With Thursday's NFL draft rapidly approaching and with legions of analysts falling over themselves to predict the unpredictable, I'm reminded of one of the greatest, most all-encompassing gems of a quote ever uttered.
From former New Orleans and Indianapolis head coach Jim Mora comes nothing but the truth:
"You don't know when it's good or bad. You really don't know, because you don't know what we're trying to do, you guys don't look at the films. You don't know what happened. You really don't know. You think you know, but you don't know. And you never will."
The context of Mora's quote relates to the former New Orleans and Indianapolis coach's conservative approach to the game and resulting lack of playoff success. However, Mora's words can easily translate to all things draft-related – as in at this exact moment, exactly no one knows what is going to happen come Thursday night.
And those pretending that they do should refer to Mora's pearls of wisdom.
Anyway, while there are volumes of unanswered questions to choose from regarding this weekend' s draft, some items have managed to become a bit more clear.
But then again, what I think I know, I probably don't know.
1. The Phrase "Best Player Available" means that Tom Heckert cannot control the draft.
For those of you who have suffered through my endless posturing over the past few weeks, I apologize for repeating myself. But, as the Browns are concerned, all draft strategy, scouting, film study and accompanying logic can be thrown out the window beginning Thursday evening.
By the time the Browns are on the clock with the sixth overall draft, exactly five draft moves will have already been made. And regardless of Heckert's rising star as an NFL executive, the second-year General Manager will be helpless to do anything but choose between the best remaining player of a group that includes Marcel Dareus, Patrick Peterson, Von Miller, A.J. Green and possibly Robert Quinn and Nick Fairley depending on one's perspective.
Let's not kid ourselves. The Browns are locked into the sixth pick – which resides in a neighborhood where some top talent is available. Now, it's just a matter of waiting to see how teams like Denver, Cincinnati and Arizona help to shape the Browns' future.
2. The Browns will not trade up and probably won't trade down.
For what's its worth, this is an all too simple statement to make. However, there is no single player in the 2011 draft who is worth the loss of draft picks – at least if we're referring to the Browns' position at number six. To further this argument, because the Browns do not appear to be quarterback shopping, the likelihood of a trade up is all but extinguished at this point.
Speaking of quarterbacks, perhaps the only thing that would trigger a Browns' trade-down would be a situation where a QB-needy team such as San Francisco, Tennessee or Minnesota jumps ahead to grab either a falling Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbard. However, with the exaggerated value attached to QB prospects – combined with the hunger of top five teams like Buffalo, Cincinnati and Arizona – such a scenario seems doubtful.
3. However, there will be a huge run on QB's in the first round.
If the 2011 draft becomes known for being another Year of the Quarterback ™, two things will happen. First, I will owe a nickel to ESPN and second, the Browns could prove to be huge beneficiaries.
For example, if two quarterbacks are selected within the top five picks, then two more talented players will be available for the Browns to choose from at the sixth spot. To extend this argument, if a late-first round run on quarterbacks culminates with potentially five prospects being chosen, then more quality talent will also float into the beginning of the second round.
Or in other words, despite all mock draft evidence to the contrary, it's a great year to not need to draft a quarterback.
4. The distance from Eric Mangini's shadow grows.
It's been barely four months since Mangini was fired as coach of the Browns, so it shouldn't be surprising to realize the extent of his fingerprints on the roster. Perhaps the best example of Mangini's short Cleveland legacy is found along the defensive front seven – which rapidly aged during the second half of 2010.
Entering Thursday's draft, it is imperative that Heckert targets at least 2-3 players who can fill gaps along the defensive line and throughout the line backing corps. However, in a nod to the kind of franchise instability that has dogged the Browns for over a decade, Heckert doesn't have much in the way of temporary veteran help to ease the transition between old and new players.
Unlike Mangini – who decided that young and old were one and the same.
5. Just when we don't need it, a 3-4 draft arrives.
Continuing the Mangini theme, is it proper literary practice to call a draft heavy in 3-4 talent ironic – if only because the Browns just spent the last six seasons unsuccessfully trying to field talent for such a defense before shifting back to a 4-3 scheme?
Anyway, there's no turning back now – despite the idea that the first round could produce some ideal 3-4 defensive end talent in the form of Big Ten prospects J.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward and Adrian Clayborn, along with other scheme specific players such as Cameron Jordan and Justin Houston.
But then again, it's refreshing not to have to debate the merits of whether Aldon Smith has enough "bend" to become a premier 3-4 pass rusher.
