If you’re a Cleveland Browns fan, you know the jokes which come with the NFL Draft. It’s Cleveland’s Super Bowl, literally the only thing fans get excited about on an annual basis. The Browns almost always have a top 10 pick, which is hopefully spent on one of the best available rookies who can help erase the years of losing currently burdening this franchise.
More often than not, the draft is also the first test for a new front office in Cleveland. The team has hired and fired various regimes at an alarming pace, and the draft has always been the first chance for the new higher-ups to prove whether or not they can finally lead the Browns to success.
This is the task at hand for the latest Cleveland front office, led by Harvard educated men and one of the best available coaches in Hue Jackson. While this regime appears to be getting more hype than those which came before it, nothing has been proven yet. Until the actual picks are made, hype doesn’t matter.
With that said, whether or not Cleveland is indeed rebuilding in the right direction will be determined by this new regime’s first attempt at the draft.
There are more than a few fans who disagree, claiming free agency was the first opportunity for the new Cleveland execs to prove themselves. At the same time, the Browns never meant to make much of an impact in this area. The team is going through a rebuild, and spending tons of money on stop-gaps, as they’ve done in the past, contradicts with the current strategy.
So, despite the lackluster free agency period, it’s the draft that presents the first real trial for Cleveland’s new front office.
The Browns already decided to make things interesting leading up to Thursday, trading from No. 2 to No. 8 in exchange for a package of picks. The move all but eliminates the possibility of Cleveland drafting a quarterback with its first overall pick. Who the Browns select, or whether or not they even stay at No. 8, is anyone’s guess.
For what it’s worth, Jackson and head of football operations Sashi Brown have both been saying all the right things. They’ve hinted focusing on which player is the best available at each pick, while also emphasizing the need to grab players who love football.
You could argue these things don’t need to be said, that such statements are obvious. Sadly, in Cleveland, that’s not the case.
Unfortunately, past regimes haven’t followed this advice. Players like Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel didn’t appear to have football high on their list of priorities.
Likewise, claiming you’ll take the best available is no revelation. Actually doing it would be, though. The Browns have had plenty of “expert draft gurus” try and outsmart the rest of the league, reaching for a player covered in red flags instead of just going with the best prospects put in front of them.
Because of this, you’re forced to take Brown’s comments with a grain of salt. Quite frankly, Cleveland fans have heard them time and time again.
The only difference between this year and those previous is just how important excelling in the draft is for the Browns’ future.
Past front offices have claimed to be conducting a rebuild, but instead tried to fix things as quickly as possible. Brown and Jackson have made no such moves, letting players walk left and right for the sole purpose of reshaping this team the way they want it. As a result, drafting well has never been more crucial. The Browns have tons of picks to work with, and nailing as many as possible will help speed the rebuild process.
If, instead, we see more of the same, more fumbling selections on the wrong players who end up cut less than two years later, this franchise will only be set back further.
The draft is always a major test for every team. For the Browns and their latest attempt at a front office, it’s even more significant. Brown and Jackson came to the team claiming the plan was to build through the draft. It’s a strategy that can work, but only if it’s done right.
When it comes to that, I wish the Browns’ new execs the best. Based on the success rate of the past Cleveland regimes, they’ll need all the luck they can get.