The NFL Draft, just like good wine, needs time to sit and mature before it can be properly evaluated.
Alright, I actually don't drink wine so I cannot say for certain if that's true, but it sounds nice.
These are strange times in the NFL. Things are totally out of whack. There have been no trades. There has been no free agency. And all the young players who didn't hear their name called last weekend are stuck in limbo trying to decide just how good the UFL really looks.
But we did have one thing... The Draft (or as we call it in Cleveland... the Super Bowl).
Much has been said and written about the draft and which teams did well and which teams were less than impressive with their choices and moves.
But invariably with everything I've heard, there has been one team that has been consistently mentioned in praise. And that is the Cleveland Browns. Yes, your eyes are fine, the Cleveland Browns (according to people who are supposed to know stuff) had a successful draft!
Those are words that have not been associated with this franchise very often since it returned to existence in 1999. But building on last year's strong foundation, Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert have this team moving in the right direction.
Before we go all nuts, though, the question must be asked: What makes a draft successful?
In my opinion it all starts with value. Were you able to get the most out of where you were picking? And value means different things to different teams because each team has different needs.
We knew going into this draft that the Browns had needs in many areas (duh, they finished 5-11 the last two years). Each of the most pressing needs were addressed and we'll dissect those selections.
But first... I want to take a look back at the 2010 Draft.
The Browns went into that draft with a boat-load of picks and ended up coming out with eight players. Six of those players ended up making the team, and four started games in their rookie season. By all accounts, that was a successful draft, especially getting a (potential) franchise QB in the thirrd round when they took Colt McCoy.
Safety T.J. Ward started from Day 1 and with the late season emergence of CB Joe Haden, Cleveland looks to have a dynamic defensive backfield for years to come.
The depth of that draft, though, will be decided by how much they get out of OG Shawn Lauvao (taken in the thirrd round) and RB Montario Hardesty (second round).
Lauvao saw a good bit of playing time but needs to develop into a dependable starter to solidify the right side of the offensive line.
Hardesty's season was over before it ever really got started, being placed on IR in the preseason after suffering a major knee injury. His recovery and role on the team will be an interesting storyline in training camp and the preseason this year (if it ever happens that is).
Overall, it was a very good draft for the Cleveland Browns. Any time you can add three players who will be cornerstones of the franchise for the next decade you have to be happy.
Which leads us to the 2011 Draft...
If you follow the Browns at all you know about the trade for the No. 6 pick. But just in case... Cleveland gave up the No. 6 pick to Atlanta, who took WR Julio Jones, for five draft picks, three this year and two next year.
Many people will argue that Julio Jones' success as an NFL receiver will determine how good this trade was for the Browns. I disagree. I think it is totally unfair to judge Jones' career as validation for the trade.
Jones is going into the most ideal situation for a rookie wide receiver. He is joining a Super Bowl-calibur team with an established coaching staff, a pro bowler at QB (Matt Ryan), a legit running game (Michael Turner) and another stud WR (Roddy White). He couldn't be asking for a better situation to welcome him to the big leagues. Had he been taken by the Browns, he would have none of those things with the exception of the running game...unless you count Mohamed Massaquoi as a stud WR [read as sarcasm].
This was a no-brainer for the Browns. This deal was so rich and the team has so many needs it was impossible to pass up.
The real determining factor of whether or not the Browns come out on top in this trade won't be determined until after next year's draft when we find out who will be taken with the extra first and fourth-round picks. And in reality, you can't even judge it then as most pundits will say that it takes three years to properly evaluate a draft class.
So, without further ado, let's dive on into this year's draft picks and pick them apart like a frog in science class.
First round, No. 21: DT Phil Taylor, Baylor
I already wrote an article after Day 1 of the draft and gave my feelings on this selection. But in case you missed that, I'll rehash it.
I was initially skeptical because I didn't know much about Phil Taylor having not sufficiently studied the top end of the first round. But from everything that I've heard and read since, I love the pick.
The Browns needed to get beef to help out Ahtyba Rubin in the middle of the defensive line. And Taylor certainly fits the bill, measuring in at 6'3" and a cool 334 pounds. He is said to be a hard worker who is very athletic and quick for his size (his college coach said if he was 150 lbs. lighter he'd be the best WR in the Big 12).
He did have some off-field issues early in his college career leading to him getting kicked out of Penn State. This seems to be chalked up to youthful indiscretion as he had no issues once he transferred.
In summation, I couldn't be more pleased with the Taylor pick. He should be a rock-solid addition to the defense.
Now we still need to do something about that name, though. Phil Taylor just doesn't strike fear in my heart. He has the same name as a professional dart thrower for crying out loud! A change needs to be made. But seeing as how I didn't get any feedback after the last time I brought this up it seems I'm all alone in this opinion.
Second round, No. 5: DE Jabaal Sheard, Pittsburgh
Another solid addition to the defensive line. With a great name too! Just sayin'...
As I watched a total of zero Pitt games this year I am relying on "expert" analysis for this guy. He is said to have "elite toughness" which he will most definitely need to compete in the AFC North. He is more established as a run stopper but has underrated pass-rushing skills... which begs the question: if people who rate him say he's underrated then shouldn't they just rate him higher? I might be over thinking this.
He has good measurables at 6'3", 264 lbs. with respectable combine numbers (4.68 in the 40-yard dash).
This is a guy who should be able to start Day 1 (depending on how long the lockout goes).
He could probably be accurately described as a poor man's Robert Quinn. Which leads us too...
A poor man's Julio Jones!
Okay, that may be a little unfair. But there are some similarities. Both are about the same size at a shade over 6'2" with Little outweighing Jones a little (no pun intended) 231 to 220 lbs. They are both tough, physical receivers who are ultra competitive and have big-play ability.
