Friday, May 13, 2011

About that draft . . .

Back from yet another furlough . . .

Let’s see . . . where were we . . . oh yeah, the National Football League draft. What the Browns did and how it impacts on the future.

Getting right to the point. I did not like what General Manager Tom Heckert Jr. did. Except for one pick, I think he could have done a whole lot better, considering the cache he received from Atlanta in the first-round trade that landed five picks.

A statement by Browns President Mike Holmgren following the draft caught my attention.

“As you can see, we placed a priority on filling the roster a little bit without reaching, which is the trick of the draft,” he said. “I think these guys (Heckert and coach Pat Shurmur) did a marvelous job.”

First of all, what else did you expect him to say? He’s not going to come out and say something like: “Actually, I thought they could have done a lot better job considering where we drafted. And I was disappointed we didn’t draft a quarterback.”

So take what Holmgren says with massive doses of salt grains, understand that’s what he had to say and then move on. Focus instead on one part of that statement. The part about reaching.

If drafting Phil Taylor, an overweight boom-or-bust selection, in the first round isn’t reaching, then let’s redefine the term. At best, Taylor is a second-rounder. How he got up that high on the Browns’ board will always remain a mystery.

Reportedly, Heckert was afraid Philadelphia targeted Taylor and moved up five notches to head off that move. He was so determined to beef up the defensive line, he failed to take notice of a weaker area.

Last season, the Cleveland defense played reasonably well. It was the offense that caused most of the late-season problems. Because of the popgun Cleveland attack, the defense found itself on the field far more than it should have been.

Time and again, the offense failed to sustain drives. The league finally figured out how to stop Peyton Hillis and the Browns’ offense crumbled. So, too, did the defense, which clearly ran out of gas.

Where the Browns needed the most help was on offense, most notably the line. There is a considerable weakness on the right side. Large question marks reside at right guard and right tackle. Drafting a water buffalo like Taylor does not solve that problem.

And there was a solution to the problem still on the board. Wisconsin offensive tackle Gabe Carimi was there when Heckert chose the wrong side of the trenches to fortify. The Chicago Bears wisely took Carimi a few picks later.

All the good defensive linemen worthy of being picked in the first round were gone by the time the time the Browns were on the clock. Instead of drafting the best player available, Heckert drafted for need.

Taylor and Carimi will be plugged into the starting lineups as rookies, but Carimi is a much more polished and NFL-ready player. Hazarding a guess here. Carimi, much higher ranked at his position than Taylor was at his, will land in the Pro Bowl. Taylor is a big (literally and otherwise) maybe.

Moving on to the second round and more reaches. Heckert stayed with the defensive line and took Jabaal Sheard, then moved to fortify the weak wide receivers corps with Greg Little. Two more mistakes.

Why a defensive end? The Browns already have Matt Roth Robaire Smith, Jayme Mitchell and Marcus Benard at that position and Chris Gocong played the position in college. There were other viable DEs available in the later rounds.

If Heckert had picked Carimi, he could have addressed the defensive line with his first pick in the second round with Oregon State tackle Stephen Paea, a shorter and much more productive version of Taylor. The Bears got him, too.

And in Little, he selected someone who is relatively new to the position. Making matters worse is the North Carolina wideout had to sit out the entire 2010 season after being suspended for accepting gifts and free trips in violation of NCAA rules.

Combine inexperience with rust and you have a prescription for potential disaster. Especially when you consider two more productive receivers were available at the time – Randall Cobb (grabbed later by Green Bay) and Leonard Hankerson (Washington in the third round).

All Hankerson did at Miami last season was catch 13 touchdown passes and conjure up memories of former Hurricanes greats Andre Johnson, Eddie Brown and Michael Irvin.

Wonder what Heckert saw in Little. Perhaps it was his well-chiseled 6-3, 230-pound frame. Looks like a body builder. (Looks like Tarzan; plays like Jane?) Has the body type of Baltimore receiver Anquan Boldin. But Boldin was a finished product when he arrived in the NFL. Big difference.

It would be extremely surprising if Little is a productive member of the receiving corps this season.

In the end, I’d much rather see Carimi, Paea and Hankerson or Cobb in the Seal Brown and Orange than the troika Heckert selected.

All three players he did select also arrive with red flags, i.e. character issues, having gotten into trouble off the field. We all know Little’s was of the non-violent variety. Not so Sheard and Taylor.

Sheard tossed a guy through a plate glass door in an art gallery last July and had to be pepper sprayed. Taylor began his collegiate career at Penn State and was eventually kicked off the team by coach Joe Paterno, weight gain and participating in a brawl at an on-campus pool party playing major roles.

Now does that mean they’ll encounter problems in the NFL? Not necessarily, but it makes one wonder why Heckert would choose someone with a red flag. Apparently, he likes bad boys.

OK, enough of the negativism. On to the fourth round and some positivism.

