December 20, 2014

Medina
Cloudy
25°F
 

The draft was truly exhausting

I have a confession to make. I woke up Sunday morning with a hangover.

Not too many draughts. Too much draft.

Three long days of upsides, 40 times, arm lengths, hand sizes and comments about hip-flipping, shed-and-stacking and position flexibility can take a toll on a guy. I can’t imagine how Browns general manager Tom Heckert feels after four months of it.

But like any good party, the draft needs to be analyzed when it’s over — even if the recovery isn’t complete.

Early Birds

This isn’t breaking news, but the Browns’ draft is all about the first-round picks.

They added necessary depth on both lines on the second and third days and, you never know, one of the unknown late-round picks could turn into an All-Pro. But if the Browns are going to go from laughingstock to legitimate, No. 3 pick Trent Richardson and No. 22 Brandon Weeden will be the reason.

Richardson has the chance to be the best running back in the league. He was a dominant player on the best college team in the nation’s best conference. He can run, catch and block and should contribute immediately. I expect him to be the best player not named Joe Thomas on the Browns’ offense as a rookie.

The West Coast offense is known for its short passing game, but coach Pat Shurmur and coordinator Brad Childress aren’t afraid to rely on the run.

Shurmur took the pressure off Rams rookie quarterback Sam Bradford by handing off to Steven Jackson. Childress nearly reached the Super Bowl with the Vikings with Adrian Peterson as his best player. It just follows that they’ll use the same philosophy to ease Weeden into life in the AFC North.

All of this only works if Richardson lives up to his billing and draft status. Thomas has been worth the No. 3 pick the Browns used on him in 2007, reaching five Pro Bowls in five seasons at left tackle. Receiver Braylon Edwards was the No. 3 pick in 2005, but his one Pro Bowl season wasn’t enough and couldn’t make up for his multiple character flaws.

Richardson needs to give the Browns five great seasons. If he doesn’t, he will not have been worth the pick and the trade that preceded it.

Brandon’s the man

The second pick is every bit as important as the first. No team wins consistently in the NFL without good quarterback play.

Browns fans know this as well as anyone. In the team’s only two winning seasons since returning in 1999, they got solid performances from Tim Couch and Derek Anderson. They weren’t able to sustain the level of play, the losing began again and the revolving door under center kept swinging.

I love the pick of Weeden. And I love it at No. 22.

President Mike Holmgren, Heckert and Shurmur were convinced he was better than incumbent Colt McCoy, so there was no reason to risk waiting until No. 37. If someone had snatched Weeden, the Browns didn’t have a Plan B. McCoy would’ve been the starter for another season.

That wasn’t acceptable.

I know McCoy didn’t get much help last season. His receivers led the league in drops. His running back was missing in action much of the year. His line was inconsistent at times.

But I saw enough to know McCoy will never be an elite quarterback. That he was the fourth-best quarterback in a four-team division, behind two studs and a rookie. He just doesn’t throw the ball well enough.

That’s the main reason I like Weeden better. He has a strong arm, stands tall in the pocket and lets it rip. He can make every throw required in the NFL, and the 2 inches he has on McCoy should allow him to see the field better.

Throwing isn’t the only requirement to be an elite quarterback. Intelligence, decision-making and accuracy are critical, and Shurmur praised Weeden in all three areas. He completed 72 percent of his passes with 37 touchdowns and 13 interceptions as a senior at Oklahoma State.

It’s not too strong to say Cleveland’s 2012 draft hinges on Weeden. Even if Richardson becomes Emmitt Smith — his fellow Escambia High School alumnus in Pensacola, Fla. — the Browns won’t challenge the Steelers and Ravens for division supremacy if Weeden’s a bust.

Everyone knows Weeden will be 29 in October, so the clock is already ticking.

Big presence

Holmgren disputed the notion he took a greater role in this draft than the previous two, but his presence was felt throughout team headquarters over the weekend.

He took Heckert’s spot in front of the media at the wrapup news conference and predicted a big jump in the standings in 2012. He defended McCoy but said his future with the team had yet to be decided. He raved about Richardson and Weeden and spoke about the urgency required to get them.

Holmgren repeatedly praised Heckert’s preparation for and execution during the draft. Heckert watches the film, directs the scouts and stacks the draft board. The three-day marathon is his labor of love, and the under-the-radar picks in the middle rounds are his children.

But Holmgren has the loudest voice in the organization and his 2 cents were worth a lot more when the plan was put into place to take Richardson and Weeden. He made sure the Browns got the two pieces necessary to remake the anemic offense, even if they had to trade three picks to move up one spot to guarantee they’d get Richardson.

“My conversations with Pat and Tom were if you even think somebody is going to jump us, then what are we going to do to prevent that from happening?” Holmgren said Saturday night. “Tom did a masterful job of setting that thing up. Contrary to what was written and said yesterday, we had to compete. We weren’t the Lone Ranger in that deal. I thought it was an excellent trade.”

Can’t get ‘em all

The biggest disappointment of the draft was obvious. The Browns weren’t able to get a No. 1 receiver. On a team with a plethora of needs entering the draft, receiver was runner-up to quarterback.

Heckert didn’t ignore the situation, but he stayed true to his philosophy that you don’t reach to fill a need.

He viewed Justin Blackmon, Michael Floyd and Kendall Wright as the elite wideouts, but Richardson was the pick over Blackmon at No. 3, and the other two were gone at No. 22. After that, Heckert had players at other positions rated higher than the receivers available.

Heckert finally took one early in the fourth round, taking speedster Travis Benjamin (5-foot-10, 174 pounds) from Miami. He runs the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds consistently and, unlike some smaller receivers, tracks the deep ball well. Benjamin doesn’t project as a No. 1 receiver, but he brings a speed element that was missing last year on Cleveland’s offense.

“He’s different than the guys we have, not just from speed,” Holmgren said. “He’s smaller and quicker. We have bigger guys, not slow guys, but they’re bigger.”

The panic among fans about the lack of a big-name receiver may be justified, but it isn’t shared by Holmgren, Heckert and Shurmur. They feel the receivers already on the roster will be vastly improved with a full offseason and a second season in the West Coast system. Holmgren guaranteed the drops would fall and Richardson would create space in the defense for the receivers to operate.

Fans have no choice but to trust him now, with the offseason acquisition period all but over. But if the offense remains stuck in neutral because of poor play by the receivers, Heckert won’t be able to escape the blame.

Contact Scott Petrak at (440) 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.