The Cleveland Browns went into the 2012 NFL Draft needing another wide receiver with the talent to start on the outside across from Greg Little, but they had many other needs as well.
It was expected that the Browns would select one of two downfield receivers, Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill or South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffery, when they came up on the clock with the No. 37 overall selection in the 2012 NFL draft. Instead, they addressed their need of a right tackle by selecting California’s Mitchell Schwartz.
The Browns did eventually draft a wide receiver, Miami’s Travis Benjamin, in Round 4. Benjamin has tremendous speed and the potential to be a difference-maker, but he lacks the size, physicality and hands to be the outside threat that the Browns need.
However, the Browns may have found that player in Thursday’s supplemental draft, as they successfully used their second-round bid to acquire Baylor wide receiver Josh Gordon. As a result of the supplemental draft selection, the Browns forfeit their second-round pick for the 2013 NFL draft.
Gordon could turn out to be exactly what the Browns need at the position. He is a 6’3’’, 224-pound wideout with great athletic ability. As a sophomore in 2010, he proved to be a difficult matchup for opposing cornerbacks, using his size and speed to become an outside receiving playmaker.
A second-round pick, however, was too high for Gordon. He only contributed for one season at Baylor as a sophomore, before leaving the team last August following an indefinite suspension. Gordon, who had been arrested in October 2010 for marijuana possession, told John McClain of the Houston Chronicle that his suspension was due to a failed marijuana test last summer.
There is some definite level of risk with Gordon off the field, and he is a raw talent on the field. He needs to develop as a route-runner, and although he has great size and hands, he is better suited to track down passes ahead of him than above him, as he does not do a great job of leaping to the high-point a catch.
On one hand, the Browns were able to use the supplemental draft as an extension of their regular draft, and add a dynamic deep threat who could form a very tough tandem with Greg Little. If Gordon proves to be the downfield passing weapon that the Browns lack, they will be smart for making this choice.
That said, I believe the Browns would have been better off by just drafting Hill back in April. Hill dropped to the second round due to many of the same concerns surrounding Gordon, such as route-running and a lack of receptions, but he did lead the nation in yards per catch last season. Hill is stronger even in most of Gordon’s areas of strength, including speed, vertical ability and size.
Additionally, the Browns could really miss the draft selection they used to select Gordon come April. The Browns are still two or more years away from being a serious postseason contender, and in a division that includes three playoff teams, they will likely be selecting high in the draft order once again.
Gordon has as much upside as any wide receiver in the 2013 draft class, but there are many players at the position likely to grade out better, including California’s Keenan Allen, Tennessee’s Justin Hunter, USC’s Robert Woods and Elon’s Aaron Mellette. If Gordon becomes the playmaker the Browns need in their starting lineup, none of that will matter. However, if he fails to meet expectations, they will regret giving up a high draft pick in a class with many talented wideouts.
For a number of reasons, the gut reaction to the Browns making Gordon a second-round choice was very negative. However, part of that is due to the negative stigma attached to supplemental draft picks as, historically, they have rarely been selected highly or become players of significance. Gordon has the talent to be an exception.
While the Browns will miss their second-round selection in next year’s draft, there is also a strong possibility that they will have a playmaker who is already bringing them production well before next April rolls around. If that is the case, they will have much more certainty at the wide receiver position than by waiting to add another playmaker for 2013.
Given his risk and need to develop, the Browns should have waited until Round 3, especially considering he still would have been available, barring a surprise choice by the Buffalo Bills at the top of that round. The Browns had the second spot in the supplemental draft order, and according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, they were the only team to place a second-round bid on him.
Even though this move allows the Browns to use a 2013 draft pick to help them for the 2012 season, this selection is unlikely to make them a contender next year. Therefore, the success or failure of this selection will depend upon Gordon’s long-term impact in comparison to receivers drafted in the 2013 second round, and not upon his rookie production.
Nonetheless, the Browns decided that the potential reward that a high-upside receiver like Gordon can bring to their team is worth the risk that comes with giving up next year’s second-round draft pick. It is a move that should not have happened as early in the supplemental draft as it did, but if the Browns are going to become a contender in the NFL’s strongest division, some risk is necessary to get there.
There is a strong likelihood that the Browns will regret this selection, and they may have been smartest by just drafting Hill or Jeffery back in April, but given their need for another playmaker in the passing offense, the rationale makes sense.
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