Can understand the selection of Southern California tight end Jordan Cameron (not to be confused with California defensive lineman Cameron Jordan). Cameron is as raw as they come. Ground chuck or filet mignon? He’s a basketball player trying to become a football player. Maybe Heckert saw a little Antonio Gates in him.

Now comes Heckert’s best pick. Fullback Owen Marecic will pay more dividends in 2011 (assuming there’s a season) than any of the GM’s selections. You can say buh-bye to Lawrence Vickers.

Marecic is smart, hard-nosed, football-savvy player who plays the game the right way. He will be the perfect complement to Hillis and Montario Hardesty. Too bad it took four rounds before Heckert made a solid pick.

Rounding out the draft, cornerback Buster Skrine (love the name), guard Jason Pinkston and strong safety Eric Hagg are nothing more than roster fodder and possible candidates for special teams.

Other experts have graded this draft anywhere from a solid A to no worse than a B-. Sorry, I don’t see it that way. This one rates a C+ leaning toward a straight C.


  1. Where to begin, Rich?

    Phil Taylor was targeted because Jauron has leaned towards the 2-gap 4-3 with bigger DTs. Taylor fits that bill quite well. I don't even think a guy like Paea was in consideration given the makeup of Jauron's past defenses. It was easy to see before the draft that we had an eye on Taylor because we brought him in for an extensive visit. When you add it all up, it should make more sense, even if it didn't initially.

    As for your Carimi love fest, you should get over it. With his frame and length, he projects solely as a LT in the NFL. We've got this guy Joe Thomas who's pretty good. I know Holmgren has preferred bigger RTs in his past, so I doubt Carimi was even on Heckert's board to begin with.

    A guy like Phil Taylor won't show up a lot on the stat sheet, but combined with Rubin he will make everyone's jobs easier on defense. If our run defense improves, along with increased tackles from our LBs and DEs...then Taylor is doing his job. He's the kind of guy you might not notice until he's not there know what I mean?

    The Sheard pick makes complete sense in every regard. He could potentially be our starting RDE, but will most likely be our starting LDE when all is said and done. He's got a fairly explosive 1st step, but not elite...however he plays the run well and is a relentless football player, so I see him as more of a LDE than a RDE. I know RDE is more important, (Benard will get that opportunity this year) but we didn't have a LDE either, so the pick is justifiable.

    The Greg Little pick surprised me because I had us pegged for more of a slot type of receiver, but it's hard to argue his potential upside. I agree that he will play more sparingly this year than people think, but he does have a legitimate chance to be our future No. 1 receiver once he gets his feet wet.

    I was semi-surprised with the selection of Jordan Cameron. There was some good value at TE in the mid rounds of this past draft, so this looks like a clear-cut case of BPA. Yes, he's a bit raw, but his athletic resume was 2nd to none in the draft. He was the only player in the entire combine who finished in the top 5 in all 7 events for his position. This is elite athleticism we're dealing with here, and it makes me salivate. He should be all ready to go and well-versed in the WCO at just about the same time Ben Watson might be moving on, so it was essentially a smart pick for the future...a guy we can actually develop. He doesn't have to be an elite blocker. All he has to be is adequate in this area, and he'll be good to go.

    I'm with you, and I absolutely LOVE the selection of Owen Marecic. I hate to see Vickers go, but sometimes you've just got to move on. Marecic is extremely smart and can probably look over the defense from the backfield like a QB. Plus, he's younger and a potentially better receiving threat, so it was a very smart pick in my mind...will be the starting FB as a rookie, no doubt about it.

    That's about as far as I'm going to go, but I'll say that we could have done a lot worse with our remaining three picks. Skrine's speed is intriguing, Pinkston's versatility is a plus, and Hagg's college resume more than speaks for itself.

    Not even including the extra 1st and 4th in 2012 (because we don't know yet what they will yield), I'd give this draft a solid B because pretty much everything was covered. Players that can start now, players that will make everyone else's jobs easier, and also some players that we can develop...

    Throw in the 1st and 4th in 2012?...then I give the draft an A.

    I hate to rain on your haterade party, but I think this was about as solid of a draft as we could have had given where we are as a team right now.

    Thanks for reading.

  2. Anon (pls include your name next time) . . .

    No argument regarding Taylor's physical qualifications. And no argument that he's a two-gap guy. Paea, however, is much quicker than Taylor, a better pass rusher than Taylor and a harder worker than Taylor. He's more like Michael Dean Perry. Taylor underachieves. Paea overachieves. Give me an overachiever any time.

    As for Carimi, he's a right tackle in the NFL, He's not good enough to play left tackle. Doesn't have the footwork to be a solid NFL LT. That's why he's projected as a right tackle. At 6-7 and nearly 330 pounds, I'd say he would have been a perfect bookend to Thomas for the Browns. And he plays with a mean streak,, something more Browns could use.

