Saturday, April 30, 2016

Mixed bag on third day

In the end, it’s all about perception. And it was summed up perfectly Saturday by Paul DePodesta, the Browns' chief strategy officer.

Questioned why the Browns seemed to be reaching for more than a couple of their 14 selections in the National Football League’s annual college draft that concluded Saturday, DePodesta said, “That’s just the nature of the draft. . . . Everyone does have different values on different traits.

“There were guys taken quite high that we didn’t have rated highly at all.” Maybe that explains why the team drafted several “who’s he?” players among its 14 choices – the most for the club since grabbing 15 in 1976 – in a dizzying display of maneuvering up and down the lottery.

Based on his maiden voyage through the NFL draft after spending most of his professional career in baseball, it seems as though DePodesta’s chief strategy was to rise and fall like an elevator in what can be best described as a roller coaster ride the last three days.

Of the 14 selections, only six were made where the Browns were originally slated to select as they singed the telephone lines in an effort to bolster a roster that had gaping holes.

When it was all finished, DePodesta pronounced himself satisfied with the outcome. “It wasn’t a game of accumulating draft picks, but getting players we wanted,” he said, summing up the three-day grind. “And we got just about all of them.”

Now all those players have to do is perform and live up to the brass' expectations to justify what can be best described as one of the most unusual drafts by the Browns in a long time.

The well-balanced 14-player stash includes one quarterback, four wide receivers, (it’s about time) one tight end and two (badly needed) linemen for the offense, and two linemen, a pair of linebackers and two backs for the defense.

One thing is certain: Change is on the way. The culture of this team has changed dramatically since 8 o’clock last Thursday night.

It became evident that DePodesta, coach Hue Jackson, chief scout Andrew Berry and de facto General Manager Sashi Brown went for production for the most part, seeking players who were playmakers on the collegiate level.

Players like wide receivers Corey Coleman, Jordan Payton and Rashard Higgins produced consistently during their college careers. The bonus there is Payton and Higgins, both 6-1, 200-pounders, finally give the Cleveland receiving corps some size.

It also gives Jackson a considerable amount of latitude to load up with four-and five-receiver formations if he chooses to do so. The NFL has steadily become a pass-first league, which means if he chooses do disdain his balanced-attack philosophy, he won’t be hurting for receivers.

The big question mark for the offense is whether linemen Shon Coleman and Spencer Drago (what a great football name) can make up for the loss of center Alex Mack and tackle Mitchell Schwartz. Coleman probably has a better shot than the lumbering Drago.

It generally takes at least a couple of years before offensive linemen can successfully transition to the NFL. There are exceptions, though, like Joe Thomas, Joel Bitonio, Mack and Schwartz.

Quarterback Cody Kessler, taken in round three, will work on his learning curve in his rookie season. The surprise pick will back up quarterback Robert Griffin III until The Third gets hurt, which means he probably will be tested reasonably early.

On defense, the Browns clearly improved their pass rush by drafting Emmanuel Ogbah and Carl Nassib early in back-to-back rounds. Both men come off highly  productive seasons, but are on the light side for lineman playing in a 3-4 front.

It will be interesting to see if the Browns try to beef them up to the 300-pound neighborhood as they now will face more sophisticated offenses that feature, in many cases, much bigger opponents. It's also possible they might be used as hybrid outside linebackers/defensive ends who can play upright or with a hand on the ground.

While the Browns made some wise decisions, they balanced that out with a few that can be best described as strange, most notably Seth DeValve, whose name and football exploits fall into the “what!!, who is this guy?” category.

When Brown & Co. made the Princeton tight end the team’s last of four fourth-round selections with one of their compensatory picks, it raised eyebrows around most of the pro football media universe.

Hardly anyone, it seemed, knew who this guy was. Surely, that had to be a typo on the television screen. Then again, perhaps it was a Harvard nod to a fellow Ivy League school. Still, nobody had a clue when DeValve’s name appeared on TV. It looked like a made-up name and was clearly a head scratcher.

The pro football folks at RotoWorld, after summarizing DeValve’s statistical career at Princeton, wrote: We’ve gotta be honest: We’d never heard of DeValve before the draft and looked up all this on the fly.”

His name did not appear on most draft analysts’ lists, but the Browns sure knew about him and thought enough of him to make him the 138th overall pick. Maybe it was his chiseled 6-3, 245-pound frame and impressive private workout that resulted in the pick. He ran a 4.68 40 and had 23 reps in the bench press.

It certainly wasn’t DeValve’s college stats that impressed the Browns. In five injury-filled years, he played in 36 games, catching 112 passes for 1,325 yards and only seven touchdowns. He is a classic diamond in extremely high rough. 

The first three Cleveland picks in the fourth round were just as puzzling, making that round as close to a disaster as you can get. This is where teams begin to find the hidden gems, the players who, for some reason, fall.

