As objective and critical as I can be of the Cleveland Browns organization, this look at the 2003 draft may be a shocker.
Jeff Faine will start immediately. He has great technique, along with size and strength. His point-of-attack work is solid and this team needed an interior lineman to muscle the opponent. A couple areas where Faine excels is his great use of his hands and his workmanlike effort to engage throughout the entire play.
When debating the greatest need of the team , center or left tackle, the center spot wins hands down. The Browns have not been able to run the ball with consistency through the interior line and the team's tackles are serviceable. Upgrading the talent at the guard positions to enhance the ability to run the football inside is a necessity, but this selection will upgrade the interior line immediately.
The left tackle position needs to be upgraded, but not just to replace Verba. There was not a left tackle prospect available to the Browns with the #21 pick in the first-round that was rated nearly as high on the Browns draft board from what we've been told.
The selection of Chaun Thompson was not an unexpected one. The Browns had thoroughly scouted the West Texas A&M prospect and were sold on his physical ability, mental and physical attributes, and work ethic. Thompson is expected to compete and start at some point in the 2003 season.
Possessing great physical talent, Thompson played against a low level of competition, which will cause some early problems for the linebacker until he adjusts to the significant talent upgrade in the NFL. Speed and athleticism weres essential for the Browns to obtain and they have gotten both with the selection of Thompson. Indications are that Thompson is a three-down linebacker and has the physical ability to play any linebacker position.
Selected with the 52nd pick in the draft, Thompson has been regarded as a reach by some evaluators. We have learned, however, that Thompson was seriously being considered by numerous teams later in the second round. In fact, two teams specifically contend to The Insiders they would have selected Thompson in that round. The New York Jets, to name just one team, was seriously considering selecting Thompson with the 53rd pick if he were available.
Chris Crocker is a player that the scouts and personnel people in the NFL know very much about. The Browns as well as approximately eight other teams see Crocker's value as a cornerback and not safety where he was rated and projected. His personal workouts were very good, and he showed better speed and agility than his workout at the Indianapolis combine in late February.
Crocker has good tools and speed. He is a player that will take a little time, but the belief is that he will be a solid pro. Was he a reach? According to the numerous draft guru's he was, but three league scouts that I converse with all agree that if not taken by the Browns at #84, he would not have been there in the 4th round for the Browns.
Lee Suggs could very well become a steal for the Browns as a 4th round selection. Suggs has first-round potential talent, but recovering from knee surgery helped cloud his status. Suggs played extremely well in returning following the knee surgery.
Post season testing showed Suggs has a damaged rotator-cuff that will require surgery, and this injury issue dropped his status on draft day. He should be a solid contributor in 2004. This was a very good value pick. Suggs will be an excellent player that will provide the Browns with an insurance policy at the running back position in the event of depth problems in 2004.
Ryan Pontbriand with the Browns first pick in the 5th round is questionable and that is putting it mildly. The Browns stated they would select the BPA (Best Player Available) throughout, but there is no denying that this was a need pick.
The Browns place an enormous emphasis on special teams and the long-snapper position (once a strength of the team) was decimated with the departure of Ryan Kuehl in free agency. Pontbriand is a definite reach in the 5th round, and according to league scouts he was likely not to be drafted. For the Browns, Pontbriand fills an important need position and using a 5th round selection for the player was warranted. The selection was not a good value pick, but rather a need pick to solidify a roster opening. The jury is definitely out on this selection.
With their second selection in the 5th round,Michael Lehan could prove to be an excellent choice League scouts tell us Lehan is a speed guy who has some coverage skills, and was called a sleeper prospect by more than one scout. His personal workout improved his draft status, but he needs coaching and a fair amount of time to develop. As a side note, Lehan played extremely well against Charles Rogers of MSU, the second selection in the draft. During the 2003 season, Lehan can be counted on as a special teams contributor.
Antonio Garay is a talented kid, but injuries have robbed him of consistent playing time and have limited his growth and ability to reach his potential. From a broken ankle, to a bulging disc, to knee surgery, Garay is a player that has had limited time to show his explosive talent. He is very good at the point of attack. Agile and strong, Garay could become a force at the defensive tackle position, if healthy. If he can overcome the injury bug, he could be a steal in the 6th round.
Contrary to many in the media, I don't have a problem with the Cleveland Browns 2003 draft, though the long-snapper selection still has me shaking my head.