Well, it's over.
Are the Cleveland Browns a better football team today than before this weekend's college draft?
But how much better? That question won't be answered for months. Maybe years.
It's too soon to grade the draft. Certainly, every sports writer worth his ink in clichés will offer up his or her report card.
I'm holding off because this draft isn't in context yet. The draft is one portion of the off-season for every NFL team. The draft doesn't occur in a vacuum. It's part of the overall plan.
Cleveland and the other 30 franchises look at the draft to complement the free-agency process. You can't accurately grade a draft without considering the criteria and plans that guided a team's choices. There are myriad influences on why a team picks one linebacker and not another. Those of us outside the think tank that is Berea will never know.
Is it even proper to grade a draft until a few years down the road? Isn't grading now akin to assigning a letter grade at the start of the school semester rather than at the end? By all reasonable analysis, Mike Junkin should have torn up the NFL. Instead, he was a poor-man's Brian Bosworth. A very poor man, indeed. Yet after that draft, Cleveland would have been graded highly for filling a need -- replace Chip Banks. The reality was that Junkin was a bust, and not the kind you find in Canton.
So how do we characterize the draft? Surely there is some way to provide a contextual rating of this weekend's events.
We can offer a reasonable analysis based on team needs, recent free-agent acquisitions and project signings. Sure, it's guesswork, but so is the entire process. There is little more we can do than wait until things play out this season and over the next few years.
That said, let's take a look at Cleveland's selections:
KELLEN WINSLOW, TE, MIAMI (1st round, sixth overall)
Conventional wisdom claims this young man will change how the game is played. I hope so, but I don't understand how. A great tight end in Tony Gonzalez hasn't lifted the Chiefs to a Super Bowl (nor has a great running game, for some reason). It's expected that Winslow will learn to shut up and stretch the middle of the field. By offering a big, fast, sure-handed target up the middle, that will take pressure off Quincy Morgan and Andre Davis. The defense can't take away just one part of the field and shut down the other. Or at least on paper, that's how it's supposed to work. Let it be said that I like this pick. I just don't know if it will move Heaven and Earth. Signing a quarterback that recognizes when this important tight end is open is more vital - Jeff Garcia.
This pick is a huge improvement for the team, which will have quality and
depth now at the position. Winslow sounds like a pretty good blocker, which
should help. I guess that's something of an improvement to the offense line, a
unit that the team has now failed to upgrade since, oh, 1979. I'm not that
peeved at Butch Davis for failing to get Robert Gallery, however, because it
sounds like he was wise not to give away the team to satisfy the Chargers' and
Raiders' greedy demands. This is a much better, and more immediately useful,
selection than DeAngelo Hall. But man, Gallery would have been awesome to have.
I'll reserve final judgment because there is a chance the Browns could further
improve the offensive line after the June 1 free agency cuts. Signing a starter
for the line after June 1 makes this an even better selection. But we shall see.
SEAN JONES, S, GEORGIA (2nd round, 59th overall)
This looks like a steal, although the Browns had to do some pick-jockeying with the Colts to move up to get him. Most experts had Jones ranked as the second-best safety after Taylor from Miami. Because of the run on wide receivers in the first round, it knocked Jones into the second. He looks like he has the speed and skills to do the job. What's more important is, from what those in the know say, he has the heart and desire to dish out punishment. That's been lacking from Cleveland safeties since Eric Turner and Felix Wright were crushing skulls from the secondary. He's said to have run-stopping ability, and since Jamal Lewis is on the menu twice yearly, that makes this all the better a pick.
LUKE MCCOWN, QB, LOUISIANA TECH (4th round, 106th overall)
This isn't a surprising pick. There was some hoopla over the coaching staff being enamored with McCown a few months back. From what I've read of him, he forces passes into coverage because he fails to recognize linebacker responsibilities in zone defenses. That's troubling, since we've seen Tim Couch have the same woes for five seasons. On the upside, he sounds like he has leadership skills, something conspicuously absent from Couch. If things fall into place, McCown learns under Garcia for two seasons, then steps in as a savvy, yet fresh veteran, and we all get Super Bowl tickets.
AMON GORDON, DT, STANFORD (5th round, 161st overall)
His scouting report has little nice to say. When the "positives" section
actually says he won't get any bigger or better in the pros, there's not much
more I need to say. Wasn't there a better offensive or defensive lineman
KIRK CHAMBERS, OT, STANFORD (6th round, 176th overall)
Projected as a backup offensive lineman. He'll have plenty of company in
Cleveland, a franchise that fields a roster of backup linemen who start.
Actually, with the loss of Shawn O'Hara and Barry Stokes in free-agency to the
Giants, this probably isn't a bad pick. But if the Browns were going to draft a
tackle, we'd much have rather had the name "Robert Gallery" read at the podium.