Players like wide receiver Ricardo Louis, outside linebacker Joe Schobert and free safety Derrick Kindred. Louis had mediocre numbers at Auburn mainly because the Tigers ran the ball two-thirds of the time. Schobert forced four fumbles last season and had 9½ sacks, but was given a fifth-round grade by most analysts.

Kindred is a banger, but a free safety should be more of a ball hawk and he has problems in that area. He’ll probably wind up on special teams.

Trey Caldwell, a smallish cornerback from Louisiana-Monroe, was taken with the fourth selection in a four-pick fifth round. He is more of an athlete than football player and probably will wind up on special teams with Kindred and a few of the aforementioned not yet ready to play on a steady basis in the NFL.

But pick No. 14 late in the final round is ready. He is a gem. An out-and-out steal. He is not fast. He is not quick. He is just a football player. He makes plays. His greatest asset is his instinct and football intellect. There is a place for him on this football team, perhaps as a starter.

I saw Scooby Wright play many times for the University of Arizona. I don’t know how he does it, but he seems to be around the ball a lot and it’s not by accident. In his sophomore season in 2014 at Arizona, he recorded 164 tackles (100 solo) in 14 games, 31 for loss. He has a feel for the game you can’t teach.

The 6-0, 240-pound Wright (real name Philip) was off to a good start again last season when he suffered broken foot and torn knee meniscus in game three, racking up 23 tackles along the way, and was done for the year.

The new regime’s initial draft had some solid hits and several misses. But at least it made up for the previous regime’s frustrating inattention to the wide receiver position. We’ll sum it all up Sunday along with the final grade.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Quarterback surprise

He was sitting there waiting to be selected when the Browns were called on the clock for the 93rd pick in the National Football League’s college draft Friday night.

They had already drafted wide receiver Corey Coleman in the opening round Thursday night, defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah in round two and defensive end Carl Nassib offensive tackle Shon Coleman in round three.

All the speculation leading up to the lottery centered on the Browns drafting a quarterback. After passing on the opportunity to grab one with the second overall pick, it was only a matter of time before they leaped.

And so they did, but the name uttered was not Connor Cook, the local kid many pundits believed was a natural fit for his hometown team. The kid from Hinckley was sitting there just waiting to be taken.

Only one problem. The Browns did not love him nearly enough to spend a selection on him. They liked Southern California’s Cody Kessler a whole lot better and proved it by taking him with a pick gained in a trade with Carolina.

Coach Hue Jackson, who knows something about quarterbacks, practically gushed about Kessler following the extremely surprising selection. “You have to trust me on this one,” he assured the Cleveland media.

“He’s everything you look for in a quarterback. We’re bringing him for a reason. He has the characteristics we’re looking for. Let’s give him an opportunity to compete.”

The hallmark for Kessler – small for an NFL quarterback at 6-1, 220 pounds, but he has huge hands (nearly 11 inches) – is his stunning throwing accuracy. He completed 67.5% of his passes in three seasons, throwing for 88 touchdowns and only 19 interceptions.

Jackson cited Kessler’s “pinpoint accuracy. He can throw the ball straight to the guy he’s throwing to. If you can’t, you can’t play in the NFL.” The Browns have given him the opportunity to prove it.

Where Kessler fails to wow scouts is his lack of arm strength. He is more of a short- to medium-range passer (kind of like ex-Browns great Brian Sipe), whereas the 6-4, 220-pound Cook, on the other hand, can stretch the field.

Cook and Kessler operated out of a pro-style offense in college, but it was the latter who caught the eye of the most important man in the Cleveland war room when selection No. 93 was placed on the clock.

The fact Cook is still on the board is puzzling with Saturday’s four-round conclusion to the draft up next. After all, he was 34-5 as a starter at Michigan State. However, his 57.5% accuracy and 71-22 touchdowns/interceptions ratio most likely were warning signs.

As for the rest of day two, the Browns made a pair of moves to help shore up one of the club’s biggest weaknesses – the pass rush – by taking Ogbah and Nassib, a pair of pass-rushing ends who got up close and very personal with opposing quarterbacks last season, and Shon Coleman to help shore up the offensive line.

Ogbah is listed at 6-4, 275 pounds and Nassib at 6-7, 277 pounds, kind of light for a defensive end in a 3-4 front. It wouldn’t surprise if defensive coordinator Ray Horton utilizes both young men in a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker role in certain formations.

Ogbah, grabbed with the first pick of the second round, is more of a run stopper than pass rusher, but he did have 17½ tackles for loss last season at Oklahoma State and figures to see lots of playing time.

Nassib, one of the nice draft stories, is more of a project and might be used strictly as a situational pass rusher. He went from walk-on to special teams ace (for two seasons) to the nation’s sack leader with 15½ as a senior with Penn State last season.

