Browns’ Draft Review (Day 2-end)

How come you never finished your draft review, Geoff?

I wasn’t pleased by the second-day picks, decided I might be overreacting, and decided to wait to write about them until I calmed down. I’m still waiting, but I can’t put this off any longer.

The Browns had a great draft. They had more top-100
rated picks than almost any other team.

That’s a lot of of irrational exuberance. Let’s unpack it one worm at a time.

1. It’s foolish to outsource your judgment. The Browns did pick seven players in Mike Mayock‘s top 100 prospects list– more than any other team. They also chose five players who were on Gil Brandt‘s list of the top 100 prospects. They were one of four teams (Chicago, Atlanta and NY Jets) to do so; only Minnesota picked more.

That’s reassuring if you believe Mayock and Brandt are smarter than (to name a few) Mel Kiper, Todd McShane, Nolan Nawrocki, Dan Shonka, or (my preferred option) Frank Cooney, Dan Brugler and Rob Rang of TSX. Otherwise it’s just white noise.

2. The 2015 draft didn’t broaden the Browns’ talent base. To improve a team, you need to fill gaps. You have to bring in players who improve you at positions where you’re weak.

That’s drafting for need; you hate that

“Drafting for need” is focusing on 2-3 positions– taking players at those spots even if there are better players at other spots where you’re week– and picking people whom you’ve graded much lower than other players.

Taking a receiver rated 9.12, even though you have a left tackle rated 9.21 doesn’t qualify. Most teams still don’t grade every game a prospect plays– even their #1 pick, they realize that a gap of a few hundredths of a point isn’t significant.

More to the point, a 7-9 team has plenty of needs. Other than the offensive line, they have used help almost everywhere. They didn’t get it in the draft.

At the end of the season, my grades for each unit, ranked by position, were as follows:

  • Offensive line: B+
  • Defensive backfield: B-
  • Linebacker: C
  • Running back: C
  • Receiver / tight end: C-
  • Quarterback: C-
  • Kicking teams: D
  • Defensive line: F

But during free agency, the Browns:

  • Improved the defensive line to a D by adding Randy Starks and losing only Ahtyba Rubin (who played poorly, due to injuries last year).
  • Dropped defensive backfield a full grade to a C-, by losing Buster Skrine (probably the best slot corner in the NFL) and Jim Leonhard, and adding 32-year-old Tramon Williams (who is goign downhill fast).
  • Let linebacker slip to a C-by losing Jabaal Sheard.
  • Dropped receiver / tight end to a D by replacing Miles Austin and Poke Cameron with three journeymen:  TE Rob Housler and WRs Brian Hartline and Dwayne Bowe.
  • Plunged quarterback nearly two full grades to F, by dumping Brian Hoyer (who could manage a game) for Josh McCown (who can’t). McCown normally plays as well as Johnny Football (who was drunk and didn’t know his playbook) did last year.

They got worse at four spots, but people said “It’s OK, they have 12 picks…” But after spending 12 picks, the Browns are:

  • Improved compared to where they were after game 16, at four spots (offensive line, running back, defensive line and kicking teams)
  • Made no progress at receiver (they got worse in free agency then regained the ground in the draft)
  • Are weaker at three spots– quarterback, linebacker and defensive backfield

The table sums it all up

End of Year Free agency Post-draft
Offensive line: B+ A
Defensive backfield B- C- C-
Linebacker C C- D
Running back C B-
Receiver / tight end C- D C-
Quarterback  C- F  F
Kicking teams D D+
Defensive line F D C-

In the NFL– which permits teams (thanks to the draft, free agency and the salary cap) to get 6-8 game better in a year– teams can’t afford to tread water.

Especially not the Browns. To utter words I expect to be saying quite a lot this year: The 2015 schedule is much tougher than the 2014 one. Last year’s Browns went 4-4 against the two South divisions:

  • AFC South (1-3): They barely beat Tennessee and lost to Houston, Indianapolis and Jacksonville.
  • NFC South (3-1): They beat Atlanta, New Orleans and Tampa Bay, losing to Carolina.

The teams in the South are the weakest divisions in their respective conferences. The AFC and NFC West are much stronger and the best I can see for them is 3-5. In the AFC:

  • They play Oakland in week three. The Raiders are improving and will probably be better than Cleveland by the end of the year. I don’t they’ll have moved by the Browns that soon.
  • Peyton Manning is 39 and Denver is built around him. If he’s missing, the Broncos are a 2-14 team. Also, Denver replaced John Fox (who is good at camouflaging weakness) with Gary Kubiak (who consistently lost games to less talented opponents at Houston).
  • Barring a plane crash. Cleveland has no realistic chance of beating Kansas City or San Diego.

In the NFC West:

  • Jeff Fisher doesn’t know squat about offensive football, so the likelihood of him pulling QB Nick Foles out of his tailspin is remote. Cleveland can beat St. Louis in week 7.
  • If a good coach with a big personality leaves– and a longtime backup steps in– the team almost always collapses. San Francisco‘s new head coach, Jim Tomsula hired Geep Chryst (who is every bit as good as his name suggests) to run his offense and The Mangenius to run his defense, so they might fall from 9-9 to 4-12.
  • Arizona and Seattle will crush the Browns like grapes.

A few years from now, we’re likely to put this draft in the same class as the failed 2012 draft.

I’ll trust the expert opinion, thanks

You might want to be careful about the people you’re calling “experts.”

