I was just as shocked as the next guy by the recent Trent Richardson trade that sent the second year back from the Cleveland Browns to the Indianapolis Colts for a first round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Then I found myself wondering what the Browns’ draft strategy would be.
The Browns are clearly determined to build their team in the next draft, so acquiring draft capital is the priority at this point. So far, so good in that category, as the Browns already have more than ten picks in the upcoming draft, including two first round picks, two third round picks and two fourth round picks.
Draft capital is arguably the most important tool of leverage in the post CBA-lockout world, largely because of how small and accommodating the rookie wage scale is. No longer are there $78 million rookie contracts, thank goodness. And with so much draft capital, the Browns can go a ton of different ways.
One thing that is an absolute certainty is that the Browns will be investing a very high draft pick on a QB next April. Brandon Weeden, who in only his second professional year, will be turning 30 (in less than a month), and he isn’t the future. He’s just not the guy who’ll ever lead Cleveland out of purgatory and into the light. Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer? Sorry.
Luckily, this year’s crop of QBs is absolutely stacked. Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater is the top guy on the totem pole and will be in contention with South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney for the top selection overall. Now, Cleveland will be in the running for the top pick overall with the Oakland Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars, so there’s a realistic chance Cleveland will be forced to pick between really, really good QB or one of the top defensive prospects of the last 30 years. More than likely, given the dire situation at QB, and the fact that the Browns have an awful lot of money invested in their 3-4 outside linebackers, I’d see them taking Bridgewater.
Their next pick, most would assume, would fill the void left by Richardson, no? Don’t be surprised if it’s not. The days having to spend a first round pick on a running back are falling by the wayside. Too often are we seeing outstanding running backs come from elsewhere, like Arian Foster (undrafted), Alfred Morris (6th round), Ray Rice (2nd round), Jamaal Charles (3rd round), Frank Gore (3rd round), etc.
I’d be willing to bet the Browns wait until at least the second round to address running back, unless De’Anthony Thomas (Oregon) falls to them. Remember, this is the Colts’ pick, and they’re a fringe playoff caliber team, so more than likely the pick will fall in the late teens, by which time the electric Thomas could be off the board. Other than that, they’ll wait until later in the draft to address RB.
More than likely, GM Mike Lombardi is going to want a target for whoever the new QB will be. Davone Bess, Greg Little and Travis Benjamin have some talent, but they’re role players at best. Josh Gordon, should he ever choose to get out of the coaches’ doghouse, has the talent to be a top tier outside receiver, but he’s got a long way to go. Look for the Browns to target guys like Jordan Matthews (Vanderbilt), Donte Moncrief (Ole Miss) or Allen Robinson (Penn St) with their second pick to land a big, tall and fast receiver who can get open and make plays.
Another possibility could be a tight end like Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Washington) or Colt Lyerla (Oregon). Tight ends are a young QBs best friend, and either would pair nicely with current starter Jordan Cameron.
The point of this whole trade is to start anew. Remember, Lombardi and the current staff wasn’t around when Richardson and Weeden were picked, so it’s not too much of a surprise to see them willing to start fresh. Yes, the rest of this season will be absolutely miserable for anyone associated with the Browns, but the only way to properly build a winner is through the draft. Unfortunately, patience is also a key ingredient, something Cleveland fans know about all too well.