The Cleveland Browns: So Many Needs, But Which Player To Pick?

Chip MinnichCorrespondent IJanuary 26, 2017

The NFL Draft will officially commence at 4pm EST on April 25th. Unless there are a rush of selections beginning at 4pm, the Cleveland Browns should be on the clock for their selection sometime around or after 4:40pm or so. With ten minutes per selection, this is what I would do if given the opportunity to make the selection for the Browns

1. Trade down: This is always my prerogative in any draft, regardless of where I would be picking. My rationale is very simple ~ if you want to catch more fish, you should always use a bigger net. The NFL Draft is purely a speculative exercise on predicting the success rate of college football players at the professional level – nothing more.

To give you some examples of how well trading down can benefit a team, read through this article by Peter King on the late Bill Walsh on the 1986 NFL Draft. The article is somewhat lengthy, but you will discover how Walsh maneuvered the 49ers out of the first round to obtain multiple picks that became the backbone of the 1988 and 1989 Super Bowl champions (FB Tom Rathman, WR John Taylor, DE Charles Haley among them).

Another classic example of a coach who loved to wheel and deal with the NFL Draft was Jimmy Johnson. This article on the 1991 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys again illustrates that the organization willing to make a deal, move down, and get additional picks can pay off handsomely down the road.

Am I trying to suggest that a team won’t make mistakes by trading down? Absolutely not. If you read through either of those articles above, you will find examples of players who did not eventually pan out for those teams. I will suggest that by trading down, a team lessens its chances of mistakes substantially.

In my estimation, the biggest impediments to trading down are the NFL draft chart as well as the outrageous rookie salaries demanded by the top selections in the draft. Last year’s top pick, OT Jake Long of Michigan, received a $57 million contract over five years, with $30 million guaranteed, before playing a down of professional football for the Miami Dolphins. Does anyone think the Detroit Lions are excited about giving an unproven rookie $40 million? Change the rookie salary structure, and I guarantee you will see more teams actively trading in the NFL Draft.

2. Be strong up the middle and draft accordingly – Bill Belichick’s first round selections while with the Cleveland Browns were as follows…
· 1991 - Eric Turner, S, UCLA
· 1992 - Tommy Vardell, FB, Stanford
· 1993- Steve Everitt, C, Michigan

Going back to last year, do you recall how Bill Parcells directed the Miami Dolphins to select Jake Long? Do you remember the last time Parcells picked a WR in the first round? I will save you all the suspense – 1996, while in New England, Robert Kraft forced the selection of WR Terry Glenn upon Parcells. And my point – wide receivers can be found and are often found in later rounds than the high first round. And wide receivers selected in the first round routinely struggle and sometimes become outright busts.

3. How would I manage the draft for the Browns? Here you go…
- Try to trade down from #5. Don’t worry about the NFL draft chart; just accumulate picks. However…
-Write down the top player on the scouting board and submit it at 9 minutes in the event a phone call does not come with a trade option.

My top picks for the Browns (see my #2 point up above) ~ the Browns need help stopping the run and establishing the run. I truly believe a pass rusher and wide receiver can be found in the second round (WR Brian Robiskie would be ideal at the top of round 2 for the Browns).

1. Aaron Curry, LB, Wake Forest – not spectacular but very solid and could play either inside or outside in the 3-4.

2. Jason Smith, OT, Baylor – could play on the right side at tackle and solidify the Browns’ offensive line.

3. BJ Raji, DT, Boston College – could primarily play in the middle, moving Shaun Rogers to DE. This would shore up the Browns’ porous run defense while Rogers could cause match-up problems for the opposition’s pass protection while rotating with Raji on the interior. The top two players on my list probably won’t be there; Raji should be there for the Browns. BJ Raji would be my selection for the Browns if he was available, and by all accounts should be there when they pick at #5.
-These next players are probably too high for the #5 pick, but I would not become overly upset if the Browns selected them at #5 as they fit my scouting criteria of being solid players in the middle...

4. Malcolm Jenkins, CB/S, Ohio State – I would play Jenkins at corner but he could also play safety for the Browns.

5. Rey Maualuga, ILB, USC – this is high for the #5 pick but I love Maualuga’s intensity and toughness. Both are traits the Browns are sorely missing on defense.

6. Michael Oher, OT, Mississippi – Oher could be switched from left tackle to right tackle and could solidify the Browns’ offensive line.

7. Andre Smith, OT, Alabama – Has had a rough offseason and has bust potential but nobody can deny Andre Smith is a solid run blocker. With the right coaching staff, this guy could become a dominant NFL tackle for ten years.

8. Chris Wells, RB, Ohio State – Since 1999, the Browns have struggled with a power running game. Even with Wells’ injury issues/history, he would enable the Browns to run the ball when the weather gets bad in November and December. If not for the injury issues/concerns, Wells would definitely go in the top five.

Remember that I wrote these things down for the sake of posterity (think three years from now)…
· I do not want Texas' Brian Orakpo or Penn State's Aaron Maybin. Projecting college DEs to 3-4 OLBs is extremely tough. This draft is very deep in 3-4 caliber players who should be available in the second round for the Browns to select and develop. I am afraid either of these players are going to be the Browns' selection at #5.
· I do not want a WR selected high in the first round (Michael Crabtree or Jeremy Maclin, for example) when any of those other players I have written up above are available. Even if Braylon Edwards is traded, I would wait to select a WR until the late 1st round (if the Browns get the Giants’ first round pick) or early in the second round. Remember - wide receivers can be found in the later rounds.
· I would only select Mark Sanchez if there is a solid deal in place to move Brady Quinn for a #1 and a #3. And with a Sanchez selection, the Browns would need to find a capable veteran backup for Derek Anderson, as Sanchez will need some time for development, a la Carson Palmer did for Cincinnati years ago.