After all the hoopla, a quiet first round
So many questions as we approach the National Football League college football draft Thursday night.
So many possibilities.
So many probabilities.
So many different directions and scenarios.
Just about anything can happen in the first five picks that will determine what the Browns will do when called on the clock for pick No 6.
And that’s what makes this lottery one of the most anticipated and fascinating annual events of not only the NFL season, but the entire sports world.
The National Basketball Association does not have nearly the run-up to its draft that the NFL enjoys. The Major League Baseball draft? Are you kidding me? The National Hockley League? The WNBA? Get serious.
Nope. Nothing touches the NFL draft.
OK, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s dive into some of the possibilities and probabilities as we inch closer to that moment Thursday around 9 p.m. when Commissioner Roger Goodell says, “The Cleveland Browns are on the clock.”
By then, Browns Nation will have temporarily placed the Jimmy Haslam III-FBI situation on the back burner. First things first.
So . . .
Are the Browns shopping Jabaal Sheard and/or Ahtyba Rubin, seeking to recover the second-round pick they forfeited when they selected Josh Gordon in the supplemental draft last summer?
Or are they going to stand pat, hoping to retrieve that selection by trading down?
What is going through the mind right now of Joe Banner? Never mind Mike Lombardi, Ray Farmer or Rob Chudzinski. Banner is running this draft like a martinet.
Sure, he’ll lean on the advice of the aforementioned trio, but the CEO is the triggerman. He’s the guy who will make the final decision. In true Harry Truman fashion, the buck stops at his desk.
History says Banner most likely will not make that first-round pick at No. 6. Seven times, while running the show in Philadelphia, he swapped out of the club’s initial first-round selection. And rumors persist he will make that eight by Thursday night.
Right now, a majority of the draft gurus says Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner will be the Browns’ choice if they stay at six. But Milliner recently underwent shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum and might miss a significant part of training camp and the exhibition season.
Now take into consideration that Milliner might not be on the board for the Browns. The Detroit Lions, who pick right in front of the Browns, need a lot of help in the secondary.
And the San Francisco 49ers, who own pick No. 31, are rumored to be frothing for the chance to get Milliner and might be willing to part with a whole bunch of their 13 picks to move up and get him.
Maybe someone else, say the New York Jets, who own picks nine and 13, might be able to offer more in an effort to get Milliner to replace the recently departed Darrelle Revis to Tampa Bay.
And who will try to trade up – as high as No. 6, maybe – in an effort to land one of the three top offensive tackle prospects? Miami is a possibility at No. 12. But the Dolphins are trying to trade for Kansas City’s Branden Albert. If they fail, a move up is a definite possibility.
Now factor in another team seeking an offensive lineman. San Diego, sitting at No. 11, just might be willing to part with a second-round choice in order to swap places with the Browns.
So many factors involved with the top 10 selections.
Another possibility: Because of a dearth of skill position players in the early going, this is considered, at best, an average draft in terms of quality. It’s deep, but not loaded with impact players. And most of the talent lies on the defensive side of the ball.
The Browns need help at guard (actually both guards) and tight end on offense and outside linebacker, cornerback and free safety on defense. And there are enough players at those positions available outside the top 10 who can come in and help right away.
Barring unforeseen surprises, the likes of Ziggy Ansah, Chance Warmack, Jarvis Jones, Star Lotulelei, Jonathan Cooper, Tavon Austin, Kenny Vaccaro, Tyler Eifert, Xavier Rhodes, Geno Smith and Barkevious Mingo should still be on the board at six.
Smith is the wild card. Generally acknowledged as the best of a mediocre quarterback lot, he nevertheless is projected as a distinct possibility of being drafted in the first half of the first round.
In his mock draft, the estimable and indefatigable Peter King of Sports Illustrated believes the Browns will select Smith with the 11th pick after swapping places with San Diego (correcting an earlier version that indicated a trade with Miami) in a deal that could land them that precious second-round pick.
Also thought to be high on the Browns’ draft board is Oregon hybrid defensive lineman/outside linebacker Dion Jordan. However, if he and Milliner are gone by pick six, the likelihood of a trade down increases.
But if – and there are a lot of but ifs in this draft – a couple of teams trade up in the hunt for offensive linemen, then Milliner drops to where the Browns are slated to make their first selection.
So what do the Browns do when Goodell places them on the clock in about 48 hours? Whom does Banner pick? And from what draft position does he make that pick?
Damned if I know. Not even Banner knows what he’s going to do. And he won’t until that clock starts.
If I had to guess, nothing is going to happen. How often do we see all kinds of trade rumors precede the actual draft and then all remains quiet on the draft front? Smoke screens have a way of doing that.
The first five teams will make their picks amid rumors of trades, none of which will eventuate. And then it’ll be the Browns’ turn. Banner will turn down any deals that do not involve a second-rounder this year or first-rounder next year. He won’t get one.
He stays put and does the smart thing and strengthens the side of the ball that needs it the most. That would be the offense.
The Cleveland offense last season lacked the kind of a running game that scared opposing teams. Why? Mainly because the offensive line was slightly above average. The tackles are set. So is center. The team needs at least one stick out guard. And there will one available at No. 6.
In all the pre-draft hoopla, we have rarely heard Chance Warmack’s name. He’s just the kind of guy who will help Trent Richardson, his college buddy at Alabama, get to that next level. The elite level. His nasty approach to the game is exactly what the Browns need in the trenches. And he’ll be there at six.
Place him next to Joe Thomas on the left side, move John Greco to right guard and watch the Browns’ offense substantially improve.
You don’t often see a guard drafted so high. Not much value on an interior lineman is the reasoning. But plug Warmack into this line, give Brandon Weeden a strong running game, then sit back and watch the Browns’ time of possession rise dramatically.
Yes, the NFL has become a quarterback-driven league. But you still need to maintain offensive balance and a strong running game helps.
In less than 48 hours, we’ll get a much better read on what we can look forward to for the next several years.
It’s Banner time.