Much to the dismay of many Browns fans, the team devoted the 22nd pick of the draft to a 28 year-old signal caller in Brandon Weeden. The former minor league baseball player became the oldest prospect ever to be selected in the first round and one of Thursday night's most controversial picks.
Commentators questioned whether Weeden was deserving of first round consideration, as well as whether the Browns could have secured his services at pick #37.
It's understandable why such an unconventional pick would draw intense scrutiny. However, long-suffering Browns fans also may want to consider how the pick differs from the team's past failed experiments at the position. A team that's drafted multiple quarterbacks who slid due to middling physical tools went a very different direction with Weeden. His considerably more impressive skills will open up new opportunities for the offense, ones that could be enhanced by drafting the right prospects on Day Two.
While Weeden may have given up on his baseball career, the ex-pitcher still can deliver the heat. He throws a pretty ball with plenty of zip and good accuracy. At times, watching him execute the Oklahoma State offense looks like a pro day throwing session, and a rather good one. In games like the blowout win over Texas Tech, he showed he can quite capably make all the throws. No pages of the playbook will have to be cut out of a Weeden gameplan; he'll hit on throws that Colt McCoy simply can't make.
In addition, Weeden doesn't come with significant athletic limitations. While not an exceptional athlete, he possesses enough mobility to navigate the pocket. The 6'4", 231-pound passer isn't an Anderson-esque statue, nor will he struggle mightily with his footwork. At the Senior Bowl, the college shotgun quarterback showed the ability to transition to taking snaps from under center. He should be a strong-armed, accurate pocket passer, something the Browns long have struggled to find.
With that in mind, it's important that the team construct a cockpit around Weeden that allows him to make full use of his strong physical tools. Hopefully, the team's decision-makers already are working towards that goal. In free agency, the team reportedly had interest in deep threat Pierre Garcon, and that plan of attack appears to have extended to the draft. According to Adam Schefter, the Browns would have taken Baylor wide receiver Kendall Wright with the 22nd pick, had the speedster still been on the board. An ideal complement to Greg Little, Wright would have been exactly the type of vertical threat that Weeden could utilize.
In place of Wright, Heckert and Co. would be wise to use at least one of its Day Two picks on a wideout who can help open up the offense. At the top of Round 2, the team could target Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill, who generated an amazing 29.29 yards per catch last fall. Alternatively, the Browns could consider LSU wideout Rueben Randle, who – while not a burner – managed to take the top off of several SEC defenses.
Also, the organization could work to eliminate or at least mask Brandon Weeden's deficiencies. Like any quarterback prospect, Weeden does come with drawbacks. Coming out of a spread attack, he will face at least a modest learning curve adjusting to an NFL offense. And given the quarterback's age, it's especially important that the transition be a quick one.
While he makes that adjustment, the team needs to minimize his difficulties by making sure that he's properly protected. Fortunately, a number of quality options will be available on Friday night. Once projected as a top ten pick, Stanford tackle Jonathan Martin may not be the mauler the team's looking for, but he'd be able to help keep Weeden clean. Alternatively, the team could go with big Georgia lineman Cordy Glenn, who could line up at either guard or right tackle. Another possibility is Ole Miss offensive tackle Bobby Massie, who has the tools to develop into a top-flight lineman.
The best option for the squad may be Cal offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz. A very good run blocker, Schwartz makes up for his lack of top-flight athleticism with very good technique. He's an efficient pass protector who's held his own against some talented pass rushers, including first rounder Nick Perry.
In addition to adding a new right tackle, the Browns will need much-improved guard play. Last year, both Jason Pinkston and Shawn Lauvao had their struggles in pass protection. Unfortunately, Weeden so far has struggled to cope with interior pressure. When teams blitzed the A gap, like Iowa State did in the Cowboys' lone loss last year, Weeden would throw off of his back foot and force throws into double coverage.
As a result, Weeden has the potential to be especially pick-happy, but with stronger line play, he could keep the mistakes at a minimum and lead a newly dynamic Browns offense. And if that happens, the controversy surrounding the pick will very soon be forgotten.