The Cleveland Browns certainly made things interesting during the 2014 NFL Draft. Between shrewd trades (netting a first and a fourth next year from the Buffalo Bills) and continually bypassing a wide receiver (why?), Browns fans must’ve been on edge the entire weekend. Still, despite purposely unfulfilling an obvious need, GM Ray Farmer pulled in a solid class that was high on both value and upside.
After two trades in the first round, the Browns ended up with CB Justin Gilbert (Oklahoma State), arguably the best defensive back in the draft. Good value and fills a big need opposite star Joe Haden. Gilbert needs some polish but he’s got a skill set that could make him a Pro Bowler in this league. He’s got good size (6-foot, 200-pounds) and strength (20 reps on 225) to matchup with bigger and more physical wide receivers, and the speed (4.37 40-yard dash) and agility (6.92 3-cone drill) to run with the best of them. He’s an explosive athlete with fluid hips and recovery skills. The Browns now have two CBs who can cover on an island, which will open up the plethora of blitz packages new HC Mike Pettine is installing.
The Browns continued to add to their secondary with their last pick (no. 127 overall), when they selected Pierre Desir (CB, Lindenwood). Desir perfectly fits the trendy model of lengthy athletes who can excel in man-press coverage. He’s incredibly raw and will need time to adjust to the huge gap in competition level (coming from a D-2 program), but when the game slows down for him he could wind up a steal in the fourth.
Johnny Manziel (QB, Texas A&M) was the teams second- first round pick, and he’s obviously the biggest name in the class. He’s a tremendous value at no. 22 (many, myself included, thought he was a lock for the top ten), and fills an obvious need. The biggest knock on Manziel has been his size and whether his playing style will increase the risk of injury, but at least in Cleveland he’ll be playing behind a rock solid offensive line for protection. He’s also a good fit in OC Kyle Shanahan’s west coast scheme, which uses a lot of playaction, bootlegs and roll outs. A shifty QB who can throw on the run will excel in this scheme, and that’s Manziel to a ’T’. Good fit, great value, huge need: good job Ray.
Joel Bitonio (G/T, Nevada) was the Browns second rounder. He’s got the versatility and skill set to play either inside or out for Cleveland, but looks more natural inside at LG, where he should start. His natural athleticism and mobility should allow him to excel in Shanahan’s zone-heavy scheme.
Chris Kirksey (LB, Iowa) and Terrance West (RB, Towson) were the teams third round picks. Kirksey wasn’t a tremendous value at no. 71 overall, but offers good coverage skills both inside and out for Pettine’s versatile 34 front. There’s a good chance he could beat out Craig Robertson in camp for the starting gig next to Karlos Dansby. West offers a powerful running style and his one-cut ability make him a natural fit for a zone-blocking scheme.
All in all, a very solid class for the Browns, except for the obvious absence of a receiver in an historically deep class of WRs. With Josh Gordon’s looming year-long suspension, Cleveland traded away the opportunity to select the best WR in this years class for a first rounder next year. While they got a good bounty in return, Cleveland could rue this decision if Sammy Watkins develops into the star he’s supposed to be.