Mixed emotions on day 2
As exhilarating as the first day of the college draft was for the Browns Nation on Thursday, the second day Friday turned out to be relatively disastrous.
When the news arrived that star wide receiver Josh Gordon faces a season-long suspension for once again violating the National Football League’s substance-abuse program, it was assumed the Browns would grab at least one wide receiver in rounds two and three.
Uh, no. Three times no.
It has been reported – and not yet substantiated – that the Browns were made aware of the Gordon suspension before the draft began Thursday. And then Browns General Manager Ray Farmer, the hero of the first round, made three head-scratching selections in rounds two and three.
First, the Gordon case. If it’s true, as being reported, that the Browns knew about the possible suspension before the draft began Thursday, Farmer made a mistake when he traded out of the No. 4 spot in the first round.
By doing so, he lost the opportunity to select either Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans, the two top-rated wide receivers in the lottery and immediate replacements for Gordon. The only reasonable conclusion that can be reached is the GM believes Gordon will not be suspended.
Losing a player the caliber of Gordon for an entire season would be a devastating blow to a team whose offense revolves around the passing game. Teams knew the 2013 Browns had no running game and still couldn’t stop Gordon.
By not selecting a wide receiver Friday – and Farmer had three opportunities to grab one – means either the report on Gordon is incorrect or the Cleveland GM seriously overvalues his wide receivers corps and is fooling himself by eschewing pass catchers.
Farmer has been quoted as saying he is “not worried about the depth at wide receiver.” Maybe not the depth with nine wideouts (including Gordon) currently on the roster, but what about the quality? Not worried? Well, he better be.
If Gordon is absent for the season, who becomes the No. 1 receiver? Nate Burleson? He’s clearly on the downside of his career. (And he injured his left arm again in the OTAs, although he’s expected to be ready for training camp in July.)
How about Greg Little? One problem. He has trouble catching the ball. Then there is Andrew Hawkins, the smurfish slot receiver signed as a free agent. Highly overrated. Or possibly Travis Benjamin, who missed half of last season with an ACL tear. He’s not good enough to start.
Neither are Josh Cooper, Charles Johnson, Conner Vernon (when did he arrive on the roster?) and Tori Gurley.
And there you have it. The Cleveland Browns’ wide receivers for 2014 unless Farmer selects one or two with the picks he has left (rounds four and seven) Saturday afternoon.
Is that whom Farmer expects Johnny Manziel or Brian Hoyer to throw to? Is that a corps of receivers that will scare opposing secondaries? No need to answer. That’s a rhetorical question.
On Friday, Farmer, while side-stepping wideouts, added a guard, inside linebacker and running back to his shopping cart to go along with his first-day haul of Justin Gilbert and Manziel.
In round two, he solidified the offensive line with Nevada guard Joel Bitonio, then came back in round three with inside backer Christian Kirksey from Iowa and Towson running back Terrance West.
He took Bitonio with wideouts Marquise Lee, Jordan Matthews, Davante Adams,Cody Latimer and Allen Robinson still on the board. All were gone when round three began.
Hard to quarrel with the Bitonio pick, though. He should have little trouble winning the left guard job and wind up working between Joe Thomas and Alex Mack. His reputation for truculence precedes him, as well as his desire to play to the whistle. He’s Mike Pettine’s kind of offensive lineman.
Now the Kirksey pick is a puzzler, especially when you consider speedy wideout Donte Moncrief from Ole Miss and Chris Borland, another Big 10 linebacker, were still on the board.
The only beef against the 6-2½ Moncrief is that he sometimes catches the ball against his body. But like Gordon, he runs well and gains a lot of his yards after the catch.
Borland is the former Wisconsin linebacker who seems to be a magnet for the football. He is a tackle waiting to happen. Yes, he is shorter than most backers at 5-11, has short arms and is probably a two-down player. But all he does is make tackles. The ball seems to follow him around. He’s a playmaker.
Kirksey was outside linebacker at Iowa, but the Browns intend to move him inside and challenge Craig Robertson to see who plays next to Karlos Dansby. He’s not nearly the playmaker that Borland is.
A trade with San Francisco paved the way for the selection of West, an intriguing prospect because of his production at Towson. He scored 42 touchdowns and ran for more than 2,500 yards in his senior season. Those are career figures for just about anyone else.
The 5-9, 225-pounder is your old-fashioned, between-the-tackles, one-cut runner in the mold of Alfred Morris of the Washington Redskins. Maybe that’s why offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who coached Morris the last couple of seasons, probably lobbied for the selection. West is a finisher, especially at or near the goal line.
So now that the glow of the first day of the draft has worn off and Farmer’s star has fallen somewhat, what’s next?
With the two picks he has left, what are the odds he sails through this draft with nary a wideout? At this point, forget the board. Forget the best player available. The Browns need another receiver or two.
The best available are smallish (5-9½) Bruce Ellington of South Carolina and tallish (6-6) Brandon Coleman of Rutgers. Ellington was more productive last season, but Coleman played most of the season with a knee injury and his production suffered as a result.
There is still some value left in this draft. It is incumbent on Farmer to find it, especially at wide receiver.