The final grade is in
Last year, Browns General Manager Ray Farmer entered the National Football League’s college draft with 10 picks. After a series of trades, he made just six selections.
This year, Farmer entered the lottery with 10 picks again and, after a series of trades, doubled his fun, ending the three-day event with a dozen new Brownies. And what an interesting group it is.
It includes a wide receiver (this is not a typo), a couple of tight ends (one undersized), two defensive linemen, three candidates for the secondary, a pair of linebackers, a running back and an offensive tackle. He hit every major position on the roster except quarterback. The man earned his keep.
It took him 13 attempts, but the stubborn GM finally pulled the trigger on a wide receiver when he (with no apparent weapon pointed at him) wrote Vince Mayle’s name on a piece of paper and submitted it for the league’s consideration.
The big wide receiver from Washington State, benefiting from a pass-heavy offense, led the PAC-12 in receptions and yardage, but developed a reputation for dropping passes, which might be considered understandable when you average 12½ targets a game. Just what the Browns need . . . another pass dropper. Shades of Greg Little.
Why he waited this long for a wideout is known only by Farmer, whose cache tilted slightly toward the defensive side of the ball with seven selections, ranging from a run-stuffing nose tackle with the opening selection to a surprising final pick as the draft wore down.
The GM wisely chose Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who probably would have been a first-round pick had he not torn up his knee preparing for the Rose Bowl late last year. The talented 5-9, 195-pound All-America might miss the entire 2015 season, but was worth the late-draft gamble.
Chances are he’ll be fully healthy and ready to compete for one of the starting jobs by the time the 2016 season rolls around. Talents like Ekpre-Olomu are worth waiting for. His selection helped elevate the final grade.
Following a very strong first round with nose tackle Danny Shelton and offensive tackle Cameron Erving, and so-so results in rounds two and three with edge rusher Nate Orchard, running back Duke Johnson and defensive end Xavier Cooper, Farmer went to work on the rest of the roster.
In fourth-round strong safety Ibraheim Campbell and seventh-round inside linebacker Hayes Pullard III, Farmer clearly went for the aggressive type, one of coach Mike Pettine’s favorite attributes. Both have a nose for the ball and are not bashful tacklers.
Farmer, however, did not solve the dilemma at tight end. Malcolm Johnson and Randall Telfer, both sixth-round picks, are solid blockers with hands more suited for that aspect of the position. The undersized (6-1, 230) Johnson might be utilized as a fullback in heavy packages on short-yardage plays or goal-line situations.
That means Cleveland's tight ends this season will not be option 1, 2, 3 and probably 4. There are no pass-catching tight ends on the roster. One less thing opposing defensive coordinators have to be concerned with.
Cornerback Charles Gaines, another sixth-rounder, should find his value on special teams
Shelton, Orchard, Campbell and Pullard definitely will be Pettine’s favorites with their belligerent approach to the game. The big question is how well each player’s particular talents translate to the pro game, Orchard in particular.
The moves that enabled him to rack up 18½ sacks at Utah last year will not work against NFL offensive linemen, who will be much larger and a whole lot quicker than the ones he faced on the collegiate level. Barkevious Mingo arrived in Cleveland with a similar reputation as an edge rusher and failed to deliver.
Last season, Farmer’s six picks produced three starters in running back Terrance West, left guard Joel Bitonio and outside linebacker Christian Kirksey. First-round selections Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel failed miserably and fourth-round cornerback Pierre Desir watched most of the season.
This year, both first-rounders will start. So will Orchard. The other nine picks, barring a surprise, will either play complementary roles, play on special teams or, in a couple of cases, fail to make the team by the time the regular season commences.
Some teams get lucky when middle- and late-round picks surprise and become starters. The Browns have not been one of those teams for a very long time. One who has a chance is Ekpre-Olomu and they might have to wait until next year to find out.
Campbell, a possible heir apparent to Donte Whitner at strong safety, and Pullard, who could push Craig Robertson to start next to Karlos Dansby at inside linebacker, are brash overachievers and have a chance to break the mold.
Overall, Farmer was headed for a final grade of C+ until he figured out that Ekpre-Olomu was worth the final pick even though his contributions will be delayed. That elevates the final grade to a B- and that’s being charitable.