Chambers' best attribute, from what I can tell, is that he played for bookish
Stanford. Would we rather have a tackle that can discourse prettily on Greek
literature, or an ignorant beast that eats defensive lineman for dinner?
ADIMCHINOBE ECHEMANDU, RB, CALIFORNIA (7th round, 208th overall)
Who? Huh? What's his name? Obi-Won Kenobi? Supposedly another late-round
steal. Is he fast enough, crazy enough and experienced enough to return kicks?
If not, why was he drafted? I'm hoping there's a plan for him, because if the
team has a strength, it's running back. The scouting report says, basically, all
he can do is run in a straight line, fumbles a lot, tires out real fast and was
too stupid to be eligible for two seasons. Great. At least he hasn't shot
anyone. Why not draft a punter in this spot? We need a punter. It was silly to
let Chris Gardocki go, especially to the Steelers. Duh. A Bengalonian gaffe.
So, there you have it. Maybe I'll issue a report card at the end of the season. Or in three years. The three-year mark seems to be what NFL front-office and coaching types consider the benchmark for rating a draft.
OK, then, let's open Pandora's Box at look at the Browns' draft class from three seasons ago, which would have played its first season in 2001. It was Butch Davis' first draft as head coach in Cleveland.
He's had a few moments since then, but not many. Critics say he's lazy, unmotivated and generally a bust for the position he was drafted. I'm hard pressed to disagree. Anything short of a Pro Bowl-type season this year cements the bust label.
Hmm. I don't think it required rose-colored glasses to say the Browns blew
it. Seymour and McAllister are studs. Warren is not.
Quincy Morgan was the second-round pick. Not bad, I guess, but he's still more mouth than anything. Too many dropped passes and botched plays for my taste. I'll reserve final judgment on his until after this season, when he plays a full 16 games with a proven Pro Bowl quarterback in Jeff Garcia.
In the third round, Davis reached for James Jackson of Miami. Despite the criticism I see on the boards of Jackson, I see him as a quality back-up. He show several times he can run the ball. I watched him in person give the Lions fits in 2001. Could he be an every-down back? Perhaps behind a better line, but for now, he's good depth behind William Green and Lee Suggs.
And depth, kids, is what gets you to the Super Bowl. Remember the Patriots? They won it this year without a single super star and while suffering a barrage of injuries. Quality depth meant they didn't miss a beat.
Personally, I'd rather have 22 good starters with 22 quality backups than 22 studs with 22 dud behind them.
In the fourth round of 2001, the Browns took Anthony Henry. He tied for the NFL lead with nine interceptions, and he did it as a situational player. As a starting cornerback, he struggled. But he's shown growth potential. And he adds experienced depth if he is on the bench.
The fifth round brought Davis' only mistake: Jeremiah Pharms. Who knew the monkey business would erupt? Every coach gets a mulligan. Who knows, he could have been great instead of a felon (See: Lewis, Ray).
Safety Michael Jamison was the sixth-round pick. He's proven to be a solid backup and good special teams player. Most folks don't give enough credit for the value of special teams play. Special teams account for a full third of the game. Putting all the junk on special teams is a good way to lose every game. Jamison has value as the nickel safety, and hits well.
Boston College guard Paul Zakauskas was the seventh-round pick. Thanks to improvement and injuries to other players, he found himself starting 10 games last season, until he himself was hurt. He's not a road-grader, but he's a worker who would do well to get stronger. I was surprised he became so valuable. At this point, he looks like he's lost his starting job to free-agent acquisition Kelvin Garmon, but he'll get his playing time.
The final selection was wide receiver Andre King in the seventh round. Some called it a pity pick because King was a minor role player while under David at Miami, and King spent four years playing baseball after high school instead of playing football. Despite his late start and limited experience, he made the team as a reserve. He's smart and knows his role. Looks like he could emerge as the No. 3 wide receiver if Dennis Northcutt is traded. Not too shabby for the 245th pick three years ago.
So, if I had to grade the 2001 draft, I'd give it a gentleman's C. The first
pick seems to have been a bust, but all except the felon made the team and are
still on the roster. That's impressive. However, most are role players off the
bench. While that is of great value, they are still role players. That said,
it's this type of draft that gets you to the Super Bowl. It's not all diamonds.
Those are the icing. These are foundation stones upon which the diamonds rest.
Without them, there is no Super Bowl.
Former Ohio newspaper reporter and editor Bill Shea writes the Doc Gonzo column for Bernies Insiders. Since coming out of college in 1995, every NFL team has bypassed him in the draft, year after year. He remains hopeful, however, of hearing the commissioner call out his name on Draft Day, even if it's just to tell him to be quiet.