Rich's Rant: Countdown to Chaos

For a brief moment, fans will hold their collective breath... then the debates will rage again!

Just a few more days until the rhetoric builds to a crescendo. Arguments elevate to a different, much more spectacular level.

Ratcheting up the invective, not difficult to do within the confines of this Web site, takes on a whole new definition.

One of the best sports days of the year is just a few days away. The closer we get to D-Day, NFL College Draft Day Saturday at high noon in New York, the hotter it will get. And then everything will stop. Just like that.

All the threads and posts that have traversed the Bernie Insiders boards and forums the last several months become mere memories. Fond to some, humorous to others, classic to the rest.

All Browns fans who religiously follow the draft will retreat to their respective corners to root for their favorites. Cross their fingers that the Browns will pick their man in the first round.

They will hold their breaths, say their little football prayers and . . . and . . . wait.

Wait for the most anticipated draft since the Browns returned to town in 1999. Wait for Phil Savage to take his first draft steps as the club's general manager. The beginning of the resurrection of the Cleveland Browns will commence.

Sides will be taken regardless of what Savage does the first time around. Sycophants will back him no matter whom he selects. Skeptics will take a wait-and-see attitude. Critics will rail.

Those who choose the blind-faith route never learn. Trust and faith started with the ill-fated Carmen Policy-Dwight Clark regime. It encored with Butch Davis and Pete Garcia.

And now we have Savage and his man Saturday, Bill Rees. Savage and his pro personnel chief have pared the original list of 500 players to 155, 77 on offense and 78 on defense. The game plan will be in place by Thursday. Roughing out the first three rounds will be completed by Friday.

It is imperative that Savage lives up to his reputation as a draft maven. True, he did not have the final say when he was Ozzie Newsome's right-hand man in Baltimore, but the lion's share of the credit fell his way anyway.

Now, he's the boss. The pressure to succeed will be enormous. The fans are counting heavily on him to rekindle the franchise's once-proud reputation.

If Savage is smart, he initially will address the offense, most notably wide receiver. The Browns need a stud, an impact player, for their passing game. They need someone who instills fear in the opposition.

Andre Davis, Dennis Northcutt and Antonio Bryant do not exactly leave opposing secondaries quaking in their cleats. Trent Dilfer needs a go-to guy, someone to rely on whenever a play needs to be made.

The top candidates are Braylon Edwards and Mike Williams, receivers as much like each other as they are dissimilar.

Edwards is faster, shorter and has less reliable hands than Williams. He rang up wonderful statistics in his last two seasons with Michigan, but was prone to drop easy passes. Williams put up terrific stats in his two seasons at USC and caught just about everything. But he did not play last season and that is considered in some quarters as a red flag.

So whom to take. Savage seems to be leaning toward Edwards, although he danced around the question when asked if Williams was less a possibility to be chosen because he missed last season and hasn't played for nearly 18 months. He did not rule it out.

What makes this draft more intriguing than past lotteries is that no player sticks out as the absolute best. And in just about any other year, no player this year would be good enough to warrant selection in the top five.

The top tier consists of quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Alex Smith, running back Ronnie Brown and Edwards and Williams on offense, and cornerback Antrel Rolle and linebacker Derrick Johnson on defense with linebacker/defensive end Shawne Merriman lurking as a dark horse.

But only Rodgers and Smith (because they are the best quarterbacks) and Edwards are considered by draft gurus to be worthy of the top pick.

So what does Savage do? (Please, no quarterback.) Most fans want him to trade down and pick up more draft picks. But he needs a dance partner and this is not a compelling enough draft for that likelihood to occur.

Now it's time to play GM for a day. For the first round only.

If I'm Savage, I do not hesitate after Miami makes its pick at #2. I write down a name on a slip of paper. I know it's the right name. I know he's a player who will make the Browns better immediately.

I show the slip of paper to Randy Lerner and Rees. And then I wait the obligatory 12-13 minutes in the event a team or two swallows stupid pills and calls seeking a trade.

When the call does not come, I make my move and reveal my choice to the team representative in New York. I telephone the newest member of my team and welcome him to the Browns' family.

Then I sit back and watch Commissioner Paul Tagliabue stride to the microphone and announce: "With the third pick of the 2005 National Football League draft, the Cleveland Browns select Mike Williams, wide receiver, USC."

And before I try to trade back into the first round and begin to reconstruct the defense, I allow myself to dream of just how difficult it will be for NFL defensive coordinators to game-plan for Kellen Winslow Jr. and Mike Williams.

Back to reality and begging the question: Will Savage shock everyone and draft Williams? He has been awfully low key when discussing him. Makes one wonder if Williams is his man.

Shock me if he did? Somewhat. Please me? You can't imagine how much.

Or will Savage trade down and scoop up Merriman? Shock me if he did? Not really. Please me? Pleasantly so.

Only a few more days and then the arguments again will rage and the vitriol will flow freely on this Web site. It'll be business as usual.


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