Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Grading time

It’s time once again, Browns fans, for the fun part of the National Football League’s annual college draft. Yep, it’s time to grade how the Browns did last weekend in their 2012 venture into the unknown.

And before you get started on how silly and stupid it is to grade what any team does in the draft, know this: Of course it's silly and stupid, but it’s still a lot of fun and shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

That said, let’s take a hard look at what Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert Jr. did this past weekend and slap a grade on it.

Just how well did the Browns do by drafting Trent Richardson, Brandon Weeden, Mitchell Schwartz, John Hughes, Travis Benjamin, James-Michael Johnson, Ryan Miller, Emmanuel Acho, Billy Winn, Trevin Wade and fullback Brad Smelley?

As previously blogged, they got off to a great start by making certain Richardson would wind up in the Seal Brown and Orange. There is no question he will have a seriously profound effect on the Cleveland offense this season.

It was clearly a gigantic step in the right direction even though it cost them three picks. And I don’t care if Minnesota Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman ran a bluff on them, which is entirely possible, Holmgren and Heckert did the right thing.

After that, they took a few stupid pills.

Drafting Weeden at #22 was a definitely a panic move. We’ll never know it, of course, but the 28-year-old gunslinger from Oklahoma State most likely would have been there with the Browns’ second-round pick at #37.

No team between #22 and #37 was going to take him to be a backup. Not at his age and certainly not as high in the draft. Maybe in the middle or later rounds, but not the first or second.

And with offensive linemen Riley Reiff and David DeCastro still on the board at that point, Holmgren and Heckert (more Holmgren than Heckert) slapped on their blinders and lost sight of the fact their team needed a right tackle in a most serious way.

And that’s why they took Schwartz, clearly inferior to Reiff and DeCastro, in the second round. Basically, they got it backward. Reiff or DeCastro and then Weeden would have been the more prudent way to select.

In the next five or so years, we’ll get a first-hand comparative look at how this went down because DeCastro was snapped up by the Pittsburgh Steelers two picks later. Yes, he plays guard and Schwartz is a tackle, but DeCastro is versatile enough to move over one slot and be just as effective.

Now we get to the fun part of the H&H show: The third round that lifted the collective eyebrow of Browns Nation. Not that the club traded out of their original pick to pick up up the additional fourth-round selection they lost in the Richardson deal, but the player they selected.

When Hughes’ name was announced, puzzled looks adorned the pro football landscape. Check your pre-draft positional lists, all you gurus. See his name anywhere? No? Shocking.

So who is this guy Hughes? A run stuffer, the Browns proudly proclaimed. The first indication that Heckert finally realized his club still had problems stopping the run.

The reason the Cleveland defense against the pass was ranked second in the entire NFL last season was because few teams threw on it. Why not? Because they blasted cavernous holes against the Browns’ front seven practically the entire season.

That despite drafting defensive Phil Taylor last season. Taylor’s main job was to stuff the run. That really worked out well, didn’t it?

So Heckert, whose draft board apparently did not resemble most of the others around the league, went rogue and clearly reached when he reached out for Hughes. He redeemed himself in round six when he took Billy Winn, another defensive tackle, whose named appeared near the top of most lists. Predicition: Winn will be the better player and contribute a lot more than Hughes.

Another Heckert reach was Benjamin, a quick wide receiver who will improve team speed. He allowed the top 15 wideouts to come off the board before deciding to grab one. It was almost as though he said, “Hey, we need a wide receiver. Who’s left?”

Wisconsin’s Nick Toon, a much bigger receiver than the 5-10, 175-pound Benjamin, was left. The 6-2, 220-pound Badger, who went to New Orleans later in the round, is much better suited for the west coast offense.

It was almost as though Heckert reiterated the notion that the Browns’ wide receiver corps is not that bad. Bulletin: Yes it is. And Benjamin won’t help.

Johnson, the other fourth-rounder, is an interesting pick. He’s D’Qwell Jackson, but with a much more aggressive mind-set against the run. Jackson, who had some fine moments last season, still can be blown off the line of scrimmage.

The Browns need a middle linebacker who can make plays at or behind the LOS.And while Jackson made a nice comeback from injuries last season, Johnson has the strength to shed blocks and make plays.

Miller, a huge guard, will be nothing more than a backup initially. But if he’s better than advertised, he could unseat either Jason Pinkston or Shawn Lauvao, whose play last season fell far short of expectations.

Another interesting pick was Acho, whose older brother, Sam, had a solid rookie season last season with the Arizona Cardinals. Emmanuel is smaller than Sam, but plays the same instinctive game. He has a nose for the football and could surprise.

Another light went on in Heckert’s head in round seven. Probably something like, “We need a cornerback to go along with Joe Haden.” Yep, another who’s-left moment. And that’s how Wade wound up in Cleveland.

A couple of kickers in the waning moments of the lottery. When he considered Alabama fullback/tight end Brad Smelley with his final pick, Heckert reportedly solicited the advice of Richardson, Smelley’s Crimson Tide teammate. Richardson, of course gave a hearty thumbs up and voila, Smelley is a Cleveland Brown.

If I’m Owen Marecic, who disappointed last season as the club’s fullback, I’d take my game up several notches this season and make certain Mr. Smelley is relegated to the sidelines.

The other kicker? Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict was on the board at the time. Why not take a shot at him despite all the red flags he brings. What did Heckert have to lose by drafting him in the seventh round? They’ll find out soon enough. Burfict signed with the Cincinnati Bengals as a free agent.

So there you have it. Six of 11 picks on the offensive side of the ball; five on the defensive side. A great start with Richardson and Weeden, but it could have been even better with a Reiff or DeCastro.

Too many reaches and not enough possible sleepers can make this draft one we’ll point to in a few years and say, “Wow, that was a great draft. It helped turn around the fortunes of this franchise and head it in the right direction.”

For right now, the best grade I can give it is a solid C. Too bad. I was hoping for much more.

1 comment:

  1. Browns drafted a right guard in the fifth.

    Wonder if it would have made sense to draft Bobby
    Massie in the fourth and play him at right guard
    instead? Then you have a plan B if Schwartz doesn't
    work out at right tackle for some reason.

    I believe Massie play some right guard in college.