Thursday, April 21, 2011

Playing a game of if

If I’m Browns General Manager Tom Heckert Jr., I would . . .

* Curse my former coach for winning too many games last season and dropping to the sixth slot in the first round of the National Football League’s college draft next week.

That’s right. If Eric Mangini had lost just one more game, the Browns would have tied Denver, Buffalo and Cincinnati at 4-12 and sneaked ahead of 5-11 Arizona into the top five, maybe as high as two. And in this year’s draft, that’s vital.

That’s because there are only four elite players there for the picking. The kind of players who can come in right away and not only make the team, but start and become an impact player.

All four most likely will be gone when the Browns go on the clock next Thursday in day one of the truncated lottery. Their only hope is if a couple of teams ahead of them develop severe brain cramps and make an odd selection.

The Cincinnati Bengals, selecting at No. 4, quite probably will take wide receiver A.J. Green, who would look great in a Cleveland uniform and provide immediate help to a sickly offense. Bitter pill for Browns fans to ingest.

Cornerback Patrick Peterson, arguably the best athlete in the draft, won’t be there at No. 6. Look for the Denver Broncos to snap him up at No. 2. But if the Broncos pass on Peterson, the Arizona Cardinals won’t three picks later.

Outside linebacker Von Miller, the best pass rusher in this draft class, probably won’t get past Buffalo at No. 3. And it would also be shocking if the best defensive lineman, tackle Marcell Dareus, is still on the board at No. 6. The Browns need help along the defensive line in a serious way, but so do the Broncos.

So there you have it. The four best players. Gone. There sit the Browns in prayer mode. With their fingers crossed. And unless the Cardinals opt for a quarterback, say Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert, Heckert will be forced to make a command decision.

* Not draft wide receiver Julio Jones (drops too many passes), defensive ends Robert Quinn (didn’t play at all last season), and Da’Quan Bowers (injury history) or defensive tackle Nick Fairley (another Gerard Warren?). If I’m picking sixth overall, I want the best player at his position. And by taking the aforementioned trio, I’m settling for second-best.

* Look for a trading partner and move down in the first round because I can get a very good player several slots lower and an extra draft pick. Preferably a second- or third-rounder. Not too low, mind you. Say around 11 or 12. If Gabbert and Auburn’s Cam Newton are gone, Minnesota at No. 12 might try to move up because they need a quarterback. Then I’d go after the best offensive tackle on the board because the right side of my offensive line needs help in a far out way.

* Welcome the suggestions of Mike Holmgren, but remind him that I’m pretty good at this drafting thing and I’d appreciate it if he kept most of his opinions to himself unless a quarterback is involved in the discussion.

* Look for that wide receiver I didn’t get in the first round (unless I get real lucky and Green falls to us) on the second day. A guy like Leonard Hankerson would look good. Had a pretty good game against Ohio State last season. Nice size, good speed and he catches most everything thrown his way.

* Wait until the middle rounds to go after the pass rushers Dick Jauron needs for his 4-3 scheme. I discovered Trent Cole in 2005 for Philadelphia in round five. If I could do it there, I can do it with the Browns. The hidden gems are out there. I love digging for and then unearthing them.

* Not be satisfied with the secondary and look for some help for T. J. Ward and Joe Haden. Hopefully, I can get lucky two years in a row. There should be some good secondary guys there on day three of the draft.

* Expect to come out of this year’s draft with as many starters as last season. And if Montario Hardesty and Shaun Lauvao can stay healthy, that number climbs to five. If we get lucky and come up with four or five more starters this year, I won’t have to curse our coach for not losing enough games. We’ll be good enough to drop at least into the middle of the pack. And for the Browns, that’s a giant leap forward.

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