Monday, May 1, 2017

As the mind turns, Part 2

More random thoughts on the National Football League college draft . . .

What makes this annual flesh market one of the sports events I most look forward to every year?

To understand, all you have to do is remember the look on Mitch (Mitchell) Trubisky’s face when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell called his name after the Chicago Bears moved up one slot to take him with the second overall pick.

The look on his countenance was priceless. Stunned doesn’t begin to describe the look. Puzzled works. So does flabbergasted. As in, “Didn’t see that coming.”

It was almost surreal as Trubisky floated down the stairs to meet Goodell after the announcement and hold a Bears jersey for the first time. He appeared to have a this-isn’t-really-happening look on his face.

He admitted in on-camera interviews he had not received a congratulatory call from the Bears prior to the announcement on stage. That is the normal protocol for teams. At least it would have given him time to compose himself.

And because it happened so early in the lottery, it served to scramble all the mock drafts around the country that had Trubisky all but in the Browns’ back pocket. It also forced other teams to quickly adjust their plans.

This is why I love the NFL college draft. Its unpredictability is almost intoxicating. You never know what is going to happen next. Just when you think you have it figured out next time, think of Trubisky.
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Barring unforeseen circumstances, you can pencil in David Njoku as the Browns’ starting tight end this season. The release of veteran Gary Barnidge virtually assures the Browns will have at least three rookie starters (along with Myles Garrett and Jabrill Peppers) this season.

The timing of Barnidge’s departure (the morning following Njoku’s selection in the draft Thursday night) was not exactly a coincidence. It signaled a philosophical change for the team with a decided turn toward youth and speed.

Barnidge, the Browns’ second leading receiver last season, will be 32 years old a couple of months after Njoku turns 21. Youth definitely will be served this season with Njoku, Seth DeValve (24), Randall Telfer (25) and J. P Holtz (23) battling for what probably will be three spots.

Njoku and DeValve are the front-runners to stick around all season with the rookie getting the majority of the reps. Telfer has encountered problems staying healthy. The healthiest when the season opens most likely will make the final roster.
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The Browns’ most intriguing draft choice unquestionably is third-round pick Larry Ogunjobi. The defensive tackle, whose real first name is Olumide, was sort of a “who’s he?” choice out of North Carolina Charlotte. His given name means “God has come.”

The son of Nigerian parents did not play football until his sophomore year in high school when he was an obese 350-pounder. Now a chiseled 6-3, 305 pounds, he is still a relative baby when it comes to playing the game.

Undersized at 305 pounds for a nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme, Ogunjobi appears to be close to a perfect fit for a three-technique tackle in the Browns’ new 4-3 look, playing off the opposing guard’s outside shoulder. No doubt the Browns will want to take a long look at him next to Danny Shelton.

Pending the outcome of the sixth-round pick Caleb Brantley’s domestic violence case in Gainesville, Fla., it is possible Ogunjobi and returnees Jamie Meder, Xavier Cooper and Gabe Wright will battle to determine who plays next to Shelton.

Ogunjobi and Brantley are very much alike in that both are extremely quick off the ball and very strong against the run, an area that has plagued the Browns for way too long. If Brantley is not cleared of the charges against him, the Browns most likely will renounce his selection.
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My favorite pick was Zane Gonzalez, one of college’s best placekickers for the last several years. The seventh-rounder will make a big difference with his powerful leg, especially on kickoffs, where he displayed consistency on reaching the end zone.

So what’s the big deal about that, you ask. Better to start drives at the 25-yard line than further upfield.  From a strategic and tactical standpoint, defensive coordinators would much rather see the beginning of drives as close to the goal line as possible.

And head coaches love kickers who connect with a large degree of regularity on long-range field goals, something Gonzalez did seven times last season at Arizona State, including a 59-yarder.

But how will he do in the swirling winds off Lake Erie in November and December? That will be Gonzalez’s biggest challenge. After watching him for four years at ASU, here’s betting that won't be much of a problem.
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The most curious pick was offensive tackle Rod Johnson in the fifth round. The Browns traded up to select the big guy (6-7, 300 pounds) from Florida State. The Browns had already been bitten by another Florida State product, Cameron Erving, a first-rounder two years ago who appears to be a bust.

