Cleveland Browns: 2011 Draft A Rare Gem

Cleveland Browns 2011 Draft: A Rare Success

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5 Best 2011 Picks

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Brace Hemmelgarn - USA TODAY Sports

The recent history of the Cleveland Browns is filled with gaffes and blunders. Since 1999, the Browns have made enough bad decisions – on the field and off the field – to fill some sort nightmare record book. Many draft picks are among the rubble.

Look as recent as 2012. The Browns made two first-round picks: Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden. Richardson is now playing for the Indianapolis Colts, and underachieving as much there as he was here. Weeden is at least still on the team, but we all know that ship has sailed just as soon as the season ends. Come 2014, it seems inevitable that he will be wearing a different uniform.

Browns fans, accustomed to being miserable, love to recount these stories. They’ll shake their heads and look solemn as they talk about Gerard Warren, but it’s become their identity and they never miss an opportunity to flaunt it. However, the 2011 NFL draft actually seems a successful one for Cleveland when looking back at it two and a half seasons later. We can tell that it was successful two ways: One, we can look at the players and see the impact they have on today’s team; and two, Browns fans never talk about it.

Was every pick a home run? No, of course not. No matter how much fans think that their teams should never miss on picks, the truth is that it is always a gamble to take a guy who has never played at the NFL level, no matter what round you’re drafting in. In 2011, the Browns made eight picks, and five of them turned out to be pretty good picks. Of the remaining three picks, one began as a starter, but has been hurt the last couple of seasons (Jason Pinkston); one is playing elsewhere (Owen Marecic, San Francisco) and one is not playing anywhere (Eric Hagg). Let’s take a look at who they chose.

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5. Phil Taylor

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Matthew-Emmons - USA TODAY Sports

Phil Taylor is a beast in the middle of the team's greatest asset: It's defensive front seven. Big and nasty, he punishes quarterbacks and running backs. Teams are forced to double-team him, helping to open up rushing lanes for the other players.

The Browns selected the Baylor defensive lineman with the 21st pick of the 2011 draft. He started all 16 games of his rookie season, totaling 59 tackles (first among all defensive linemen) and four sacks. He was named Pro Football Weekly All-Rookie Team. He wasn't the only guy from the Browns to make that team; so was their next pick.

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4. Jabaal Sheard

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Ken Blaze - USA TODAY Sports

Jabaal Sheard was also picked for the PFW All-Rookie Team in 2011. That season, playing in all 16 games, he led the team in sacks (8.5) as well as forced fumbles (5). He had 40 tackles.

Sheard was a dominate defensive end, but when the Browns switched to the 3-4 from the 4-3, they asked him to switch to outside linebacker. Oh wrung the hands on this move. A defensive end cannot be a linebacker. Sheard didn't complain; he dedicated himself to his new position and has excelled. He now has the position locked down for the foreseeable future.

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3. Greg Little

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Rick Osentoski - USA TODAY Sports

The Browns made their third pick of the 2011 Draft in the second round, and chose North Carolina wide receiver Greg Little. Little has been beaten up by the fans for dropping passes, which has been well-deserved. He was removed as a starter this year after Game 2 for it. But he's a tough wide receiver and there's no reason he shouldn't remain a part of the Browns wide receiver group. He plays hard on every play, whether it's running his routes or blocking. The drops are annoying, but he should get a bit more love from the fans than he does

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2. Jordan Cameron

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Raj Mehta - USA TODAY Sports

The Browns' fourth pick in the 2011 draft may have been their best, at least as far as 2013 is concerned. With the 102nd pick, they chose USC tight end Jordan Cameron. His collegiate career started as a basketball player, but he found himself trying to be a wide receiver before making the switch to tight end.

The guy has been terrific in 2013, with 45 catches for 515 yards and six touchdowns, leading the team in all three categories. He also has 26 catches for first downs. Some might call him the MVP of the offense so far this year. He causes a lot of match-up problems for defenses.

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1. Buster Skrine

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Ken Blaze - USA TODAY Sports

Poor Buster Skrine. The guy catches the ire of the fans because he gets picked on by opposing quarterbacks seemingly every game. Well, that's for two reason: One, it's either throw to his side or to Joe Haden's. Two, he's not good enough to be a starting cornerback in the NFL.

That may sound like a shot at Skrine, but it's not meant to be. Skrine was taken in the fifth round with the 137 overall pick in the draft. No one taken that low should ever be expected to start. He was taken after Marecic, who, as I said before, is not even on the team. Skrine plays hard and received a lot of praise for how hard he works on his game. It's unfair that the Browns have done nothing to address the need they have at his position. But once they do, he could become a very important part of this defensive backfield.

This turned out to be a strong draft class for the Browns. It's not a Hall of Fame group, but the team should get some recognition from its fan base for it. Had they had a few more of these over the 15 years they've been drafting, maybe this franchise wouldn't be the laughing stock it is now. With 10 picks for the 2014 draft, we can only hope that the Browns current administration can do as well as the former did in 2011.


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