In the past couple weeks, myself and other OBR contributors have been trying to predict the Browns first draft move and the results have been wildly successful. So far through countless articles, discussions and email chats, we've all proven to resemble nothing short of a contemporary Nostradamus. But then again, it seems everyone has a perfect record this time of year, at least in a mock draft world governed only by guesswork.
Perhaps the only things known at the moment are the twin ideas that the Browns have multiple roster needs and hold little control over the draft board ahead of them. In this sense, next week's draft will be among the most unpredictable in recent Browns' history, simply based on the idea that general manager Tom Heckert can select the proverbial "best player available" and still fill a major team need.
On that note, it appears that much of the thinking emanating from The OBR staff has concentrated on picking between specific positions – rather than between players. The idea here is that since the team has so many needs, locking onto a specific player becomes incredibly shortsighted. Also at the heart of this argument, is the idea that there isn't one truly elite prospect found in this year's draft.
Maybe. But more on that later.
Anyway, to expand this argument, let's consider some scenarios where the Browns have their choice of specific players at different areas of need at different places in the draft. These player comparisons could help to show how much of a priority each position truly is – along with the true worth of a player.
Count me among those terrified that Mike Holmgren's "idle hands" will lead to the Browns spending a high draft choice on a quarterback. While Colt McCoy is the "QB of the future" – at least if that future currently only extends to the 2011 opener – the Browns have far too many needs elsewhere on the roster to justify spending the sixth overall pick on a quarterback.
However, if Holmgren again pulls rank in the Browns' war room, it's worth evaluating how much difference there is between a falling Blaine Gabbert and Nevada's Colin Kaepernick. Although Kaepernick's agent has been working overtime getting his client some front-page exposure, the Nevada quarterback is still considered a project.
Of course, projects are merely designations, as Gabbert and Kaepernick are similar players, and similarly great unknowns as far as the NFL is concerned. Yet both quarterbacks are big, mobile and have great arms. However, each prospect could be characterized as a mechanical mess who hasn't run anything close to a pro-style offense in college. With this idea in mind, a late round selection of McElroy could prove to be a pick that doesn't completely destroy the Browns' draft.
The great draft debates have focused on either the Browns' need to first upgrade their defensive line depth or find an explosive wide receiver. For many Browns fans, this has become some sort of either/or fallacy, as seemingly no middle ground exists. While I don't fully buy into this theory – again, considering the many team needs that exist – it's a good starting point if only to figure out what kinds of receivers are lurking in the middle rounds of this draft.
Hypothetically, if the Browns decide to answer this question by taking a defensive lineman in the first round, then most would expect a wide receiver to come out of the second round. If so, the offensively challenged Browns will have basically made the statement that a player such as Baldwin or Hankerson could prove valuable to the team's new offense.
As for actually determining a rookie wide receiver's worth, such a concept is often mythical in nature. However, it's interesting that the physical characteristics between Green, Baldwin and Hankerson are fairly similar. All three players are built like track athletes. Green and Hankerson have good hands, while Baldwin is a terrific leaper. Hankerson is the most physical of the three players, but probably the least explosive – perhaps the opposite of Green.
If either Baldwin or Hankerson is the pick, then the selection has to be combined with a first-round defensive line talent. In terms of true value, this is a bit of a copout, as the wide receiver still has to produce. However, Green alone would have to be considered a huge gamble, at least given the risks associated with taking a wide receiver in the first round.
For argument's sake, let's assume the Browns are able to find a trading partner at No. 6. Although it's not the most probable of ideas, a falling quarterback could trigger a move where the Browns find themselves with a pick outside of the top 10. If such a move occurs, then the prospects of the team adding a right tackle could increase.
Under that scenario, the first round/second round dilemma could come down to USC's Smith versus Miami's Franklin. Considering the Browns' need at right tackle, Franklin could prove the better pick and at a much lower spot than Smith, whose slender build does not suggest the makings of a successful NFL right tackle.
Marcel Dareus (First Round) vs. Stephen Paea (Second Round)
Here's where this argument goes a bit off track. As I've stated before, I would be excited if the Browns could land Dareus with the sixth overall pick. However, that idea is based on the notion that Dareus appears to be a ready-made NFL talent who could solidify what has been a decade-long weak spot at defensive tackle. Or in other words, Dareus appears to be a safe pick.
Of course, when weighing the impact of Dareus at No. 6, it's worth asking what impact the Alabama defensive tackle will have beyond merely not becoming a bust. The conservative approach to drafting is always a smart idea, but if the Browns are able to land Patrick Peterson in the first round, then a second-round selection of Paea looks like a smart idea.
Although it's impossible to project either player's future NFL success, it seems that both Dareus and Paea could play a similar "get up the field" type of position for the Browns. As of now, the knock on Paea – at least compared to Dareus – is that the Oregon State lineman played against a lesser degree of talent in the Pac 10.
It's obvious that for the Browns' new defense to succeed, at least one dynamic pass rusher has to be added to the roster. Currently, the Browns are entering the 2011 season with a collection of miscast 3-4 talent. On paper, and based on the limited amount of college tape Quinn produced, the North Carolina product appears to be an intriguing player. However, much like taking a wide receiver early in the draft, pass rushing defensive ends taken in the first round often don't pan out.
In terms of the conservative approach, the Browns should pass on Quinn. This year's draft appears to be stocked with defensive end talent. However, most of the defensive ends appear better suited for the Browns' old 3-4 scheme. Questions abound throughout the draft's defensive end prospects, at least the ones who can play in Dick Jauron's defense. While Reed is a worker, Quinn is an athletic marvel. However, neither player is what the Browns need at defensive end, at least not in the first couple rounds of the draft.
Patrick Peterson (First Round) vs. Ras I-Dowling (Third Round)
Here's where all my shotgun analysis goes for naught. Peterson is the lone draft prospect who cancels out the idea of targeting a specific position or locking onto a specific player. Peterson's amazing playmaking ability, both on defense and special teams, combined with his impressive speed and strength, could render this entire draft discussion obsolete.
Despite the Browns drafting Joe Haden in 2010, cornerback is still a position that needs strengthened heading into 2011. After Haden, the Browns feature only veteran Sheldon Brown and Eric Wright isolated in one of the most pass-happy divisions in football. While adding another corner could seem excessive, much in the way that drafting a top quarterback would be counter-productive, it's obvious that the Browns' defensive line will not generate much of a pass rush next season.
Using this thinking, the Browns can mask their lack of a pass rush for another year, while boasting the league's best young cornerback tandem and finding an eventual kick return replacement for Josh Cribbs. From an organizational perspective, a Peterson selection would certainly fit within the parameters of drafting the "best player available."
Of course, this is assuming that Peterson falls to the Browns.
If he doesn't, then all bets are off.