Gil Brandt: He’s 82, and his reputation dates from the 1960’s and 70’s, when the Cowboys simply outspent everyone on scouting. If you click the upcoming link, you can review Brandt’s hot 100 from 2012 (three seasons is enough to evaluate a player) and look at how well he did.

The top three players on his list all made the Pro Bowl (QB Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin, then T Matt Kalil)… but then things fall apart fast. Eight other players taken in the first 100 picks (he rated 100 players) have made the Pro Bowl.

Had Brandt done a perfect job, all eight players would be in his top 100, ranked toward the top. But he missed two players (QBs Russell Wilson and Nick Foles) entirely. And he rated 6 of 8 lower than the slot they were chosen– meaning he didn’t think they were as good as the team who picked them.

Mike Mayock: His Top 100 list from 2012 is better than Brandt’s. He also missed Wilson and Foles, but he has four Pro Bowl players rated higher than where they were taken and only two lower.

Let me put the eight Pro Bowl players– and both analyst rankings– in a table, so you can compare them directly. Mayock’s grades are better, but both have issues:

Player Brandt Mayock
LB Luke Kuechly, pick 9 11 6
DT Dontari Poe, pick 11 18 13
RB Doug Martin, pick 31 50 17
WR Alshon Jeffery, pick 45 34 51
LB Bobby Wagner, pick 47 63 98
QB Russell Wilson, pick 75 112 unrated
QB Nick Foles, pick 88 unrated unrated
WR T.Y. Hilton, pick 92 88 60

Players sometimes fall past a scout’s Big Board ranking because teams pick for need– or a bad GM make a bad pick. But it’s clear that Brandt just didn’t realize how good Kuechly, Poe or Martin were. Those are the types of mistakes they make consistently.

Mayock has the good players rated higher than Brandt, but he didn’t think Jeffery and Wagner would play as well as they did. And the top of his 2012 chart stunk. Mayock also put Luck and Griffin at #1 and #2, but he only rated Kalil the fifth-best prospect. His #3 and #4 picks were the modest talents of CB Morris Claiborne… and RB Trent Richardson. That’s an epic fail.

A lot of people were wrong about Richardson

People who ignored an obvious fact. I don’t watch the NCAA (I object to the way college sports exploit players), but I knew Richardson would be a mistake without watching.

It wasn’t a case of a stupid coach not seeing what he had– or a player being held back by a system that didn’t suit him.

Great NFL players play great in college. You don’t spend a high #1 on a player who couldn’t crack the starting lineup– not when the guy who beat him out isn’t doing well in the pros (Ingram had his first good year last year).

But if you think Mayock shold get a mulligan for Richardson, let’s try another test:How did Brandt and Mayock grade the players the Browns picked in the 2012 draft?

We know that draft was a disaster for the team– no stars, T Mitchell Schwartz is the only starter and three guys are hanging on as fringe players, But both analysts graded the draft well; the Browns chose four players in Mayock’s top 100 and five guys in Brandt’s top 125. Here’s the table:

Player Brandt Mayock
RB Trent Richardson, pick 3 5 3
QB Brandon Weeden, pick 22 38 35
OT Mitchell Schwartz, pick 37 92 62
DT John Hughes, pick 87
WR Travis Benjamin, pick 100
LB James-Michael Johnson, pick 120
G Ryan Miller, pick 160
LB Emmanuel Acho, pick 204
DT Billy Winn, pick 205 65 83
CB Trevin Wade, pick 245 105
TE Brad Smelley, pick 247

I don’t remember anyone quoting Mayock or Brandt to show that Tom Heckert had screwed up by taking guys who weren’t highly ranked. And that’s why quoting draft analysts– unless you always quote the same analysts every year– is a shuck. Writers and fans locate the guy who has said says the most good things about the players the team drafted and quote him to make themselves feel good.

So you hated all the picks?

Not all– around half. I said my piece on the two #1 picks; I like both.

My opinion of the Cameron Erving pick rose when the Browns announced he’d be playing right tackle– and didn’t dump Schwartz. I’d put Erving at tackle and move Schwartz to guard… but anything that makes John Greco the top backup at center and guard safeguards the club against another injury.

Hitting your two #1 picks helps./ Also, the Browns had 5 of their 12 picks in the last two rounds. Finding starters in rounds six and seven is nigh-impossible– but you also can’t make a major mistake. So that’s 7 of 12 picks where the Browns are OK.

So what has you worked up?

The five players taken between round #2 and #5. You need 30 good players on a team in order to contend. You can’t collect those guys with #1 picks and free agent signings– you don’t have enough #1 picks or cap room to build critical mass quickly enough. You have to find starters in rounds 2-5.; if you want to win; you need to find stars.

  • Two of the five Browns taken between rounds 2-5 (LB Nate Orchard and DT Xavier Cooper) are replacements for players they dumped in free agency. There’s a chance these guys are better than Sheard or Rubin, but not a large one.
  • A third (SS Ibreheim Campbell) is a replacement for a player they expect to have to replace in a year or two. And since Donte Whitner made the Pro Bowl, the only way Campbell can improve the team is if he goes into the Hall of Fame.
  • The fourth (RB Duke Johnson) creates a numbers crunch on a unit that was one of the bright spots last season. He would need to be a star to make an impact.
  • All of the four have significant weaknesses. Even the people who like them acknowledged that these guys are not flawless.

