The Cleveland Browns' Long Road Back

Samuel IngroAnalyst IApril 20, 2009

Whoever said that you can't go from last to first in an offseason apparently didn't watch the 2008 regular season. Will Cleveland follow suit after teams like Atlanta and Miami?

Coming off the 2007 season, expectations were running high after barely missing the playoffs with a 10-6 record. While the offseason may have excited a lot of fans with high-profile pickups like Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams, a quick look back at the painful journey that was the 2008 season for the Cleveland Browns shows the drastic need to look elsewhere.

Quality teams build through the NFL Draft; relying on free agency is only a quick, temporary fix. We need merely to look next door to our division rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers and glance down to Baltimore to see that a young and hungry team will beat a team of high paid veterans nine times out of 10.

Injecting youthful talent and drive into the starting lines is the only real way to build a successful franchise.

That is what the new team of Eric Mangini and George Kokinis has promised to do. They've avoided the temptations to sign veteran journeymen in a false attempt to bolster the lineup, and it brings the Browns down to a make or break draft day.

The needs of the team may not be as drastic as last season made it out to be. It may have only been the decisions of Romeo Crennel that held the team back. His reluctance to look to the younger players in favor of supposedly proven players was a doomed idea from the start.

This season hopefully will see the emergence of our former draft pick out of UNLV, "headhunter" LB Beau Bell, and Missouri's Heisman candidate TE Martin Rucker.

The departure of third string running back Jason Wright in free agency, along with flashes of greatness last year, amazing quickness, and a 7.2 yard per carry average last year find the way too seldom used running back Jerome Harrison looking at a breakout year behind Jamal Lewis.

After adding depth to the lineup in the offseason, our attention turns to the 2009 NFL Draft.

Focusing on the first three picks, starting with the first round and the No. 5 pick, and assuming no trades are made, brings the attention to the defensive line. In a division such as the AFC North, with defensive powerhouses Pittsburgh and Baltimore, locking down the 3-4 line is the only way to compete.

Enter DE/LB Brian Orakpo of the Texas Longhorns. A pass rushing specialist and weight room warrior, Orakpo ranked sixth in the nation in sacks and would solidify the line of Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams. Giving the Browns the much needed pressure on the opposing quarterback will make the young and sometimes disastrous secondary's jobs that much easier.

With the fear that Curry will go third to the Kansas City Chiefs, Orakpo going fourth to the Seattle Seahawks, and the trade talks and impending free agency of Edwards, it should come as no surprise if the Browns end up taking the best player available, WR Michael Crabtree, adding some stability and sure-handedness to the receiver core.

With the No. 36 pick, the Browns may look to help out the linebacker squad of D'Qwell Jackson and newly signed Eric Barton, with the quick explosive OLB/DE out of Cincinnati, Connor Barwin. Barwin has all the tools to become a star on the NFL level after making the transition to the defensive side of the ball with the Bearcats. His 6'4" frame and 252-pound size makes him a formidable threat to the opposition.

No. 50 gets interesting. An aging running back in Jamal Lewis, along with declining production brings the need for a future franchise running back to Cleveland. In a stacked running back class this draft, it's entirely possible to find a steal with the No. 50 pick.

While for most teams age is a huge concern, 24-year-old powerhouse running back Shonn Greene should be an easy pickup for the hard work and maturity loving head coach Eric Mangini. In 2008, Greene came out of nowhere at Iowa, breaking for 100 yards in every game with his low center of gravity and being seemingly impossible to bring down.

Trades always bring chaos to draft predictions. With the talk of trading QB Brady Quinn and WR Braylon Edwards, only the boys in Berea know what may happen. Remember the quick turnarounds of Atlanta and Miami last season? Just sit back, Browns fans, and enjoy the ride.