    As for Sheard, you got that wrong, too. He is a much better pass rusher than run defender. He's better suited for the weak side because he's too light to handle strong-side blocking. If that's where the Browns put him, he better gain 10-15 pounds.

    And aren't you forgetting about Matt Roth? Now that the Browns have adopted the 4-3 scheme, he'll be a much better fit at either end than at linebacker. He's much more effective because of his size.

    As for one of the fifth-round picks, I would like to have seen the Browns go after one of Greg Little's teammates at North Carolina, linebacker Quin Sturdivant. Can play any of the three LB positions. Surprised he lasted until the sixth round. He'll be in Arizona's starting lineup sometime this season.

    As for Pinkston's versatility, he played OLT at Pittsburgh. He's not good enough to play that position in the NFL and is much better suited to play the right side, preferably inside at guard. Coincidentally, the Browns need help at RG.

    Cameron Jordan is nothing more than a project. If he is a quick learner and can put on some weight, he's got a shot. But right now, he's a long shot. A somewhat intriguing long shot. He's Evan Moore light.

    If Skrine and Hagg make the club, it'll be as special teamers.

    Thanx for replying. And don't be a stranger.

  3. Rich, this draft was very weak for Offensive line help, and strong for defensive line help. Are you saying we should have reached for an Offensive lineman?

    Go with the flow. Can't fix everything at once.

  4. So, we shouldn't take a DE in round 2 because we "have" Matt Roth, Robaire Smith, Jayme Mitchell, and Marcus Benard? First off, let's not forget that teams play TWO defensive ends at the same time, plus it's always nice to have some depth. Setting that aside, let's take a look...

    Matt Roth has played his entire NFL career as a 3-4 OLB. Can he play 4-3 DE? Maybe. Is he willing to? I don't know.

    Robaire Smith is 33 years old (34 in November) and has averaged 7 games played per year over the last 3. He is coming off serious injuries.

    Marcus Benard is undersized and MIGHT be able to hold down the position as a pass rush specialist, but he hasn't ever played the position at the professional level.

    Jayme Mitchell has zero career starts and 22 career tackles from 2006-2010. Maybe he's developing, but he's hardly a clear starter at this point.

    Most importantly, NOT ONE of those 4 players is under contract for 2011. All four are free agents of one sort or another. Under the old CBA, Marcus Benard would be an exclusive rights free agent, but who knows if that will still be true?

  5. Rich, this draft was very weak for Offensive line help, and strong for defensive line help. Are you saying we should have reached for an Offensive lineman?

    Go with the flow. Can't fix everything at once.

    Drafting Carimi, the third-rated OL, is not a reach. Drafting Taylor, maybe the eighth-best DL and fifth-best DT, is a reach. As for the depth of the OL, eight of them were chosen in the first round (as opposed to 12 DL). I'd say both sides of the trench had plenty of depth.

  6. Yes, Benard is undersized,, but so are Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis (to name a couple) and they're having nice careers with Indianapolis. As for Mitchell, Holmgren and Heckert wondered publicly why he didn't play last season after they picked him off the waiver wire.

    Good point on Smith. But if he's healthy, he's much more effective in the 4-3 than the 3-4, especially as a run stuffer. He flourished in the 4-3 in Houston before they went to the 3-4.

    And Roth, a 4-3 DE in college, also played that position in his first three seasons in Miami before the Dolphins flipped to the 3-4 in 2008 and dropped him back to outside linebacker. He's no stranger to 4-3 DE.

    I wouldn't be surprised, once the labor issues are settled, to see all of them back this season.

    And, guys, could you please drop your name intro these conversations. I know all of you are not named anonymous. It's easy to do. In the select profile drop-down, just place your name (or handle if you prefer) in the name/URL line.

    Thanx in advance.

  7. Rich, nice to see your writings again.

    On Taylor, i am no fan and tend to agree. He just shows me nothing but mass to get excited over. Sadly though i can get no more excited about Paea. Who in college got away with knocking people over with his mass and power. His ability to wrap up appeared highly suspect at best. That simply isn't going to work in the NFL.

    I have no issue with the Sheard pick, enough choir boys time to add some attitude.

    Little may lack some college experience but he came to NC as a player with a lot of upside. I also think people are in for a big surprise. The staff at NC thought enough of him to move him to RB just to get him on the field.

    I agree on Sturdivant i couldn't believe with the issues we have at LB we would keep passing on this guy. He is way to versatile to let slide and not make the call.

  8. Hi Howl . . .

    Little was a quadruple threat in high school. Played quarterback, running back, wide receiver, linebacker, safety and cornerback. Did everything but lead cheers on the sidelines. His best position? Just get him the ball. He comes by his talent naturally. It'll be interesting to see if the Browns take advantage of that versatility.

    I respectfully disagree with you on Paea. He was a playmaker at OSU. He made things happen. He was a disruptor, forcing fumbles and putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. I saw enough of him out here in Pac-10 country to know his game will translate well in the NFL.

    Thanx for finding me. Pls pass the word.