Only one player (WR Vince Mayle) looks like a quality player who upgrades a weakness.

Also, while I like both #1 picks, they don’t play high-impact spots. Danny Shelton is a nose tackle; Erving is a guard or tackle on the side where teams put their weaker blockers. Talent at those positions is necessary, but Cleveland won’t get huge bumps from either guy.

Well, let’s get this over with.

DE Nate Orchard, Utah (Round 2, pick 51)

I detest picks like Orchard. They’re the type of choices most likely to fail:

  • He played one position in college, but he’s switching to a different spot. That means he’ll need coaching and adjustment time.
  • He’s only had one season that justifies taking him this high. Orchard’s senior year might be a sign that he is coming into his own– or it might be a fluke. Or (Gerard Warren alert) it might be a case of a guy who only goes full steam in his contract year.
  • He’s a one-dimensional player. It is clear that Orchard will not make the Pro Bowl based on run defense or pass coverage. He’ll have to sack quarterbacks to succeed.
  • He does not have the skills he needs: He lacks strength and relies on speed.
  • He can’t play any other position if he washes out. A corner can be shifted to safety, a tackle can become a guard, or outside linebacker can play inside. He’s either a rush linebacker or an Arenaball player.

Orchard is the latest in a line of picks that includes Kamerion Wimbley or Barkevious Mingo: The 4-3 defensive end who couldn’t stop the run– and was up and down as a player– but did knock down QBs. The Browns hope he can become a weakside linebacker who focuses on rushing the passes and can get 15 sacks.

Even the people who love Orchard’s ability to get to quarterbacks say he’s weak against the run, He can’t play end, even in a 4-3. Unlike Meowkevious Mingo (who can use his speed to cover), Orchard struggled at linebacker when asked drop into coverage. Worst of all, he got his sacks by getting around– not through– blockers.

The people who like him say “I know he’s not a great athlete, but look at his results. He’s a player” It’s a reasonable response– but teams draft dozens guys like Orchard every year. For every Terrell Suggs, you see many more busts like Wimbley and Mingo.

Why lump Orchard in with those guys?

They’re the same players. Orchard is 6’4″ and 255″; Mingo was 6’4″ and 241; Wimbley 6’4″ and 248. Orchard lifted 225 pounds 23 times; Wimbley 24 times; Mingo, refused to lift.

All three had only one good year in college. Here are their stats for their entire careers– and their best seasons. TFL stands for “tackles for loss”, which includes sacks:

Career Totals Best Season
Player Sacks TFLs Sacks
Orchard 25 38.5 18.5 (74%) 21 (54%)
Mingo 15 29 8 (53%) 15 (51%)
Wimbley 12 23.5 7.5 (62%) 11 (47%)

A developing player might come on in a rush. But normally you see growth between seasons. A friend who works for a team that didn’t grade Orchard highly pointed out that his production as a sophomore and junior were almost identical:

  • Freshman: 0 sacks, 0 tackles for loss
  • Sophomore: 3 sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss.
  • Junior: 3.5 sacks, 9 tackles for loss.

“We like to see organic growth,” he commented. Which means his team likes to draft people who played the position in high school and college and put up a string of good years (or at least continual progress). For pass rushers, he said, they like to see sacks double from year to year.

Their big pass rusher (I’m changing the data to protect my guy, but I’ll simulate the growth pattern) was all-state in high school, leading everyone in sacks. In college, he had 1 as a freshman, 4 as a soph, 7 as a junior and 13 as senior. In the NFL, he’s had a string of seasons high on the list of leaders in sacks.

Here’s another similarity between Orchard, Mingo and Wimbley. They all have the same excuse for not dominating– they hadn’t played defensive end very long. Orchard was an all-state wide receiver in high school. Wimbley played defensive end, linebacker, quarterback, receiver and punter. Mingo’s mother wouldn’t let him play football until his junior year of high school.

And they’re all good citizens. Orchard studied economics and had a 4.0 GPA in high school. Wimbley studied social work and had high grades.

They even have the same problem– they aren’t very good players, because they don’t work at it.

How can you say that?

Because the simplest way a defensive lineman can improve his ability is to lift weights. Weights make you stronger, so you can grab a blocker and throw him aside. If you also do leg work, you can lock up with a blocker, drive him backwards– and, as soon as he stumbles, shove him to the side he fell towards. (That’s how J.J. Watt does it.)

If a pass rusher’s only move is to run around a blocker– because he can’t blow through him– he peaks very fast. NFL linemen soon realize it and begin to drive him away from the play. Wimbley had 11 sacks as a rookie and then never did better than 9 again. Mingo had 5 sacks as a rookie– three in his first three games– and then 2 last year.

Of the skills, strength is the easiest to improve. Every college has a weight room; every coach approves of weightlifting. A player who wants to do tai chi or go out for the wresting team faces resistance. Nobody objects if you want to pump iron.

A lineman who hasn’t built up his strength is like a receiver who drops passes. He can’t help. A player who hasn’t lifted isn’t serious about a pro career.

The Browns have people who know how to scout
better than you do. I’ll trust them.

There is absolutely no evidence that GM Ray “Snapchat” Farmer knows how to draft based on his two previous performances.

Snapchat is the application that lets you send texts and auto-deletes them. The nickname, as it always is, is my way of reminding you that the person has a flaw that you need to focus on.