He is a classic overachiever who might be the one player in this class who outperforms his draft slot. All he needs to do is prove to those who believe he’s a one-year wonder that he’s much more.

Shon Coleman arrives with the opportunity to slip into the right tackle slot along the offensive line that became vacant when Mitchell Schwartz opted to sign with the Kansas City Chiefs. He played a lot at both tackles for Auburn.

Unless the Browns deal veteran left tackle Joe Thomas, the right side is where the versatile Coleman will begin. But if the Browns do Thomas a favor and ship him to a team good enough to compete for a championship, Coleman will feel just as comfortable at left tackle.

He’ll also bring a few smarts to whatever position he lands at, having secured his master’s degree in Adult Education last year.

Entering Saturday’s final four rounds, the Browns have yet to address roster holes at both safeties, cornerback, inside linebacker, at least one more offensive lineman and wide receiver, not to mention depth at several other positions.

There is still a lot of work to be done to fill in the many gaps that exist and they’ll have plenty of opportunity to mine for talent right off the bat with the first two picks of the fourth round.

They have seven total selections in rounds four and five, will be a spectator in the sixth round unless they trade into it and their final pick is at the top of round seven. 

This is the part of the draft territory that separates the men from the boys, the pros from the amateurs. This is where those little nuggets turn into bright, shining stars with intelligent selecting, where the underdog lies in wait for the opportunity to prove to the pro football world they are better than where they are drafted.

It is a place the Browns haven’t profited from for a long, long time. The new regime has a shot to change that and finally give fans the team for which they have longed for way too long.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

What was that?

Not sure exactly what the Browns wanted to accomplish as the opening round of the National Football League’s college draft unfolded Thursday night, but it sure went over the heads of a large majority of their fans.

One thing is certain, based solely on the puzzling passive manner the club’s new top brass displayed throughout the long, boring, sleep-inducing evening: Nobody in Berea knows what the hell they are doing.

There seems to be no direction as the front office continued to trade down and compile future draft picks while doing very little to improve the team.

The Browns several days ago owned the second overall pick and traded that to Philadelphia in exchange for the eighth pick and several future picks. Then when the eighth selection arrived, they punted again, allowing the Tennessee Titans to move up from No. 15 for more future draft picks.

It was almost as though they did not want to draft at all Thursday. But a bright future sure loomed as the stockpiling of future choices kicked into second gear.

And when the Browns finally decided to end the suspense and actually made a selection at No. 15, one could understand why the reticence. They probably couldn’t find a trade partner. So with all the holes on both sides of the ball, they proceeded to choose a player at a position that ranked lower in importance than most others.

By passing at No. 8, they declined to improve the offensive line, defensive line and secondary in favor of a wide receiver. Yes, there are two more days, six more rounds and 12 more picks, but a wide receiver with the first pick?

Not just any wide receiver, but a smallish one in 5-11, 185-pound Corey Coleman of Baylor. Hard to believe he was the best player on the Cleveland board when the Browns were placed on the clock

If so, that’s an indictment on the club’s player evaluation talents. Wide receiver is not one of the strongest positions in this deep draft. To wit: Coleman was the first receiver off the board.

It’s bad enough that a wide receiver received a higher priority by the Browns than other more pressing areas. And a couple of 6-2, 200-pound wideouts – Laquon Treadwell and Josh Doctson – were available. What is it about short wide receivers that is so appealing to the Browns?

Top dog Sashi Brown said a couple of days before the draft that the Browns were locked in on one player. As it turned out, he and his lieutenants basically traded themselves right out of one of the top prospects by dropping down to No. 8.

When San Diego at No. 3 surprised by taking Ohio State’s Joey Bosa and Dallas followed by choosing fellow Buckeye Ezekiel Elliott, the rhythm of the top 10 picks was altered enough that by the time the Browns were up, their man was gone. Thus the tradedown.

Why the panic? With only seven players off the board, there certainly were impact-type players available. The Titans must have thought so when they selected Michigan State offensive tackle Jack Conklin with the pick they got from Cleveland. He would have been a perfect plug-in for the departed Mitchell Schwartz at right tackle.

Retooling an offensive line that lost 40% of its starters in free agency has to be rated higher in importance than improving the wide receivers corps. Forget the third-rounder they picked up this year and the second-rounder they’ll get next year from Tennessee.

So let’s recap here. The Titans traded the No. 1 overall pick to Los Angeles and moved to No. 15, the Browns swapped the second overall selection to Philadelphia and moved to No. 8, then turned around and shipped the eighth pick to Tennessee and moved back to No. 15.

In trading down twice, contend the more optimistic, sycophantic fans looking for anything to cling to, the Browns gained an extra three picks this year and three more next year with a pair of tradedowns just so they could take that little wide receiver.

