Sunday, May 11, 2014

Solid start for Farmer

Time to grade Ray Farmer’s first college draft.

On the one hand, it was encouraging. On the other, it was disappointing.

The biggest disappointment was the number of players the Cleveland general manager selected. The Browns went into this talent-laden lottery with 10 picks and emerged with only six players.

You don’t build – or in this case rebuild – a National Football League team with a minimalist approach. Once Farmer made cornerback Pierre Desin his sixth and last pick late in the fourth round Saturday, he basically shut it down for the day.

The Browns might as well have vacated the war room after the fourth round for all practical purposes because all they did the final three rounds was sit on their haunches except to ship their seventh-rounder to Baltimore for a pick next year.

Five deals by Trader Ray left him bereft of picks when it came time for the final three rounds. He and his men should have just clocked out for this year and started planning for next year’s draft for all the work that was left.

Quality depth on teams can be found in the latter rounds of the draft. Panning for gems is an art form. Some NFL general managers and personnel people are better at it than others.

We don’t know yet whether Farmer can be placed in that select group because he never got that far. We can’t evaluate his prowess when it comes to digging for those hidden nuggets.

For a team that had numerous holes, one in particular that arose due to a pending year-long suspension for his best wide receiver, he failed to address a few of them because he pawned off four draft picks.

One of them netted Buffalo’s first-round pick in next year’s draft, which sort of places it in the win category. But that doesn’t erase the disappointment of once again picking too few players.

As for the picks he did make, that’s where the encouraging part enters the picture. With one notable exception. We’ll get to that later.

It appears as though one of Farmer’s goals was to increase team speed. He obviously noticed the plodding 2013 squad and was determined to make certain the 2014 Browns would be more athletic, quicker and faster.

Of his Farmer’s six picks, three definitely will gain starting status in a hurry and a couple of more will be vital contributors. From a percentage standpoint, that sounds like a dynamite draft.

There is no question the Cleveland GM hit the mother load in the first round with the selections of Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel. Barring unforeseen circumstances, both will start in Pittsburgh on Sept. 7.

And yes, I realize that means Manziel will have to beat out Brian Hoyer for the starting job at quarterback. No problem. As much as I like Hoyer and what he brought to the team in a brief time last season, there is no way he beats out the rookie.

My only quarrel with Farmer is his strategy in the first round when he reportedly knew about the pending one-year suspension of wide receiver Josh Gordon. He inexplicably disdained any effort to pick up a wide receiver.

He could have had Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans had he not dealt the fourth pick to Buffalo. And he still would have been in position to do what he did later in the round – trade up to get Manziel. Imagine the 2014 Browns with Manziel throwing to Evans, his main man at Texas A&M.

Instead, he now has Gilbert, arguably the best cornerback in the lottery, paired up with Joe Haden in what very well could be the best cornerback tandem in Seal Brown and Orange since Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield.

Hard to argue that, but the Browns need more help on the offensive side of the ball and a Manziel-Evans pairing sounds more intriguing and exciting and explosive than Gilbert and Haden. There were a few cornerbacks available in the third round – most notably 6-3 Keith McGill of Utah – who could have been paired with Haden.

Clearly, this is in the nature of a second guess. Farmer had to make the call and gambled with Gilbert, instead of Watkins or Evans, probably figuring he’d be able to get a wideout in the second or third rounds. We’ll probably never know why he didn’t at least try.

In the second round, he opted for Joel Bitonio, a college tackle who should fit right in nicely at left guard between Joe Thomas and Alex Mack. The athletic Bitonio (he ran a 4.97 40 at 305 pounds) brings a bellicose approach to his game. He’s Mike Pettine’s kind of player in that regard. What’s not to like?

There’s also a lot to like about running back Terrance West, a third-round choice, and cornerback Pierre Desin, a fourth-rounder.

Some experts believe West, at some point in the upcoming campaign, will unseat Ben Tate as the starting running back. A slightly larger version of Maurice Jones-Drew at 5-9, 225 pounds, he figures to get a long look at training camp.

Desin, who many experts thought would go much higher, should see plenty of the field in the nickel and dime packages. He’s not good enough yet to supplant Haden or Gilbert, but he was a strong pick from a value standpoint.

Farmer’s only belch came at the top of the third round when he took outside linebacker Christian Kirksey’s name off the board. The Browns immediately announced Kirksey will be moved inside and battle Craig Robertson for the starting job.

As much as the GM got good value from the West and Desin picks, he overreached for Kirksey, who most likely will wind up on special teams. Kirksey is fast and quick,, but that’s about it. Wisconsin’s Chris Borland, available at the time, would have been a much better choice.

As well as he did, Farmer might have done even better had he held on to at least a couple of his picks. My only quarrel is while he appears to have done extreme well on the quality level, he came up short on quantity.

I want to see more of what he can do. Next season, as with this season, he has 10 cracks at the draft. By then, of course, there will be fewer holes to fill on the roster and he can be much more selective and not feel the need to wheel and deal.

For this year, though, Farmer deserves high marks. He slipped just twice – once with the Kirksey pick and once by totally ignoring the wide receiver problem. By picking up at least three starters, maybe four if West pans out, not a bad start at all for the rookie GM.

Final grade: Solid B


  1. I agree with your assessment of Kirksey - a genuine headscratcher with Borland still on the board. I thought they might actually take Borland with that pick, and when they announced "Kirksey", I did the classic double-take. Meanwhile, Rich, please elaborate - regarding Hoyer, you said "there is no way he beats out the rookie." I'm curious about your reasoning behind that opinion. When Pettine says the position is an open competition, do you think he's paying lip service to Hoyer the same way Shurmur did to McCoy when they drafted Weeden, or do you think JF will really prove that much better than Hoyer out of the box?



  2. Of course Pettine is going to say it will be an open competition. He has to say that.

    He is not going to say it now or even later, but the job will be Manziel''s to lose. If Hoyer does, indeed, open the season at QB, it won't be because he's better. It will be because Manziel isn't ready to start.

    I don't think that will be the case, however, because he is an extremely quick study and will prove just as quickly that he's the man. Much like Russell Wilson did in his first Seattle training camp.

    I'll be very surprised if Hoyer wins the job. So will Farmer and Haslam.