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The Cleveland Browns' Draft, Part II: The Essay That Bores the Living Hell Out of You

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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.

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Updated 04-29-2012 at 09:34 PM by mkocs6

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  1. Polishguy00's Avatar
    Went back and forth with Hack on their draft. Once you remove Weeden, it is the perfect draft. I've been banging the build depth drum about the Browns since the end of the season. They did that. They probably fixed the problems with the right side of the offensive line and they badly needed LBs. The only way the Weeden pick can be salvaged is if he learns very quickly and is playing full time by next year, but the problem of picking him in the first round is now you are expecting him to play right away. He was in a one read offense and if you look closely enough, you see a ball that was late a lot more than you are being told and many throws were bailed out by Justin Blackmon. He has virtually no experience under center. He did not show great work under pressure and almost HAD to make a 5-7 step drop to throw well. Lots to learn and the pick slot may hinder it. I liked his value at #37 because it could have bought time and the Browns could have sold people on a "developmental/back-up" idea. With the pick slot and the McCoy trade rumors, they can't.

    But, seriously, other than Weeden, I love their draft for what they needed to accomplish. And they needed it to be good because the rest of the division has excellent drafts on paper as well.
  2. Pruitt's Avatar
    Great analysis. One weird thought I just had about Wheedon - he is already at the age where a QB in the league had better be at his prime.

    And what I really don't like about the team's situation is that if he isn't an improvement on McCoy THIS season, than the team will have to go QB shopping in the next draft. Because if he isn't NFL ready now, can the team wait two years hoping that their 30 year old QB is finally ready?

    The more I think about this pick, the less I like it.

    As for the rest of the draft, it looks good to me - but my level of pre-draft analysis is very low. I always like to see teams pick guys that weigh over 280 pounds. You can never, ever have enough linemen.
  3. mkocs6's Avatar
    Yeah, since this section dwells on Weeden so much, it comes off a bit more negative than it should. I do like almost all of our picks individually, and as I said, we accomplished a lot: drafted a true right tackle, built up depth on both side of the line and a true rotation on defense, added faster linebackers, and finally got a vertical threat wide receiver. We even took a flier on a corner with a second-round grade late, which was our other position of need. I expect that Sheldon Brown will finally move to safety at some time this year to fill the gap there, and I'm glad we didn't take a safety considering this class.

    I think the reason I don't feel as good about this draft is because picking Weeden at #22 forces the team into win-now mode, when I was really expecting the team to either make or start to make that move next year. I thought with new toys such as we got in this draft, it would give McCoy a final a chance to solidify himself, and if he failed, we would take Jones or Barkley or someone else. So, even though I love the rest of the draft, I'm as caught up in the Weeden pick as everyone else.
  4. Trumpetbdw's Avatar
    From a fan perspective, I get that drafting Weeden in the 1st feels like it should be win now. But win now is not necessarily, or shouldn't be anyway, the goal of a team that takes a QB in the 1st round. Clearly he'll get the chance to start, likely from day 1, but just like in many cases with rookie QBs, it should be with the mindset that he'll take his share of lumps.

    I like Colt McCoy. I think he's a smart kid who can function as a very good backup in many situations, and could be a pretty good starter in the perfect situation. Cleveland was by no means the perfect situation (says Captain Obvious). It's easy to say he never had the proper weapons to work with, and was never given a fair amount of time to develop. It's doubly easy to say that now that he finally has weapons that should be further developed (like Greg Little), and a legit threat at RB to take the pressure off, that McCoy would have been set up perfectly in year three to have success. However, it has never seemed that he's had the full trust of that organization, when even after drafting him they've treated him in a very lukewarm manner. Plus, is putting a small, weak-armed QB in the heart of the Great Lake region really the best situation for him in the first place. He doesn't have Chad Pennington's accuracy, nor even Pennington's mediocre arm strength prior to his shoulder issues. He has the arm that Pennington took with him to Miami, which is enough in a perfect environment. That's why going to a dome would be McCoy's best bet, not Cleveland. But if he does stick around, I do think he's good enough to be a legit backup. And remember, McCoy has actually had a better start to his career than Drew Brees, who all shorter QBs are compared to (and I was shocked just now when I double-checked to find that McCoy is actually 6'2". He plays smaller than that).

    So all of that leads to whether or not Weeden was a great enough need/smart enough risk to justify reaching for him at #22. Two things must go into that decision, but before those two, I'll tell you the one that doesn't. Next year. It is bad business to look ahead to what might be available next year, and hold your chips until then. I don't care who's available next year, there's never a guarantee that you're going to be able to grab that player, be it a FA or a draft pick, and that it will be an instant success. Plus, with Shurmur in year 2, does he, or possible certain members of the front office, survive another 4 or 5 win season? So let's take next year out of it.

