The Cleveland Browns' Draft, Part II: The Essay That Bores the Living Hell Out of You
by, 04-29-2012 at 08:08 AM (2772 Views)
READ 'PART I' HERE.
I concede that inevitably, the focus of this draft falls on Weeden, but I think that focus is misplaced. Richardson ought to be at the center of the class. In spite of the fact that the league, the media, and the public have fetishized the quarterback position to a degree that Cleveland sportswriters have publicly drooled over the likes of Joe Flacco—JOE FLACCO!—I still don’t think this is the only way to build a competitive football team. I also think that if the conventional wisdom is that two additional first round picks and a second are no object when it comes to finding a franchise quarterback, surely a fourth, fifth, and seventh round pick can be relinquished to land the best runningback prospect since Adrian Peterson. What’s more, we closed the revolving door at right tackle in the same draft and with the correct kind of player: stout, durable, and consistent-if-unspectacular.
The front office prioritized not only running the ball, but stopping the run. We have built a good rotation of defensive linemen who can hold the point and make tackles, and using it effectively will keep them fresh in the fourth quarter, which was a dreadful problem in games last season. We also added depth, speed, and versatility at linebacker, something we sorely needed. I don’t think that it’s overly optimistic to assume that most of these guys will make the team and contribute soon, as this has consistently been the case since the Holmgren-Heckert Junta took over with the 2010 Draft. The Browns’ good performance in scoring defense hid a horrible run defense, and their inability to get stops late in games was a product of inadequate offensive support—we were in the bottom 3rd of the league in time of possession, were one of only four teams to average less than 300 yards per game on offense, and were 30th in points score—throughout the game and lack of depth on the defensive line and at linebacker. This draft invested heavily in both lines, in tackling on defense, and (obviously) running on offense.
Now we pass judgment on Brandon Weeden. Was it too early? They must plead guilty. Would he have been there at #37? Still guilty (probably, anyway). A few things outside of their control certainly weighed upon the front office, but I can’t help thinking that the Browns helped create the situation which forced them to draft Weeden in this spot. It has nothing to do with trade for Richardson or the trade last year in which they passed on Julio Jones (though they used Atlanta’s pick from that trade to take Weeden). The Browns’ front office has, the past several years, looked almost indifferent to whether or not the team won games; I’m not trying to say this is fair, but I think it happens to be the feeling of a lot of very impatient people in Cleveland. Personally, I think this is prudent, but it’s a difficult tack to take for any significant length of time, especially in a league where point totals and passing yards are soaring and the hometown team is only averaging 13.6 points per game and hasn’t been good (or even able to throw the ball consistently) my entire life. Last season, the Browns sent Colt McCoy in unarmed. McCoy had an inconsistent running game; bad receiver play; a porous right side of the line; an unprepared, inexperienced head coach; a non-existent offseason; and, he himself lacked the physical tools to succeed or even show the capacity to succeed in the future under those circumstances. I thought his prospects could be improved enough by adding Richardson, a vertical threat wide receiver, and a right tackle, but in a league that values quarterback play so highly and promotes it so shamelessly—so shamelessly as to try to convince me that Mark Sanchez, Matt Ryan, and Joe Flacco are precious commodities to be cherished rather than the exceedingly average players that they are—the center could not hold in a town which hasn’t had a decent quarterback since I was eight, and whose best years were clearly behind him even then. Richardson was the right pick, but after Blackmon, Kendall Wright was clearly the only receiver with a first round grade, and they obviously thought the tackle class was even weaker at the top. What other card did they have to play? I might have liked Courtney Upshaw, but he does present problems for a team running the 4-3 and I don’t deny it. I don’t know who else we should have taken.
They may well have liked Weeden, but I’ll wonder aloud here if this was not a business decision foisted upon them by an uneasy owner’s box. Weeden, I painfully concede, will be able to navigate throwing lanes Colt McCoy simply can’t. In that, he will be an improvement, and he will benefit certainly from Richardson and presumably from consistent play from the right side of the line, as well as the continued development of Greg Little—who, remember, is only entering his third season of his life as a wide receiver—and a shiny, shiny new toy Travis Benjamin, who will keep safeties back and give Massaquoi, Cribbs, and our bevy of tight ends room to work. This offense could score points. The drawback to Weeden has to be his age. It’s disingenuous to suggest that he would have been a top-10 pick had he been twenty-two; at twenty-two, we would expect more improvement, but now he’s a rookie playing in the theoretical prime of his career. On the other hand, I do not question his ability, and I think he could be a success if we measure him against the following standard: that he gives us five or six years of competitive football now—playing with a few more weapons than Colt McCoy ever got—and the freedom to choose and to groom another quarterback to take his place in 2018 or so. I think by that metric he may be successful, but it’s another question entirely as to whether or not that’s worth the twenty-second pick. They said it was, and that’s what we’ll live with.
I don’t like our work as much as previous years, even though I think the team is unquestionably better and deeper on both sides of the ball with these additions. They gave me the back I’ve wanted the past three months and the speedy receiver I’ve been begging for the past three years. Compared against the division, I don’t like our work as much as the Steelers’ this year, and the Bengals did a very nice job filling needs. I think we line up better against Baltimore’s class, but they lacked the picks at the top of the Draft to make the difference we could (or could have, if you really don’t like Weeden). I’d been saying to people the last few days that we were close. We’d had two good drafts, and if we had a third, solid one, we’d be in a position to contend for a wild card spot in 2014. I don’t think this undoes all of that exactly, but I’d grown used to looking at the seasons as phases building toward something. After this draft, we’re clearly supposed to be there. I just hope we’re ready. I’m not sure I am.