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Questions by Colin G.
1) The official low point of a Browns fan's year is finally here, the NFL draft. The Browns previous five first-round draft picks were: Trent Richardson, Brandon Weeden, Barkevious Mingo, Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel. One could argue that the FIVE players combined have not contributed to ONE Browns win in the past three years. Could my 11 year old son do a better job drafting out of a magazine than the Browns front office? At this point shouldn't they just do what Mel Kiper says? Could it be worse?
Big $ - First things first, I have the utmost respect for Mel as he somehow invented his own career based on a teenage obsession (professional Tecmo player never materialized for me). However, since he invented the position, he has very little accountability. Mel may be the only person I trust less than Ray and Jimmy. If it was up to me, I’d have Tony Grossi run the draft from a golf course somewhere.
K-Dubs, the Soldier – This question obviously was submitted by someone who is not a Browns fan. Draft Day represents a high-point in a Browns fan’s optimism. It is when first-round picks like Richardson fail to reach their potential during the season that we reach our annual low point. It happens sometime in late November each year. Surprisingly - in a depressing way - Weeden did contribute to some wins, including ones against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. He was the only pick of those five that I thought was worth a shot in the first round, because he has a pro arm and played in a sophisticated passing system in college. His career has been hindered by an inability to make reads and throws quickly enough. Gilbert and Mingo may still pan out because of their athletic talent, but they, along with Richardson and Manziel, were all headscratchers.
I think your 11-year-old could have done a better job than the previous Browns regimes, but we need to give General Manager Ray Farmer at least another year before we give your boy the reins. Farmer did show some promise in his first draft last year. He was widely lauded after his first-round scheming, in which he landed Gilbert and Manziel. Those actually turned out to be his whiffs. His ability to evaluate players really shined in the subsequent rounds, particularly when he targeted Joel Bitonio, who is a Pro Bowl-level talent guard, linebacker Chris Kirksey and running back Terrance West. I don’t think they should just listen to Mel Kiper, either. Instead, Farmer just needs to abide by his own judgment and ignore the input of owner Jimmy Haslem, who allegedly ordered the selection of Manziel on the advice of a homeless man.
2) What players and positions do you hope the Browns address in the first round? What is the likely disaster scenario that leads to another draft-night binge-drinking session, followed by calling off work Friday?
Big $ - There is a part of me that is rooting for any pick/trade that puts a definitive nail in the “Johnny era.” I have no idea if Marcus Mariota will pan out, but I do know that if he is drafted by the Browns there is a 0% chance that Mr. Football ever takes another regular season snap in brown and orange.
Outside of that, I believe teams are built from the inside out. The top two picks should be spent on a defensive lineman and offensive lineman respectively. On the defensive side, I’d like Washington’s Danny Shelton or Texas’ Malcolm Brown. Offensively I’m leaning towards Florida State’s Cam Erving due to his flexibility and ability to play center in the case that Mack jumps ship.
My wild card would be Shane Ray. If the Missouri pass rushing demon slips to 19, the Browns need to pounce.
As for what scenario would inspire mass Jameson consumption? I’m pretty sure that the Browns could concede their top two picks and I still would be far from as disgusted as I was by the selection of "Johnny Foot-Tall” last May.
K-Dubs, the Soldier – It has been said that the NFL is a quarterback league, and the Browns have no established starting quarterback. I think they should try to trade up (depending on the cost) to take Mariota. I hear a lot of talk in Browns Nation that the team cannot “mortgage its future” for a quarterback. I for one do not believe there is much of a future for a NFL team that does not have a franchise QB. Plus, it is no secret that Farmer loves Mariota and talked about taking him in last year’s draft before Mariota announced he was returning to Oregon for another season.
If the big play for Mariota does not materialize, there are some other glaring needs Farmer can address. The biggest need is on the defensive line. The Browns finished last in the league in rushing defense and 27th in sacks. Even slight improvements in the ability to stop the run and pressure the quarterback should pay big dividends because of the strength of the defensive secondary. I think Shelton and Brown would be good choices with the 12th pick. But if the Browns do trade up, don’t be surprised if it is for Leonard Williams, the highly touted defensive lineman out of University of Southern California. They need to build depth on the offensive line, as well.
This draft class also offers a lot of depth at the wide receiver position. Although the Browns signed veteran wideouts Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline in the offseason, they could add a player that can stretch the defense with a second-round selection, like Ohio State’s Devin Smith, or Jaelen Strong out of Arizona State.
Rumors are also swirling about the Browns taking Georgia running back Todd Gurley in the first round. That remains a possibility, and I think Gurley is an explosive talent. But he is coming off a knee surgery, and the Browns already have a pair of second-year running backs in West and Isaiah Crowell.
3) Which off season move is less likely to have an impact on the upcoming Brown season: New uniforms or Johnny Football going to rehab?
K-Dubs, the Soldier – Less likely? Manziel going to rehab. By the time the season starts, Johnny may even be third on the depth chart at quarterback. I bet that the 1989 San Francisco Forty Niners would have still won the Super Bowl if third-stringer Steve Bono spent the previous spring in rehab. I am glad Manziel had the courage to address his addiction, and I wish him the best in life. I just don’t believe he has the physical tools to succeed in the NFL. The uniforms, though, are getting some good reviews from the players in the locker room, and as the old adage goes: “If you look good, you play good.” Trite as that saying may be, Browns fans will take any advantage we can.
4) Why were the Browns is such a hurry to run Brian Hoyer out of town? What did that accomplish?
Big $ - As much as Hoyer was a “Cleveland Guy” he was much more a “Lombardi/Banner” guy. Once that regime was shown the door, Ol’ Ray was gonna make sure he put his own stamp on the team. Number 6 never stood a chance with Farmer making personnel decisions. Had a sensible choice been made on a young QB prior to the 2014 season, Brian Hoyer would have been the ideal bridge for 2-3 years. It’s truly a shame the way that the situation played out.
5) Looking at the new schedule and off the top of your head, what is your best guess on the total wins the Browns pile up in 2015?
Big $ - When I initially looked at the schedule I was at least optimistic about the first 3 games. KW politely reminded me that both the Raiders and Titans games last year were dogfights that the Browns were lucky to survive. This dampened my hope and led me to the realization that this team is headed to maybe a 2-3 win season and those random wins will be attributed solely to the parity of the league. Cardale here we come!
K-Dubs, the Soldier – The Browns finished 7-9 last year, which was only the 4th time since they returned to the league in 1999 that they finished with 7 wins or more. There is no doubt that the team benefited from the NFL’s schedule balancing, with the Browns making their money against the bad NFC South. That division is off the schedule this year, though. In addition to the divisional games against the AFC North, which again should be the toughest in football, the NFC West has been added to the slate. That means road games against the Seahawks, the Rams - which has one of the top three defensive lines in the league - and a homer versus the Cardinals, who went to the playoffs last year. Peyton Manning’s farewell tour is also blowing through town in week 6. Things look bleak. With the Browns, you can never count sure wins, but the home games against the Titans and Raiders promise the best opportunities for victories. The team always steals a conference win or two, and I will throw in an additional win on the strength of the defensive back seven. That puts my over/under at 4.5 wins. Look for another draft preview column at this time next year, as we await the Browns’ top-ten pick.