    1. Do you believe in the kid (adult in this case) you're drafting? This doesn't necessarily only apply to picks in round 1. But when McCoy continued to fall past the point many believed he should have been considered, including past Cleveland, then Cleveland seemingly begrudgingly selected him as a project, that never seemed to inspire confidence that they believed he was the answer at the position. With Weeden, I think it's pretty clear management believes that he's the right guy for this team.

    Verdict: Check

    2. Does he fit the style of offense you want to play? Let's analyze...
    Cleveland has slowly and quietly been trying to build an identity since Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert (evidently another doppleganger to me according to some friends, he joins the likes of Kevin James and Uncle Kracker) joined forces in 2010. They have a pretty good pass defense, and have built a pretty solid offensive line. Hillis' performance 2 years ago gave them hope that they could become smashmouth, and the drafting of Phil Taylor last year started to address the run defense deficiencies. Obviously things didn't work as planned with Hillis, and they still have some ways to go, but by continuing to address their run defense, as well as grabbing TRich to hopefully (for their sake, not mine) give them that Adrian Peterson-type impact, and Mitchell Schwartz to solidify the right side of their line, their identity has officially been established as smash-mouth.

    Now with that style being established, is Weeden a good fit. Well, it appears to be a mixed bag. Weeden certainly did not come from that style of play at Okie State. But he has the size and the arm necessary to effectively run a smashmouth offense. If you build your team around the run, with the goal of wearing down opponents, the best compliment to that is a guy who can take advantage of play-action, and rifle the ball downfield. You do not want a dinker and dunker. There is no question that Weeden has the physical ability to successfully pull that off. And with Greg Little and this speedster from Florida, he also has some weapons that may be able to take advantage of a defense that is forced to stack the line to stop the run. Sure, it will take development in his footwork, and taking snaps from center, but I see no reason to believe that Weeden can't be a quick study in that regard. Ben Roethlisberger ran a lot of spread and shot gun in college, and yet was able to make a quick transition to the pro game because he had a smashmouth offense, a shut down defense, and had the arm to make the plays downfield required of fully executing that style.

    Verdict: Check

    Weeden has the belief of the organization. He has the size and arm to execute the style of offense that they're committing themselves to. So his selection was important. If the Browns kept Colt McCoy as their starter, for even one more year, they would have been going about this half way. But in the NFL, you have to fully submerge yourself in a plan, and by grabbing Weeden, that's exactly what they did.

    As for his age. Yes, it's a concern, and a major risk. However, if they are right, and make no mistake the HAVE to be right, Weeden could easily have 10-12 years of quality play in him. He doesn't have the wear and tear of a normal 28 year old. QBs, if protected, can last a long time. And Cleveland is running the absolute perfect offense to protect him. Ultimately, in the first round, you want a guy who you can rely on for 10 years. Despite his advanced age, there's no reason to believe that if Weeden is the real deal, he can't still excel at age 36, 37, or even 38.

    And one more note on their draft. Obviously Richardson is most compared to Adrian Peterson. He's expected to have an immediate impact. Keep this thought in mind.

    In 2006, the Minnesota Vikings finished 6-10 with weak-armed Brad Johnson struggling his way through his final season as a starter. In 2007, the Vikings drafted Peterson, and replaced Johnson with a stronger armed 2nd year QB named Tarvaris Jackson. And while they only finished 8-8, the actual improvement is noteworthy. In 2006, the Vikings finished 26th in points scored averaging 17.6 ppg. They finished 22nd in point differential at -2.8 ppg. In 2007, they immediately improved to 15th in points at 22.8 ppg, and 10th in point differential at +3.4 ppg. That is an 83 point jump on the season, and all this with TARVARIS JACKSON AS THEIR STARTING QB.

    By fully committing to a plan as they have, absolutely Trent Richardson could have a gigantic impact on their entire team. And if Weeden proves to add a downfield dimension to their offense, the Browns could easily be the surprise of the NFL as early as this year, and if not, then certainly 2013.

    Is all of that enough to overtake Pittsburgh, Baltimore, or even Cincy? Let me just say that Cincy-Cleveland should become a relevant rivalry again soon, and if I were Baltimore, I'd be more than a little concerned that irrelevancy may be right around the corner.

    Pittsburgh? Not a chance! (sorry, had to )