How will each rookie drafted by the Cleveland Browns fare this upcoming season? Here is an analysis and prediction for the eight rookies drafted by the Browns and what their impact on the team will be in 2011. Obviously, we are only a few weeks into training camp. Factors such as injuries and other unforeseen circumstances cannot be predicted. However, if each rookie manages to stay healthy, they can all have an impact in some way.
The Browns wisely traded down from the sixth pick and selected defensive tackle Phil Taylor out of Baylor. With his talent and size, Taylor should settle right in next to Ahtyba Rubin and give the Browns a pair of stout lineman to stop the run (always a difficult task for the Browns). By switching from the 3-4 alignment to the 4-3, the Browns needed to acquire youth and talent to install up front. That starts with Taylor, who should start immediately and have an impact this season, and for years to come.
The Browns were not done with their youth movement up front after selecting Taylor. In the second round, the team selected Pittsburgh defensive end Jabaal Sheard. Like Taylor, Sheard brings youth and athleticism to a unit that severely lacked both. He should immediately start at defensive end for the Browns, as the team decided not to pursue any veterans in free agency. Practicing against All-Pro LT Joe Thomas will only further Sheard's development.
While reaching double digits in sacks this season may be unlikely, Sheard should still be a force in the pass rush. Like most rookies, he should be more effective as the season progresses and he gains more experience. Expect him to be in the Browns' defensive lineup from week 1, and expect him to emerge as yet another young, talented player that the front office has to build around.
With their other second round pick, the Browns selected Greg Little. A talented wide receiver from North Carolina, Little had to sit out last season as punishment for dealing with an agent. Do not underestimate the impact this may have on him for the 2011 season. While he has displayed glimpses of talent in camp, he has also had issues with dropped passes. However, his physical style of play is a welcomed addition to a unit that sorely lacked it last season.
If Little can manage to avoid lapses in concentration and catch the football consistently, look for Colt McCoy to target him more often as the season progresses. He will receive plenty of chances to contribute as the Browns are thin at the position, but do not be surprised if he is not a starter in early in the season. I believe that he will have an impact, but it may take him more time to adjust than players such as Taylor and Sheard, as he has not played football in over a year.
Selecting tight end Jordan Cameron out of USC was somewhat of a surprise pick by the Browns, as they already had Ben Watson and Evan Moore established at the position. However, Watson is an aging veteran and Moore has had issues staying healthy, so this pick made sense. Cameron is a former basketball player, and let us not forget that tight ends such as Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates were also basketball players before ultimately choosing football. That being said, it is unfair and unreasonable to compare Cameron to either of those players.
The Browns have a solid group of tight ends, so do not expect Cameron to start or even receive much playing time initially. I imagine him having an impact for the Browns' offense at some point this season, even if just a small impact.
Selected in the fourth round out of Stanford, Marecic was a two-way player for the Cardinal. The Browns strictly drafted him to be a fullback, a surprise to many as Lawrence Vickers was widely considered one of the better fullbacks in the NFL. However, Holmgren and Heckert obviously believe that Marecic fits their scheme better.
The Browns did not draft a fullback in the fourth round to sit him on the bench. With Vickers now in Houston, Marecic is in sole possession of the starting fullback position. As a starter, he should combine with Peyton Hillis to form a physically imposing backfield. While he may not receive many carries with Hillis, Montario Hardesty, and newly acquired Brandon Jackson all in the mix, he should have an impact in goal line situations as both a blocker and ball carrier. Barring an injury, he will be the Browns' starting fullback for the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Browns' fifth-round selection was cornerback Buster Skrine out of Chattanooga (hence, no photo). Skrine comes to the Browns with a reputation for blazing speed. With the departure of Eric Wright to the Detroit Lions, Skrine could see time as a nickel or dime corner this season. He will have to battle former Philadelphia Eagle corner Dimitri Patterson, along with other camp invitees.
As is true with many late round draft picks, Skrine may have to prove his worth by standing out on special teams. However, with the Browns thin at corner, Skrine could see time in nickel or dime situations. He could surprise some as a late round pick that contributes much more than anticipated. Playing at such a thin position, do not be surprised if he is receiving significant time as a nickel back at some point during the season.
The tackle from Pittsburgh was selected by the Browns in the fifth round. Pinkston adds much needed depth to the offensive line. While the right side of the line was a weak area last season, do not think that Pinkston's arrival implies that he is a potential starter at right tackle. While he certainly has the size to play in the NFL, as a fifth round selection he has much to learn.
An injury to anticipated starter Tony Pashos (he has a history with injuries) would be the only pathway to Pinkston becoming a starter this season. The Browns drafted him to provide depth. Hopefully, he can spend the next few seasons sitting and learning. It is unlikely that he will have an impact this season.
With their final selection, the Browns added safety Eric Hagg out of Nebraska in the seventh round. A solid contributor to one of the nation's best defenses, Hagg adds additional depth to the Browns' defensive backfield. While I would not expect him to have a regular role in the defense, he could contribute on special teams. That may be his best opportunity at making the final 53-man roster.
While it is certainly too early to tell, the Browns appear to have had another strong draft. Many players drafted should find contributing roles on the team for this upcoming season. Look for Taylor, Sheard, and Marecic to be starters in the opener against Cincinnati. Do not be surprised if Little makes his way into the starting line up at some point during the season as well.
It is impossible to predict how each rookie's season will unfold. Injuries could thrust them into the starting lineup, or derail their entire season. For the late-round draft picks, there is no guarantee that they will make their way onto the final roster. Hopefully, the Browns are able to receive significant contributions from this rookie class. It will further indicate that Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert have this rebuilding franchise headed in the right direction.
I would bet on it.