The Cleveland Browns top priority in the 2014 NFL Draft probably won’t be wide receiver. Despite that fact, if WR Sammy Watkins (Clemson) is still on the board when the Browns pick at number four, they should absolutely pounce on the incredibly talented pass catcher.
Yes, the Browns have WR Josh Gordon already as their number one option, and he’s a tremendous talent. Behind Calvin Johnson, there might not be a more talented receiver in the NFL than the third year wideout from Baylor. They also have one of the better pass-catching tight ends in the league as well in Jordan Cameron. With such a glaring hole at QB, why should the Browns add another pass catcher?
Two main reasons: one, Watkins is that good, and two, multiple first round picks for Cleveland.
The QB class of this year is solid yet unspectacular. There’s some good depth for talent, but no ultra high-end prospect that’s labeled as a ‘can’t miss’. Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M) and Blake Bortles (UCF) will be tempting options for the Browns at 4, but more and more rumors are coming out recognizing the teams fascination with Derek Carr (Fresno State), who more than likely will be around at number 26, when the Browns pick for the second time in the first round.
Carr would be a very good fit for OC Kyle Shanahan, who prefers a playaction, vertical passing attack. Carr has arguably the best deep ball in the draft and would open up Gordon’s skill set even more.
So if the Browns are looking like they could/should/probably will wait until the second half of round one to address the QB deficiency, they could make their passing offense even more explosive by taking Watkins with their first pick (assuming he’s still there at four, which is far from guaranteed).
What about the current receivers on their depth chart and those free agent signings? Greg Little has never realized his immense physical skill set and is in the last year of his deal. Andrew Hawkins and Nate Burleson, who were signed as free agents, aren’t going to scare anyone to the point of actually drawing coverages away from Gordon. Hawkins should be competing with Travis Benjamin (who’s coming off ACL surgery) for the slot, and Burleson was brought in more for his locker room presence than anything else. All of this means there’s still a big hole on the outside opposite of Gordon.
Watkins is similar to Gordon in that they both are tremendous deep threats and both are rare playmakers with the ball in their hands. Watkins (6-foot 1, 211-pounds) doesn’t have Gordon’s (6-foot 3, 225-pounds) size, but is a step faster (4.43 versus 4.52 in the 40-yard dash). He needs some polish with route running and coming out of breaks, but has the overall skill set to step onto the field and immediately make an impact.
Think about what the receiving corps would look like next year.
Gordon and Watkins on the outside, two elite deep ball playmakers who can stretch the secondary. Defenses will be forced to choose between single man coverage (running the risk of getting burnt) or doubling up on them with help from the safeties. Either way the defense is getting stretched and exposed, opening up the rest of the field.
Hawkins (or potentially Benjamin) in the slot, playing underneath against either single man or zone coverage taking advantage of Gordon and Watkins pulling coverages back. Then Cameron at TE, stretching the seam and also capitalizing on under routes.
Combine that with a strong offensive line and freshly signed Ben Tate in the backfield, the pieces are in place for a very strong offense. Whoever’s under center next year certainly wouldn’t have to win games by himself.
So to GM Ray Farmer, if Watkins is there at four, don’t hesitate, just take him.