There are quite a few storylines in tonight's Super Bowl connected to the Cleveland Browns. None matter but the game itself is a reminder of all the mistakes, "could haves" and limitations the fans have seen over the last couple of decades.
There is also the whole Jimmy Garoppolo story but that is for another post.
So what do the Browns need to get to where the Patriots and Falcons are? What is missing for the team that can help put them in position to compete for a Super Bowl?
It is important to remember that is the goal. The goal isn't to win "some games." The goal isn't to make the Playoffs. The goal isn't to find the "QB of the Future." The goal isn't to "be good."
The goal is the win the Super Bowl and every step, decision and plan should be made with that in mind. While those other things are all well and good, and a part of the process, they can't be the goal.
Often times good can get in the way of great in life. Shooting for "being good," "winning some games," or making the Playoffs could get in the way of the ultimate goal: Winning the Super Bowl.
Why belabor this point? Partially because I have a bias against putting our faith in a QB another team was willing to cast off. Partially because of the discussion on Twitter that seems to only care about winning some games next year. Partially because I don't want to be stuck where the Bengals are: Good but clearly not good enough.
A team that went 1-15 obviously has a long way to go before it can even be close to considered a Super Bowl contender. That means our "needs" list here could be very long but fans have to remember that teams believe in their young players ability to develop. Just because (fill in the blank rookie name here) wasn't a good to great starter in year 1 doesn't mean the Browns "need" to replace them.
In fact, that is bad drafting. Players need time and reps to develop. Bringing in another young guy who needs time and reps to develop only tends to stunt the growth of both players.
That isn't to say the Browns shouldn't look for upgrades but that they may see upgrades coming with the development of their young guys.
Side Note: As a reminder, I believe "Need" Based drafting is a terrible way to draft. It over inflates the value of those positions while allowing higher talented players to pass on by. So this list isn't defining, for me, who the Browns should draft, or where, just the top needs I see on the team.
Across the board in the NFL, if you do not have a solid to great starting quarterback that position is your #1 need. The Texans are a great example of a team full of talent held back by their QB.
There are two types of starting level QBs in the NFL, both can be successful: First, the Tom Brady type of QB that can lift his team no matter what the weapons around him. Second, the QB like Kirk Cousins, and maybe even Matt Ryan, that depend on the weapons, or stud defense, around them to be successful.
Obviously, the QB that can carry a team is great but few and far between. The Browns need to find one or the other. The good news is that the Browns invested in 4 wide receivers and a tight end in last year's draft, are likely to keep Terrelle Pryor and Isaiah Crowell to go along with Duke Johnson and Gary Barnidge as weapons around whoever that QB might be.
If it is the Cousins/Ryan type, the young weapons might be there to lift him. If it is a Brady type, well he can speed up the process and elevate the young guys the Browns have invested in on the offense.
#2 Free Safety
Having a centerfield type player is important in Gregg Williams' defense. Even for a defense that doesn't require as much from their free safety, the Browns would be in need of one.
The Browns need someone on the backend of the defense who can help cover for mistakes, can range sideline to sideline and who can make big plays. Right now, they have guys who can make tackles after big catches are made, can break up late or wobbly passes and overall just are not that good. Unimpactful.
While some might focus on another position, if the free safety spot gets a big upgrade the rest of the defensive secondary will look much better and allow the front 7 to have more time to get after the QB.
Luckily, the NFL Draft is full of some very good safeties this year and could be an area the Browns attack early.
Before the last game of the season, I was convinced that this coaching staff had seen enough from Cameron Erving that he would at least compete for the starting job next season. He was actually pretty good in the run game, not so much in pass protection, but struggled with consistency. Browns fans remember all the whiffed blocks but he wasn't as bad as those quick videos showed.
He obviously wasn't good enough for the Browns as they moved him to right tackle for part of Week 17.
That puts center very high on this list. If John Greco was expected back and healthy for the start of the off-season, it may not be as high. For now, Austin Reiter (returning from ACL) & Anthony Fabiano would compete for the starting center job. Probably not good enough, especially with all the cap space and draft picks the Browns have to try to answer the need.
This year's NFL Draft is a little weak on the offensive line as a whole but the center position has some guys that could come in and start right away and who will likely be available on Days 2 and 3.
The rest of the offensive line is either set (Thomas & Bitonio) or has a lot of young competition that makes it unlikely to be addressed this offseason (Drango, Pastzor, Erving, Coleman).
#4 3 Tech Defensive Lineman
While the common vernacular for defensive lineman are titles like tackle, end, nose guard, etc, their role is more important when discussed by NFL folks. Starting with head up to the center, defensive lineman's roles are numbered. Head up with the center is 0 (Nose), on either side of the center is 1 then all the way out to defensive ends in the wide 9 (outside as wide as where two tight ends would line up).
Similar numbers can be important for outside linebackers in a 3-4 alignment as well.
What the Browns are missing is someone to play the penetrating 3 technique. Xavier Cooper or the returning Desmond Bryant can play the role but neither should be counted on. Jamie Meder isn't fast enough to play the role, though he was forced to a lot last season.
Getting a guy who can create constant pressure from the 3t position helps in the both the run and pass game. He forces a running back to bounce outside while pushing a QB back to where Ogbah, Nassib and Garrett can get to them. Letting a RB gash you up the middle or giving a QB space to step into are sure ways to lose.
It will be interesting to see what Williams and the Browns look to do here. If Jonathan Allen falls to #12, possible depending on his Combine performance, he would be the best fit and give the Browns a great defensive line. There are quite a few others who can fit this role but these types of players tend to come off the board quickly.
#5 Strong Safety/Linebacker
In Williams' defense, a strong safety who can play like a linebacker is important. While not as important as the FS spot, the Browns seem to have a big need here. Derrick Kindred will have a chance to play this role but may not be big enough, struggles in coverage and is more of a hitter than tackler.
This role is one some believe Jabrill Peppers is perfectly suited for. He will be available at #12 but many think he will fall to the 2nd Round depending on how he tests. Having someone who is big enough to play the run but good enough in coverage to play tight ends and backs would be huge.
An under the radar guy would be Obi Melifonwu in the Draft but a free agent like Tony Jefferson could also be of interest. Drafting Obi for this role and Budda Baker for the FS spot is my dream scenario.
Other Positions under consideration
Cornerback - With improved safety play, Joe Haden, Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Jamar Taylor can perform very well. A stud #1 in free agency or the Draft should not be overlooked but the need is not as great as those listed above.
Tight End - The Browns don't have a tight end that can block and catch. They have some that can catch (Barnidge, DeValve) and one that can block (Telfer) but no one who can do both. Taking a flyer on Jake Butt, who is injured and could miss the whole season, could be a way to address this position for the following season.
How do you rate the Browns needs? Where do you agree/disagree?