Is A.J. Green truly a fit for the Cleveland Browns at the sixth overall pick? That is the question.
The Browns have lacked a true playmaking wide receiver for years. Despite the emergence of Braylon Edwards in 2007, Antonio Bryant in 2005 and Kevin Johnson in 2001, the Browns have never had that go-to guy.
It’s safe to say that 2007 was a fluke for Braylon Edwards and Derek Anderson. The Browns played one of the softest schedules in the league, and Anderson essentially threw the ball up 10-15 times a game, hoping for a big play.
However, it did give the fans hope that their former No. 3 overall pick from the University of Michigan finally began to make big plays. 2008 was a season of hope as the Browns went in with a seemingly powerful offense, only to face one of the most brutal schedules of the last 10 seasons.
Antonio Bryant made a nice impact in 2005 with Trent Dilfer and Charlie Frye, but he eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark by just nine yards and never was a big play threat, only catching four touchdown passes. Going back to 2001 with Kevin Johnson, we all know that story. Johnson was actually a nice downfield threat, despite not having great speed. But he was a possession player that made big catches and put points on the board.
But the Browns have failed to have an elite wide receiver. Part of this is due to the fact that they’ve had almost as many quarterbacks start for them since 1999 as the Oakland Raiders, but the other is the fact that they have lacked an explosive playmaker.
Enter the West Coast Offense with Mike Holmgren and Pat Shurmur. It’s official that the Browns will be running the horizontal scheme that focuses on ball control, and short-intermediate passes to turn into excellent yards after the catch.
The WCO usually requires smaller receivers that can work the seam, run slants, ins, outs, hitches and crossing patterns. These receivers are generally quicker and create mismatches with linebackers and give man-coverage defenses fits, while also exposing holes in zone coverage.
Many draftnik’s and NFL Draft analysts expect the Browns to take a hard look at A.J. Green in the 2011 NFL Draft if he falls to pick six. First of all, Green will have to fall past Carolina and Cincinnati, which is very possible, but not probable, especially with Cincinnati most likely losing Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens.
But what makes A.J. Green such a need for the Browns? Green is a physical receiver who uses his body very well and has very soft hands. He’s a pure possession receiver with above average speed and acceleration, but is very physical and creates mismatches with smaller defensive backs.
Green runs his routes quite well, is very fluid in his movements and gets excellent separation. There’s no doubting his overall ability as a playmaker, but there has to be doubt with using him in a pure WCO attack.
The other thing to consider in Cleveland is Tom Heckert’s drafting style in reference to wide receivers. Between 2001 and 2009, the Eagles drafted a total of nine wide receivers. Take a look at the size of these receivers and tell me if you see a trend.
Freddie Mitchell- 6'0", 195 lb
Freddie Milons- 5'11", 190 lb
Billy McMullen- 6'4", 205 lb
Reggie Brown- 6'1", 195 lb
Jeremy Bloom- 5'7", 180 lb
Jason Avant- 6'0", 212 lb
DeSean Jackson- 5'10", 175 lb
Jeremy Maclin- 6'0", 198 lb
Brandon Gibson- 6'0", 210 lb
You may notice that only two of those receivers are over 6’ tall, and one of them is 6’1". DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are the most well known, and Jason Avant (the Eagles' No. 3 wide receiver) is a shorter receiver who gets good separation and has excellent hands.
So what makes Browns fans think that they will grab a 6’4", 212-pound vertical possession receiver to fit in this offense? Is it the fact that their best two receivers in 2010 were a tight end and running back (Benjamin Watson and Peyton Hillis respectively)? Or is it the fact that Browns fans see a gaping hole in the wide receiver corps and are desperate to fill that need with arguably the best wide receiver in the 2011 NFL Draft?
Green isn’t going to be a receiver in this offense, who will get a great amount of yards after the catch, and that’s essentially what the West Coast Offense is all about. I think it’s safe to say that the Browns may consider Green, but may opt to wait on a receiver in the second round or later and look to improve the pass rush by pursuing a defensive tackle or defensive end.
They could also take a hard look at Prince Amukamara who would make an excellent compliment to Joe Haden, the Browns' 2010 sixth overall pick.
So what other options do the Browns have that actually will properly fit the scheme?
Titus Young—5’11", 190 lb
This wide receiver class in lined with guys who can outrun entire defenses. Young is another one of those smaller guys who excels in the return game and is heavily utilized in quick slants and screen passes. He’s excellent after the catch.
Torrey Smith—Maryland, 6’1", 202 lb*
Smith has made a name for himself with his speed down the field. He has excellent hands and gets a good release off of the snap. He’s not the most physical receiver, but he creates separation and can make big plays all over the field.
Jerrell Jernigan—Troy, 5’8", 190 lb
Troy’s all-purpose receiver can run the ball well and catch even better. He’s a threat to take it to the house on every touch, but lacks ideal size to play in a vertical offense featuring possession receivers. Look for Jernigan to make a name for himself in the slot, and potentially in a wildcat as well as in the return game.
Vincent Brown—San Diego State, 6’0", 195 lb
Brown is one of the fastest receivers in college football. He’s excellent down the field, and can make plays after the catch. His hands need a little bit of work, but he gets great separation and uses his speed to make defenders miss.
Jeff Maehl—Oregon, 6’, 181 lb
Maehl is a pure pass catcher who’s a bit undersized. He’s one of the best overall blocking wide receivers, and is an extremely hard worker. He’ll be a gem in the middle-late rounds in the NFL Draft.
Ronald Johnson—USC, 6’, 187 lb
Johnson is a smaller receiver who fits best in the slot. He has good speed and is solid after the run. He has pretty good hands and makes catches all over the field. He can take a pass to the end zone on virtually every play as he can out run many of the defenders.
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