Passan: The Peterson Imperative

Decades of watching the Cleveland Browns has convinced Rich that missing the RB would be a mistake.

It's all about the running game. It always has been. And always will be.

It begins and ends with the running game.

That's why it's important – no, make that imperative – that Phil Savage maks the correct decision Saturday that will affect the Browns in a positive vein for many, many years.

That's why it's essential that Savage chooses Adrian Peterson for the Browns in the first round of the National Football League college draft.

It not only is the best move Savage can make in the opening round, it's the only one. It needs to be done.

To pass on Peterson for an offensive tackle or quarterback should be considered another high first-round draft-day mistake by a team that has turned the high first-round draft-day mistake into an art form.

Wasn't it bad enough they passed on Ricky Williams for Tim Couch when they returned in 1999? Or when they eschewed the opportunity to draft LaDainian Tomlinson a couple of drafts later?

Will Savage go for the Cleveland Browns trifecta on running backs? He shouldn't give it even a second thought.

No need to wait 15 minutes to see if they can extract an extra draft choice by trading down. Not when Minnesota at No. 7 – and possibly Arizona at #5 – sit poised to snare Peterson. When you have someone like Peterson there, you take him. No questions asked.

Just like in 1957, when the Browns desperately sought a successor to the great Otto Graham, who retired after the 1955 season. Coach and General Manager Paul Brown targeted Purdue quarterback Len Dawson. The local kid (from Alliance) would fit in perfectly after a solid collegiate career.

But the Pittsburgh Steelers, drafting just in front of the Browns, needed a quarterback and selected Dawson. Brown quickly shifted gears and fell back on a staple, the running game, because he also needed a successor to the great Marion Motley.

He was left with no other choice than to make Jim Brown his first selection. Brown was special. So is Peterson. No, he's not the next Jim Brown, but he'll give the Browns something they haven't had in nearly a generation – an elite running back.

He's got terrific vision, wonderful balance, knows how to find the hole and hits it quickly and decisively. He also has superb running instincts that cannot be taught. He is a bigger, stronger version of Reggie Bush, whom everyone gushed about last season. He has a gift and knows how to use it.

Of course, Peterson has his detractors. One of the knocks on him is that he runs too upright and leaves himself open to big hits, as opposed to running with what scouts call lean. But he will drop his shoulders if necessary when taking on potential tacklers. He runs hard and he runs angry.

If you look at the great running backs over the years, some ran straight up and did not drop the shoulder, preferring instead to straight arm or juke. Eric Dickerson, Roger Craig and Robert Smith come to mind.

Down through the years, especially those years when the Browns were the self-proclaimed "Greatest Show in Football," it was all about the running game. It became their legacy.

When they dominated professional football from 1946 to 1955, winning seven championships in those 10 seasons, the running game keyed their offensive success. The power running of Motley took pressure off Graham.

Then it was Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly, followed by Greg Pruitt and Mike Pruitt, who preceded Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack. All were productive running backs who took the pressure off their respective quarterbacks.

The running game set up all the other phases of the offense. It kept opposing defenses honest and enabled the quarterbacks to elevate their game.

Brian Sipe doesn't pull off all those miraculous Kardiac Kids comebacks without valuable help from the Pruitts. And Bernie Kosar doesn't get to all those AFC Championship games without the solid running of Mack and Byner.

The game of football hasn't changed that much in the last 50 years where running the ball has lessened in importance. It is just as important today. In fact, it is a staple in the formula that leads to championship status.

If you have a strong running game, you have a terrific shot at the postseason. All you have to do is look at the teams that compete annually for the postseason. It's not the only element, but it's certainly one of the most important

It's been way too long since the Browns have had even a decent running game. It‘s been abjectly neglected and needs to be addressed in a most serious way.

If Savage does not see this and act accordingly, the road back to respectable football in Cleveland very well could be bumpy for a long time.

This team needs a player who will make an immediate impact, not one it hopes will make an impact down the road. Enough waiting. Let's see some results now.

For once, I'd like to see other AFC North opponents get ready to face the Browns with a healthy respect for their running game. The Browns face strong running games against Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Baltimore. Why not join that group?

So what about Jamal Lewis, whom Savage picked up as a free agent? Doesn't he count? Of course he does. And he should see plenty of playing time. But to think he'll be the Jamal Lewis of old is more wishful thinking than anything else.

With Peterson around to either spell Lewis or join him in the backfield, the Cleveland ground game becomes exponentially better. Perhaps even top notch with the revamped offensive line. And that, in turn, will take a lot of pressure off the passing game.

(Quick hypothesis: What if Lewis does very well in his one-year stint with the Browns, heads back to the free-agent market and signs with another team? What do the Browns have? Squadouche. Another reason to tap Peterson.)

Any way you shake it, the Browns will land a very good football player in the first round. But there is only one who can make an impact right away. That player is Peterson.

The bottom line is this: There are only two elite players in this draft – Peterson and wide receiver Calvin Johnson. And the Browns don't need a wide receiver. Brady Quinn, who many believe will be there for the Browns at #3, is not an elite quarterback. Nor is Joe Thomas, another possibility, an elite offensive tackle.

As NFL Films draft analyst Greg Cosell said on the NFL Network last week, "There will be a Brady Quinn in next year's draft (class). There won't be a JaMarcus Russell." Russell most likely will be the first name called Saturday by Oakland.

In his first two drafts, Savage showed a predilection for selecting Oklahoma University players. Antonio Perkins, Brodney Pool and Travis Wilson have left us all wanting. Now, Savage has a chance to draft a Sooner who can make a difference. Peterson will leave no one wanting anything but more.

If it's his intent to draft a player who will make an immediate impact on the Browns, Savage has no other choice than to select Peterson. If it's his intent to get this franchise back on its feet, he has no other choice than to select Peterson. If he wants to give this franchise a face, he has no other choice than to select Peterson. If it's his intent to elevate the Browns to competitive status, he has no other choice than to select Peterson.

It makes all the sense in the world. Perhaps too much sense.

That's why I get the feeling Savage will draft someone else. Call me a pessimist, but I can't shake this nagging feeling that it's predestined for the Browns to keep making the same mistake with high first-round choices on draft day.

Hope I'm wrong.



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