Ray Farmer likes to pretend that he’s a grizzled NFL pro who knows what he is doing and doesn’t get upset by silly things. In fact, he’s a GM who either (1) did not know the NFL rules prohibiting management from interfering with coaches during games or (2) lost his composure to such a degree that he couldn’t control himself. Or both.

Snapchat was the assistant GM in 2013 when picks were wasted on Mingo and CB Leon McFadden. Maybe we can call that “Mike Lombardi’s draft” and imagine Farmer’s protests were overruled. But the Browns did not have a good draft last year.

  • The Browns first #1 pick, CB Justin Gilbert, was possibly the round’s biggest bust, based on how little he played. Getting beaten out by Buster Skrine and K’Waun Williams is an embarrassing failure.
  • The worst player taken in the first round, based on how he played, was the Browns’ other #1 pick, QB Johnny Rehab.
  • LB Chris Kirksey (third round; pick #71) was outplayed by two other linebackers chosen immediately after him — Buffalo’s Preston Brown (pick #73) and San Francisco’s Chris Borland (#77).
  • RB Terrance West (round four, pick #94) was erratic and had attitude problems; both Minnesota’s Jerick McKinnon (pick #96) and the Giants’ Andrew Williams (pick #114) look like better backs.

We can give Snapchat a pass for CB Pierre Desir, who spent most of the year hurt, but looked intriguing when he played. And G Joel Bitonio was an absolute score.

But overall, the draft was weak. Sane people do not assume that a GM who passed up four Pro Bowl players last year (WR Odell Beckham, DT Aaron Donald, G Zach Martin and LB C.J. Mosley) to take Gilbert– and also took Johnny Rehab over Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr– must know something that we don’t.

Also, the other 31 teams– who drafted 50 players before Cleveland took Orchard– didn’t care for Orchard. Six of those 50 picks were outside linebacker types with high sack totals.

I asked people at two teams about Orchard. Neither was impressed.

Team #1: Many of Orchard’s fans feel he’s a natural as 4-3 end– a guy who can play against the right tackle and pile up sacks (like Sheard used to be, until the Browns shifted to a 3-4).

But this team plays a 4-3; their head coach (who was a defensive coach), his DC and their line coach are all highly respected for what they do. They graded Orchard a third-down player who should be taken as a #4 or #5.

“He’s no factor against the run,” my buddy said, “He’d be useless against two of the teams in our division. He can’t even be used in coverage, the way you guys do Mingo. Orchard has no speed going backward.”

Team #2: They play a 3-4, using the same types of sets Cleveland does. But they play it much better than Cleveland. They didn’t scout Orchard, since they already have two guys who do what the Browns hope Orchard can do. (They assumed he’d get taken late in round one or sometime in round two– too early to justify a pick.)

My friend is the guy I just quoted about liking to see steady growth. Their GM wants at least two years of production at the same level before he’ll take a player on the first two days. My buddy also added a word of caution.

“We don’t think he likes contact,” my friend added, “He’s not an AFC North lineman.”

Who would you have taken?

It was a strong receivers/tight ends draft, so that would have been the logical pick. TE Maxx Williams of Minnesota has an ego (note his first name) but he can play. Baltimore took him four picks after Cleveland took Orchard.

A better player of the same type would be another option. Eli Harold (the 49ers took him in the third round) is an example of an edge rusher who is a better bet. He has the same body type as Orchard, but (a) he played linebacker all three years and (b) had 2.5 sacks as a freshman, 8.5 in his second year and 7 in as a junior. Harold has detractors, but he’s more of a known commodity.

The most likely outcome with Orchard is a replay of Mingo’s career. At some point during the year, the Browns will admit he isn’t making the adjustment as quickly as they hoped– and he needs to get stronger.

It’s better to draft someone who doesn’t have to make an adjustment.

You have to like the next pick– he fills a hole

I don’t hate it, but I wouldn’t have made it. He makes a difficult situation worse.

RB Duke Johnson, Miami (Round 3, pick 77)

Reason #1 not to take Johnson is Terrance West, who gained 673 yards and scored 4 times after Farmer traded up to get him in round three of the 2014 draft. Reason #2 not to take him is Isaiah Crowell, who gained 607 yards and scored 8 times. Unless the Browns have decided to dump one of those guys, they don’t need three backs.

Don’t they need depth?

Isn’t two players enough?

This is simple math. Teams run about 65 plays a game; 25-30 need to be passes unless you want the defense putting nine men in the box. Backs like 20-25 carries, so if you give a guy a full workload, you can only use one.

They could rotate starters, based on the opponent.

Remember what happened when they tried it in 2014?  Ben Tate complained so loudly that the coaches cut him. West wasn’t activated for two games because the coaches were unhappy with his behavior during practice.

John De Felippo is a rookie offensive coordinator. He’s putting in a new playbook– or, more likely, trying to imitate Kyle Shanahan’s. The Browns have already saddled him with a nightmarish quarterback situation. He has scrubs at receiver and tight end. Now they’ve added a rotation at running back with three flawed players?

In what way is Johnson flawed?

He has four issues:

1. His health. He broke an ankle in 2013 and the problem kept flaring up in 2014. He was often listed on the pre-game injury reports and Miami had to keep pulling him early. In one stretch he had 25, 14, 10, 29 and 19 carries.

Miami went 6-7 last year, so it wasn’t like they gave him a breather once they had the win locked up. They needed him; he couldn’t always answer the bell.

