We have finally entered NFL draft month. As we get closer to April 26th, the debates will heat up about the top of the draft, in the media and in every front office around the country. I’m not inside of any of these front offices and can only speculate on their thought process.
The biggest misconception when it comes to grading prospects for the draft is the tendency to act as if the value you attach to each player is the same on each team’s board. Actually, if you were able to look at every team’s draft board you would see 32 completely different evaluations. This has to do with personal preferences, relationships to certain colleges and personnel, defensive and offensive schemes, and scouts that value attributes differently on film.
My take on each team in the draft is based on my own film study of the teams and prospects. I also factor in what brings the most value to the franchise. My educated guess is that the Indianapolis Colts will select the Andrew Luck and the Washington Redskins will select Robert Griffin III. You can make an argument at three that the Minnesota Vikings could trade their pick because they need to improve in several areas. In theory, it sounds good but you have to have something highly coveted for teams to package picks like the Redskins did to trade up to the second pick with the St Louis Rams.
Many will lead you to believe that Ryan Tannehill could be enough to entice potential suitors. I don’t see anyone paying to price to move up to three and feel that the Vikings will be forced to fill a huge need with an elite talent. After Matt Kalil there isn’t another guy that merits consideration as a no-brainer, starting left tackle as a rookie. Of course Minnesota has the need for a premier receiver but drafting one at three and looking for a left tackle to protect their young quarterback in the later rounds, doesn’t seem to be the best pairing for long term success of that offense. That leads us to the Cleveland Browns.
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Cleveland could go in multiple directions. Going on the defensive side of the ball with a cornerback like Morris Claiborne wouldn’t be a horrible decision. They could pair Claiborne with Joe Haden and a nice pairing in their secondary for years. It’s always been said that you can’t have too many talented cornerbacks in this league. That sentiment has been magnified in recent years with the increase of a pass first mentality in the NFL. Claiborne wouldn’t be a horrible decision and could actually be beneficial in the long run but the Browns have to improve their offense and give this team a push to be more of a complete franchise.
Colt McCoy hasn’t done much to limit concerns regarding if he could be a franchise quarterback. He also hasn’t been given a far shot. In his first two years in the league he’s witnessed coaching changes and dealt with a running back that basically put his own best interest over that of the team. Colt doesn’t have a receiving threat that he can rely on in any situation. AJ Green helped Andy Dalton’s growth immensely and McCoy has lacked that. Still, the Browns organization may view Ryan Tannehill as a franchise guy that makes the system click. Ryan can make everything throw and has anticipation beyond his years.
This is due to the fact that Tannehill has run those routes himself and understands the timing. It’s easy to get excited about what Tannehill could become at the next level but it’s all a projection. Ryan is just now getting up to speed with the college game and it’ll take him a couple of years before a team should even consider throwing him to the NFL wolves. If Cleveland could draft Tannehill later, I wouldn’t have a problem with the pick. But, teams can’t use a top five pick on a player that doesn’t add value to a roster for a few years. First round picks are meant to be starters.
Top 10 picks are drafted with the theory that they will be All-Pro caliber players. It would set the franchise back to use a top five pick on a developmental player. Cleveland needs to use their first pick to increase their play in 2012. There’s no question that Tannehill wouldn’t accomplish that. Out of all of the possibilities that Cleveland could draft with the 4th pick, Ryan would equate into bringing them the least amount of value in the near future. Many mention that the Packers let Aaron Rodgers sit for a few years and that turned out well. Rodgers was drafted at the bottom of the first round and Green Bay also had a guy named Brett Favre already in place.
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If you agree with everything said above, then that would leave two players as the possible ideal selection for the Browns. The first would be Justin Blackmon. Blackmon would give Colt McCoy that ideal presence in the passing offense. His skill set is also beneficial in the Cleveland offense. Justin thrives with what he does with the ball after the catch. He’s a faster Brandon Marshall. Blackmon is a threat to the defense on every route he runs. Whether he’s stretching the defense or catching a slant, his physical nature forces the defense to account for him with multiple players.
The problem with drafting Justin with the fourth pick is the fact that this team could still find a talented starter with their 22nd pick overall, the second round, and even later. This wide receiver class is so deep, that teams will find talented starters in the fourth and fifth rounds. I’m not saying that Cleveland should wait that long but I don’t feel they need to use the fourth highest pick in the draft on the deepest position. While Blackmon is the most talented receiver in this draft, it’s not a great distance that he has over the second round talent of pass catchers.
The biggest gap in talent from the best player at a position to the next best is at running back. Trent Richardson is the most complete, talented back since Adrian Peterson came out. The new rookie wage pool that was put into place last season has made this a no-brainer for the Browns. As the fourth pick in the draft, Richardson will be compensated slightly more than a quality backup running back in the NFL. Those who oppose drafting a running back in the top 5 are focusing on the “running back” label, instead of Trent Richardson as a person. While you can find diamonds in the rough at the running back position in the later rounds, the same could be said about other positions. Also, the shelf life of NFL running backs are limited.
This may sound as a negative but actually, drafting Richardson and getting him at the value of the new rookie wage, makes this a home run. The Browns would get an elite every down back, in the prime of his career and pay him peanuts compared to what other backs of his caliber will be compensated. Colt McCoy would have a beast behind him that could carry the bulk of the workload and open up the passing lanes as defenses would be forced to focus on stopping Richardson.
It’s just one man’s opinion but if I’m the decision maker in Cleveland, there wouldn’t be a second thought about it. I’d draft Trent Richardson and I would use the next few picks to find Colt McCoy’s new target to add with Greg Little, I would draft a right tackle to bookend with Joe Thomas, and I would draft a quarterback to compete with Colt this year. There are a few decisions the Browns could make at four that could pan out and help this franchise get on a winning path but I believe this has the highest success rate. Whatever they decide, Browns fans better hope it’s not Tannehill…at least for the next few years.