It sure looks as though the new front office busted out the stupid pills in the opening round.

Maybe it was Coleman’s production the last two seasons at Baylor that influenced the pick. He caught 138 passes for 2,482 yards and 31 touchdowns the last two seasons, including 74-1,363-20 last season.

The biggest knocks against the Biletnikoff Award winner were his below-average route running – apparently they run simple routes in the high-powered Baylor offense – and his predilection of allowing the ball to get into his chest.

The speedy Coleman also runs most of his routes outside the numbers, rarely showing up in the middle of the field. He most likely will take over as the club’s field-stretching threat replacing Travis Benjamin.

Speed, according to Brown, was an important factor in the selection of Coleman, who compares his style to Steve Smith of Baltimore and Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown. “We wanted to add speeed to our offense to make sure people respect our passing game,” he said.

It looks as though Brown is more a skill player advovcate rather than concentrating on trench warfare, where most games are won and lost. He still has the next two days and six rounds to correct that problem.

So now it’s on to day two and the Browns have the first pick of the two-round session. Speculation runs rampant they will dip into the quarterback ranks with that choice with Connor Cook of Walsh Jesuit High School and Michigan State the likely selection.

Then again, Brown might trade down again. 

Joey, Joey, Joey

Imagine my surprise while watching Mike Mayock’s first and only mock draft the other night on NFL Network, especially when he arrived at pick No. 8.

Now I have the greatest respect for Mayock, whose evaluations of players are usually as close to dead-on as one can get.

So when he got to the Browns’ selection in the opening round of Thursday’s National Football League college draft and made his selection, it made me sit bolt upright and declare, “No way.”

He intoned a name I believed would never fall to Cleveland’s slot because I thought for certain he would have been taken much sooner. As high, in fact, as No. 4, where Dallas resides.

But Mayock gave the Cowboys Ohio State running back Zeke Elliott, who would have been a solid fit for Cleveland. He predicted the Jacksonville Jaguars would follow and take defensive back Jalen Ramsey, maybe the best athlete in the 2016 class.

Then he hurled a curveball at No. 6, suggesting the Baltimore Ravens, who could use a pass rusher, would trade down nine slots with the Tennessee Titans, who would then grab Laremy Tunsil, the best offensive lineman on the board.

At No. 7, he awarded defensive lineman DeForest Buckner to San Francisco. And that’s when I realized the young man I wanted the Browns to draft at No. 2, when they owned that slot before the big trade with Philadelphia, was still on the board.

While most everyone back then all but gave the Browns either Jared Goff or Carson Wentz to solve their long-standing quarterback problem, I was a lone voice in the wilderness urging Sashi Brown & Co. to seriously consider the name Mayock uttered at No. 8.

Yep, he gave the Browns Ohio State defensive lineman Joey Bosa. From Mayock’s lips to the NFL draft gods.

“Bosa will be an immediate impact player,” he wrote on “The Browns would be ecstatic to get Bosa, who many think is the most impactful defensive end in this draft.” If there is anything the Browns desperately need on defense, it’s impact.

Now selecting Bosa for the Browns might be wishful thinking on Mayock’s part. After all, he had to engineer a Baltimore-Tennessee trade to maneuver the Buckeye into position so the Browns could select him.

But this is mock fantasy we’re dealing with, not stark reality. Unfortunately, most draft experts do not grade out well when it comes to mocks, although it sure is fun leading up to the lottery. That, of course, is because they can’t crawl into the heads of the 32 men making command decisions.

And that is why mocks such as Mayock’s allows one to dream of scenarios that ultimately fail to materialize because, well, it’s unrealistic. Outside of the top two picks this year when Goff and Wentz are certain to be selected, it will be a crapshoot.

But for a little while, thanks to Mayock, it was great picturing Bosa wearing No. 97 in the Seal Brown and Orange.

Unless . . . 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Berea brimming with confidence

When Sashi Brown and the Browns’ top brass in Berea enter the war room for the first round of the annual National Football League college draft sometime Thursday, they will do so with extreme confidence.

Even though it will be the first time for a majority of the residents of that room, self-assurance abounds.

“We’re set, locked in, know who we’ll be taking,” Brown declared on Cleveland radio Tuesday. “And if that player is not there, or if we get another offer that just blows our socks off, we’ll know how to react to that.”

His aim is to “stay calm and keep an open mind and then make great decisions. Go into the draft knowing the players you want, have conviction and don’t worry about what might have been. Just make the best possible decisions for yourself. Be prepared for every type of scenario that might come up.”

At the same time, observers around professional football will watch with keen interest to see if the Browns, after way too many years of draft frustration and ineptitude, finally conduct a draft that makes sense.

