Peyton Hillis has been one of the most influential talents the Cleveland Browns have seen since their return to football in 1999.
After carrying the franchise through the 2010 season, Hillis entered 2011 as the Madden cover athlete and the face of what was supposed to be a franchise on the rise.
Since then, the Browns and Hillis have hit some significant bumps in the road and now Hillis may be parting ways with the team after their final game on January 1.
Many of Cleveland's fans are already looking forward to the 2012 NFL Draft in April.
Hillis will undoubtedly still be a topic of discussion, but many fans do not realize how much influence he has on Cleveland's draft strategy.
The Browns should be in a position to take a significant impact player and also lock in a starter with a late first-round pick acquired from the Atlanta Falcons.
If Hillis does not sign with the Browns before April's draft, many mock experts are looking toward Trent Richardson from Alabama to be Cleveland's number one target.
Richardson has carried 520 times throughout his college career and has collected over 3,000 yards en route to winning the Doak Walker award for the best running back in the nation for 2011.
In addition to Richardson in the case of Hillis leaving the Browns, a wide receiver such as Michael Floyd from Notre Dame or Alshon Jeffery from South Carolina are expected to be the primary targets in order to get the Browns pitiful offense back on track.
If Hillis should actually resign with Cleveland, the Browns could ultimately make a drastic adjustment to their draft day plans.
Offensive tackles Riley Reiff from Iowa and Jonathan Martin from Stanford promise to be significant contributors during their first season. The Browns could realistically be put in a place to draft either one of these players and fill a significant hole that Tony Pashos has created with his lack of talent and performance on the field.
Cleveland could also be interested in a guard to help ease the team's mind in the wake of Eric Steinbach's back injury earlier this season.
David DeCastro from Stanford is widely considered the best guard in the draft and is projected to be selected in the 15th to 20th pick in the first round.
The combination of a new tackle and guard could significantly improve the offensive line but would not do much good without a solid running back to block for.
Wide receivers should be a target in April no matter who is on Cleveland's roster come draft day.
The Browns picked up a solid wideout in Greg Little in 2011 but still have not been able to develop Mohamed Massaqoui, Carlton Mitchell, or Jordan Norwood to a high level over the last few seasons.
Peyton Hillis' time with the Browns may or may not be coming to a close, but his affairs with the franchise will easily reverberate through the 2012 season and beyond.
The Browns have gotten much better at drafting quality players over the last two seasons and the fans should be confident in the ability of this team to select quality players that will contribute early.
It is hard to tell the direction this franchise will go over the next three months, but it is very clear that Peyton Hillis will remain at the middle of the situation until a final decision on his future is reached.
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