In what many consider to be one the greatest draft day trades of all time, the Cleveland Browns traded their seventh overall pick to the Atlanta Falcons in exchange for their first-, second- and fourth-round choices this year along with their first- and fourth-round picks next year. This trade will potentially be viewed in the future as the turning point of the organization; whether to riches or ruins remains to be seen. The bundle of picks the team acquired can be used to lay a foundation that could very well be instrumental in turning this team around.
With the 27th pick in the first round (from Atlanta), the Browns traded up with Kansas City and took Baylor defensive tackle Phil Taylor 21st overall. Taylor, a transfer from Penn State due to off-the-field issues, is a two-gap defender with immense girth at 6-foot-3, 335 pounds. Taylor has great quickness for a man his size and will have an immediate effect on the team’s dismal run defense. He can also utilize his quickness and help with the pass rush by pushing the pocket and occasionally getting to the quarterback as did former Brown Shaun Rogers, who was dropped by the team and later picked up by New Orleans. Look for Taylor to start immediately next to Ahtyba Rubin and form a formidable duo in the interior of defensive coordinator Dick Jauron’s 4-3.
With the second pick in the draft the Browns chose Pittsburgh defensive end Jabaal Sheard. Sheard, at 6-foot-3 and 264 pounds, was considered by many to be one of the top pure pass rushers in this year’s draft, which was obviously a need the team planned on filling entering the draft since the team will be switching to a 4-3 front. Sheard’s production increased each season in college and should land a starting role at right end. Though considered a speed rusher, Sheard holds his own in the run game and plays with a high motor and a bit of a mean streak. His speed and long arms allow him to bat down a lot of passes when he is unable to reach the quarterback. He has an arsenal of pass rushing moves and still has the strength to bull rush, having consistent success even among the elite left tackles.
Later in the second round the club chose North Carolina wide receiver Greg Little. Little (6-foot-3, 230) is still rather raw when it comes to route running, but possesses immense strength rarely seen in receivers. Upon examining the combine archives, I was unable to find a receiver that posted as many reps as he did on the bench press in recent years. Many experts won’t argue that Little has some of the best hands in the draft and possesses excellent leaping ability. His former running back days definitely show up on the field as his run after the catch ability may also be best in his class. Little’s strength and hands make him a prototypical Z receiver in the team’s new west coast system. Little was suspended for his final year in college along with several other Tar Heels for accepting benefits from his agent. The suspension caused Little to slip on most draft boards, allowing Cleveland to select him late in the second round. Little has great potential, and if he had played in his final year many experts believe he would have been a first-round selection. Look for Little to be starting Week 1 and quickly become one of Colt McCoy’s favorite targets.
Tight end Jordan Cameron, a former basketball player, didn’t have many balls thrown his way at USC but was on the field a considerable amount of time. Although tight end wasn’t a position the Browns were particularly targeting. General manager Tom Heckert said at a press conference that Jordan’s value couldn’t be ignored that far into the draft. The 6-foot-5, 254-pound tight end is most definitely a physical specimen to behold, but proves to be a project and will initially contribute on special teams while Ben Watson comes off his best year-to-date and backup Evan Moore seems to catch anything thrown his way.
Lawrence Vickers, the team’s fullback last year, was instrumental in the year that Peyton Hillis had. Vickers is quietly considered by many to be one the best blocking fullbacks in the game. However, he is also a free agent this season, and with the Collective Bargaining Agreement situation postponing free agency and all player transactions, the Browns didn’t take any chances and drafted the first and best blocking fullback in the draft, Owen Marecic. Marecic is a throwback player who started on both sides of the ball at Stanford, also playing linebacker. This smart, hardworking player who loves the game will have an immediate impact on the special teams unit while his role on offense is still in question due to the status of Vickers. The team will likely use Marecic at least in goal line and jumbo packages, but the extent of his involvement is yet to be seen.
The Browns traded two picks to move up in the draft and secure Pittsburgh tackle Jason Pinkston. Although Pinkston played left tackle in college, he will likely compete for the right tackle position as Tony Pashos has been plagued by injury in recent years while John St. Clair has struggled at times. Pinkston also possesses the quickness to play guard as well. This versatility is most likely what prompted the Browns to give up two picks to get Pinkston as the team looks to improve the right side of the line while the left side seems to be one of the best in football.
The Browns added depth to their secondary by selecting cornerback Buster Skrine and safety Eric Hagg. Skrine, from Chattanooga, Tenn. lacks size but makes up for it in speed. At his team workout he posted a 40-yard dash time that was sub-4.3. Hagg, from Nebraska, was elected the team’s defensive Most Valuable Player despite playing with top draft prospect Prince Amukamara. Both players will likely see time on the field with the special teams unit and possibly make it on the field in nickel and dime packages as the division seems to be increasingly pass-oriented.
Overall, the Browns had a great draft. Although it lacked the “sexy” pick that most fans desire, the trade with Atlanta was better for the team in the long run. Look for the first three picks to be immediate impact starters while the run defense improves. Most likely the passing attack will share this improvement since the players have yet another year under their belt. New head coach Pat Shurmur’s west coast system should yield more points, which will loosen things up defensively for Peyton Hillis.