Let’s face it Browns fans, your favorite football team has plenty of holes to fill this offseason.
The linebacking corps could use an injection of youth and playmaking ability.
It would be nice to have a big play safety in the mold of NFC North counterparts Troy Polamalu or Ed Reed.
A No. 1 wide receiver, a tight end, depth at running back, or some help on the right side of the line would all be welcome sights for a team that won nine games in two years.
The most important position on the football field, quarterback, remains a question mark in the eyes of many (myself included).
The free-agent pool has been diminished now that the league does not have a collective bargaining agreement in place. As a result, many players who once thought they were free to test the market are now in the position of being restricted free agents instead.
That now means that if the Cleveland Browns are going improve, it is going to have to be through the draft.
Because the team has so many weaknesses, there is no need to “reach” for any position. The most successful teams in the league rarely draft to fill a position but draft the best player available.
For that very reason, the Browns will draft Florida cornerback Joe Haden with the seventh pick in the draft.
First, let’s talk about who will not be available when it’s their turn to send the commissioner up to the podium.
Defensive tackle Ndamakung Suh (Nebraska) is the best player in this draft. Whether the St. Louis Rams pass on him for a quarterback or not, Suh will be drafted in the top two picks.
Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (Oklahoma) and offensive tackle Russell Okung (Oklahoma State) will also be out of the Brown’s reach.
Tennessee safety Eric Berry? If he even makes it to the sixth pick it’s because someone didn’t watch enough film of him.
With the aforementioned four players out of the discussion, that leaves the following players who may be available with (hopefully) lucky number seven: quarterbacks Sam Bradford (Oklahoma) and Jimmy Clausen (Notre Dame), wide receiver Dez Bryant (Oklahoma State), linebacker Rolando McClain (Alabama), offensive tackles Trent Williams (Oklahoma), Bryan Balaga (Iowa), and Anthony Davis (Rutgers)...and Haden.
The Redskins will use their pick on one of the two quarterbacks, and as mentioned earlier, the Rams' first pick may also be used on one of the two signal callers.
That leaves the Browns staring down the loser of the quarterback battle, Bryant, McClain, one of the remaining offensive tackles, or Joe Haden by default.
Haden is far from a consolation prize, however.
He is unquestionably the top cornerback in the draft.
At 5’11”, 195 pounds, he has decent NFL size for the position. His leaping ability, extremely long arms, and strong upper body allow him to play even bigger than his listed height.
Haden was a starter the moment he stepped on campus at the University of Florida and missed only one game (foot injury) in his college career.
He has played top-notch competition in the rugged (and speedy) SEC and met the challenge (even as a freshman).
Haden comes with few flaws and is as good in man-to-man coverage as he is at closing in zone coverage.
He’s no one-trick pony as strictly a cover guy either. Haden wraps up ball-carriers and blitzes as well as any corner in the draft.
In fact, his hitting ability is so good that some scouts predict he could play safety once his foot-speed slows later in his career.
He fits the Eric Mangini profile as an intelligent football player as well.
Early in his career as a Gator, Haden relied on his athletic ability and was susceptible to pump fakes and double moves. But later, Haden became a student of the game who has learned to diagnose plays and rarely is fooled by opposing offenses.
The fact that the Browns have a crater the size of the Grand Canyon to fill opposite improved cornerback Eric Wright is icing on the cake.
Aging Mike Adams is a stop-gap who is a natural safety filling in as a cornerback; and Brandon McDonald is best served as a nickel back at best.
Haden will be the best player available anyway.
Cornerback isn’t a “sexy” position come draft time, but it is arguably the most important position on the defense.
Having two cornerbacks that a defense can leave alone on an island allows the front seven and safeties freedom to commit to the run and blitz in passing situations.
Haden and Wright can disguise a lot of other deficiencies on the defense. And if Cleveland fans have learned anything over the past few years in the AFC North, solid defense can hide quite a few deficiencies on the offensive side of the ball as well.
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