2012 NFL Draft: Is Justin Blackmon the Backup Plan for the Cleveland Browns?

Brian MurtaughAnalyst IApril 25, 2012

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 02:  Justin Blackmon #81 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys runs for yards after the catch against the Stanford Cardinal during the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on January 2, 2012 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

As the 2012 NFL draft rumors continue to heat up, the Cleveland Browns seem to be stuck waiting on what will transpire with the Minnesota Vikings and the third overall pick. Minnesota is reportedly deep in trade talks with several organizations and teams looking to move up are likely targeting the same player Cleveland has coveted for the past few weeks: Trent Richardson.

Tom Heckert reported that the Browns have decided on whom they will choose with the fourth overall pick and that the team had a second player in mind if their top option was off the board. Many experts assume that top option was Richardson and that the Browns' second option was between Justin Blackmon and Morris Claiborne.

Blackmon would fill an immediate need for the Browns next season and would clearly be an upgrade on a receiving corps that led the NFL in dropped passes last season. Wide receiver is arguably the biggest need on the Browns roster (other than running back) and the Browns have not been shy on the fact that they will upgrade the position this weekend.

On the other hand, Claiborne would be a bit of a luxury for the Browns as they could bolster a pass defense that was already ranked second in the league in 2011. Cleveland already has a budding star in Joe Haden and a seasoned veteran in Sheldon Brown roaming the backfield, but the current state of the NFL requires teams to have a deep roster of players in the secondary.

It all depends on how Cleveland has these players ranked on its big board heading into draft weekend. If Richardson should happen to be drafted with the third pick, Cleveland will have to decide to select a player or move down with a team that could be pursuing Blackmon, Claiborne, Matt Kalil or Ryan Tannehill.

Blackmon seems like he should be the Browns' second option if Richardson is off the board. Cleveland decided not to pursue two of the best receivers in the 2011 NFL draft and opted to trade down late in the first round with the Atlanta Falcons. Those two receivers, A.J. Green and Julio Jones, could have considerably improved the Browns offense in 2011 and helped Colt McCoy develop into a better quarterback for the future.

Blackmon and Michael Floyd are considered to be as close to elite receivers as there are in this draft class, and Cleveland has lacked production at the position for the past four seasons.

Some scouts say Blackmon lacks the elite speed at the next level but uses his strength and route-running ability to always get the extra step on defenders. Whether those skills can help him at the next level remains to be seen, but the comparisons to NFL receivers Dez Bryant and Larry Fitzgerald are enough to get almost every team with a top-10 pick interested in his services.

If the Browns were to choose Blackmon, they would likely select a running back with either the 22nd or 37th overall pick in the draft. Analysts seem to agree there is a significant drop between the talents of Richardson and any other running back that may be selected late in the first day. It is important to remember Cleveland has enough depth at the position to have a running back-by-committee approach and used that philosophy while Peyton Hillis was injured last season.

Only time will tell whether or not the Vikings will trade out of the third overall pick and send the Browns scrambling at the beginning of the first round. Fans will be waiting impatiently hoping the Browns finally make the moves that can send Cleveland back where it belongs: the top of the NFL.