2. His blocking. He doesn’t block on passing plays– doesn’t like the contact. So if he’s out there, you either tip the defense that he’s getting the ball, or play them 10-on-11.

3. His running inside. He can’t. He’s easy to bring down if you you can get your hands on him before he builds up speed.

4. His hands. He drops passes and fumbled six times in the last two years.

The reason I don’t hate the pick is that Johnson, to give him credit, is an explosive runner. If you can open a hole wide enough (which this line can), Johnson will go flying through it and won’t stop for about 20 yards. He scored 30 TDs, never averaged less than 6.3 yards a carry and has a highlight film that has people comparing him to Giovanni Bernard or LeSean McCoy.

If he can really run, isn’t he worth the pick?

If you believe that neither Crowell nor West can “really run”, yes. If Johnson stays healthy, you can say he adds depth.

But remember that Johnson isn’t a third down back in either sense of the word. He can’t blast through a hole with every defender on the line knowing he’s coming,

Some people say Johnson’s hands are underrated, but he’s 5’9″, with a 30″ wingspan. Quarterbacks will have trouble spotting him in traffic (especially these quarterbacks).  He caught 69 passes for 719 yards in 33 career games– about the same as Richardson.

And Pettine, no matter what he says now, will eventually get annoyed at Johnson for not blocking.

Plus, while they had two running backs already, they did not have (at that point in the draft) a quarterback, tight end, premium wide receiver, young safeties or inside linebackers.

Coupled with the numbers game he’s going to cause, I’d have skipped the pick. Like Orchard, unless Johnson really excels– turns into a 1,200-yard runner– the drawbacks outweigh the benefits.

DT Xavier Cooper, Washington State (Round 3, pick 96)

This is another Orchard-style pick. Cooper is an awful run defender, but he’s quick and he likes to chase quarterbacks. Just what the league’s worst rushing defense needs, right?

Like Orchard, the Browns intend to switch Cooper to another position (defensive end) and hope he can provide a pass rush. As is true with Orchard, many draft analysts and personnel people do not believe he can do that.

Most people see Cooper as a defensive tackle in a 4-3 who tries to rush the passer. Others see him as a nose tackle that you play on passing downs.

Why don’t the Browns run a 4-3? They have Orchard, plus Shelton and Cooper. Plus it’s a stronger defense.

The 4-3 isn’t better. 5 of the last 10 Super Bowls were won by a team playing a 3-4,. Three of the winners were AFC North teams– Pittsburgh (twice) and Baltimore (once).

The complaint about the 3-4 always boils down to “I wish we sacked the quarterback more?” If the Browns had players like (as the Ravens did for the last few years) Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, nobody would be whining about the 3-4.

But it’s a reasonable question. Let’s say Orchard is a 4-3 end. Shelton and Cooper would be credible tackles. Randy Starks and Desmond Bryant could split up the other end.

Karlos Dansby would be a whale of a middle linebacker. Paul Kruger could rush; Mingo could cover.

So what’s the holdup?

Pettine. There are less than half a dozen coaches in the NFL who possess both the technical knowledge to teach both alignments and the emotional maturity to run whichever scheme best suits the talent.

Most coaches are too inflexible. They rationalize their stubbornness by saying “This is our style of football”, claiming it makes scouting and teaching easier and pointing to the Steelers when challenged.

That’s not entirely wrong. Sticking with one system beats the endless series of player purges when a team yo-yos between systems. But the greatest coaches in NFL history, almost without exception, have been flexible. When conditions changed, they adapted. When a guy says he can’t, or won’t do it, I wonder about how good he is.

Pettine says they Browns will use more looks in 2015.
Could these picks be the implementation?

They could be. We’ll see Every year, Jeff Fisher says he’s going to focus on improving the offense– especially the line, so his quarterback doesn’t get beat to hell. He never does.

That thought would be more comforting than feeling they’re going to play a 3-4, where Cooper will have no impact.

Geoff, how can you know Cooper won’t help the team?

I can’t be 100% sure, but it is a very simple deduction, based on the following:

  1. A player can’t help you if he doesn’t play.
  2. If the Browns use a 3-4, they’ll start two ends and a nose tackle.
  3. They drafted a nose tackle and have veterans at both end spots.
  4. Cooper will have trouble making the adjustment.

The Browns drafted Shelton with their #1 pick; three years ago, they drafted Phil Taylor first. Those two will play inside. That means everyone else has to play end or sit on the bench.

At one end, they have Desmond Bryant. He’s 29 and past his prime, but he was the best of the defensive ends they had last year. At the other, they signed Randy Starks. He’s 32, but used to be in the Pro Bow. He’s signed for two years.

The Browns gave John Hughes big money; Billy Winn is on the roster. Both players are very comparable to Cooper– big bodies who projected to tackle or nose tackle, but the Browns keep trying to convert to end. Both men already know the scheme.

I don’t value Armonty Bryant or Ismaa’ily Kitchen too highly, but they have both played (Bryant has started), and they’ll get snaps in camp and practice. They both know the defense.

So to have any impact, Cooper will need to outplay 4-6 people. To do that, he will need to learn the defense. And he’s unlikely to do that, since he has a learning disability.

Washington State was willing to work with Cooper– one coach in particular took a liking to the kid and did everything he could to help. NFL teams won’t make that effort.

