The countdown to the 2011 NFL draft now stands at just 18 days.
We already saw what the dynamic duo of Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert could do in the 2010 draft, and most of us were pretty pleased with the outcome.
Here are some of the biggest questions on the table entering the 2011 draft: Can Holmgren and Heckert repeat or exceed the success they had in 2010? Just how much will the opinions of new head coach Pat Shurmur factor in?
It's always a bit difficult to determine how much say a head coach gets in his team's draft selections. Obviously Shurmur will be part of the decision-making process, especially for offensive players, but most coaches ultimately have to defer to their GMs (or in the Browns' case, both GM and team president).
Still, the head coach is a factor too. Holmgren, for example, has publicly admitted that most of the draft decisions made during his time in Green Bay were those of GM Ron Wolf, not him. But you better believe he had a say in it.
Here's a look at how Holmgren, Shurmur and Heckert may each impact the 2011 Browns draft choices.
The assessment proved how difficult it can be to assess someone's draft history, particularly someone like Holmgren, who has held several different roles over the years for several different teams.
It's hard to say how much credit Holmgren should get for his picks in Green Bay, when he was just a head coach and worked with dynamo GM Ron Wolf, and while Holmgren's 2010 picks for the Browns look good so far, it will be a few years before we can truly rate their success.
That leaves only the picks in Seattle as far as which choices we can absolutely judge Holmgren by, and those were, well...to be diplomatic, moderately successful. Holmgren did make a number of good choices there (Shaun Alexander, Marcus Trufant, Steve Hutchinson), but he also racked up a number of first-round busts and a lot of players who didn't amount to much in the ensuing rounds.
So what will that mean for the 2011 draft? It's tough to say. Holmgren has had some home run picks, and he's also had some ugly swings and misses. There's no question he has an eye for talent in general, but opinions seem to differ on how good he is at actually drafting it.
Exactly how much say a head coach gets in his team's draft depends on a number of factors. It may depend on the drafting skills and experience of his front office, as well as how much control they've ceded to the coach in general. Then there is the coach's previous draft history to consider.
Shurmur's circumstances dictate that he won't have a lot of say in the Browns' draft this year, at least relative to other head coaches. As a first-year head coach coming from an offensive coordinator position, he essentially has no draft history, save for some input in the offensive choices the Rams made during the two years he spent there.
He's also entered an organization with a front office run by two men who draft well and have most of the control over the team. It also probably doesn't help that they were burned by the head coach they inherited when they joined the Browns last year, not necessarily in the draft, but certainly in terms of how the team was run across the board.
But while the fact that Eric Mangini was a failure means Holmgren and Heckert are used to running the show on their own, it doesn't mean they won't trust Shurmur with decisions. He is, after all, their hire, unlike Mangini.
It stands to reason, then, that Shurmur will have a decent amount of input into the Browns' 2011 draft selections. How well he'll do with that is impossible to say. With no real draft record in his past, we'll have to rely on what Shurmur has shown he can do on the field as a coordinator and trust that Holmgren felt he could trust Shurmur's draft input when he hired him.
Local Holmgren devotees may bombard me with hate mail for this one, but from where I'm standing, the best asset the Browns have for drafting is Tom Heckert.
Heckert has an excellent draft record dating back to his time in Philadelphia, and you best believe that the thus-far successful picks the Browns made in 2010 were as much his as they were Holmgren's.
Heckert started as a Director of Player Personnel in Philadelphia in 2001 and was promoted to GM in 2006. Asante Samuel, DeSean Jackson and David Akers, along with seven other Pro Bowlers, were drafted under Heckert's watch. When Heckert left the Eagles after 2009 for the Browns, 13 of the team's 22 starters were draft picks made while Heckert was running the show there.
Coach/President Andy Reid was obviously a huge factor in making those picks as well, but there's no doubt Heckert deserves much of the credit as well.
