With the 248th selection, the second draft under the Holmgren Junta is complete. This offseason, with addition of new coach Pat Shurmur, should mark the beginning of a transition in earnest toward the West Coast system and the re-institution of a 4-3 defense. I'll try to give an even-handed appraisal of the moves, what we can expect, and what we have yet to learn. I hope everyone enjoys it and can fill in the gaps I'll no doubt leave.
The Trade: This may be looked back on fondly one day as a move that helped the Browns turn the corner and come back into contention in the brutal AFC North. I agreed with every premise of the move. There were four truly elite players that were worth the sixth pick (or higher) in this draft (and I list them in no particular order): A.J. Green, Patrick Peterson, Marcell Dareus, and Patrick Peterson. At #6, the Browns needed two teams to reach for a quarterback for one of them--any of whom would have filled a position of need for the club--to fall to them, and only one of them did. Their discipline, as it turned out, was our gain. The Falcons gave us a king's ransom. Their first round picks in 2011 and 2012, their second rounder in 2011, and their fourth round positions in both 2011 and 2012. A beautiful spot for the team to be in, and it signals an opportunity to make a real move toward contention in the 2012 season if McCoy turns out to be the quarterback, and a real opportunity to secure a high-pick quarterback in a deeper class if this season exposes immutable flaws. All in all, an excellent move.
Round 1, Pick 21 (and the trade): Phil Taylor (DT, Baylor)
Taylor is an enormous man at 6'3", 334 lbs. The Browns traded back up to #21 in order to take him, almost immediately after Iowa's Adrian Clayborn went off the board to Tampa Bay at #20. When they traded down to #27, I thought they might be targeting Clayborn or Cameron Heyward (DL, Ohio State); it would seem that I was right about Clayborn and wrong about Heyward (who will probably turn out to be a fine player in a few years in Pittsburgh). It looks as though the Browns had two defensive linemen they liked in Clayborn and Taylor, and when one went off the board they took the steps they felt they needed to take in order to ensure they got him. It may have needlessly cost them a third round pick, but they had that luxury after the trade with Atlanta netted them a virtual third rounder. They're putting together a stout middle of the defense, with Ahtyba Rubin and Taylor. I am a bit leery of having two NTs in the middle of 4-3, but this should help the team stop the run, a glaring weakness of the defense late in games last season.
Round 2, Pick 37: Jabaal Sheard (DE, Pittsburgh)
At 6'3"/264, Sheard projects as a defensive end, I think, and should have an immediate impact as rush end. The Browns chose not to gamble on Da'quan Bowers' knee here, and this conservative pick isn't sexy, but he was the Defensive Player of the Year in the Big East. An AFCA first team All-American, the Browns pick a dependable pass rusher should benefit from all the blocks eaten by Rubin and Taylor. The team doubled the size of the defensive line with these first two selections, and should boost a flagging pass rush and plug the center. A solid selection that won't turn heads, but probably won't bite them, either.
Round 2, Pick 59: Greg Little, (WR, North Carolina)
As someone who has agitated for a wide receiver for the last three seasons, I am ecstatic with this pick. At nearly 6'3", 220 lbs., he has great size for a receiver in a town like Cleveland with an open-air stadium late in the season. He has great skill, a really graceful player who would have projected a first-rounder had he played this season. With the selection of Little, who was suspended for the 2010 season for lying to the NCAA about some benefits he received, this means the Browns have drafted three players with 'character issues' in their past: Taylor was involved in a fight at a fraternity house when he played at Penn State before transferring to Baylor; Sheard in a fight in Pittsburgh as well; Little with 'improper' benefits. The Browns snagged a receiver who truly does have the potential to be a star in a few years if he develops. His highlight video on NFL.com will give you an indication of the type of potential he has as a player. Let's just hope he's in playing shape.
The Browns had no picks in Round 3.
Round Four, Pick 102: Jordan Cameron (TE, Southern Cal)
Cameron is a large, pass-catching tight end whose 6'5", 254 lbs. body should serve him well in the West Coast system. He is an interesting prospect, and his selection ahead of several other prospects like Sam Acho out of Texas and Kendall Hunter from Oklahoma State, tells us a bit of what the Browns are thinking as well. Evan Moore is not the most durable player, Ben Watson is probably seen as a temporary solution (with injury skeletons in his own closet, as well), and don't even get me started on the now-released Robert Royal, who may have been the worst free agent acquisition of all time. So, Cameron could emerge as a real weapon in McCoy's arsenal sooner than later, as the team looks to add dimension to their passing game.