“We know eyes are on us,” Brown said. “This is an important draft for us. . . . But we’re confident we won’t repeat some of our errors of the past. I think the key for us now is trusting our information and making sound decisions.”

Sort of sounds like what decision makers of the past said prior to the draft. You remember their names: Dwight Clark, Butch Davis, Phil Savage, George Kokinis, Mike Holmgren, Tom Heckert Jr., Ray Farmer and Mike Lombardi.

They are the brainiacs who have helped the Browns take up semi-permanent residence in the AFC North basement. The only things that change are the names and faces. The sadly awful results represent the only consistency in this organization since 1999.

In his latest MMQB offering, Peter King of Sports Illustrated sharply noted the Browns’ recent abysmal drafting failures after praising the most recent deal with the Philadelphia Eagles.

“So Cleveland did very well in this deal acquiring a first-, third- and fourth-round picks this year, a first-round pick in 2017 and a second-round pick in 2018 for moving down six spots in the first round . . . But the Browns have made four trades involving first-round picks in the past five years and every one has been an abject failure. The deals netted Cleveland Phil Taylor, Brandon Weeden, Owen Marecic, Greg Little, Trent Richardson, Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel – and the only player left . . . is a cornerback whose days are numbered there, the terminally disappointing Gilbert. That is an amazing run of ineptitude.”

Kind of puts things in perspective.

Until he actually sits in the driver’s seat and experiences the rhythm of the draft, Brown has no clue as to what is going to happen, his confidence notwithstanding. The unpredictable nature of the lottery is such that decisions sometimes must be made not only on the fly, but with precious little time to make them.

Unless Brown and his minions are so totally and incredibly prepared that they have alternative plans B through F every time they are placed on the clock in the three-day extravaganza, there will be a lot of scrambling, especially if the team directly in front of them grabs a player they want.

Decision time goes quickly. In the opening round, teams are given 10 minutes to make their choice. That shrinks to seven minutes in round two and five minutes the rest of the way.

It is entirely possible the Cleveland war room crew has conducted numerous dress rehearsals along the way, injecting every inevitability into a variety of scenarios in order to avoid making silly mistakes because time ran out.

The pressure is clearly on Brown & Co. to show the rest of the pro football world that not only have the names and faces changed in Cleveland, the times have changed, too, as analytics take center stage.

What have they got to lose? Considering what preceded them, absolutely nothing. They certainly can’t be any worse than their predecessors. Or can they?

Monday, April 25, 2016

Catching up with the Browns

Give the 2016 bad-timing award to your (sometimes humble) blogger. No sooner does he leave for a few days to attend to family matters than the Browns engineer a massive college draft-related trade with the Philadelphia Eagles.

The reverberations involved in that deal, announced the very same day I left, are still fresh in my mind, though. So consider this effort a rather sizable catching up featuring opinions that have not changed since last Wednesday.

First of all, the deal was not shocking, considering all the rhetoric that had been thrown around prior to the announcement. The surprising aspect would have been no deal at all.

So why did the Browns give up the opportunity to draft who many believed would be their dream franchise quarterback? The answer, although not proffered by the club, was they didn’t think highly enough of Jared Goff or Carson Wentz to draft them with the second overall selection.

Someone in the hierarchy wisely – and finally – believed someone who can come in and make an immediate difference would better serve the club’s roster. It is a roster seriously bereft of quality talent and depth.

Culling extra draft picks in the blockbuster deal with the Eagles, in addition to moving down only six slots in the first round, enables Sashi Brown, Andrew Berry & Co. to plug many holes, especially on defense.

Eschewing Goff and Wentz sends a direct and powerful signal to Robert Griffin III that he is the man at quarterback and needn’t look over his shoulder. Browns coach Hue Jackson is placing his confidence – misguided in the eyes of more than a few – in his new quarterback.

Brown is foolishly on record as proclaiming that Griffin “is not the starting quarterback.” That’s nothing more than nonsensical rhetoric that practically no one takes seriously. Unless he is injured, The Third is your starting quarterback. Period.

The Browns own 12 selections in the upcoming lottery, including seven in the first four rounds. Barring any further deals, they will be on the clock six times in the first 100 picks in a draft considered by many to be unusually deep in talent.

The Browns are clearly in a build-from-the-foundation-up mode, Jackson’s protestations notwithstanding, and need to stockpile these picks. To trade down again, as has been rumored, prior to the beginning of the National Football League’s big weekend bonanza starting Thursday, would be piling on.

If it’s their intent to lead the NFL in draft picks, then sure, why not deal some more? Trade your little hearts out. Yes, the Browns need more than a handful of picks. But to continually trade down means they are opting for lesser talent along the way. And that makes no sense.

Sitting at No 8 in the opening round right now presents the Cleveland brass with the opportunity to grab a difference maker. The consensus top 10 players lean more toward the defense, but there is one offensive threat lurking who could make a huge difference.

