THE MAN WITH A PLAN
First things first. If Butch Davis was still here, and executed that exact same draft, the majority of the fan base would be up in arms. That is not opinion, it is fact.
The team once again ignored the offensive line and sorely lacks depth there. They added no impact college prospects to a front seven that is thinner than Ally McBeal after a four hour sauna session. They exhausted their first three selections on a receiver, a safety, and a quarterback … all positions they addressed early last year as well. They missed out on an opportunity to move down to #5 with Tampa Bay, where they could have still likely selected Braylon Edwards, and also came away with an early second day pick.
Make no mistake; these are all things Butch Davis would have been crucified for.
Yet in the days and weeks that followed this year's draft, the reaction from Clevelanders and the Cleveland media has been generally positive.
I think there are several reasons for this.
One, I think the fan base trusts Savage. Unlike his predecessor, he has been open and honest with the fans and media from day one about the type of team he is trying to build here ... and how he wants to do it. And he has a track record of success at the NFL level selecting players and helping to build a championship team.
Secondly, Savage went best player available across the board, a strategy that was justified by multiple Pro Bowl selections over an impressive nine-year stretch in Crackmore. At the end of the day, it's hard to blame the guy for taking the best guy off the board with every pick, especially given his reputation as one of the league's top talent evaluators.
Lastly, Savage has a
plan, and adhered to that plan despite numerous temptations to cheapen himself
and stray from the charted course. He was also very clear about the fact that
this team has more holes than one free agency period and college draft can
fill. The roster purge of players who were overpaid, lacked motivation, were
injury risks, or were malcontents not only created more holes, but also
dramatically scaled back the list of guys Savage was willing to even consider
selecting. In a draft that saw 255 players get selected, Savage only compiled a
list of 140 names, and repeatedly passed on players that had slid, but presented
any semblance of a downside risk. Even if you disagree with that philosophy,
you have to respect it.
I was generally pleased by last years' effort. Not elated, not distraught. My personal belief is that the road to the Super Bowl in Cleveland means winning tough, defensive, low-scoring games at home in December and January, and that the best way to win those games is by building your team around good coaching, a tough running game, and deep and talented defense that makes plays. Taking a WR #3 doesn't necessarily jive with that MO, but really, what the hell do I know?
This all being said, it's tough to win games (regardless of your style of play) without smart wide receivers that make plays, and every wide receiver on our roster was an incomplete player lacking #1 WR ability, and with downside risks. No receiver on our roster has ever booked an injury free, productive campaign … and counting on them to do so going forward would be foolish. Andre Davis has one year left on his deal, as does Antonio Bryant. Northcutt has two, and is limited as a wideout. Savage saw an opportunity to add a key piece that would improve the WR corps as a whole for years to come, and he jumped on it knowing that he is instituting a long term plan. Braylon has all the intangibles, most importantly between the ears, and his chances of being a bust were as low as any player in this draft.
While I was surprised the team took Brodney Pool, after researching the pick further, I realized how foolish I was for not seeing this possibility coming. Savage has talked repeatedly about "hitting singles" and "making pars" when it comes to draft day, and Brodney Pool is another very safe selection for a team that can't afford to miss. He's a high character guy, a leader, has ideal size and speed, and has a high football IQ. Going back last night and watching tapes of him on NFL Network On Demand showed me that he does have the athletic ability to potentially be a big, physical corner or nickel man. Pool can play, and even if he may not play the position of biggest need, good DB's are always a need … and this kid has a very good chance to be a very good player. In addition to possibly giving him looks at cornerback, I think Romeo will also look to utilize his athletic ability some off the edge rushing the passer in spots.
I love the Charlie Frye pick, and think he is a perfect for this town. Much like another local kid from about twenty years ago, he has some technique flaws that you can pick apart on film, but also possesses many intangibles that can't be measured by the film geeks.
On day two, I was glad to see defense addressed aggressively, though I would have taken Elton Brown over Antonio Perkins. That was my one major beef with the draft. In years past I was tough on the team for taking Willie Green over Toniu Fonoti, and for taking Faine over Steinbach, and have unfortunately been justified in both criticisms. Let's hope I'm wrong here, but I think Elton Brown becomes a very good guard in this league. And this offensive line is nothing but major question marks behind a starting five with three starters who will be over 30 years of age once the season starts.
McMillan and Speegle were both scheme/character selections, and here's hoping one of them becomes a serviceable OLB for Romeo. Browns fans are going to love Speegle, he screams Cleveland Browns football. I'm working on trying to nail him down for an interview right now.
Hoffman and Dunn are both
intriguing selections, but I personally would have liked to have seen the
trenches addressed earlier. This team is very weak on both lines, and poor line
play caused by lackluster depth can have a ripple effect through a teams overall
performance on the field … as we've seen repeatedly in this town. I can't argue
with the day one selections, but I would have addressed the trenches early in
day two with the Perkins and McMillan picks.
DON'T GO COLD ON US PHIL
One thing completely ignored by Browns fans and the local media in the four-month honeymoon that bridged the gap from Savage's hire to the draft was the fact that Savage's last two draft day efforts in Baltimore were far from exemplary. While the jury is still out on several of these guys, and injuries have hampered others, the fact remains that just one (Terrell Suggs) of the sixteen selections of the 2003 and 2004 Raven drafts has yet to amount to anything even close to resembling a consistent NFL starter.
1st round: LB Terrell Suggs, Arizona St. – Suggs has been great for the Ravens, made his first Pro Bowl last season, and has 22.5 sacks in two years in the league.
1st round: QB Kyle Boller, California – Jury is still out on this young signal caller that the Ravens traded their 2004 #1 pick for. In 25 starts, Boller has thrown just 20 touchdowns, and has a quarterback rating of 68.1.
3rd round: RB Musa Smith, Georgia – Smith has struggled with injuries and inconsistency, and has been unable to unseat Chester Taylor as the primary backup to Eight Ball Jamal. He carried the ball just 12 times last year.
4th round: DT Jarrett Johnson, Alabama – Johnson has had little to no impact as a reserve player for the Ravens, posting just 28 tackles in his first two seasons.
5th round: OT Tony Pashos, Illinois – Pashos has seen action in just six games in two years as a reserve, and is a long shot to make the Ravens roster this year with their selection of Adam Terry this season.
7th round: C Mike Mabry, Central Florida – Mabry was cut by the Ravens.