Saturday, September 3, 2016

Wow! What a draft class

It would be folly to accuse the Browns’ front office of roster prejudice following Saturday’s whacking of said roster to 53 players. Or would it?

Perusal of the not-chiseled-in stone-yet final 53 upon closer look reveals what amounts to extreme prejudice with every selection in the last college football draft landing on the list. Yep, all 14 have been deemed ready to play in the National Football League.

It seems the analytical approach that went into reframing – some would call it rebuilding because that's what it really is – the roster has paid off handsomely. Fourteen picks have translated into 14 roster spots.

Too bad the new members of the Ivory Tower couldn’t have swung another deal or two and picked up even more future contributors to the cause.

When the final slicing and dicing was concluded, the roster looks like this: Three quarterbacks, five running backs, six wide receivers, three tight ends and eight linemen on offense; six linemen, nine linebackers and 10 backs on defense; and the special teamers, the long snapper, punter and placekicker.

Broken down even more, the roster includes 16 rookies, three other players not designated as rookies but who have never played in a regular-season NFL game, eight players in their second season and four more in their third year.

Add them up and you have 31 players with less than four years experience. That is an astonishing 52.8% of the roster.

Missing from the final cuts are wide receiver Josh Gordon and outside linebacker Armonty Bryant, who will each serve a four-game suspension at the beginning of the season.

Perhaps the most surprising move of the day involved cornerback Justin Gilbert, the Browns’ No. 1 pick a couple of years ago. Not that he didn’t make the final roster. The surprise was the Browns found a willing trade partner, shipping the third-year man to AFC North rival Pittsburgh for a sixth-round pick in 2018.

It’s extremely rare in the NFL to see an intra-division deal. The last one in memory was in 2006 when the Browns agreed to swap first-round picks (it was just a one place move down) with the Baltimore Ravens, who selected defensive lineman Haloti Ngata.

Ngata, who plays now for Detroit, went on to become a five-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All-Pro. The Browns, whose draft history since the resurrection is sketchy at best, took linebacker Kamerion Wimbley, who retired prior to the 2015 season as a member of the Oakland Raiders.

New faces on the Cleveland roster this season – there are 27 of them and, yep, that’s slightly more than half the team – include rookie free agents Tracy Howard, a cornerback, and inside linebacker Dominique Alexander.

This, of course, will not be the roster that opens the regular season a week from Sunday in Philadelphia. There most likely will be some movement once players from all around the league clear waivers and the 10-man practice squads are set.

Rumors already have the Browns signing Britton Colquitt of the famous Colquitt punting family to replace Michael Palardy, who beat out Kasey Redfern on the not-so-final 53. He was cut by Denver a few days ago after spending seven seasons as the Broncos’ punter.

Colquitt’s father Craig punted for Pittsburgh from 1978 to 1984 and older brother Dustin has been Kansas City’s punter since 2005.

The signing of veteran burly defensive tackle Stephen Paea, if nothing else, gives the defensive line some experience. The 28-year-old free agent, who logged four seasons with Chicago and played sparingly with Washington last season, has 13½ career sacks.

He arrives with the right attitude. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” he tweeted “God is good. #DAWGPOUND #Cleveland Browns.” He’ll learn soon enough.

It will be interesting to see how coordinator Ray Horton schemes his defense with Paea aboard. The lack of a decent pass rush moved Horton, a 3-4 devotee, to experiment with four-man fronts featuring rookies Carl Nassib and Emmanuel Ogbah on the flanks during the exhibition season.

Paea could be paired with Danny Shelton or Jamie Meder on the inside to provide insurance against the running game in a 4-3 set.

As for other areas, expect some movement in the heavily populated secondary as waiver scanning continues throughout the weekend. Ten is one too many back there. 

As for the offense, new quarterback Robert Griffin III will have a receivers corps in the first four games consisting of four rookies, a converted quarterback (Terrelle Pryor) still in the learning phase of his new position, and Smurfish Andrew Hawkins, who has had numerous concussions. Good luck with that.

All of which probably means coach Hue Jackson most likely will rely heavily on the ground game and a short passing game as he attempts to pump some life into what was a moribund offense in the exhibitions. Lack of a quality offensive line won't help.

If The Third is forced to throw the ball anywhere from 25 to 35 times a game, that probably will mean a rout is in progress. Judging from the roster makeup now, it looks as though that very well might be the case.

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