Passan: A Contrary Draft View

Browns fans have always known Rich Passan to call it like he sees it, and Rich is very much in "show me" mode about Phil Savage's draft. While he gives it a decent grade, Rich has a number of questions about the team's strategy this weekend. Unlike most sports columnists with his level of experience, however, Rich defends his takes in the level playing field of the OBR Message Boards: you can agree (or not) with him in the Roundtable and the Cooler...

Browns General Manager Phil Savage said three vital areas topped his needs list as he approached the National Football League college draft.

Stop the run, improve the pass rush and score more points, especially in the red zone. Right on.

He had already addressed a few of those needs in free agency and looked to buttress them through the draft. Too bad he didn't after seven rounds and 10 picks.

The Browns' pathetic pass rush of last season is only marginally improved. Their ability (inability?) to stop the run, which hampered them all last season, only marginally improved. Their offense is only marginally better.

Savage and Romeo Crennel are gambling that nose tackle Ted Washington, at 38, will be the same player he's been the last 10 years. Sooner or later, Washington is going to wear down. The question is when. How many more games are left on his shelf?

Where is the pass rush going to come from? Free agent Willie McGinest? That's it?

Once again, Alvin McKinley and Orpheus Roye, neither of whom resembles a pass-rushing demon, are your defensive ends. Roye is dependable. McKinley is a liability.

Savage bypassed defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley, who projected as an end in the 3-4 scheme, and drafted a project hybrid with his top pick in Kamerion Wimbley.

Wimbley is a pass-rushing specialist. He's fast, he's quick, he's a workout warrior and he looked awfully good at the Indianapolis combine. But all the measurables did not translate into the kind of production you want to see out of a No. 1 draft choice. I'm not certain that Wimbley isn't a much better athlete than football player.

He was drafted as an outside linebacker and unless he is an extremely quick study, learning to play the new position will slow him down. It's a much more sophisticated position to learn and not the easiest to master.

If the coaches aren't patient with Wimbley's learning curve and don't allow him to grow on the field, it wouldn't be surprising to see him start the season on the bench, appearing as a defensive end in obvious passing situations. Crennel's history with rookies says that will be the case.

Besides, Wimbley will have to beat out Chaun Thomspon for the job and the way Thompson came on late last season leads one to believe Wimbley might be watching at first.

Savage had opportunities to pick up at least one defensive end along the way. In the fourth round, Victor Adeyanji and Barry Cofield sat there as Savage used his two picks on inside linebacker Leon Williams and guard Isaac Sowells.

Now Savage had already drafted an inside backer in the second round by taking D'Qwell Jackson off the board. No quarrel with that pick even though I liked Abdul Hodge a bit more. Jackson should bring a fire to a defense that needs igniting in a big way.

Of the top three selections, only Jackson has a terrific shot of winning a starting job, opening up as weakside linebacker next to Andra Davis. He should be able to crack through Crennel's reputation of not starting rookies.

So why Williams, who couldn't even start for Miami of Florida last season? The best we can expect from him is special teams.

Sowells projects as a guard, but Savage could have addressed that need in the third round with Max Jean-Gilles, who graded much higher than Sowells. Instead, Savage inexplicably took Oklahoma wide receiver Travis Wilson, a possession receiver. Hard to believe Wilson was rated higher than Jean-Gilles.

Savage called the Wilson pick a steal. Really. Anyone buy that?

And what's with Savage's fascination with Oklahoma products? Last year, it was Brodney Pool and Antonio Perkins, neither of whom contributed much in 2005.

Speaking of contributing, Wilson didn't do much of that last season. That, in part, has been blamed on an Oklahoma offense that stressed the running game and a freshman quarterback who struggled. Excuses, excuses.

It's been suggested that Wilson was drafted as insurance against Braylon Edwards not being ready following offseason knee surgery. You don't draft insurance policies in the third round. Besides, four more productive receivers were available - Demetrius Williams, Maurice Stovall, Derek Hagan and Mike Hass.

If nothing else, award chutzpah points to Wilson for declaring, "I know I'm the best receiver in the draft and I promise the Browns that I'm the best wide receiver in the draft. And I'll take care of business." He better.

Do "best pure pass rusher" and "mad dog in a meat market" ring a bell?

This bears remembering: Wilson catches the ball more with his pads than his hands. Think Quincy Morgan. Not good.

Savage finally addressed the defensive line in the sixth round by taking Babatunde Oshonowo, a nose tackle who might turn out to be the club's best second-day pick along with running back Jerome Harrison and cornerback DeMario Minter, the two fifth-round selections.

Harrison, a highly productive player in college, could be the third-down back Crennel has been looking for, while Minter has a good shot at becoming at least a nickel or dime back. He's much better now than Perkins will ever be.

Lawrence Vickers, a sixth-round selection, most likely will supplant Corey McIntyre as Terrelle Smith's caddy at fullback and Justin Hamilton, the big safety picked in the seventh round, will wind up on the practice squad. In taking Hamilton, Savage passed on Rodrique Wright, the big underachieving defensive tackle from Texas. Why not take a flier on him?

Savage earlier had stated that the players he drafted this year would be with beating Pittsburgh in mind. I don't believe he succeeded in doing that. Besides Jackson, what drafted players will have such an impact?

However, he unknowingly caused a civil war in the Orange & Brown Report chat room when he had a chance to draft Haloti Ngata in the first round and passed the big defensive tackle along to the Baltimore Ravens.

Massive indignation erupted. An Internet incendiary device was set off.

Sides were taken immediately. It became so volatile at one point, a suicide watch was started for one member of the site (in a joking sense, of course), who did not take the news well at all. No casualties. Only bruised feelings.

When the smoke cleared, Savage lost several supporters, but regained a few with his subsequent picks.

Overall, the GM did a better job than his rookie season a year ago.

Bottom line: Strong picks in the fifth and sixth rounds elevated a C grade to a B-. The Browns have one sure starter in Jackson and, eventually, Wimbley. Minter, Harrison and Oshonowo figure to be solid contributors.

Last year, Savage hit a double and a few singles. This year, he compiled a few extra-base hits. Next year, he should try to hit home runs.

He might want to consider adopting the drafting philosophy of the Philadelphia Eagles, who picked nothing but linemen on both sides of the ball in the first four rounds, including Bunkley and Jean-Gilles. Now that was a great draft.

I'm looking forward to a Browns general manager or player personnel chief who believes that games are won and lost in the trenches. That would be refreshing and ultimately rewarding.

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