Ranking Cleveland Browns' Top Offseason Moves Following 2014 NFL Draft
The Cleveland Browns have done a lot of improving this offseason and are in a good position as the 2014 season nears. They've added a multitude of talented players through both the draft and free agency, while also finding themselves a potential-filled coach to lead this team.
Ray Farmer, their new general manager, has been the main reason behind the Browns' improvements and is proving to be a smart hire after all. He had a strong draft class to launch the Farmer era in Cleveland, with Johnny Manziel headlining the group.
Farmer has been the mastermind behind a lot of Cleveland's offseason happenings, and they're looking like a much better team because of it—though their best move to date was signing Ben Tate.
The former Houston Texan will finally be in the spotlight as the Browns' featured runner, and he will have a great line to run behind. Tate is a good mix of strength, size and speed, and he'll be a great player for Cleveland to build their offense around.
Not only will Tate open up things in the passing game, but he'll also be the workhorse runner they've been missing—two things the Browns sure could've used in 2013. Regardless, Cleveland is moving on up, and its impending (potential) success will largely be the result of the moves they've made this offseason.
5. Drafting Justin Gilbert with 8th Overall Pick
The Browns had multiple players they could've intelligently selected when they were on the clock at eighth overall but made a smart and safe choice in Justin Gilbert. The former college standout will fit in nicely as their No. 2 corner across from Joe Haden, and he is exactly what they needed in the secondary.
He possesses elite speed and is generally pretty great in coverage but excels in man coverage. Gilbert is intelligently aggressive and will produce for them from day one.
What was also smart about drafting Gilbert is that they could've pulled the trigger on the man they later drafted at 22nd overall, Johnny Manziel. Most pundits would agree that eighth overall was simply too high to draft the former Heisman winner and maintaining their patience until their second first-round pick proved to be the right choice.
One could argue that they should've drafted another quarterback instead—Derek Carr, Teddy Bridgewater, etc.—but it's evident Manziel is and (probably) always was their guy, making their move to draft Gilbert before Manziel a masterful one.
4. Hiring Mike Pettine as Head Coach
The Browns have had a mass of "eh" coaches over the years, but they have found a great fit in Mike Pettine. In a short time, the defensive coordinator turned head coach has provided one of the main things Cleveland lacked in 2013: hope.
Pettine is inexperienced as a head coach but has a proven track record as a coordinator in this league and has done some good things as Cleveland's head honcho so far.
He's well-received by the players and, while time will only tell how much this team has changed since they took their last official snap, it's looking like this team will definitely take some positive strides in 2014. Pettine's high standards approach is exactly what this team needs—with the Josh Gordon fiasco being a prime example of why.
As arguably the best player on the team, Gordon really put his team behind the eight ball when he failed another drug test. Consequently, he's now facing a season-long suspension, per T.J. Quinn and Don Van Natta Jr. of ESPN.com, and leaves the team without their top weapon.
How Pettine responds and shapes this team from here on out will be a determining factor in what his reputation as a head coach will be like, and I'm guessing he figures something out to help them in the short term.
Bringing in Miles Austin is a solid bandage for now, though he's clearly not on Gordon's level (then again, not many are). Even so, Pettine is moving this team in the right direction, which has been a difficult task thus far.
3. Hiring Ray Farmer as Their New General Manager
Cleveland has been an embarrassment for the large part of the past decade, but it finally seems to be putting the right pieces in place for them to compete again. Ray Farmer has proved to be one of the most valuable ones and has been the catalyst for their strong offseason.
Farmer utilized the free agency period to replace the valuable players they lost; he was instrumental in bringing in guys like Karlos Dansby and Donte Whitner, firming up positions that were weakened by their losses in free agency.
The Browns finished the draft with a pretty respectable class, also largely because of Farmer's evaluations of prospects.
They landed a reliable No. 2 corner and their quarterback of the future in the first round, then followed that up with some strong depth at the right tackle position in Joel Bitonio, not to mention the value they got in the fourth round for Pierre Desir.
Granted this is all still on paper and we've yet to see how these new pieces fit, but the future is looking bright.
2. Waiting to Draft Johnny Manziel Late in the First Round
Johnny Manziel was one of the most polarizing prospects in the 2014 NFL draft, but he wouldn't have been a great choice at eighth overall. The Browns played things cool, drafted the highest player on their board and hoped for their guy to be there at 22nd overall. Well, they were right, and that gamble paid off big.
Most pundits would agree that Manziel was not worthy of being a top-10 pick (although there's plenty that say he was) but grabbing him later in the first round allowed them to pick up a better player than they would've gotten at 22 had they drafted Manziel in the top 10.
He may not be the starter right away but at the very least he provides competition for Brian Hoyer and will be a nice starter for them once he develops and matures as a player.
Manziel is a wily quarterback who has done some amazing things on the football field, but time will tell whether or not that talent will translate to the NFL. Even so, he has the potential to be great and could be the franchise player that Cleveland's been waiting for.
1. Signing Ben Tate
Given the uncertainty around the quarterback position in Cleveland, they'd be smart to base their offense around the ground game and the talented runner that they recently signed. Ben Tate flashed signs of greatness in a minimized role with the Houston Texans, but he is definitely ready for the big time.
The signing is an all-around tremendous move. Tate is just hitting his stride as an NFL runner, and the reps he will get as Cleveland's starting back will only speed up his progression. He's also just three years into his NFL career and will have one of the best lines in the league blocking for him.
Admittedly, the Browns will need more than a running back to fully turn things around, but Tate gives them a player to build their entire offense around. He's a bigger back that has pretty good speed and showed he could grind out yards during his time in Houston.
Tate will be depended upon as their workhorse running back, a role I believe he will fit into splendidly. Tate should shine now that he's been given the spotlight.