The difference (and this is where the "poor" aspect comes into play) is in the speed. Jones clocked in at a 4.34 in the 40 with Little only recording a respectable 4.51.
Little is not slow, but no one is describing him as having elite speed. His time in the 40 was about dead average at this combine. But what he lacks in burner speed he makes up for with tremendous hands, something the Browns have been lacking recently.
Once again, however, Little also is saddled with the dreaded "off-field issues" tag having been suspended for the entire 2010 season after violating NCAA rules. The bright side of this is that he was suspended just for having improper dealings with an agent (so it wasn't like he killed anyone or was arrested), which was a bit of an epidemic at North Carolina last year in case you didn't know.
So I love this pick too. In their first three picks, Holmgren and Heckert were able to address the most pressing holes on this football team... and with quality players who should compete for starting jobs on Day 1 to boot.
However, this is where I begin to scratch my head with the selections...
Fourth round, No. 5: TE Jordan Cameron, USC
Too bad he isn't Cameron Jordan instead of Jordan Cameron.
Cameron was a two sport athlete playing both football and basketball. So we know he has the athleticism to compete at tight end in the NFL.
Good size (6'5" 254 lbs.) and speed (4.53 in the 40 and the fastest times for TE in the three-cone drill [6.82] and 20-yard shuttle [4.03]) and excels in the passing game. He is a former WR and is therefore not a polished blocker.
All indications seem to be that this was a solid pick. But TE was not at all a position of need for the Browns. One might even argue that it's the position with the most depth with Ben Watson and Evan Moore already on the team.
I am lead to wonder just how much playing time we can expect to see out of Cameron. I would have much rather liked to see the Browns draft Sam Acho DE from Texas (who was the next pick going to Arizona) and really adding depth to the defensive line. This will be a "wait and see" pick that may end up being tremendous once we see him first hand on the field.
Fourth round, No. 27: FB/ILB Owen Marecic, Stanford
When I first saw that the Browns had taken a fullback I was perplexed because the team already has one of the best FBs in the league in Lawrence Vickers.
Then they showed the highlights and I was looking into starting the Owen Marecic Fan Club.
If you haven't seen it yet, check him out on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lZr-_y9w_ws.
This a true throwback player who played both offense and defense at two of the toughest most physical positions on the field. And he played them with skill and toughness. Jim Harbaugh, his coach at Stanford, unabashedly calls Marecic one of his favorite players that he's ever coached.
The mental image of Marecic lead-blocking for Peyton Hillis should be enough to excite any football fan, let alone any Browns fan. Smash mouth football!
But what does this mean for Vickers, who is a free agent after not receiving a contract extension before the lockout? It likely means that he'll be looking for a new team. Which on some level saddens me because I really appreciated everything that he brought to the Browns.
Vickers was a tireless worker and a key reason for Hillis' breakout 2010 season as well as the amazing three-game stretch that Jerome Harrison had at the end of the 2009 season. He always did what was asked and expected of him and did it all with excellence. He also really connected with the blue-collar Cleveland fans.
But at the end of the day, football is a business. And if you can get younger, better and cheaper at a position then you do it. One key skill that Marecic has and Vickers doesn't is good pass-catching skills. Vickers can claim that this was never asked of him, which is true to a point, but when he had opportunities to make plays in the passing game he rarely delivered.
There is a chance that Pat Shurmer could be planning on using Marecic on defense and keep Vickers... but don't count on that. Marecic doesn't have the physical tools to be an every down player at linebacker.
We'll miss Vickers, but I have a feeling that after a couple games of watching Marecic we'll get over it.
These next three players we'll go though pretty quick...
Fifth round, No. 6: CB Buster Skrine, Chattanooga
Another good football name. Noticing a trend?
This guy is an undersized corner who has had some issues staying healthy and struggles against the run.
With that said... he is fast!
Fantastic numbers at the combine:
4.37 in the 40
6.44 in the three-cone (fastest time)
3.90 in the 20 yard shuffle (fastest time)
20 bench press
37.0 vertical jump
122.0 broad jump
He has all the skills that are needed for success at corner in the NFL. He also has a great off-field reputation and was a team captain his senior year.
Expect to see Skrine compete for time as a nickle and dime back this season.
Fifth round, No. 19: OT Jason Pinkston, Pittsburgh
I don't have a whole lot to say about this guy. His scouting report is less than impressive: average height and bulk and doesn't have a good work ethic.
Obviously Holmgren and Heckert saw something in this guy that they really liked and that's why they took him.
We'll label him as a "developmental project."
Seventh round, No. 45: S Eric Hagg, Nebraska
I really don't know if it's worth getting excited about a seventh-round pick. Last year the Browns drafted Larry Asante, another safety from Nebraska in the fifth round and he couldn't make the team despite having a pretty good preseason.
So this is probably just guilt by association on my part.
As far as physical skills and overall body he is just average. He might be able to catch on as a special teamer, but as with most late-round picks you just can't expect too much from them.
I love the way the Browns were able to address the positions of need on the team. Are there still spots that need improving? Without a doubt. But you can't fix every problem on the team in one draft.
And there's also free agency (whenever that happens) that can be used to fill other holes.
Going into the draft the biggest needs were on the defensive line and at wide receiver. And both of those needs were met with the first three picks.
Ultimately, the true value of this draft won't be fully realized until after next year's draft (with the two picks from Atlanta) and after a few years of seeing these guys play.
Two things we can take from this draft...
1. Phil Taylor is huge, but he desperately needs a new name.
2. Owen Marecic (who has an awesome name by the way) is going to be fun to watch in the backfield with Peyton Hillis.
Until next time... GO BROWNS!
Follow me on Twitter @ClevelandFlack