myself, am an Ohio State fan, and I'm still healing from watching Colt McCoy do his best John Elway impression to hand the Buckeyes yet another BCS loss. Be that as it may, I'm incredibly hesitant about the idea of drafting some of the big names from OSU this April.
I saw one mock draft which had the Browns selecting running back Chris "Beanie" Wells with their first pick. This is a very bad idea.
Look, I loved watching Wells torch Michigan year after year, but he comes with more than a few areas of concern. He is very injury prone, and has stated he is still not quite 100% healed from his foot injury suffered earlier this season. Being in the Big Ten Conference also shows he wasn't going up against the toughest defenses college football had to offer.
But my biggest qualm with taking Wells first is the hesitation I get when thinking, "Would drafting Chris Wells be the best thing we could do with a top five draft pick?" The answer is no, because there are much bigger holes to deal with. Worst case scenario, Jamal Lewis shares carries with Jerome Harrison and slowly tutors him into becoming a starting back.
Other than Wells, I'm also hesitant about bringing home linebacker James Laurinaitis. He's incredibly tough and has a motor that never seems to stop, but he doesn't seem to have the size of your ideal inside linebacker. With this position being the biggest need, we can ill-afford to go awry by drafting the wrong players.
The only player from Ohio State I'd draft with the first pick would be cornerback Malcom Jenkins. Jenkins was a standout this year for the Buckeyes, and looks as if he could be a solid pro in the NFL. If Wright and McDonald have better seasons in 2009, Jenkins would add some talented depth and the Browns could ship Terry Cousin back to whatever nursing home they picked him up from.
If You're Going to Draft Offensively, Grab a Running Back
Yes, I already said not to draft Beanie Wells or any running back in the first round. However, it is an area I'd consider in later rounds.
Jamal Lewis doesn't have too much time left as a starting halfback. And while Jerome Harrison earned the 2008 All-Unappreciated Award, he still lacks the size to be an inside rusher.
Coach Mangini has been known to try and build a team through the draft, so it wouldn't be terribly surprising if he does some draft day wheeling and dealing. With tradable assets like Kellen Winslow and Derek Anderson, Mangini might already be planning draft moves.
Running backs I'd consider worthy of a draft pick trade would be Pittsburgh's LeSean McCoy or Georgia's Knowshon Moreno. Both are incredibly fast and athletic, and each could eventually be a solid NFL back.
Other possible offensive picks could be a good right tackle (Kevin Shaffer was severely abused this year) or maybe a decent receiver. This isn't a big need, but Braylon Edwards was sketchy last year, Joe Jurevicius is rebounding from about 80 knee surgeries, and Donte Stallworth is...well, nobody really knows where he is.
Overall, Draft Smart
I wasn't a terribly big fan of Phil Savage, but he handled the 2007 Draft like a pro. This was because he didn't go after the "sexy" pick, but instead made the smart picks.
Brady Quinn went from Cleveland's worst enemy to the heralded future of the team in the span of three hours that day. Nobody wanted him with the third overall pick, and Savage avoided the big name and went with the least sexy pick of all first-rounders; the offensive lineman.
However, after Savage grabbed a franchise left tackle in Joe Thomas, he realized Quinn was still available, got on the horn, then made a deal with Dallas that brought Brady home. And the peasants rejoiced.
The lesson here is to do what's best for the team. This may seem easy enough, but with all the big names floating around, it's tough to follow.
All the Mangini Crew has to do is fill the right holes with the right people so as to make the Cleveland Browns a talented team again.
Oh, and he should also avoid any player who calls himself "Big Money." We've struggled in that department.