Rich's Rant: Browns on the Board

Mr. Passan has one pass rusher he would really like the new brain trust to consider...

So what is it going to be for the Browns in the first round of the National Football League's college draft this weekend?

Will it be a pass rusher? Everyone knows the Browns could use someone more than vaguely familiar with opposing quarterbacks. There'll be one there for the choosing.

Or will it be a wide receiver? Everyone knows the Browns could use another wideout. There'll be one there for the choosing.

How about a running back? Everyone knows the indicator on Jamal Lewis' gas tank is a lot closer to empty than it is full. There'll be one there for the choosing.

Perhaps it'll be a quarterback. Everyone knows the Browns could use another . . . wait a minute. They don't need another quarterback. Or do they?

If the rumors are to be believed and eventuate, the Browns will be down to one quarterback by the time NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell puts them on the clock Saturday.

We can all agree that one of the club's biggest weaknesses last season was the pass rush. All you have to do is look at last season's embarrassing total of 17 sacks and that's all you need to know.

Opposing quarterbacks had no reason to fear the Cleveland pass rush, which turned out to be more of a misnomer than a threat. And the secondary suffered as a result.

The last time the Browns were faced with a decision along the defensive front seven, it was 2006 and Phil Savage asked coach Romeo Crennel what he preferred from the draft, a pass rusher or run defender.

At the time, the Browns had neither and Crennel preferred the pass rusher. That's why Savage opted for Kamerion Wimbley instead of defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. Bad move. Wimbley had a decent enough rookie season, but has since disappeared. Ngata has had three solid seasons.

The overwhelmingly popular choice for the Browns of those who draft mockingly this year is University of Texas looked to be defensive end/outside linebacker Brian Orakpo. Most of those mocksters do not envision Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry falling to Cleveland and have picked the next best thing.

Orakpo is a nice player and will make some team a decent professional, but hardly anyone about whom to get excited. I still can't seem to purge the sight of Orakpo being neutralized in the last Fiesta Bowl (except the last play of the game) by Ohio State offensive tackle Alex Boone, whose draft stock tumbled more than the Dow-Jones Industrial Average.

There is another Aaron out there flying up draft boards who would be a much better fit for the Browns than Orakpo. Penn State defensive end Aaron Maybin can actually rush the passer. Led the Big 10 with a dozen sacks last season and tacked on 20 tackles for loss. Forced three fumbles, too.

Now before you go off and say, "No, not another Penn State defensive end" with thoughts of Courtney Brown dancing around in your head, Maybin is an entirely different animal. Granted, he started only one season for the Nittany Lions, but his potential, based on that one season, is limitless.

Of all the defensive end/outside linebacker hybrids coming out this season, Maybin is clearly the quickest and fastest. He already has moves Wimbley has yet to discover. And his quickness off the ball is stunning. He's what the scouts like to call a quick-twitch player.

At the risk of bringing up some bad memories, Maybin is the best pure pass rusher (with a nod to former Browns scout Dom Anile) in this draft. At a shade under 6-4 and a rock-solid 252 pounds, he reminds some of a young Jason Taylor. And that isn't bad company to keep.

What sets him apart from someone like Orakpo is his approach to the game. He plays it with a relentless demeanor you just can't teach. One of the knocks on Orakpo is he'll take plays off. It's not in Maybin's DNA to do that.

Maybin's biggest problem would be the adjustment from the three-point stance to the two-point as a linebacker and his ability to shed blocks. But he is that rare combination of football player and terrific athlete. He's not an athlete who plays football. He's a football player who happens to be an athlete and should have little trouble making the switch.

It's interesting in that of all the names we've heard attached to the Browns, Maybin's is not among them (except for Mike Florio over at ProFootballTalk). He's flying well under the Cleveland radar. Or is he?

The very secretive Eric Mangini is a defensive coach and he, as much as anyone, recognizes the need for a strong pass rush. He's already got a run stopper in Shaun Rogers. And he realizes the importance of a strong pass-rushing presence from the weak side outside linebacker spot.

But if Mangini and George Kokinis decide to address the offense first with the fifth pick, the best choice would be wide receiver Michael Crabtree. All he did was produce for Texas Tech and would be an outstanding complement to Braylon Edwards.

Rumors the Browns will trade Edwards before the draft won't go away, however. Mangini and Kokinis are making a big mistake if they dump the mercurial wideout. Whoever quarterbacks the Browns this season needs as many bullets in his arsenal as the front office can provide.

Shipping Edwards elsewhere is removing some of that ammunition. It is not addition by subtraction. It's subtraction by subtraction. The position immediately becomes an area of weakness.

No matter who comes on board, unless it's Larry Fitzgerald or Anquan Boldin or Randy Moss, wide receiver becomes shakier if Edwards leaves. Even with his numerous flaws, he's better than anyone who would take his place.

So if the Browns resist the brain cramp to trade Edwards and Crabtree is the choice in the first round, that automatically strengthens the receiver corps.

Now it's highly possible Mangini and Kokinis could fool us all and go with someone on offense not even remotely considered by the so-called experts.

I wouldn't be surprised if the new coach decides to bring in his own quarterback via the draft. Not saying it will happen. Just that it wouldn't surprise. If Mark Sanchez is there at No. 5, he very well could be the Browns' quarterback of the future.

And that future also depends, in large part, on how well Mangini and Kokinis draft on Sunday in the final five rounds. General managers and player personnel people really earn their reputations in rounds three though seven.

That's where great teams are built. Seeking that hidden gem no one outside the realm of professional football knows about. Panning successfully for player gold on day two is an art form not practiced by most NFL people. It's those who unearth these little gems on the second day whose clubs play well season after season.

Also don't forget Mangini and Kokinis are draft rookies. They are an unknown quantity. They've never been in the command seat before, having hung out on the periphery. They have no draft history. Until now.

We'll find out soon enough what draft philosophy we can expect for at least the next few years.


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