Levine: Draft Day is Over-Rated

Les feels that the Browns have helped themselves by free agency more than they can in the draft...

It is clear that any combination of Dwight Clark, Carmen Policy, Chris Palmer, Butch Davis, Pete Garcia, Romeo Crennel and Phil Savage didn't have even moderate success on draft days over the past seven seasons. That could change in the eighth year for Crennel and Savage, but in the long run, based on how long a draft takes to yield top players, it may not matter.

An entire cottage industry of draft experts has cropped up over the years, and fans can't get enough of the news out of the combine in Indianapolis, as if a player dropping two-hundredths of a second off of his 40 time is earth-shaking information. The NFL network televises the entire thing, and Phil Savage, among other GMs, has said that he can learn more watching TV in some cases than actually watching the workout as it is happening. And then Browns fans usually spend the first nice weekend in over six months by watching the two days of the draft.

The NFL propaganda machine has us all believing that a good draft will actually help a team sooner than later.

Even if the drafts by the Browns turned out to be among the top ten or twelve throughout the league over the past couple of years, they wouldn't even come close to how much they improved themselves through free agency this past week. Granted, injuries have prevented some of the draftees from proving themselves, but that is part of the rating game anyway.

Picture what the Browns did to improves themselves as if the draft and trades were the only ways to do it, as it was before free agency became a way of life. With their pick in position number twelve in the first round, it is unlikely that they would be able to get anyone who will contribute as much at their position as LeCharles Bentley will over the next two or three seasons. Kevin Shaffer is way better than any second round pick they would get, and that continues all the way through the draft. Joe Jurevicius will contribute more than a third round receiver would, and Ted Washington, even with age being a factor, and Dave Zastudil will be more important to the team right now than any fourth or fifth pick.

The choice of Zastudil is interesting. Butch Davis didn't mind using a draft pick for long snapper Ryan Pontbriand, but didn't think it was important to keep the guy he was long snapping to, Chris Gardocki. Kyle Richardson was a failed experiment, as was Derrick Frost before him. You would think that a team that didn't have much of an identity on offense or defense would at least be able to stay in games with their special teams. Place kicker Phil Dawson has been consistently good, mostly from moderate range, but the field position game has suffered because of the poor punting game.

Over the past few days, over a dozen people have told me that they lost their enthusiasm for the Browns when the team moved, but for the first time they have returned to the fold now that it appears that the front office has a clue. Part of that is because of the addition of local talent in Bentley, Jurevicius and Zastudil, who understand the history of the franchise, but most of it is because the needs of the team have been identified and addressed.

The only bad side to the additions over the past week is the apparent subtraction of tight end Aaron Shea. Shea, who was drafted out of Michigan for the 2000 season, has been one of most approachable players who has ever played for the Browns. He also made one of the greatest plays since the team returned, when he tracked down Cincinnati punt returner T.J. Houshmandzadeh and prevented what appeared to be a certain score. It was the difference in a Browns win.

Obviously, the Browns feel that Shea would be a third stringer this year, with the expected return of Kellen Winslow, Jr., but his attitude on and off the field will be missed. It will be strange to see him in a Pittsburgh Steelers uniform, but nobody could blame him if that's where he winds up.

It's more obvious than ever that last year's won-loss record was pretty meaningless to the front office. It wouldn't have mattered if the team won four games or eight games, which was possible with a couple of plays going one way or the other at the end. The whole purpose of the season was to see which players would be part of the future.

This year's won-loss record will matter, however. Anything less than 8-8 should not be tolerated, and the playoffs should be a reachable goal.

`More Sports & Les Levine' can be seen M-F from 6-7pm with replays at 11pm. Beginning April 2, Les can also be seen and heard on Cleveland Rants, simulcast after 145 Indians games on FSN Ohio and WKNR. He is the leading Sunday sports columnist for the News-Herald and Lorain Journal. E-mail msandll@aol.com or www.leslevine.com


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