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A Brief History of the Browns, or Why We Will Be Better But Still Struggle in 2011

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I see a lot of Browns fans overreacting to today's admittedly dreadful performance. You can expect to see more games like this, though, when we run into decent-to-good teams. The depth just isn't there yet, and there's good reason for that, about which more in just a moment.

As for today's game, we knew this team wasn't going to be great this year, and we were weak in some areas that the Titans are strong. We're not fast enough at linebacker, and they have athletic tight ends. Our pass rush isn't consistent, and their line protects well. Sheldon Brown is old, and couldn't cover most high school wide receivers at this point in his career. On offense, our receivers are, um... not good. When you have no one open on the outside, the passing game goes through the tight ends and runningbacks underneath, and that can generate yards but it won't generate points. Here's the big problem: the 2008 and 2009 drafts. There is a serious dearth of third- and fourth-year contributors on this team. Allow me to illustrate. I've taken the liberty of bolding the players still on the team.

2008 Picks: Beau Bell (LB, 4th round); Martin Rucker (TE, 4th); Ahtyba Rubin (DT, 6th); Paul Hubbard (WR, 6th); Alex Hall (LB, 7th)
--As you can see, no picks in the first three rounds and only one guy who's still with the team (and is in fact quite a decent player). Bell is the Arena League, and Rucker and Hubbard are waiting for a call. Hall has bounced around with the Giants a bit, but the only real contributor out of this draft is Rubin.

2009 Picks: Alex Mack (C, 1st); Brian Robiskie (WR, 2nd); Mohamed Massaquoi (WR, 2nd); David Veikune (DE, 2nd); Kaluka Maiava (LB, 4th); Don Carey (CB, 6th); Coye Francies (CB, 6th); James Davis (RB, 6th)
--That second round is absolutely brutal. One kind of respectable #2/#3 wide receiver (that would be Massaquoi) and another one who's never really developed as a pro at all (that's you, Robiskie). The team straight up cut Veikune. Mack is a good center and Maiava adds depth at LB, but that's just not good enough when you have FOUR picks in the first FIFTY TWO. None of the other choices is a real contributor here or elsewhere. Don't forget that this is also the draft where Mangini traded out of the #5 pick, and basically gave the Jets a ticket up twelve spots so that we could get a bunch of Mangini-system veterans. This really typifies the Mangini regime, who was hunkered down and trying to save his job from the get-go, liquidating the team in favor of his guys, who weren't exactly talented but were players who could walk into his system without a ton of instruction. Don't forget he traded Braylon Edwards for the same price--not prospects to develop or future picks, but his guys and special teams contributors stuck in New York.

Now, let's look at the difference between the Savage-Crennel and Mangini-Kokinis regimes, and when Holmgren and Heckert started calling the shots.

2010 Picks: Joe Haden (CB, 1st); T.J. Ward (S, 2nd); Montario Hardesty (RB, 2nd); Colt McCoy (QB, 3rd); Shawn Lauvao (G, 3rd); Larry Asante (S, 5th); Carlton Mitchell (WR, 6th); Clifton Geathers (DE, 6th)
--As you can see here, there are FOUR current starters from this draft, and another significant player in Hardesty. Mitchell was supposed to crack the lineup more this year, but a preseason injury sidetracked him, so who knows about his status in the future. Haden and Ward are serious pros, though, and Lauvao is a solid player at RG. Hardesty is a talented guy, and you've seen flashes of that the last few weeks, but he's still coming off injury and needs to establish himself as a consistent force on offense. Then there's McCoy, who has potential but a tough assignment without any receivers open on the outside.

2011 Picks: Phil Taylor (DT, 1st); Jabaal Sheard (DE, 2nd); Greg Little (WR, 2nd); Jordan Cameron (TE, 4th); Owen Marecic (FB, 4th); Buster Skrine (CB, 5th); Jason Pinkston (OL, 6th); Eric Hagg (CB, 7th)
--Again, you have four starters in this class, some planned and some because of injury, but you have contributors. Taylor (who's big, disruptive, and athletic) and Sheard (who ate Jake Long's lunch last week) look good on the field, but are rookies. Owen Marecic is the starting fullback, and Pinkston is pitching in admirably as the starting LG for the injured Eric Steinbach. Skrine is a nickel who looks poised to take a starting job from Sheldon Brown before Week 8. Little has been out of football for a year, but is probably the most talented receiver on the team, but that position takes time to develop and he has so little help. Jordan Cameron is a long-term project and converted basketball player at tight end, and Hagg missed most of training camp and preseason with injury but still made the team.

Anyway, the upshot is, this team is extremely young, and as you can see, the drafts of the Holmgren era are already more fruitful than those of the Combined Juntas of the Bitterest Fruits of the Belichick Coaching Tree. Those '08 and '09 drafts, though, are precisely the reason why this team is struggling--two legitimate NFL starters from all those picks, and only four guys still left on the team! Based on the last two years, we have a solid foundation, but we need another wide receiver (Justin Blackmon, anyone? We'll draft high enough to take him), another cornerback and a younger look at linebacker (here's where that pick from the Falcons and our early 2nd rounder go), and shore up depth on the line. That's your draft and that's your future... unless we decide to bail on McCoy, but I don't think that's happening right now.

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Updated 10-03-2011 at 01:33 AM by mkocs6

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