I don’t see Cooper as a player talented enough to hurdle a lump of players and produce. He’s more likely to be caught in the mix… and, to make matters worse, the Browns traded picks in rounds four, five and six to get Cooper.

They had plenty of picks to trade

People always say that, but the Browns never seem to have enough players. The reason they’re always understaffed is their willingness to trade valuable picks to ensure they get non-valuable players, In 2014:

  • Moving up from pick 9 to pick 8 to get Gilbert cost Cleveland a #5
  • Going from pick 26 to pick 22 to snatch Johnny Rehab cost a #3
  • Getting back into the third round to draft West– something they wouldn’t have had to do if they had simply been willing to wait for Johnny Rehab at 26, and take either Teddy Bridgewater or Derek Carr had he been taken– cost them a #4 and #6.

And a year after giving up two picks to get West, Snapchat decides he needs Duke Johnson.

Going into both 2012 and 2014, people hooted about the number of picks the Browns had. They ended up with nothing from 2012; Bitonio was the only keeper from 2014. (I’m not a Kirksey fan and never expect to be.)

When you trade up to get a player– announcing that he, in your judgement, is better than everyone else left– he needs to justify the move. If not, you should have kept your picks and hoped he fell to you.

Perhaps Cooper will replace Bryant or Starks?
Couldn’t he rotate with Shelton after Taylor leaves?

If Farmer drafted Cooper to rotate with Shelton, he should be fired. You do not spend a #3 on a player that you never expect to be anything more than a backup. Rounds 4-6 are the point where you look for depth.

Spending a #3 on a guy who won’t start for 2-3 years isn’t much wiser. The average contract is four years, So you draft the guy, train him– and just as you begin to recoup your investment, he can leave.

Which is precisely what happened when the Cavs reached for 20-year-old Tristan Thompson. The Cavs took Thompson because they said they didn’t want to wait one year for Jonas Valanciunas to get out of his European contract.

Instead they ended up waiting four years for Thompson to develop. Now hat he is 24, he looks like a world-class defender. But if they retain him, they’ll be in salary cap hell for eons.

Taking Cooper because they hope he can eventually replace Starks or Bryant might be the motivation. It’s the only explanation for their next pick.

SS Ibraheim Campbell, Northwestern (Round 4, pick 115)

The concept makes sense. Donte Whitner made the Pro Bowl; the Browns absolutely don’t need a strong safety. But Whitner will turn 30 before exhibition season begins; players who like to hit almost always start getting hurt at that age– and end up retiring early (see “Fujita, Scott”).

Campbell is 5’11”, so he’ll struggle with tight ends, But he likes to play, loves to hit and is both smart and highly respected by his teammates (he, like many picks in the last two years, was team captain). He can help on kicking teams and step in if Whitner or Gipson are hurt.

The hitch is that Campbell isn’t a great player now– and may never be. He takes a long time to figure out where plays are going, so he’s a step slow on runs. In coverage, he’s hopeless– he struggles with tight ends and backs; receivers leave him in the dust.

Can’t he learn the ropes from Whitner?

If the problem is lack of training, sure. Campbell is smart enough– he’s another econ major; he made Big 10 Academic All-American all four years. But the speed at which you make decisions usually isn’t something you can improve.

If Campbell’s problem is that he doesn’t know what to look for, Whitner and the coaches can turn him into a monster. If he lacks what scouts call “instincts” or “football smarts”, they have a guy who’s late to the ball– a T.J. Ward clone.

I suspect Campbell will succeed, mostly because Pettine was a safety in college. Coaches usually can identify talent at the position they used to play. But he is a risk; Had they taken a safety in rounds two or three, they could have had a surer bet.

WR Vince Mayle, Washington State (Round 4, pick 123)

Probably the draft’s best pick– a good prospect at a need position. Mayle is 6’2″ and 224. He only played two seasons, because he was a junior college transfer– but he caught 148 passes for 2,022 yards and 16 scored in that time.

Mayle has five asterisks attached to him. None could be called “weaknesses”:

1. He intended to play basketball (he was a guard) and quit college sports when he realized that wasn’t realistic. He had to be persuaded to try football. He played football  in high school, but as a running back / linebacker. So he is, as they say, green as grass.

2. He’s a flight risk. Players who didn’t grow up dreaming of playing football (like Poke Cameron) tend to hate the amount of contact in the NFL and retire early. And that pattern existed before people knew the NFL scrambled your brains. (Antonio Gates hasn’t had this problem, but he was a power forward, not a guard.)

3. Mayle’s 40 time was 4.6; the best it has ever been is 4.52. He’s not going to outrun anyone; some scouts thought his NFL team would be better off trying to put 30 pounds on him and make him into a tight end who doesn’t block.

4. He played for Washington State, where Mike Leach, formerly of Texas Tech, was the coach. Leach likes to throw a lot, so Mayle’s stats are inflated to some degree. But Leach’s system has produced two NFL wide receivers of note: Wes Welker and Michael Crabtree.

5. Mayle might be a victim of the “teammate effect”. He played at Washington State. with Xavier Cooper, whom Cleveland drafted in round 3. When a team drafts two players from the same team, it almost always means that they originally went to the school to scout one player, but fell in love with someone else. Usually that second guy turns out to be a wasted pick.

If I had to guess, I’d bet Cleveland went looking for Mayle and sold themselves on Cooper. But it might be the other way around.

