As the distance grows from the 2011 NFL draft, it's hard not to project ahead to the coming season. By most accounts, the Browns delivered on a second consecutive solid draft – which should be considered a rarity given the team's expansion malaise over the past decade. On paper, Browns' GM Tom Heckert added two likely defensive line prospects, along with some intriguing mid-round talent. Of course, the key to the team's 2011 draft is centered on the great flexibility added to the 2012 version – all of which speaks to a badly needed sense of overall franchise continuity.
In some respects, this most recent draft could prove to be a seminal moment in the franchise's return to respectability. Combining the prospects added in 2011 to last year's haul of Joe Haden, T.J. Ward and Colt McCoy demonstrates the possibility of an authentic long-term vision that has been non-existent since the team's return in 1999.
Yet in the meantime, the 2011 draft will likely be measured by using some direct – if not altogether unfair comparisons. As many fans and media have suggested, the initial success of the 2011 draft will come down to the following scenario.
Although again, the true merit of this trade will not reveal itself for at least 2-3 seasons – especially considering the fate of the 2012 draft. However, at first glance, it appears that Jones and Taylor will forever be linked together – along with endless comparisons made between Jones and Little.
On this point, it's a bit unfair to both Taylor and Little – considering that Jones should experience a more seamless fit on an already talented Atlanta offense. While it would be incredibly easy to devalue Heckert's trade down if Jones emerges as a rookie playmaker in Atlanta, doing so would reduce the importance of the team adding overall volume – especially within the context of the 3-4 year rebuilding plan the Browns are currently enacting.
In the short term, Little has a huge learning curve ahead of him, at least based on his year of inactivity while suspended at North Carolina. In Taylor's case, the argument comes down to the idea of value. The Browns need an upgrade in both their run defense and passing offense. While the results may not be conclusive in 2011, at least the team's odds have doubled in fixing two of their critical areas of need.
Yet, just wait for the howls to emerge from Browns Nation after Jones' first 100-yard receiving effort.
However, with this argument locked into the view of fans and media alike for the next several years, it's worth taking a look back at some of the other pivotal front office moves of the past. For the sake of comparisons, it seems the Browns could have done a lot worse.
Mark Sanchez (5th Overall Pick)
The Browns' front office at this time, essentially run by former coach Eric Mangini targeted a more immediate need of adding some veteran leadership to the remnants of Romeo Crennel's country club locker room. The additions of Coleman and Elam – later enhanced by the signings of Eric Barton and David Bowens – helped to establish both Mangini's authority and his particular brand of defense in Cleveland.
However, this trade shouldn't solely be judged on the arrivals of three players who are not a part of the team's immediate future. In making the initial trade down, Mangini gave himself room to trade two more times – which netted a draft-depleted team some additional picks. However, even with this under consideration, the trade can be easily reduced to Mack and Veikune vs. Sanchez.
Of course, after two years, Mangini's first major move as pseudo-GM can now be summarized as Mack vs. Sanchez. It's like we never knew you, David Veikune.
In terms of overall profile, it's easy to suggest that either the Jets fleeced Mangini – or that Mangini simply misfired on his second-round pick. Simply put, Sanchez is a star quarterback on a playoff contender – despite his still obvious growing pains – while the Browns added a core piece to their offensive line. However, as time passes, the potential development of Colt McCoy can effectively negate this comparison.
Haloti Ngata (12th Overall Pick)
Kamerion Wimbley (13th Overall Pick) + Baba Oshinowo (181st Overall Pick)
If we're discussing pivotal draft day moments, an entire chapter needs to be devoted to Phil Savage. Although some would argue that Savage's 2008 offseason moves helped to destroy the team's long-term depth, no move was more critical than the 2006 trade made with Baltimore. In swapping first-round picks, Savage chose a projected 3-4 pass rusher over a physical interior lineman.
Five years later, Ngata is the heart of the Ravens' front seven, Wimbley is in Oakland and Heckert was forced to attempt to solve the team's decade-long run defense issues. While Wimbley was a hard worker and made a few plays during his short time in Cleveland, passing on Ngata became symbolic of the draft day mistakes that have plagued the long-term health of this franchise.
Speaking of which….
Gerard Warren (3rd Overall Selection)
Richard Seymour (6th Overall Selection)
I'm not sure if irony is in play here, or just a sweeping sense of incompetence. Anyway, it appeared that for about eight years, Savage and Butch Davis were simultaneously cleaning up the messes laid at their feet by previous regimes – while also creating their own unique brand of chaos.
As Browns' legend goes, the team was set to enter the 2001 draft targeting Seymour. Yet, to the surprise of his scouting staff, Davis pulled rank to grab the mercurial Warren. A few attempted "kill shots" later, Warren was swept away to Denver, while Seymour collected three Super Bowl championships. As for a direct comparison, even the most optimistic of Browns fans couldn't ignore this mistake.
In terms of the Browns' warped sense of continuity – meaning that the constant rebooting of the franchise often translated to a past GM drafting for future version – a Seymour selection could have solidified the team's 3-4 defensive front….at least after Davis eventually quit.
Finally, while all of the above scenarios offer the kinds of comparisons that could eventually fade away into the gentle night of NFL memories, one will forever linger.
Or in other words – and then this happened.
24 Wasted Picks
Even if Julio Jones becomes the next Jerry Rice, nothing can sting worse than this.