I don't feel confident enough to predict what the Browns will do with the 12th pick in the first round of the NFL draft next week¸ and I don't believe that anybody who was present at Phil Savage's press conference on Tuesday would have anything more than a guess. There are a couple of reasons for this. As Savage pointed out, the Browns have three major areas of needs to fill---pass rush, rush defense, and the ability to score points.
That sounds pretty simple, and I am sure that a blueprint for any NFL team would have those three areas at the top of their list. But the twelfth spot is tough to predict, because there are so many variables above them. At this point there are not obvious, clear-cut picks for the teams above the Browns, and you can expect even more jockeying for position on draft day.
But one thing remains clear after listening to Savage and director of player personnel Bill Rees, and that is they don't believe that the purpose of this open dialogue is to send up smoke screens. Savage and Reese talked about at least 6 or 7 players at every position, which made me believe that all of them are on their board of around 130 players. When the draft takes place, I am confident that if you check the notes of what was said during the press conference, you will find every player that they took was mentioned on Tuesday.
Half the fun of taking part in conferences like this with the previous regimes was trying to figure out what they left out and what they really meant when they did say something. Until this is proven otherwise I have to assume that Savage is completely open and honest, at least as much as he can be.
It is quite refreshing.
Despite all of the hype surrounding the NFL draft, I will repeat what I said a couple of weeks ago. In the best case scenario, if this year's draft turns out to be very successful (we won't know for three years or so), it still won't be nearly have as much impact as the free agency signings made by the Browns in this off-season. No matter which players they pick in the first two rounds, they won't come close to having the impact of LeCharles Bentley, Ted Washington, Willie McGinest, or Joe Jurevicius.
Times have changed. Free agency used to be used to fill in the pieces of the puzzle. Now, the draft serves that purpose.
Savage talked about the possibility of having Chaun Thompson playing a significant role at linebacker this year. Thompson, out of West Texas A&M, was the second round pick of Butch Davis in 2002. That is interesting because Savage would have never used a high pick from a player from the Lone Star Conference.
I have never understood why players from major conferences and high profile teams don't get the edge just for the fact that they played in front of 100,000 and national television audiences on a weekly basis. Common sense would dictate that a four-year body of work, which can be documented from year-to-year tapes, would play a bigger role than a couple of workouts at the Senior Bowl or the NFL combine.
That may not be the case at all times, but it sure seems that a guy from Ohio State, Michigan, or Southern Cal would be able to adapt to the playbook and external pressures a lot easier than a guy from West Texas A&M.
This year it is possible that there could be six or seven Southern Cal players taken in the first round. The wild card is running LenDale White, the all-time leading scorer in school history (quite a remarkable feat), who shared the ball with Reggie Bush. According to Rees and Savage, if you can just make sure he can get to the game at the right time, you'd have a heck of a player. That is about the most negative thing that anybody heard about any player during the press conference.