Those seem pretty trivial

They’re not “tore his ACL as a senior” (like their #7 pick) or “failed three drug tests” (like Puff Gordon), I grant you. But those factors sometimes become problems. The brain injury rate means people are quitting sooner– the 49ers had someone quit after his rookie season.

Also, while I don’t see Mayle’s lack of breakaway speed as a problem, teams sometimes delude themselves. If they plug him into Miles Austin’s spot (the one Brian Hartline will try to fill), he’ll fit right in. If they expect him to be the deep threat… then he’ll come up short big time.

Another issue with Mayle. He doesn’t drop the ball– but he hasn’t learned to reach out,  and grab the ball, the way Pro Bowl receivers do. Right now, defenders can tip the ball away from him– or hammer him and knock the ball away before he pulls it in.

That, I assume, is a technique issue that Mayle hasn’t mastered because he just switched to receiver. But if he doesn’t fix that, he’ll get beaten to a bloody pulp.

He doesn’t know much about running routes or running after the catch. He’ll probably be able to get a lot of catches and first downs as a rookie, but it’ll be “Find seam in zone, catch ball, get clobbered” stuff.

But I like the pick. A receiver’s primary job is to receive. If you can’t catch the ball, nothing else matters. The first thing I look for in a receiver is hands. I hate reading a scouting summary that mentions the word “drops.”

Mayle fills a need, is a good player and was taken right around the spot he should have been taken.This is the sort of pick that is a very reasonable bet.

So overall, you seem to like the draft.

They took seven players in the first four rounds. I like three; I think two more could go either way. That’s over 50%, but not by very much.

But look at the number of players they added.

That’s the result of trading for future choices.

Erving is part of the payment Cleveland received from Buffalo for letting them draft WR Sammy Watkins in 2014. Farmer and Pettine gave away a chance to let Watkins solve the issues at receiver; working with the modest talents of Kyle Orton and E.J. Manuel, Watkins caught 65 passes for 982 yards and 6 TDs.

If Watkins gets a quarterback who can throw (not real likely, since the Bills hired Rex Ryan), he might double those results.

In return, Cleveland got Justin Gilbert last year and Erving and Ibraheim Campbell this year.

Trading a receiver who will almost certainly make the Pro Bowl for a corner who couldn’t start, a right tackle (whose biggest contribution might be insurance for Alex Mack) and a strong safety who has problems covering (at least at the present time) is not a good deal.

To make the deal look even worse, the Browns aren’t likely to get substantial improvement out of two of the three players for some time– if ever.

Erving and Campbell haven’t played a down yet.

Campbell is replacing a Pro Bowl safety– how much value, realistically, can he add?

You might not like Schwartz, but he’s an above-average player who hasn’t missed a down in three years. Depending on which source you use, he’s allowed between 13 and 25 sacks in three years.– the Browns have allowed 116.

Pro Football Focus thinks he’s +13.2 whatever-it-is-they-think-they-measure for his career (never a season below 0.0 WIITTTMs) and ranks him in the top 15 every year. The top right tackle, during those three seasons has never had more that 23.1 WIITTTMs.

If you assume that a WIITTTM means “a good play”, Erving can be the best in the league give the Browns an improvement of 1-2 good blocks a game. That will be less than Watkins delivers to Buffalo.

Also, since Snapchat hasn’t proven he knows how to draftm we don’t know that Erving and Campbell will turn out to be improvements.

This trade could look better in a month. Erving might lock down guard or tackle as emphatically as Bitonio did. Campbell might flash brilliance spelling Whitner and Tashaun Gipson. If Gilbert gets over his issues, starts at corner and plays well, it could be a great trade. But so far, he hasn’t.

And even if all that happens, the fastest way to improve a team is to replace your weakest players with good ones– not remove decent players and hope to find even better ones.

Maybe Duke Johnson will be the cross between LeSean McCoy and Giovanni Bernard that his admirers claim be can be. Maybe he will take the Browns from “pretty good” at running back to “awesome”.

If Johnson ends the season with 750 yards, on, say, 4.4 yards per carry– and 25 receptions? Then the Browns probably would have been better off staying with West and Crowell and looking for TE Tyler Kroft (who went to Cincinnati soon after Johnson was taken) or Jeff Heuerman (also a TE in the same vicinity; taken by Denver) or WR Ty Montgomery (to Green Bay).

Maybe these guys know what they are doing. But there isn’t a lot of evidence, at this point, to suggest it. I could be a lot tougher, but I’m trying to be positive.

What about the rest of the draft?

What about it? Cleveland traded away their fifth-round choice and that’s the last round where you often see starters. All their picks were in rounds six and seven

You really think one round matters that much?

Since the Browns have come back in 1999 the best players they have taken in the fifth round are Skrine, LB Andra Davis, G Jason Pinkston and RB Jerome Harrison (the last two had their careers ended prematurely by a blood clot and a brain tumor). There is some value there.

You wouldn’t think another round would matter, but it does. The best players the Browns have taken in rounds six or seven are Ahtyba Rubin, DE Antonio Garay (who ended up starting 28 games for San Diego after Cleveland cut him) and either Winn, FB Lawrence Vickers (who was a heck of a blocker, but nothing else.) or T Paul Zukauskas (who started in emergencies during the Butch Davis years).

The players they took all have some good points, but most of these players will probably wash out– best case is a role players or on kicking teams.

