Derry: No Way to Lose

Sportswriting vet Frank Derry has a favorite as the #1 pick, but is prepared for disappointment...

The months dwindled to weeks, which have now become a matter of days. Soon, it will only be hours, then minutes, until the Browns are on the clock.

General manager Phil Savage has done a masterful job of sending out mixed signals as to what the Browns plan to do in this year's draft.

If the Browns remain No. 3, will it be quarterback Brady Quinn, left tackle Joe Thomas or running back Adrian Peterson?

Or, will they try to move up to have a shot at quarterback Jamarcus Russell?

What if wide receiver Calvin Johnson, regarded by many as the best player in the draft, somehow slips past the Raiders and Lions and is available?

There's also the option of trading down to a spot, likely around No. 10, where cornerback Leon Hall could be had to help fill what is probably the team's biggest need.

The good thing for Cleveland is that any of the above-mentioned players could probably step right in and contribute.

The bad thing for Cleveland is that any of the above-mentioned players could probably step right in and contribute.

When you are as talent-starved as the Browns, there is almost nothing short of letting their time expire that would be considered a mistake on draft day.

Several months ago, I wrote that I wanted the team to take Thomas, the talented left tackle from Wisconsin.

I figured Thomas, whose potential has been downplayed by some over the past few months even though he hasn't played a meaningful game since bowl season, could serve as an anchor at left tackle for the next decade.

Combined with guard Eric Steinbach, signed as a free agent, and the hopeful return of Pro Bowl center LeCharles Bentley, the Browns could have a very, very solid offensive line by as early as 2008 if they draft Thomas.

I love Thomas's talent. I also love his attitude. He's a blue-collar guy who prefers a pickup over a Ferrari; a pleasant day of fishing over any amount of time in the Big Apple; a lunch pail over an evening out at a five-star restaurant.

If indeed the Browns do choose him, the media will have to conduct their interview while Thomas, who plans to spend the day on the lake with his father, is hopefully pulling in lunkers.

Thomas has agreed to have a camera mounted on his boat to catch his reaction to being drafted. Whether it's the Browns or someone else, I don't think you'll see him taking a celebratory dunk.

He's a low-key guy who believes in an honest day's work for an honest day's pay.

Thomas was my choice several months ago. He's still my choice today.

That's not to say that Russell or Quinn wouldn't be an upgrade from the current quarterback corp.

In a couple of years, when one or the other would likely be ready to contribute, the Browns might have had time, even without Thomas, to built an offensive line capable of keeping them from the many bumps and bruises inflicted upon predecessors Tim Couch and Charlie Frye.

But if the Browns do go for a quarterback, that likely means they are building for a couple of years down the road, which pretty much guarantees Romeo Crennel will be coaching elsewhere. His three or four-year window of opportunity will have been slammed shut by the team's decision to take a new course of action on offense.

Peterson? Unless he suddenly turns into Cheers' Norm, Peterson could turn out to be one of the NFL's all-time great running backs. That is, if he winds up with someone like Denver or Pittsburgh, teams which annually produce 1,000-yard runners.

With the Browns, he'd undoubtedly be a good running back, the type of guy needed for the team to win in November and December. But they've already got Jamal Lewis, who should have a few good years left.

Drafting Peterson would be a luxury that the team can't really afford at this time.

Finally, if Johnson is somehow available at No. 3, I wouldn't hesitate to trade down. There will undoubtedly be several teams willing to part with multiple draft choices to acquire one of the most gifted wide receivers to come out in many, many years.

Make no mistake, Johnson would be an upgrade over Braylon Edwards, the third player taken in the 2005 draft. And if Kellen Winslow Jr., is healthy enough to play in '07, they could combine to be a terrific trio of talented receivers.

The problem is, if the Browns quarterback, be it Frye or Derek Anderson, is running for his life or laying on his back, the chances of the passing game being effective are remote at best.

Thanks to Savage's savvy pre-draft media manipulation, there's no way to determine what route the Browns will take come Saturday afternoon.

Frankly, I'll be surprised if it's Thomas. For whatever reason, neither this regime, nor either of the previous two, has been inclined to build a foundation that will lead to sustained success.

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