Passan: The Draft Debate

Rich, a relative message board newcomer, immerses himself in this off-season's hottest topic...

Thirty-nine days to the National Football League draft and the speculation wagon is careening out of control.

Should the Browns draft for need? For the best player available? Shock everyone and select a quarterback or a running back? Trade down?

So many different directions the Browns can go. So many different ideas the fans offer up as they play general manager on line.

A lot of words will be uttered by NFL coaches and personnel people and general managers between now and then.

Here's a tip on how to react to them:

Listen to and/or read every word carefully. Then read between the lines. After you do all that, forget everything you heard. All that hot air means nothing.

Coaches and GMs love to play word games, hoping their little nuggets reach the ears and eyes of their respective brethren. For some reason, all these guys believe they're smarter than everyone else.

Butch Davis, that well-known teller of little white ones, loved to talk about doing one thing, then turn around and do something entirely different. It was almost as though he took pride in trying to fool people.

Fracturing the truth never stopped ol' Paul Hilton from stepping way over that line. You always wanted to see both of that snake oil salesman's hands when he spoke.

And now, all those rumors and the leftover scraps from the NFL Scouting Combine have given birth to arguments – some of them raging – in the Watercooler and Subscriber Lounge on this Web site.

It should be fun for the next several weeks. On some threads, however, the posts become downright nasty to the point where a few subscribers get bent out of shape and resort to name-calling.

Everyone is an expert. Everyone has an opinion. And no one is shy when it comes to sharing those opinions. Nothing wrong with that as long as you don't take it seriously. Unfortunately, some do.

Subscribers here surf the Internet almost religiously. Their passion for the Browns knows no bounds. They proudly wear their hearts on their sleeves and those hearts have been broken too many times. But they still care.

For the idealistic Browns fan, there will always be hope. Always.

For the realistic Browns fan, optimism has taken a vacation. Nothing outside of a 9-7 season or better will convert him.

General Manager Phil Savage and coach Romeo Crennel have already launched the reshaping of this team. Heading out the back door are some Davis favorites with more expected to follow. And with the likes of Joe Andruzzi and Gary Baxter coming in the front door, the 2005 season can't come soon enough.

It appears as though the disaster area known as the offensive line, a perennial target of critics, is close being removed from the endangered list. (I'm not crazy about the offensive tackles.) And based on the overwhelmingly positive response to the Andruzzi and Cosey Coleman signings, I can only imagine how rapturous everyone will get with subsequent acquisitions.

As a relative newcomer to this form of communication, I am fascinated by the passion with which you great fans attack subjects. Your strong emotional attachment to the Browns is the one common thread that binds you.

I look forward to the opinions and suggestions by the fans in the next 39 days.

Let's keep it going with this . . .

Two of the hottest draft debates seem to be at linebacker and wide receiver, positions the Browns need to improve.

Mention linebackers Derrick Johnson and Shawne Merriman and wide receivers Braylon Edwards and Mike Williams in a thread and the debates rage. It's possible one will be the Browns' top choice.

If it's linebacker, I'm a Merriman guy. And the wideout I would love to see in a Browns uniform is Williams.

Merriman is a big physical specimen who is just as fast as Johnson, but played slightly under the radar at Maryland. Johnson, a preseason All-America candidate, has a much higher profile and is the darling of draft gurus.

But I like Merriman because he can give Crennel and his new 3-4 look on defense a presence as a pass rusher and outside linebacker, much like Jamir Miller did for the Browns a few years ago.

I also like Williams, but the big wideout from USC has been branded by many as too slow because he clocked a 4.6 in his 40-yard dash at the combine. Imagine that; a 4.6 40 is too slow.

About 20 years ago, a little known wide receiver from Mississippi Valley State ran a 4.59 40 for scouts before there was a combine. Ran it at his school. Too slow? Not for one team.

In the 1985 draft, the New York Jets made Al Toon the first receiver selected. The Cincinnati Bengals tapped Eddie Brown a few picks later.

It wasn't until the San Francisco 49ers, with Bill Walsh running the show, took a chance on that slow Mississippi pass catcher named Jerry Rice.

Rice, you see, made plays in college. At 4.59, he wasn't as fast as Brown or as big at 6-2 as Toon. But Walsh saw something in Rice that escaped the Jets and Bengals. He saw a football player.

A couple of years earlier, six teams looking for a "franchise" quarterback had the same opportunity. John Elway, Todd Blackledge, Jim Kelly, Tony Eason and Ken O'Brien fell off the board, forcing the Miami Dolphins to take Dan Marino.

Granted, Elway and Kelly are in the Hall of Fame, but how could Kansas City, New England and the New York Jets be so wrong about Marino?

Because what they saw was a big, slow, immobile quarterback with a strong arm. But the big, slow and immobile outweighed the strong arm.

Big, slow. Hmmm. Sounds like Mike Williams.

OK, now let's meet in the Watercooler and Subscriber Lounge (with an occasional trip to Draft Brew) and discuss.

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