Friday, April 6, 2012

The Liars' Club

Right now is my almost favorite time of the year. Right before the National Football League’s college draft (my personal fave) comes that period leading up to the lottery.

I call it the Liars’ Club period. It’s the time when coaches, general managers, personnel people and anyone remotely connected with the draft play fast and loose with the truth.

Prevarication season is now upon us as the days wind down to the big weekend the NFL has concocted to generate even more popularity for an event that is extremely popular to begin with.

Ever since Mel Kiper Jr. and ESPN joined forces more than a generation ago and took what used to be a mundane event and elevated it to what is now prime-time status over a three-day period, the college draft has become a seasonal phenomenon.

And lying has become the norm as the NFL’s massive rumor mill churns out of control, while self-appointed gurus festoon the draft landscape. Everyone has become an expert in the art of predicting which college star will land with which team.

They don’t stop at round one. Oh no. Many give the entire seven-round package. How and what they predict serves as fuel for discussion in the days and weeks leading up to the draft.

Those who actually draft, meanwhile, barricade themselves in war rooms all around the league, carefully constructing their draft boards, all the while playing games with the media.

Every Browns fan wants to know what the club is going to do with its 13 selections. Will it be an unlucky number? Will General Manager Tom Heckert Jr. reduce that number by trying to trade up? And just what is he planning to do with his first three picks?

With picks 4, 22 and 37, Heckert has lots of room to have some fun. He can trade down, trade back up or stay right where he is. Or a combination of all three.

He uses his teasing powers to send messages to his fellows GMs around the league. He has not ruled out the possibility of drafting Louisiana State cornerback Mo Claiborne, arguably the best defensive player on the board.

How do you pass on the best defensive player on the board? Easy. When your club is one of the worst offensive teams in the NFL, you don’t draft a defensive player at No. 4. But you don’t want other clubs to know that, so you throw out a bone and hope someone jumps at it.

The more we hear that the Browns are interested in taking Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill with their first pick, the more I believe Heckert will go in an entirely different direction.

Like running back, where Trent Richardson’s name is likely to be on the board when NFL Commish Roger Goodell tells the Browns they’re on the clock. Granted the west coast offense is a pass-first scheme, but it goes nowhere without a strong running game and the Browns, as now constituted, don’t have one.

Another possibility would be the Minnesota Vikings at No. 3 surprising everyone and grabbing Claiborne, thus giving Heckert the latitude to tap USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil, Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon or Richardson.

Or he could swap places with St. Louis at No. 6 and still get his man while picking up an extra pick (as if he needed more). The Rams need Blackmon, and either Kalil of Richardson would still be there for the choosing. Kalil (if he’s there, he’d be my personal choice) would make a terrific bookend tackle with Joe Thomas.

Heckert knows he needs help on the offensive line, receiving corps and offensive backfield. The draft is sprinkled with nice depth at all three areas in the first two rounds. This will be his opportunity to finally inject a transfusion of talent on that side of the ball.

This very well could be his last chance to address this aspect of the club and have a good chance to be successful. Without an offense that can score points, the Browns are destined to finish in the basement of the AFC North every season.

Eventually, there will come a time when Browns Nation throws up its hand and says, “Enough already. It’s time to get serious and gives us a team we can be proud of, a team that represents Cleveland the way it used to.”

The so-called Factory of Sadness needs to become the Factory of Happiness. There’s no better time than now to achieve that goal.

And that’s no lie.

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