Cleveland Browns: Analyzing the Role and Expectations of the 2011 Draft Class
The Browns enjoyed what can be considered, all in all, a very successful 2011 draft last weekend.
They filled a lot of major areas of need for the team and built up some depth at a number of other positions.
Now that all the selections have been made, we can start examining what role each of the Browns' 2011 draft picks will play for the team this season.
Obviously, there are no guarantees until the free agency period opens up, as some of the drafted players may be shifted down on the depth chart or used differently if the Browns wind up bringing in any free agent(s) who change the dynamic.
But as of right now, here are my expectations for the roles each of our new rookies will likely play for the Browns during the upcoming season.
As always, your thoughts on the matter are welcome in the comments below!
1. DT Phil Taylor
DT Phil Taylor was the Browns' first selection in the 2011 draft at No. 21 overall and probably also their most controversial selection. Whether the Browns were right or wrong to trade back up to get Taylor after trading down from their original slot is debatable, but is a topic for another time.
For our purposes here, what's more important is the role Taylor will play for the Browns in 2011.
While Taylor was, technically, a NT at Baylor, he will be in a DT role for the Browns. With the switch to a 4/3 defense this season and the Browns D-line as a whole in shambles going into the draft, it is clear that Taylor will be expected to start and be an impact player immediately during his rookie season.
At 334 lbs, Taylor is quite the large fellow, which plays into the role the Browns wish him to play. Lined up with fellow big man Ahtyba Rubin on the front seven, Taylor, given his exceptional size and strength, will be part of the virtual brick wall the Browns are building to stuff opponents' running games.
His ability to jam blockers and good lateral movement will make him a key factor in how the Browns defense deals with their foes' big, strong running backs.
His physical toughness and ability to play through pain will factor in as well, as this is especially important for the Browns coming off a season where there were a lot of injuries to the front seven as well as issues with players like Shaun Rogers who showed they were unabashedly willing to just phone it in when it suited them.
2. DE Jabaal Sheard
The Browns further improved their front seven in the second round of the draft when they selected DE Jabaal Sheard.
The Browns had two DE spots to fill entering the draft, so we should expect to see Sheard as a starter right off the bat in 2011 just like Taylor.
Sheard fits the mold Heckert likes for DEs, so the pick wasn't a huge surprise for the start of the second round. Sheard runs a 4.68 40 and weighs in at 264 pounds, so he'll be very important in improving Cleveland's pass rush, something they struggled with in 2010.
Another big reason Sheard was brought in? He's a hugely aggressive, passionate guy who plays the game with just a little bit of rage. Many Browns fans (myself included) have criticized the Browns in the recent past for being soft and straying from the hard-nosed, smash-mouth style of defense that worked so well for them in past periods of success.
Sheard expressed his intention to be exactly that sort of player for Cleveland, likening his style to that of James Harrison and issuing the following quote: "I want to make that hit where the crowd goes, 'Ooooo,' and then everybody just screams."
3. WR Greg Little
The Browns grabbed WR Greg Little at the end of the second round, darn close to where I projected him in my mock (start of the third round).
While the WRs on the Browns' roster prior to the draft were probably serviceable for the West Coast Offense the team plans to run this Fall, there was still a strong push for them to acquire an immediate-impact receiver in the draft.
Coach Pat Shurmur indicated in his post-draft comments that Little had the potential to be the Browns' No. 1 WR this season.
His strong yardage-after-catch numbers and downhill running ability (he started off as a running back at North Carolina) add a dimension to the Browns receiving corps that was absent in 2010.
He may well end up being the Browns' No. 1 and will certainly be expected to take on a starting role, but I believe he also serves another purpose: to push Mohamed Massaquoi.
Massaquoi is a better player than he gets credit for and a lot of the disappointing stats he posted were not strictly his fault and often the product of other problems with the Browns' offense in 2010.
Still, the bottom line is that his numbers weren't where they should be for a team's top receiver, and nothing lights a fire under a guy like a rookie threatening to steal their "number one" designation.
4. TE Jordan Cameron
Tight end wasn't a position where the Browns' needs were the strongest entering the 2011 draft, but there was still good reason for their selection of TE Jordan Cameron out of USC.
Cameron was, according to Sports Illustrated, the third-ranked TE in this year's draft. How the Browns use him may depend on how things shake out for current top TEs Ben Watson and Evan Moore.
