Cleveland Browns RB Peyton Hillis
It's been a long time since the Cleveland Browns were a relevant franchise in the NFL. This once proud organization has suffered through a largely miserable 12 years since rejoining the league as an expansion team in 1999.
Dozens of legendary players have shined along the shore of Lake Erie. Names such as Otto Graham, Lou Groza, Paul Warfield, Jim Brown, Marion Motley, Ozzie Newsome, Brian Sipe, Clay Matthews, Earnest Byner and Bernie Kosar, among others, have become part of NFL Films lore.
Even in the heartbreaking days of the old "Mistake by the Lake" stadium, the Dawg Pound had something memorable to bark about. Ask any true Browns fan about "Red Right 88," and they will tell you about the 1981 playoff loss to Oakland, in freezing weather, when Brian Sipe threw a late interception to seal Cleveland's fate. Ask them about "The Drive" and "The Fumble" playoff games in the late 1980s and you will likely hear a few scowls about John Elway and the despised Denver Broncos.
The infamous playoff losses are bitter to the memory to loyal Cleveland fans. But, at least, those teams gave them something to remember and talk about many years later. Those Browns are now part of history. The old Browns are now the Ravens, a team who should still be the Baltimore Colts. Since their rebirth in 1999, the post-expansion Browns have, for the most part, been one big yawn.
In 2010, the team seemed to take a step forward, beating New Orleans and New England while losing seven other games by seven points or less. However, another 5-11 season was not enough to save Eric Mangini's job as head coach. New boss Pat Shurmer hopes to breathe new life into the organization and lead the Browns in their trudge back to playoff relevance.
Although there are several players on the current roster who could add their names to the list of Cleveland Browns legends, the talent is spread thin. Joe Thomas, Peyton Hillis and Joe Haden are pulling the wagon but could use more help in the 2011 draft.
Here is a potential draft which could help the Browns fill a few of the roster gaps..
If Georgia receiver A.J. Green is available here, he might be the choice. However, if he is gone, the Browns desperately need to find a pass rusher for the defense. The team is switching back to a 4-3 defense under new defensive coordinator Dick Jauron.
There is currently not one player on this defense who can pose a threat coming off the edge. Linebacker/defensive end hybrid Marcus Benard came up with 7.5 sacks last year, but he has limited potential. Matt Roth can play the run well at left end, but he is not much of a pass rusher and is a free agent.
Quinn is perhaps the best pure pass rusher in the draft. He is somewhat of a risk for missing the 2010 season due to NCAA suspension for improper contact with an agent. Scouts only have a standout 2008 season to rely on.
However, the second round should be ripe with receiver prospects, and the Browns could pick one up there. After Round 1, the elite 4-3 pass rushers will mostly be gone. Cleveland must be able to pressure the quarterback to have any hope of rebuilding.
Cleveland's coaching staff has indicated they are going with Colt McCoy as their starting quarterback in 2011. He showed some flashes of hope last year but needs to get a downfield target to prevent defenses from stacking the box area close to the line of scrimmage.
Baldwin had a down year in 2010, but part of his decreased production was due to inconsistent quarterback play and an overall drop in the offense. He can be a little high maintenance but has great size and is a legitimate deep threat. During Baldwin's college career, he had 20 receptions that gained more than 40 yards. He is a big-time talent who needs to refine his route-running technique.
Joe Haden came on strong as a rookie. He looks like a long-time cornerstone of the Cleveland secondary and may be the best Browns cornerback since the Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield days. Sheldon Brown is a steady veteran but may only have a few good years left. Eric Wright was once highly regarded but slumped badly last year. He is a possible free agent, depending on the NFL labor contract.
Marsh is a rising prospect who made the transition from running back in 2009. He has a good size/speed combination. He is a bit raw but has a smooth backpedal and transition. With some good NFL coaching and experience, he could improve read-and-react skills to the point he can just react instead of thinking too much. Marsh is a fine athlete who could develop as a third corner and possibly replace Brown down the road.
Ahtyba Rubin has become the stud who clogs up the middle of the defensive line. He led all NFL interior linemen with 82 tackles. Big run-stuffer Shaun Rogers, an enigma, was released after the season and hence signed with New Orleans. Brian Schaefering and Derrick Robinson are blue collar workers but are a bit undersized and do not make much impact.
Drafting an interior lineman such as Jenkins would add depth and size to the position. He is not a sack artist but plays well against the run. He is strong enough to shed blocks and can anchor against the run. However, he needs to come off the ball lower to keep leverage. Jenkins can take on double-team blocks and free up other defenders to make plays.
Joe Thomas is a Pro Bowl-caliber fixture on the left side of the offensive line. He is the best Browns offensive tackle since Doug Dieken and Cody Risien and could end up being the best in Browns history. The right side of the line is a different story. John St. Clair may not be back. Tony Pashos spent much of 2010 on injured reserve but could be a decent stop-gap for now.
Reid is a strong right tackle prospect with excellent size and height. He plays with a nasty demeanor and is somewhat of a throwback player who likes the physicality of the game. He gets a push in the running game and uses his long arms to his advantage. Reid needs to bend his knees better in order to maintain leverage and balance. With some added work in the weight room and technique development, he has potential as a future starter at right tackle.
The switch to the 4-3 defense requires a middle linebacker who provides leadership and instincts on the field. D'Qwell Jackson is the incumbent at the position after playing inside in the 3-4 defense. However, he has missed a lot of playing time due to injuries the last two years. There isn't much quality depth behind him on the roster.
Wujciak is an underappreciated middle linebacker prospect. He is said to be a step slow in pass coverage. Even if this is true, he is a passionate player who reads plays well and always seems to be around the ball. He is a solid tackler who isn't afraid to take on blockers with a physical style. Wujciak could be a special teams standout until his game develops enough to earn more playing time on the field.
Even with the addition of Robert Quinn in Round 1, the talent at defensive end is still very thin. Brian Sanford and Jayme Mitchell combined for one tackle in 2010. Re-signing Matt Roth would help, but that is uncertain at the moment.
Winterswyk has been a key member of the WAC Conference powerhouse Boise State defense. He is highly productive with 168 tackles and 20.5 sacks in his college career. He plays with a high motor and doesn't quit on the play. He doesn't have elite edge speed but uses his hands well and gets into the backfield. He is a versatile athlete who was used sometimes as a blocking fullback and an extra tight end. Winterswyk will be solid late-round choice and add depth to the line.
You would think that with the drafting of Baldwin in Round 2, the receiver situation is settled in Cleveland. Joshua Cribbs and Chansi Stuckey, a potential free agent, are solid reserves. The team also has current starters Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie. Youngster Carlton Mitchell also has developmental potential.
Just think back to Colt McCoy's time at Texas. He had a safety valve receiver who helped him tremendously in underneath routes. His name is Jordan Shipley, now a valuable slot receiver in Cincinnati. Maehl could potentially fill that same role with Cleveland in the West Coast offense.
He is accused of being too slow and skinny, but weren't the same things said about Steve Largent, Mike Renfro and now Wes Welker? Maehl looks like a surfer but knows how to get open and has sticky hands. He also has deceptive speed and makes big plays in the clutch. He just might be a pleasant surprise and become a fan-favorite in the Dawg Pound.