The hallmark of a Hue Jackson offense is balance. No one aspect of his offense dictates the other. In his offense, the pass does not set up the run, nor does the run set up the pass.

In order to attain that balance with the Browns, it wouldn’t surprise if Jackson lobbies hard for the Browns to take Ezekiel Elliott, assuming the bruising Ohio State running back is still sitting there at eight.

The Browns need a running back who can gain more than three yards a pop, catch the football and block like an offensive lineman. Elliott more than fills all the requirements Jackson looks for in a running back. Just give him uniform number 15 and be done with it.

A strong runner like Elliott, paired with the exciting Duke Johnson Jr., would certainly take a significant amount of pressure off The Third as he attempts his comeback.

If Elliott is not there at No 8 – the Baltimore Ravens drafting at No. 6 could use a running back – that means someone impactful on defense will slip to the Browns. And don’t even think Joey Bosa. Elliott’s college teammate will be gone before No. 8.

It could be defensive back Jalen Ramsey, who would be a perfect fit at one of the safety slots; outside linebacker Myles Jack, coming off knee surgery; or lineman DeForest Buckner, who could team with Danny Shelton in an effort to finally stop the run.

But if Elliott is there and they take him, the Browns then could further improve their offensive package by opting for a tackle with their next pick at the top of the second round.

There are several good ones available who can immediately replace the departed Mitchell Schwartz. Someone like Michigan State’s Jack Conklin comes immediately to mind. It would help reinforce an offensive line that lost 40% of its starters to free agency.

Accomplishing that, however, might require trading back into the first round, which might be anathema to the current front office.

Bottom line: A dozen selections is a nice haul. But quantity does not necessarily translate into quality. You can give the Browns 20 draft picks and they would mean nothing if the wisdom behind those picks did not justify confidence in those making the selections.

Keep reminding yourself that no one who will occupy the war room in Berea this coming weekend has any practical experience when it comes to selecting players. They are relative neophytes with regard to making command decisions on player personnel.

Brown is not a football man. Paul DePodesta is not a football man. Berry is a football man, but he has been on the outer fringes of the college draft. And Jackson is much more a coach than he is a talent evaluator.

That is who will be making the decisions, with help from the scouting staff, for the Browns. This is not one of those “I have faith in (fill in the blank)” moments usually reserved for those who bring experience to the drafting table.

No. This one will be quite different in oh so many ways. The entire NFL world will be watching for certain as analytics (per DePodesta) drive whatever takes place this weekend.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

What in the world will they do?

The possibilities on what the Browns will do deliciously abound as we head down the homestretch toward the National Football League’s annual college draft.

And since the Los Angeles Rams have sort of removed the mystery of whom they are going to take with the first overall selection a week from Thursday night without actually revealing it, the spotlight falls squarely on the Browns.

What in the world are they going to do with the second overall pick? Keep it and take the quarterback the Rams pass on?

Shock everyone and grab one of the four outstanding defensive players available, then take one of the quarterback leftovers with the first choice at the top of the second round?

Stun even more fans and experts by taking Ohio State running back Zeke Elliott, heretofore believed to be chosen several picks later? (The Browns sure could use a strong runner.)

Trade down and stockpile even more picks than the 10 they now own as the new regime launches the franchise’s latest effort to climb out of the NFL dunghill?

The possibilities do, indeed, abound deliciously.

It wouldn’t surprise that daily arguments regarding the direction of the club erupt with the tried-and-true football people on one side and the analytical wonks on the other.

For all we know, there very well might be two factions pulling in opposite directions, which often produces poor results. Then again, there is nothing wrong with dialogue as long as it remains healthy

But an uncertainty of trust definitely hangs over those who will be in charge inside the Cleveland war room. The lack of experience is, at best, troubling.

Top boss Sashi Brown has never conducted a draft. He has been an ancillary part in the past as the chief contract negotiator. He’ll make the final calls. Yikes!

Paul DePodesta, a career baseball man, is dipping his hands into NFL draft waters for the first time. Unless he is an unusually quick learner to the whys and wherefores of the NFL, he can be considered nothing more than a neophyte at this stage. A reserved yikes!

After the draft weekend ends, we should have a better understanding what the club’s chief strategy officer really does, what the new title actually means and how it impacts the roster.

New head coach Hue Jackson, although not in charge, is expected to have a large say-so in the proceedings, but he, too, is as close to a being a first-timer in that room as just about everyone else. Too offensive minded. More balance needed there.

Owner Jimmy Haslam, the veteran in the room, hopefully will be nothing more than a spectator what with his previous dalliances in the lottery. Enough said.

Andrew Berry, the club’s new vice president of player personnel, is expected to have a loud and influential voice in the room. But this is his first appearance in that capacity as he joins fellow Harvard alums Brown and DePodesta.

