Who Should the Cleveland Browns Draft in the First Round? – Part 1
The NFL Draft. Where dreams are made and broken, both for the players and the teams.
OK, that’s probably enough drama. The draft is coming up on April 30th, and ever since the final whistle of Super Bowl XLIX, we’ve all been discussing what each team should do in free agency and the draft to get to Super Bowl 50 (which, by the way, for the first time is not using roman numerals).
Well, the bulk of free agency has passed, so it’s time to get serious regarding what else the Cleveland Browns need to do to be contenders, if not in 2015, then at least for the future.
The Browns have two picks in the first round, 12 and 19. Although who the Browns pick at each position will be related, in Part 1 of this article, I’d like to focus on Pick 12.
There are quite a few wild cards in front of Pick 12 that will make it challenging for the Browns to plan ahead. These include, for example, whether the Tennessee Titans will trade its pick and to whom, whether the Atlanta Falcons will opt for a linebacker or look to increase protection for Matt Ryan, whether the New York Giants will go with building its offensive line or defensive line, and whether the St. Louis Rams and Minnesota Vikings will want to invest in another first round receiver. With all these outstanding questions, it’s better for the Browns to prepare for general needs than specific players.
Position Needs In The Draft
Some may say that the most exciting thing that happened for the Browns in the off season was the new uniforms. But let’s give it a positive spin and say that the Browns have been conservatively and selectively active in free agency.
For instance, the Browns have done a decent job of shoring up the secondary with Tramon Williams, who will now join standout pro bowler Joe Haden and last year’s 8th overall pick Justin Gilbert. But as I’ve discussed before, I think there’s still a lot of work to do on the defensive line. Thus, whether it be at 12 or 19, one of the first positions of need the Browns should consider would be at defensive tackle.
The second area in which the Browns could use help is along the offensive line. Many will claim that the Browns have one of the best returning offensive lines in the NFL. Although sufficient at protecting the quarterback (ranked 19th in 2014 both in terms of QB hits allowed – 78 – and sacks allowed – 31), they were abysmal at providing running lanes, only allowing for 3.6 yards per rush attempt, bad enough for 3rd worst in the NFL in 2014. They also allowed the 2nd most negative rush plays to the left side (23) and the most negative rush plays to the right side (33) of any team in the 2014 regular season. Sure, part of that is on the running back, but there’s room for competition along the O-line.
And last, although the Browns managed to land Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline, perhaps taking advantage of those veterans in terms of helping build a young wide receiver for the future (and perhaps as an immediate starter) would be helpful.
One thing I think the Browns should not do is draft a quarterback in the first round. I understand that there’s been a lot of chatter regarding the Browns trading up to get Marcus Mariota. And although I like Mariota a lot, I think it’s time for the Browns to employ a different strategy.
First round quarterback picks have not been kind to the Browns (e.g. Brady Quinn, Brandon Weedon and Johnny Manziel). Perhaps its time to build the rest of the team first and then focus on the quarterback. The Seattle Seahawks are an excellent example of how providing a solid defense and secure offensive line before looking to the quarterback position can win championships. And who knows? The Browns should really see what they have in Josh McCown, Johnny Manziel and Thad Lewis before moving on. They paid a lot of money for McCown (close to $5 million per year) and perhaps the post rehab refocused Manziel will demonstrate that he can bring what he showed in college to the NFL.
Potential 12th Picks
With that said, here’s who I think the Browns should target with the 12th overall pick, in order of preference:
1) Amari Cooper or Kevin White – WR
This is a no brainer. If the Browns are lucky enough to have either Cooper or White fall to them at 12, they would be immediate impact starters at wide receiver that could be become the Josh Gordon of the future (but hopefully without the off field issues). I discussed both in a previous article regarding the Bears draft prospects, and what I said about them there applies equally for the Browns. Chances are, both will be gone by 12, but there’s always the chance that the Raiders and Bears decide to go with defense and allow one of these prized receivers to slide.
2) Danny Shelton – DT
As you saw in our Mock Draft, I picked Danny Shelton for the Browns at 12. And I certainly think this would be a best case scenario if both Cooper and White are gone. Sure, there might be an opportunity for someone on the offensive line here, like Brandon Scherff, but as you’ll see, I think there’s more opportunity to build on the offensive line at Pick 19.
As I mentioned in the mock draft, Shelton is dominating run stopper and plays well in pass defense. He works well against the double team and can shed blocks quickly to make tackles. He had a whopping 16.5 tackles for a loss and 9 sacks in 2014 at Washington. He also had the second highest bench press (34 reps) of any defensive lineman at the Combine. Shelton is big, strong, and absolutely solid. He could step in immediately to improve the Browns defense and should not be passed up if available at 12.
3) DeVante Parker – WR
I do believe he’s the 3rd best wide receiver on the board, but I also think he’s a standout that has a very high ceiling. If Shelton isn’t available, I’d prefer to take a chance on Parker’s play making ability and focus on offensive or defensive line at 19. Sure, Parker had an injury that caused him to miss the first 7 games of his senior season, but he came back strong catching 43 passes for 855 yards and 5 touchdowns in just 6 games (more yards than he totaled in all of his sophomore season in 13 games and only 30 yards off what he totaled in his junior season in 12 games). He has amazing hands and can consistently go get the ball at the high points while avoiding drops. He’s an immediate threat for double digit touchdowns every season. He’s not the fastest wide receiver in the draft (only 4.45 seconds, good for 16th of 39 wideouts that ran the 40-yard dash at the Combine), and his route running may need some coaching, but he certainly has potential to build on.
Are there other possibilities for Pick 12? Sure there are. Like I said, the Browns may decide to go with an offensive line upgrade instead. But if I had my choice, I’d take one of the four detailed above. Also, next time, we’ll look at who the Browns should take at Pick 19, and why I think that’s logically a better spot to target offensive line help.
But then again, since when have the Browns been logical?