Johnson projects as a left tackle, a position owned and operated by Joe Thomas, who is just a few years away from sitting for his Hall of Fame bust. It was a curious selection because the Browns drafted Shon Coleman and Spencer Drango last year and there is just so much room on the offensive line.

The book on Johnson is he needs to work on his pass protection, but is an asset in the ground game. There is a good chance he will either wind up moving to guard or end up on the practice squad with the plethora of offensive linemen.
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Took some flak when I suggested that the Browns should have taken Iowa cornerback/safety Desmond King with the fourth-round selection instead of Howard Wilson. King went to the Los Angeles Chargers in round five.

Wilson is a more natural cornerback and presumably faster than King, a four-year starter at Iowa. Wilson ran a 4.56 40-yard dash on his pro day. King ran a 4.5 flat on his pro day.

And when you start for four years for a school in a much tougher conference and are, according to some reports, a more instinctual back, one would think he would be assigned a higher draft grade than Wilson. Apparently not on the Browns’ board, though.

King is more effective in a zone defense, whereas Wilson is considered better on man coverage. The big negative on Wilson is his rail-thin size at 6-0, 180 pounds. He needs to put on at least 10-15 pounds. King is 5-10, 202 pounds and a more punishing tackler. This one bears casual watching.
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Two areas of the team, one on each side of the ball were ignored in the draft. Apparently the coaches and front office believed eight linebackers (not counting two signed as street free agents) and 10 wide receivers (not counting Josh Gordon and three signed as street free agents) is sufficient and did not need help.
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Questions in the wake of the draft: Will DeShone Kizer become the 27th different starting quarterback for the Browns since 1999? . . . Will Brock Osweiler be on the opening-day roster against Pittsburgh? . . . How many different quarterbacks will start a game for the Browns this season? . . . OK, enough quarterback questions. How many games will it take to better last season’s sack total of 26? The guess here is 10. . . . And how many of those will be owned by Myles Garrett? The over/under is 11. . . . How many different positions will Jabrill (Slash) Peppers play? . . . And finally, a yes or no question: Do you think Chicago Bears fans now know how it feels to be a Browns fan after their team selected Trubisky with the second overall pick of the draft?
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Draft scraps: The Browns signed 17 street free agents – three wide receivers, two linebackers, three defensive linemen, two offensive linemen, six defensive backs and a punter. Who will be the next James Harrison, Wes Welker or Antonio Gates? . . . Mentioned every pick except running back Matthew Dayes, a seventh-rounder who most likely will wind up either on the practice squad or the street. . . . Next year will be the sixth since 1999 that the Browns will own two selections in the first round. Not something of which to be proud.
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Time to wrap it up.

Best pick: Myles Garrett. Smartest pick: Jabrill Peppers after whiffing on Malik Hooker. Most unwise (trying to be nice here) pick: DeShone Kizer. Pick that will have the greatest impact: Garrett, of course, on defense; Gonzalez on offense (or is it special teams?). Biggest gamble: Sixth-rounder Caleb Brantley and his off-the-field problems. Most puzzling pick: Wilson over King, of course.

And now the final grade.

The Browns pronounced themselves “excited” about the outcome over the weekend. Of course they are undoubtedly quite pleased and feel very good about what they accomplished. That’s what they have to say. They are not going to sit down afterward and admit they did a terrible job. That doesn’t sell tickets.

They, in fact, did a much better job this year than last. Their first three selections (and maybe one or two more picks) will start and have an impact. That right there is a huge step in the right direction. The talent quotient of this year’s crop far exceeds that of a year ago. The right steps are finally being taken. And that rates a much higher grade than last year.

Final grade: A very solid B that could morph into A territory as the season unwinds.


  1. According to the ProFootball Weekly Draft Guide, Peppers had only one career interception at Michigan.

    Bet the rent money that Hooker picks the Browns off twice when they play the Colts in September.

  2. How about one month's mortgage payment?

    One of the reasons Pepper's INT number with Michigan was so low is that he was like a Swiss Army knife on the field, playing several different roles on both sides of the football. And he'll probably be used the same way with the Browns. His value does not lie in the stats.