If nothing else, this Crimson troika will emerge a week from Saturday evening with a much greater understanding on how the wheels turn in the NFL. The knowledge they glean will be valuable down the line.

What we won’t know for at least a couple of years is how much of an impact their efforts this year will have on the roster and its subsequent performance.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Correction, correction

Due to a massive brain fart by yours truly, earlier versions of the most recent rant "The Plot Thickens" contained the wrong information, which caused confusion.

In its original form, the following two paragraphs were posted:

The big question, though, is whether the Browns were in any way involved in talks with the Titans to make a similar deal than the one announced Thursday.

If so, why did the Rams win? The Browns certainly had as much, if not more, to offer. And if not, why not? There appears to be no immediate response from Berea. (Stand by for a possible update to clear up this matter.)

It should have read and (with thanx to Brownsouth) was eventually corrected to :

The big question, though, is whether the Browns were in any way involved in talks with the Rams to make a similar deal than the one announced Thursday.

If so, why did the Titans win? The Browns certainly had as much, if not more, to offer. And if not, why not? There appears to be no immediate response from Berea. (Stand by for a possible update to clear up this matter.)

Rich regrets the error and is slowly recovering from being ashamed of himself.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The plot thickens

Did the Browns get schooled Thursday by the Tennessee Titans and Los Angeles Rams?

In the wake of the blockbuster trade between the Rams and Titans that enabled the Rams to obtain the top pick in the National Football League college draft in two weeks, it sure looks that way.

The Rams moved up from #15 to the top spot by shipping their first four picks (Nos. 15, 43, 45 and 76) this year and their first- and third-round choices next year to the Titans in order to be in a position to draft their future quarterback.

Various reports have the Rams selecting Jared Goff. Others strongly suggest Carson Wentz will be the choice.

Before the trade, various reports had the Browns at No. 2 selecting Goff. Others strongly suggested Wentz would be the choice. The mystery deepens.

The big question, though, is whether the Browns were in any way involved in talks with the Rams to make a similar deal than the one announced Thursday.

If so, why did the Titans win? The Browns certainly had as much, if not more, to offer. And if not, why not? There appears to be no immediate response from Berea. (Stand by for a possible update to clear up this matter.)

It certainly would have behooved the Browns to make such a deal considering the king’s ransom the Titans hauled in. The big difference between the two clubs, though, is the Titans already have their franchise quarterback in Marcus Mariota.

They, as do the Browns, have numerous pieces and parts elsewhere on the roster that need to be addressed. They now have the opportunity to focus on rebuilding their roster with this deal.

The deal now puts the Browns in the unique position of being more reactive, depending on what the Rams do, than proactive. Unless, that is, they are satisfied with whomever they are forced to take.

Here’s another unless. Unless another team seeking a quarterback is willing to move up to grab whoever the Rams don’t take and the Browns are in listening mode. Say, for instance like the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles.

The Cowboys own the fourth overall selection. Their quarterback, Tony Romo, isn’t getting any younger – he’s 36 this month – and has become more brittle. He played only four games last season.

The Eagles, sitting at No. 8, are trying to get out from under the Chip Kelly disaster and need a young quarterback. The best on the roster now is Sam Bradford, another brittle quarterback.

Right now, no one knows what is going through the minds of the Browns’ deep thinkers. The Rams-Titans swap certainly casts a whole different light on the situation.

Top boss Sashi Brown and Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta now have two weeks to figure it all out. The intrigue is somewhat intoxicating and beckons all kinds of speculation.

It’s fairly safe to say this will be the Browns’ most interesting draft since the expansion days.

Lies, lies and more lies

There’s an old saying in the National Football League as the annual college draft approaches.

“Never listen, nor believe,” it says, “to what any team with picks in the top five says with two weeks remaining until the draft.” They are nothing more than words meant for the inquiring ears of those teams drafting below them.

Well, maybe it doesn’t go exactly that way, but you get the drift. It’s prevaricating season in the NFL. And, of course, the multitude of fans cling tenaciously to just about every word they hear with regard to the Browns’ first-round selection.

All it is, though, is basically nothing more than a trip to Bullroar City. Take what is said, parse it, place it under a verbal microscope and then forget it. You’re probably better off thinking the exact opposite. Deal with it.

Right now, just about everyone who studies the upcoming draft to ad nauseam status believes the Browns will select a quarterback with the No. 2 overall selection. Slam dunk. Believe it. No doubt about it.

The only question, they argue, is whether it will be Jared Goff or Carson Wentz. The blond or the redhead. The Browns aren’t saying. Why should they? They’re having way too much fun misleading the public.

Or are they?

