The nice thing about being a team that is going into a draft with a lot of holes to fill is the fact you can turn almost any direction and find a player in the first round who can step right in and challenge for a starting job, especially when you have a top 10 selection.
Such is the case for the Cleveland Browns heading into this year's draft, which is scheduled to take place April 24-25.
First off, let us make a list of the positions at which the Browns are definitely not going to take a player in the first round:
Pretty short list, huh?
Unfortunately, that's it. One spot. It's the single, solitary position at which the Browns have no interest in using their first-round choice even if the second coming of Frank Gatski was available. That's because the Browns drafted Jeff Faine in the first round last year and he, despite a couple of injuries, proved himself to be a worthy selection.
Faine, if he continues to develop, could very well be the anchor of the Browns' offensive line for many years to come and might very well develop into a Pro Bowl performer, something none of the post-1995 No. 1 draft picks has done to date.
Other than center, an argument could be made for taking a player at any position.
For obvious reasons, a top-flight offensive tackle or guard would be a welcome addition. Likewise for a tight end or a fullback. None of these spots has ever been addressed with first or second round selections by the new-era Browns, which might very well explain why big holes remain as the team goes into its sixth season.
Even a wide receiver, running back or quarterback isn't out of the question when you take everything into consideration.
Some people might say the Browns are well fortified at all of those "skilled" positions. But there are some concerns at all three spots.
The wide receiver position, which looked to have both quality and quantity a year ago, has already been weakened by the release of Kevin Johnson last year. And it seems a foregone conclusion that Dennis Northcutt will never again play for the Browns, thus further depleting the position.
As you very well know, Northcutt became involved in an unexpected off-season controversy when his agent failed to file the right papers that would have made him a free agent. Now, the Browns will likely trade him to the highest bidder to avoid what could be an ugly locker room situation.
Pittsburgh's great wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald would be a great first round choice. He is a fluid receiver with the ability to get open despite not having blazing speed, and his hands are extraordinary. But chances are he will go in the top three or four spots.
Some might think the Browns are set at running back, but in reality there are a lot of question marks there as well. Certainly, 2002's No. 1 draft choice William Green's much-publicized off-the-field problems have put a major question mark over his future, while Lee Suggs, a fourth-round choice a year, spent most of last season on the injured list and, aside from the finale against the Bengals, certainly hasn't proven himself. He could end up being very, very good, but there are no guarantees.
Top-rated running back Steven Jackson out of Oregon State might be available when the Browns select No. 7 overall. If so, you have to think the Browns will certainly give the powerful interior runner some consideration, but in that there are greater needs, he probably won't be the choice.
As for quarterback, the Browns appear set for at least the next two seasons with Jeff Garcia, but there is no doubt they need to bring in a solid, young quarterback who can spend a couple of seasons learning the pro game while watching from the sideline, something Tim Couch never had the opportunity to do.
If, by some miracle, Mississippi State's Eli Manning or Miami of Ohio's Ben Roethlisberger was to slip to No. 7, you know the Browns would jump on one of those two quarterbacks. However, there is a very good chance both will be Top 5 selections, thus they'll be off the board by the time the Browns pick.
A more likely scenario will find the Browns taking J.P. Losman out of Tulane if he happens to still be on the board in round two, or possibly Cody Pickett out of Washington, Luke McCown out of Louisiana Tech or John Navarre out of Michigan in the third or fourth round.
Defensively, the line can always use a boost, but that is not considered to be a strong position in this year's draft. In fact, there might not even be a defensive lineman taken in the top 10, something which almost never happens.
Many consider Southern Cal defensive end Kenechi Udeze to be the best lineman in the draft, yet he is not expected to be selected until the early teens.
The Browns' linebacker situation is fairly well set, as both Andra Davis, in the middle, and Ben Taylor, on the outside, played very well in starting roles a year ago. Help might very well be needed at the other outside linebacker spot. Kevin Bentley played well, but some people are not certain he is the long-term answer.
As for the defensive backfield, help, and a lot of it, is needed at both corner and safety.
Miami's Sean Taylor is considered the top safety in the draft and would certainly be strongly considered if he happens to slip to No. 7, which is a possibility after he turned in a less-than-sensational pro-day workout.
Of course, Davis, who recruited Taylor for the Hurricanes, has a much more thorough resume on the 6-2, 228-pounder than most people and probably would rely more on that information than Taylor's one-time bad post-season showing.
So, what should the Browns do?
Taking everything into consideration – the team's greatest needs, the talent available in the draft and the background of the Browns' coaching staff – I will go out on the limb, one which is thick enough to hold my bulk, and say the first round pick will probably be tight end Kellen Winslow Jr.
In some ways, Winslow reminds me a lot of Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome. Much like Newsome, he is truly a wide receiver playing tight end. He has great hands, agility and the ability to make acrobatic catches.
And, just like Newsome, he has never been known for his ability to block. Some might say that Newsome never threw a block. But the fact is, a tight end with Newsome's pass-catching skills accomplishes the same goal as a run-blocking tight end. If Newsome ran what looked to be a pass pattern, he would take a linebacker or safety with him. That in itself helps open a hole for the running back.
There are a couple of other things I like about Winslow as well.
First off, his father, Kellen Sr., is a Hall of Famer, so athleticism definitely runs in his family.
He grew up in pro football atmosphere, thus he shouldn't be in awe, even as a rookie.
And he comes from a winning college atmosphere, having attended the University of Miami where he was recruited by Davis and his right hand man Pete Garcia. And the new tight ends coach for the Browns is Rob Chudzinski, who just so happened to be the Hurricanes' offensive coordinator and tight ends coach last year.
Chudzinski has heaped praise upon Winslow ever since coming to the Browns earlier this year. He also insists Winslow is a much better blocker than people are giving him credit for.
Finally, Winslow will bring an "attitude" to the team, something the offense has been lacking ever since its return. He simply hates to lose and will do everything in his power to make sure it doesn't happen. And he will complement a wide receiver corps that, as mentioned earlier, definitely slipped a bit last year.
Of course, had the Browns lost their season-finale to the Bengals, they wouldn't even be thinking about Winslow. Instead, they'd have their sights set on tackle Robert Gallery. He would have been the ideal choice, but unless a trade is made to move up, the Browns will likely end up with the "consolation" prize, which will likely by Winslow.
For me, that would be akin to having to settle for Jenny McCarthy instead of Pamela Anderson. While the latter would be my No. 1 option, my No. 2 choice is someone I could be very happy with for a long, long time.
If Winslow is the choice, he will fill a need not only for many years to come, but he's a guy who will probably step right into a starting role in 2004.