Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The naysayer cometh

It's so easy to sit at the keyboard four days after the completion of the National Football League's college draft and indulge in soothsaying.

Isn't that what most people do after the draft experts, fans and pundits pick apart what the so-called experts supposedly accomplished in the three-day fleshfest that produces the NFL's future stars and busts?

To the pragmatists of the world, three years is the barometer by which to judge a draft. But like most everyone, we can't wait that long to judge how well -- or badly -- the Browns did and what kind of grade to apply to their efforts. No, this calls for more immediate action.

After the first two days, it was difficult to tell whether Dwight Clark, Butch Davis, Phil Savage and George Kokinis had sneaked back into 76 Lou Groza Blvd. and masqueraded as Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert. That's how iffy three of the club's first four picks were in the first couple of nights. Then they came back to complete the exercise in dart-throwing on day three and fared no better.

For a club that had ample opportunity to improve what clearly was the most needy side of the football, the H men failed, choosing instead to address a defense that actually played a lot better toward the end of last season.

At the same, Holmgren and Heckert ignored blazing red flags draped all over their two second-round choices (safety T.J. Ward and running back Montario Hardesty), choosing instead to go along with their medical team's positive evaluation.

Both men arrive with a litany of injuries. Ward had reconstructive surgery in high school on a ruptured patellar tendon; a torn MCL that required two surgeries in 2006 at Oregon; and a high ankle sprain that shut him down for five games in his senior season. But he also will be remembered for his 10-tackle game against Ohio State in this year's Rose Bowl.

Hardesty, a running back in the Jamal Lewis mold, has had major surgeries on both knees, a stress foot fracture, a high ankle sprain and a shoulder subluxation (a temporary dislocation of the shoulder joint).

These guys are an injury waiting to happen and yet, the Cleveland medical team geenlighted them. A major, major risk considering the violent nature of the game they play. No question the Browns could use a hard-hitting, missile-seeking safety and Hardesty gives the Browns toughness in the running game. But it'll be a cross-your-fingers situation every time they step on the field. They're no good to the club if they're injured and/or on injured reserve.

The selection of Joe Haden with the first pick makes sense in one aspect and no sense in another. Sure he was the best cornerback on the board, but he's not a shutdown type of corner, the kind you would take with the seventh overall pick.

Didn't Heckert already trade for Sheldon Brown to team with Eric Wright at the corners? Where does Haden fit into that equation? He'll start for certain, but whose time is going to cut? And don't even think about Brown shifting to safety. The switch is more difficult than one would think. Someone underserving is going to sit.

A smarter move would have been the selection of Iowa tackle Bryan Bulaga, the most NFL-ready offensive lineman in the draft. Somehow, the thought of Bulaga and Joe Thomas as bookend tackles for the next 10 seasons would have been ideal.

The key to the success of this draft for the Browns will be the development of Colt McCoy, who is determined to prove that smallish quarterbacks can win in the NFL. Will he be the next Drew Brees? Holmgren is gambling he will. We'll find out in 2011.

As for the remainder of the draft, the H men drafted projects. Guard Shawn Lauvao, safety Larry Asante, wide receiver Carlton Mitchell and defensive end Clifton Geathers are special teams fodder. Lauvao is too raw to step in right away; Asante, a hitter in the Ward mold, is a better run stopper than pass defender; Mitchell has speed and that's it; and Geathers is tall, that's all.

In summing up, Holmgren and Heckert came up with one solid pick, a couple of ifs, a quarterback who won't play in his rookie season and four projects.

Right now, that projects to a low C. But if Ward and Hardesty remain healthy and McCoy develops into the next Brees, that grade goes up substantially.

So sit back and wait. That's all we can do now.


  1. Rich gives the Browns a grade of C-minus. Not exactly a "sit back and wait" approach, which I agree is the right tack.

    "Underserving"? What does that mean?

    Anyone can wind up on the IR, even somebody who's never been injured in college, which Bulaga has.

  2. For what it's worth, Bulaga has had only one major surgery on one of his shoulders that caused him to miss something like a half dozen games early in his career. The reason he missed three games last season was a thyroid condition that was discovered and is now being treated accordingly. He's going to be Green Bay's offensive left tackle for the next decade.