The Browns are exercising patience in their draft preparation, and that should have fans encouraged and excited.
Butch Davis, Dwight Clark and their staffs are still "doing their due diligence," scouting any and all potential picks, even players considered top-5 or top-10 picks. The reason - as Butch Davis put it "anything could happen."
It's unlikely, but the Browns still could end up getting the player they most desire, Miami offensive tackle Bryant "Mount" McKinnie.
"Who knows," said Davis. "As teems study the draft, they sometimes decide to go on need alone."
That is usually where teams make mistakes and patient teams like the Browns end up big winners on draft day. When a team reaches to pick a lesser-quality player just to fill a need, that allows teams to find surprise gems later in the draft.
"Sometimes you think someone should go with the third or sixth pick, then they fall," said Davis. "You never know what you might find available."
There is also the potential for a trade, and Davis admitted he comes into any draft "willing to trade picks and sometimes even players to move up ... Could it happen? Sure. Will it happen? Who knows."
That's the nice thing. The Browns are open and willing to consider any option to improve their football team. They have put themselves in a comfortable, flexible position by addressing some key needs in the offseason and creating a confidence that "we don't need to do anything dramatic ... just to fill a need," Davis said.
The Browns didn't create a buzz of excitement in the signings of second-tier free agent offensive linemen like Ryan Tucker and Barry Stokes, but those additions will keep the Browns from reaching with the 16th pick just to fill an obvious need on the offensive line. If they don't move up to get a tackle like McKinnie or Texas' Mike Williams, the Browns are comfortable that they can wait until round two or three to add a young tackle like Marc Colombo, Mike Pearson, Victor Rogers or Chester Pitts. That's because they are confident the experience of un-spectacular, inexpensive, hard-nosed players like Tucker and Stokes, combined with incumbent left tackle Ross Verba, can bridge the gap until a second or third-round tackle is ready to step in.
The same strategy holds at guard, where the versatility of Stokes and Tucker, combined with a healthy, re-signed Tre' Johnson, should fill the void inside in the short term. If Colorado's Andre Gurode or Nebraska's Toniu Fonoti are not available, or if another position with more up-side is available, the Browns are more than confident standing pat, then looking for a young, talented project in the later rounds.
If you look at most draft boards around the NFL, the current speculation has the Browns using the No. 16 pick on a running back. The top two backs are Michigan State's T.J. Duckett and Boston College's William Green. Both could be considered reaches - Green because of his questionable speed, and Duckett because of his inconsistency in college. It was widly regarded early in the offseason that the Browns favored Green to Duckett, but Davis admitted on Wednesday that poor 40-times are a red flag for any player on their draft board.
"To play this game, it is important to have good speed," said Davis. "I don't know, though, if there is any magic number in terms (of 40-yard dash times)."
For a coach who has always said he would build his team on speed, Green's recent 4.6 times, combined with questions of his maturity, could lead Davis to consider the Eagles' back a reach at No. 16.
Again, Davis stressed that while running back is still considered a team need, the Browns are fine with the option of going into the season with last year's stable of running backs. The Browns were 7-9 with young ball-carriers like James Jackson, Jamel White and Ben Gay shouldering the load. That trio should only improve after a year in the system and running behind what the team is convinced will be an improved offensive line.
The Browns readily admit to needing improve play at middle linebacker, where Wali Rainer was less than consistent in his third year as a starter. The Browns considered expensive stop-gaps like Earl Holmes in free agency, but thought better of it. Instead, the team will focus on making life easier on Rainer.
"We as coaches need to be more consistent in what we ask our middle linebacker to do," said Davis. "Wali did not play as well as we would like ... but I think he is capable of playing much better. We can make things easier for him with reads and assignments, and not changing things week to week (based on the opponent) ... He can be much more productive if we make the scheme easier."
Davis has said that Rainer is as willing to work as anyone on the team. That "coachability" factor and the lack of depth at linebacker in the draft leads to the assumption that the Browns will open the season with Rainer and Brant Boyer again sharing duty at middle linebacker. UCLA's Robert Thomas could be an option in the second-round of the draft, but the Browns will likely find better value at offensive tackle, wide receiver (the positions Clark said are the deepest in the draft, and therefor are a good bet to be considered as value picks) or defensive tackle with the 47th pick.
(NOTE: Clark joked on Wednesday that if the Browns stay true to form, they will draft a defensive lineman, a wide receiver, then a running back in the first three rounds. While receivers like Utah's Cliff Russell, Florida State's Javon Walker and Virginia Tech's Andre Davis might have nice up-sides, don't count on the Browns taking another second-round wide receiver in 2002).
The Browns are also still considering free-agent help at linebacker. Chiefs linebacker Donnie Edwards, who is considered one of the plumbs in the 2002 free-agent crop, visited Berea on Wednesday.
So, with so many options open .... what will happen? The answer: absolutely anything. But as usual, I'm willing to stick my neck out.
Here are my early predictions of what the Browns will find in the 2002 NFL Draft.
The Browns will resist taking a second-tier offensive tackle in the first round. They will hope Tennessee defensive tackle John Henderson falls to 16, but when he doesn't, they will take the player with the most up-side potential - T.J. Duckett.
Round 2 (47th overall): Marc Columbo, T, Boston College.
Round 3 (79): Chester Pitts, T-G, San Diego State
Round 4a (99): Alan Harper, DT, Fresno State
Round 4b (109): Martin Bibla, G, Miami (Fla)
Round 5a (135): Jamar Martin, FB, Ohio State
Round 5b (141): Joaquin Gonzalez, T, Miami (Fla)
Round 6 (179): Craig Osika, C, Indiana
Round 7 (211): Quentin Harris, S, Syracuse