6. Boom and Bust versus the Steady Roll
As evidenced above, the Big Ten could easily deliver close to a dozen combined offensive and defensive line prospects into the league. Corey Liuget, Ryan Kerrigan and Christian Ballard are three Big Ten defensive prospects who should fare well at the next level, while John Moffitt, Steven Schilling and James Brewer could prove to be valuable mid-round finds. Yet, while some of these players, such as Kerrigan and even Gabe Carimi are being mentioned as possible future Pro Bowlers, others simply offer the kind of safe value that many NFL teams covet. In most respects, NFL teams know they are getting a prospect that should have no difficulty in adjusting to the increased physicality of the professional level.
But then again, what exactly is the ceiling of such a pick?
On the other hand, the projected top ten of the draft is loaded with some high profile SEC talent, including Newton, Peterson, Dareus, Fairley, Green and Julio Jones. In a purely subjective mock draft sense, all of these players could become game changers in the NFL. However, in reality, we all know this won't be the case.
Perhaps the biggest gamble among these six players is Newton, whose college skill set may not fit the NFL. In most regards, Newton's physical advantages could be negated at the next level, while the relatively inexperienced Heisman winner will have to make a quantum leap in order to process the speed and information of professional football. While some have suggested that Newton could become another Ben Roethlisberger, perhaps a more realistic comparison hovers around former top overall pick Alex Smith.
As for the others, the volume of SEC defensive talent drafted over the last decade tends to skew any accurate NFL projections relating to Dareus, Fairley and Peterson. However, OBR reader BD from Raleigh via Lakewood alerted to me to a disturbing trend regarding the wide receivers.
7. Don't underestimate Pat Shurmur.
It's funny how much difference a year makes when it comes to the Browns' sense of organizational leadership. Just three years ago, George Kokinis was Browns' General Manager – at least in title – while last year saw the arrival of Mike Holmgren on his white horse. And while Holmgren is certainly still a major part of the Browns' organization, it's interesting to witness the elevation of GM Tom Heckert – at least when it comes to getting answers regarding the team's draft plans.
Perhaps even more interesting is the input that new head coach Pat Shurmur should have in Cleveland's decision-making process. If Heckert's 2010 draft class was any indication, the second-year GM knows the value of reaching a consensus. Last season, Heckert found some "Mangini players" and this year will likely do the same for the rookie head coach.
If so, the complexion of this year's draft – at least on the offensive side of the ball – could result in either multiple new receivers being added to the roster – or none at all. After all, name one Rams' receiver from a year ago. In this sense, would it be completely shocking to see Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie as the Browns' starting receivers next season?
8. Free Agency could be alive and well.
With Monday's court ruling, the prospects of the NFL offseason returning to familiar footing have increased. Although the league's appeal will likely result in more weeks of courtroom stagnation, it's not completely unlikely to suggest that the league's free agency season could begin in the next month or so.
If such a thing occurs, then the importance of this week's draft has to be toned down a shade. Without any hint of free agency, a team like the Browns would have to upgrade their both their offensive and defensive lines solely through the draft – and without the benefit of adding some veteran gap filler.
Similarly, draft plans have changed to reflect this unfortunate NFL reality. For example, is the Browns' hole along the right side of their offensive line lessened by the prospect of Billy Yates and Floyd Womack re-signing with the team? Or, on the defensive side of the ball, is spending the sixth overall pick on a defensive end the best of ideas?
Or, it's still possible – especially with a tightened window for NFL free agency – that a player like Abe Elam or Matt Roth returns to Cleveland. It's not unreasonable to think that perhaps the Browns' draft plans have been slightly altered thanks to Monday's news.
9. There's always the supplemental draft.
And sorry, OSU homers – I'm not referring to Terrelle Pryor.
Although it may be easy to forget, the Browns will feature 2-3 players who could be considered "redshirts." Lost to injury in 2010, Monterio Hardesty could bolster the running back depth behind Madden cover boy Peyton Hillis, while late-round pick Carlton Mitchell could prove the surprise of the team's new West Coast offense in 2011.
Along the offensive line, 2010 rookie Shaun Lauvao could hold the key to the team's fortunes – at least in a highly specified manner. If Lauvao can settle into the right guard spot – or at least if the team currently believes this idea – then the Browns can target another position with a mid-round draft pick.
Add in a new coaching staff and suddenly all remaining members of last year's draft class have taken on a new level of importance.
10. You just never know.
Unlike in past years when the Browns entered the draft with one specific team need, what will transpire beginning Thursday is anyone's guess. Simply based on the idea that the Browns find themselves in an odd nether region of overall roster development, Heckert can make a blind draw and still target a vital team need.
Because the Browns are rebuilding and not decimating their roster, any 2011 draft picks will arrive in Cleveland to complement the small core of talent already present. Unlike in previous years, the entire front office seems dedicated to landing several solid football players – instead of hanging the future on one player.
And after nearly a decade of complete draft futility, this is most welcome news.