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.