Moore's health is always a huge question mark, so Cameron is likely a candidate to take on Moore's job if he can't say healthy. There is also a possibility of Moore being used as a slot receiver and Cameron acting as the second tight end along with Watson.
The pick gives the Browns the option to use a two TE formation even if Moore is injured again, and also provides insurance for the future at the position. Watson still has plenty left in the tank, but he's entering the backside of his career, and probably won't be in Cleveland forever even if he continues to play after his contract with the Browns is up.
If Watson and Moore are both healthy and effective in 2011 and Cameron doesn't see much playing time, he's still likely the team's best bet for the future at his position.
5. FB Owen Marecic
The selection of fullback Owen Marecic was a bit of a head-scracher for some folks initially, and a bad omen for Lawrence Vickers fans.
Still, this may turn out to be one of the best picks the Browns made in 2011. Marecic will likely take on the bulk of the Browns FB role in 2011. It seems likely that this does mean goodbye for Vickers and that Marecic will start at FB his rookie year.
Obviously a large part of this role is blocking, but Marecic will also probably see some carries as well. Vickers' weakness was his hands, and Marecic seems to be a better bet for receptions. He could be huge in goal line situations for the Browns this season.
Perhaps even more important, one of the biggest assets Marecic possesses is the ability to play both sides of the ball and to do so very well. Marecic has lined up at MLB and has shown some promise in that spot. Many think he's actually better suited to that role than to FB.
While it seems unlikely that the Browns will use him on both sides of the ball regularly, especially in his rookie campaign, his versatility gives the Browns an immediate-impact option on both sides of the ball.
He's also expected to contribute to special teams. Not too shabby for a mid-fourth round selection.
6. CB Buster Skrine
The role CB Buster Skrine will play for the Browns in 2011 is tough to determine at this point. There are no guarantees he'll be a starter, but no guarantees that he won't either.
Mostly, the selection provides depth for the Browns at CB, the lack of which caused some big problems for their secondary last year.
Skrine should make an excellent backup for Eric Wright and Sheldon Brown and also a good injury sub option if Brown gets hurt again. He should also push guys who tend to struggle like Wright to stay on top of their game if they want to hang onto their starting job.
Skrine should also help the Browns in terms of depth regardless of injury issues. Without a real fourth CB last season, there were matchup issues against teams who sent big receiver sets out onto the field against Cleveland.
The added depth the Browns get from adding Skrine lessens the likelihood that this will be a problem going forward.
7. OT Jason Pinkston
The Browns must have been pleasantly surprised to see OT Jason Pinkston late in round five, as many projected he would go in the fourth round.
Pinkston was a smart pickup for the Browns, who had major problems with the right side of their offensive line in 2010, though he's not necessarily expected to fill a starting role there right out of the gate.
Pinkston is a versatile player who could probably play RT or RG, which gives the Browns a great option in terms of depth for the o-line. While it's unlikely he'll start there (barring injury) at the onset of the 2011 season, he gives the team an excellent backup plan if there is an injury, which they should be highly concerned about given the injuries suffered in the past by Tony Pashos and Shawn Lauvao.
Lauvao and Pashos are both excellent players when healthy (Lauvao in particular), but their health issues made Pinkston an excellent pickup for depth. He'll also likely be a major factor for the Browns future once Pashos is gone.
A healthy Lauvao and Pinkston lined up on the right side of the o-line for the Browns should mean good things for Colt McCoy's protection a few years down the road.
8. S Eric Hagg
The Browns' final selection for the 2011 draft in round seven was S Eric Hagg.
Obviously, being a seventh-round pick, it's unlikely that Hagg will have a starting job in the secondary his rookie year (though in all fairness, Hagg was a steal at this spot in the draft).
The fact that the Browns didn't take a safety early in the draft is great news for those of us who feel strongly that Abe Elam should be re-signed (though there are of course no guarantees until we see what they do with Elam or with other safeties when the free agent market opens for business).
Assuming that the Browns bring back Elam or barring that, sign another safety in free agency, Hagg will primarily be a backup during his rookie season in 2011.
Still, he has some importance to the team when looking at the bigger picture. He provides depth at safety should there be an injury this season, and will be a candidate for a starting job opposite TJ Ward in the future when Elam (or another as-yet-unknown) free agent retires or leaves for another team.