NFL Draft 2011: Assessing the Cleveland Browns' Needs
I have not written an article for almost four months. This is for a variety of reasons.
The way the Browns' season ended left me feeling empty and apathetic about the team. The firing of Eric Mangini and consequent hiring of Pat Shurmer did little to raise excitement or heighten anticipation for the future.
I also found myself drawn to the hapless Cavaliers like a house fly to a bug zapper. There was just something compelling about the team that captivated my attention. Maybe it was their epic run of futility. Maybe it was the anticipation of having the most ping pong balls in the lottery hopper. (By the way... how the heck did we screw that up?) Or maybe it was the fact that it wasn't "cool" anymore nationally to be a Cavs fan...which made it mean so much more for true Clevelanders.
But I digress. This article is not about the Cavs or the surprising Indians who actually are starting to hook me into following them even though I'm actually a Red Sox fan, and I'm getting off topic again...
The thing that really has turned me off has been the lockout. It has totally ruined the whole offseason for me as a fan and also damaged how I feel about the players and the team as a whole.
Recent events, however, have helped to repair my, uh...broken heart? Sure, why not. Through the process the players have come out looking great while the league and the owners look like, well, crap...to put it lightly.
The "lifting" of the lockout, coupled with the impending draft, have roped me back into the sport and team that I love so much.
The question for me was where to go with the article. So many people have written mock drafts (both good and awful) that I felt like I would be beating a dead horse putting out another.
Instead I am going to try and assess the Browns' needs and determine where the team will look to go with their draft.
The Browns have obvious needs at wide receiver and defensive line. They also finished 5-11 last season, so one might say they could use improvements everywhere.
We really don't know yet what the Browns' front seven will look like or if any of the current players will fit with Dick Jauron's new 4-3 scheme. This roster, however, is loaded with linebackers. So unless there is a guy available that they really like, don't expect the Browns to draft an LB.
The defensive line will need serious overhaul though, specifically at the defensive end spots. In a 4-3, it is vital that you get pressure on the QB from your front four, and that all starts on the edge.
The problems with the wide receivers, I believe, are overstated. Has there been a lack of production from that unit the past few seasons? Yes. However, they are still a very young unit who has shown flashes of potential. The key receivers are Mohamed Massaquoi, Brian Robiskie, Joshua Cribbs and Carlton Mitchell (Chansi Stuckey's contract ran out at the end of the season, though he could also be brought back).
We also need to remember that these guys had the unfortunate destiny of playing in the... "perplexing" offense of Brian Daboll the past two seasons (trying not to be too harsh).
With that said, this obviously is not a group that will strike fear in the hearts of opponents. But I don't think that will matter much with the team moving to the West Coast Offense. This is an offense that utilizes precision and timing. It is not an offense that requires top flight receivers to be successful.
Would it help to have an elite flanker? Of course! Who wouldn't want the most talented players at every position?
But let me lay out two examples of why you don't need marquee names at wide receiver to be successful in the NFL.
I realize that in a world of fantasy football that is much easier. But my point is, who are the real stars?
How about Deion Branch? The Seattle Seahawks let him go for practically nothing.
What about the Saints? Their top two receivers last year were Marques Colston (seventh-round pick) and Lance Moore (undrafted).
My point is that you can have success without top flight talent at receiver.
Can Colt McCoy be that good? I think so, based on his accuracy, poise and leadership.
But we already know this draft won't be about the QB like it was last year for the Browns.
There are two philosophies when it comes to drafting (especially in the first round).
1) Draft for need.
2) Take the best player available (BPA).
I think it needs to be a mix of both, which sounds like a cop-out, but let me explain.
If the BPA at the No. 6 pick is QB Blaine Gabbert (Missouri), then the Browns will almost certainly not select him.
However, if the BPA at No. 6 is CB Patrick Peterson (LSU), then picking him could be a distinct possibility even though defensive back is not quite as high on the "need" list.
The fact is that you can almost never have enough stud corners, especially with all the spread formations that are being run in the NFL today.
I personally would love the selection of Peterson. I salivate at the thought of Joe Haden, Peterson, and T.J. Ward all in the same secondary for the next 10 years. And we would still have Sheldon Brown and potentially Eric Wright for nickel-and-dime situations as well.
I'm going to make a crazy statement, but hear me out: Drafting a stud corner is just as good as drafting a stud pass rusher.
My point is that the NFL is a passing league. And if the Browns had two shutdown corners then it would free up the front seven to go crazy rushing the passer. Without true shutdown corners then you need to rely on the LBs for support in coverage, placing more pressure on the the defensive line to get pressure on their own.
If you believe most mock drafts from people who know what they're talking about then Patrick Peterson is going to be available when the Browns are up at No. 6.
However, if you believe most mock drafts from people who know what they're talking about then the Browns will be drafting WR Julio Jones at No. 6.
While I'm not as enamoured with that choice, I would be willing to accept it. Receiver is a position of need and many scouts have said that the Alabama product will be a great NFL player. Some teams even have him rated above A.J. Green from Georgia.
What should the Browns do with the 6th pick?
I don't think there is much chance of the Browns taking a defensive lineman in the first round (unless they trade back from six or back into the first round later). The only elite player, Marcell Dareus, will not be on the board past the second pick in the draft. The other "potential" guys, such as Nick Fairley and Robert Quinn, have too many question marks to warrant using such a high and crucial pick on an unsure commodity.
With all that said...What do I expect the Browns to do?
I really have no idea. I'm just a fan with ideas. If it was up to me, I'd take Peterson. Brian Billick was on The Herd on ESPNRadio yesterday and said there are only three true "blue chip" players in this year's draft: Peterson, Dareus and Von Miller. If a player with so much talent and potential as Peterson is still available at No. 6, then I don't know how you could pass on him.
But I don't get paid to make those decisions...Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert do. And with one solid draft under their belt already, I trust in them to make the right decisions to help this football team get better.
As if it could get a whole lot worse...
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