While I by no means wish to discount Holmgren's drafting ability (not to mention all the the other ways he excels at running the team), I think it's time Heckert started getting a bit of the credit. Holmgren is the big name now, but if Heckert continues to contribute as much as he does now for a few more years, someday he too will be a big-time household name in the NFL.
The Browns have a number of problem areas that need to be addressed in the draft this season, most notably at WR, DE, DT, LB and on the offensive line.
The problems in the receiving corps are probably not the most severe of the lot but are certainly the most talked about and well documented.
Holmgren, Heckert and Shurmur all have an eye for offensive talent. It stands to reason that any receiver they take this year in the draft, at least in the early rounds, has a good shot to become an immediate contributor to the team. The interesting question will be what round the group decides to take that receiver in.
With three offensively minded guys in charge, you would expect to see them try to grab receiving talent pretty early, at least in comparison to a team run by mostly defensive experts. Does this mean they'll go too early on the receiver front? Maybe, but you've got to believe they won't do anything foolish.
Shurmur, most of all, will likely be clamoring for receiving talent in the draft. He's shown he's able to do amazing things with an offense already during his time in St. Louis, but he's not a miracle worker. If Shurmur is going to really light a fire under the Browns offense, he's going to need better talent to work with in the receiving corps.
I don't think this necessarily means the Browns will be all over A.J. Green or any other receiver in the first round, but I'd look for them to pick up a promising WR by the second or third round.
Whatever problems the Browns may have at receiver, the right side of the offensive line or elsewhere on offense, the fact remains that the biggest mess they need to clean up is on the defensive side of the ball, mostly on the front seven.
It's been mentioned over and over that if the season started tomorrow, the Browns wouldn't be able to field a defense. They're short a few defensive ends and are sorely lacking at DT and at linebacker as well. Obviously they can't solve all these problems through the draft, but they should be looking to knock out a good chunk of them.
A good portion of mock drafts have the Browns going with a DE in the first round, which, if there's talent available at the position when they make their selection, is probably the smartest move.
I can't help but wonder, though, if this is a bit frustrating for our trio of draft decision makers, all of them being mostly offensively minded fellows. Still, while offense is certainly the forte of each of them, none are foolish enough to let their personal preferences get in the way of making the best moves on draft day.
I'm sure ideally all three (Shurmur especially) would love to spend their highest picks building a dominant, killer offense, but that's not the smart play for the Browns this year on draft day, and thus it isn't the one they'll make.
It's tough not to gush over the Browns' success in the 2010 draft. It was probably one of the best drafts ever by a team with two new faces running the front office and zero useful help from the head coach. Can Holmgren, Heckert and now Shurmur top that in 2011?
Realistically, it may be tough to outdo last year's draft. The Browns wound up with three members of their draft class in 2010 becoming impact starters. A good portion of that is, of course, due to excellent choices by Holmgren and Heckert, but some of it, as is always the case with draft picks, was also luck.
Half the appeal of the draft for us football junkies is that it's so difficult to predict in terms of how much your team's selections will help it. Sometimes what look like great picks completely flop or get injured, and sometimes long-shot picks turn out to be major contributors to a team. Last year the Browns did an excellent job making their selections, but they also got very lucky.
They could easily draft players this year who look as good as Joe Haden, T.J. Ward and Colt McCoy did when they were drafted, only to have bad luck, injuries and flameouts mean the players won't pan out nearly as well as that group did. That's the thing about NFL drafts; you can do everything right and still wind up with nothing useful the next season.
Still, luck aside, the Browns are in good hands with Holmgren, Heckert and Shurmur. We've already seen Holmgren and Heckert prove that they can improve the Browns tremendously through the draft. Shurmur is still an unknown factor here and will likely have less say in the matter than the other two, but based on his track record on the field in St. Louis, his input certainly can't hurt.
No one knows yet whether the Browns' 2011 draft will be a smashing success, but with Holmgren, Heckert and Shurmur running the show, I like their odds.