Lead spokesman Sashi Brown, much to the consternation of the draft zealots, speaks in generalities with regard to what the Browns will do. The first night of the three-day circus is still a couple of weeks away. To them, April 28 can’t come soon enough.

Brown, who has as much experience on draft night as just about every Browns fan, is an attorney by profession. He has a way with words. It’s not easy to translate what he says. Reading between the lines doesn’t help because the area there is so blurry.

Until NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says, “The Cleveland Browns are now on the clock,” all we can do is wait.

Will it be a quarterback? Now that the Los Angeles Rams have traded into the top spot ahead of the Browns with designs on a quarterback, what if they select whomever the Browns have virtually penciled in on the card to give Goodell?

Then there’s the possibility the Browns will trade down if someone else comes along and makes them an offer they can’t refuse. It’s entirely possible. Been known to happen. Brown has admitted he has fielded calls for such a move. “There’s been some interest in the pick,” he said.

That’s about as honest as he will get for the next two weeks.

And yes, there is the possibility the smokescreens the Browns’ brass have conjured up and laid down with stealth precision will result in selecting someone never mentioned previously in this annual guessing game; someone who doesn’t line up under center.

There is enough depth in the quarterback class this season where, if the Browns pass on Goff and Wentz, whoever the Rams take, in order to strengthen the team in areas that cry for help, they still can pick up a quality quarterback later on.

It’s possible that little scenario could unfold even though the probability factor it won’t happen right now outweighs it by a sizable margin.

So many questions. So few answers. So many possibilities. So much time. So much intrigue.

One more thought: This could be another of those big buildups for those hoping the Browns take a quarterback that lead to a bigger letdown if they head in an entirely different direction.

Tick tock, tick tock.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Strange timing

Given the timing of Donte Whitner’s release by the Browns Saturday, one should give thought to the notion the Browns’ new front office has no idea what it is doing.

It was nearly a month ago that the new guys allowed four core players to slip away in free agency in one day with three or four more following mere days apart. Okay, questionable judgment at best.

Just when it appeared as though the migration away from Berea had stopped, bam, there goes Whitner.

This is not meant as a major quarrel to that move, but what took them so long to make it? After all, Whitner is a local guy who was thrilled to return to his hometown and was a positive influence.

Even though he was with the Browns for only two seasons, he did not deserve this treatment.

Never bad-mouthed the organization. Through his quotes, he almost always looked at the bright side despite playing on a defense that did not deserve such an approach.

So why did it take Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta this long to cut the cord? Why did it take nearly a month to discover that, hey, we don’t really need this guy on the roster? Did they sit around all this time debating his value?

Whitner wondered the same thing. “I just wish they had the common courtesy and would’ve done it weeks ago when free agency was going on,” he said in a series of tweets Saturday. “. . . #25thHour . . . But I’ll bounce back.”

Then this little dagger. “My plan is in a different place. They’re playing MONEYBALL now!” A distinct reference to DePodesta, whose rise to baseball fame as an executive is tethered to the book and movie of the same name.

The timing of this transaction is odd. The explanation is odder.

“It is important for us to thank Donte for all his contributions to the Cleveland Browns over the last two years,” said Brown, the club’s chief spokesman in all matters football related.

“His passion for this city and dedication to his craft is contagious. These are difficult decisions to make, but we felt it was the best decision for the Browns at this time. We wish him the best as he continues his career.”

Spoken like a true attorney. Mere words. No reasoning behind the thoughts, at least those that prompted the move and he chose not to share.

Was Whitner a bad strong safety? No. He was good enough to earn Pro Bowl honors in his first season with the Browns. One of the best tacklers on the team? Yep. Too old at 30? Not really. He still has at least a couple of good years left.

Maybe it was the fact Whitner had trouble in pass coverage. Can’t argue that. But then again, the entire secondary had trouble in pass coverage last season. Why? No pass rush.

So let us beat this dead horse one more time. Why now? That’s a question that unfortunately will never be answered.

So now the Browns have cut both of their starting safeties, arguably their two best special teamers, two of their best offensive linemen and their two starting inside linebackers.

Looks as though it is the Browns’ intention to become the youngest team in the National Football League.

New coach Hue Jackson argues the Browns are not rebuilding. They are building, he claims. Anyway you shake it out, it is nothing more than a matter of semantics. Building, rebuilding, what difference does it make?

The Browns we see next season will, for a the most part, look nothing like the 3-13 team fans were forced to witness last season. The culture is definitely changing.

So is that a bad thing? We’ll find out. With this front office, there are definitely no certainties.

Right now, it is impossible to figure out what the end game is with these guys. We should know a lot more following the college draft later this month.

One thing is certain: The 2016 Browns will be one of the youngest – and probably one of the least experienced – teams in the NFL. And that usually portends more doom and gloom. As if fans of the team didn’t already know how that feels.