Round 4, Pick 124: Owen Marecic (FB, Stanford)
You may remember Marecic from the Orange Bowl (when you weren't drooling over Andrew Luck) as ESPN promoted him as an old-timey, two-way player who started at both fullback and linebacker. As a pure blocker, this suggests that Lawrence Vickers (who I think is a restricted free agent this year) could be on his way out. The Browns will now have two blocking fullbacks, and in addition plan to use Peyton Hillis more at the position once Montario Hardesty comes back (hopefully) from his knee injury. He could also play a role on special teams as a blocker and tackler, given his background. He stands 6'1", 248.
Round 5, Pick 137: Buster Skrine (CB, Tennessee-Chattanooga)
Skrine has a great name (at least I think so), and he ran a 4.22/40 at UT-Chat (but 4.48 at the Combine makes this information questionable). Either way, he has great on the field speed, but is only 5'10", 186 and could have problems with big receivers. He adds depth at the corner position and could be featured in nickel and dime packages, as well as in the return game. The Browns needed depth at the cornerback position, as Joe Haden is developing nicely, but Sheldon Brown's advancing age and Eric Wright's inconsistent play have been troubling.
Round 5, Pick 150: Jason Pinkston (OT, Pittsburgh)
The big fella is 6'3", 317 lbs. with a 34" reach. He's the second Panther the Browns have selected, I would expect him to be groomed to play on the suspect right side of our offensive line. The left side is solid with Thomas and Steinbach, and Alex Mack is developing into a nice anchor at center; the Browns struggled to both run the ball and protect McCoy on the right side. I anticipate the Browns to tab second year player Shaun Lauvao as the starting right guard, a third round selection from last year who missed a lot of the season with personal issues and nagging injuries. Tony Pashos should return at right tackle, but I think Pinkston could be developed as a starter within a year or two.
The Browns had no picks in Round 6.
Round 7, Pick 248: Eric Hagg (S, Nebraska)
For a second straight year, the Browns spend a late round pick on a safety from Nebraska (last year, they selected Larry Asante, who failed to make the team). A unanimous all-Big 12 selection in 2010, the 6'1", 209 lbs. Hagg should provide flexible depth in the defensive backfield behind emerging T.J. Ward. He demonstrated the ability to play nickelback at Nebraska, as well, may be able to contribute on obvious passing downs as well as in the kicking game.
The Browns address serious needs at wide receiver and on the defensive line and in the secondary. They failed to fill holes at linebacker, and have yet to develop or draft a potential 3rd down back for their offense, both of which they should shop the free agent market for once that activity is, you know, legal again. This draft sets the stage for continued improvement in 2011. Though the Browns have posted back-to-back 5-11 records, the team was clearly more competitive and played a much more difficult schedule in 2010 as compared to 2009; they were destined to lose games because they made costly mistakes. They turned the ball over too much, committed too many penalties, and did not tackle well enough to stop the run in big situations. The Browns' receiving corps, too, failed to get open against press coverage. These picks address as many of those issues as can be addressed in a draft, and the new program as well as a more favorable schedule should produce more wins and more confidence in 2011. The Browns are in a position to make a move to contend in 2012 if McCoy shows signs of developing into a franchise quarterback. If not, they are in quite the position to offer a substantial package for the right to draft Andrew Luck--if Holmgren believes the quarterback is the one piece missing.
Post-draft Free Agents the Browns should (eventually) consider:
Armando Allen (RB, Notre Dame)
Brandon Saine (RB, Ohio State)
Graig Cooper (RB, Miami)
Andre Holmes (WR, Hillsdale)
Terence Tolliver (WR, Louisiana State)
Daniel Ziemba (OL, Auburn)
Mark Herzlich (LB, Boston College)
Jeremiha Hunter (LB, Iowa)
Kendric Burney (CB, North Carolina)
Deunta Williams (CB, North Carolina)
Devon Torrence (CB, Ohio State)
Deandre McDaniel (S, Clemson)
Jeron Johnson (S, Boise State)
Let me know if you think I'm overlooking anyone or anything. I don't think I looked at things through rose-tinted glasses, though.