CB Charles Gaines, Louisville (Round 6, pick 189)

If a player falls to round 6 or later, it’s because teams think he has a major issue– usually real, occasionally imagined. Teams who find players this late find a way to use the player in some manner that can overcome the problem.

Gaines is a good #6 pick, because it’s clear his issue is size. He’s a very small (5’9″, 180) nickel corner who can fly. He was converted from receiver because (a) he had bad hands and (b) coaches thought he’d get hurt he played starter’s minutes. He got pulled off the return teams for the same reason– fear of injury.

Gaines can run with slot receivers and tip the ball away– his hands are good enough that he even had seven picks during his career. So if he avoids getting killed, the Browns have a dime back.

FB Malcolm Johnson, Mississippi State (Round 6, pick 195)

Johnson’s problem is also obvious: He’s a tight end who stands 6’1″ and 231, runs a 4.7 in the 40 and can’t jump.

On the plus side: he loves to hammer people. Despite his height, he averaged 14.5 yards a catch– and had 79 total catches (10 for TDs). He was also captain of his team.

Johnson should be a lock to win the fullback job– mostly because the Browns used Ray Agnew and Kiero Small at the position last year. That duo combined for 17 total yards and blew as many blocks as they made. You can’t set the bar much lower.

TE Randall Telfer, USC (Round 6, pick 198)

I hate picks like this– mediocre performers from big schools. Had Telfer played for Oregon State or Central Michigan, the Browns never would have looked at him.

Telfer started as a freshman and looked like he might become a star (26 catches, 273 yards, 5 scores). But he just graduated and those all turned out to be career highs. He’s had knee surgery and foot surgery. Some draft analysts see him as more of a receiver than a blocker; others think he’s more of a blocker than receiver. I see a wasted pick.

LB Hayes Pullard, USC (Round 7, pick 219)

Ditto what my comment about Telfer being a big-school player. And unlike Telfer (who at least has size and speed), Pullard is 6’0″ and 240.

I’ve heard the alibis for picks like this many times. “He made a lot of plays” (When he had better players around him). “He gives 110% and the kicking teams will love him” (Lots of guys do).

If a front office and coaching staff can’t find undrafted players to serve as coverage players for the kicking teams, they’re in sorry shape.

CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon (Round 7, pick 241)

This could be a great pick. Ekpre-Olomu’s problem is also obvious. He would have been a #1 or #2 pick (he’s only 5’9″) had he not torn his ACL the week before the Rose Bowl.

He definitely won’t be ready for training camp; the Browns shouldn’t try to play him at all in 2015. The odds that Ekpre-Olomu doesn’t come back from his injury and never plays a game is pretty high. But it’s worth the gamble with this low a pick.

3 more starters. That makes the draft even better

Do the math. An NFL football team plays (combining offense, defense and kicking teams) about 2,500 snaps during the regular season. Since there are 11 players on the filed, that’s 27,500 total snaps.

The five players combined are likely to be on the field for fewer than 1,000.

Gaines will be on the field on third-and-long– assuming he doesn’t get hurt. That’s 150-200 snaps. Malcolm Johnson will be on the field for maybe 250 plays. He won’t run the ball, but might catch 10 passes for 75 yards. Pullard will cover on kicks.

That’s maybe 600-700 plays. It doesn’t come close offsetting a blown high pick.

What if Telfer is like Jordan Cameron?
Or if Epro-Olomu recovers and becomes a star?

If those unlikely things happen, I will eat the proper amount of crow. The odds are overwhelmingly likely that Telfer (who did not, unlike Cameron, have an amazing combine workout– he missed if due to a foot injury) will bust out. I’d love to be saying “Ekpre-Olomu” for the next 10 years, but a blown ACLs usually wipes out 20% of a player’s speed. He isn’t likely to come back.

It seems like you’re looking for negatives to say.

Last year, I tried very hard to emphasize positives. I liked Pettine and hoped Farmer was better than all the indicators saying he would fail. But in the draft, they:

  • Traded down to #9, passing up the can’t-miss players (Watkins and LB Khalil Mack).
  • Gave away a #5 to make sure Minnesota didn’t draft Gilbert (a player the Vikings did not want).
  • Used the pick on (a) a cornerback (not really a need spot) who (b) wasn’t playing in a conference (Big 12) where they throw a lot, who (c) had a reputation of not liking to tackle and (d) wasn’t the highest-rated guy at his position.
  • Traded a #3 to make sure they got a guy with known character problems, who turned out to be by far the worst of the quarterbacks at the end of round one.
  • Reached for both third-round picks.
  • Took two all-stars from small schools (West and Desir) neither of whom played well.
  • Got most of the value from the rookie class from undrafted free agents..

This year, they get nothing on faith. This year I assume my sources and my judgment (based on being right about the drafts of Eric Mangini, Tom Heckert and Mike Lombardi) are superior to Snapchat’s.

And this is before I factor in the Josh McCown signing– and the attempt to trade for Sam Bradford (who would have fled after the season). If I adjusted to reflect those decisions, I’d assume all of these guys will bust out, because the people running the team have no idea what they are doing.

This franchise has had worse drafts. But after a season where it appeared to be turning the corner, the movement backwards could not be more ill-timed. The Browns could very easily wind up at 2-14; if they do, what happened on draft day will be a big reason why.


3 thoughts on “Browns’ Draft Review (Day 2-end)

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