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Cleveland Browns: For Better or Worse, Draft Shows Browns Will Find Out What Current Roster is Made Of
By Bob Evans
The new Cleveland Browns regime came in like a lion, throwing millions of dollars at big-name free agents Paul Kruger and Desmond Bryant. Their spending flurry continued after that, inking Quentin Groves and a number of other free agents to add depth and talent to positions in need.
Unfortunately for fans of the draft, the likes of Joe Banner and Michael Lombardi took the opposite approach when it came to selecting rookies in late April—choosing to add just two potential starters in linebacker Barkevious Mingo and cornerback Leon McFadden. Instead—for better or worse—the Browns’ front office duo decided to parlay their fourth and fifth-round picks into third and fourth-round selections in the 2014 NFL Draft.
From a tactical standpoint, the moves make sense. Fourth and fifth-round players typically are not expected to make a major impact on a team until years three and four, and with a bevy of young players already on the roster from Tom Heckert’s days as general manager, there was really no point in adding more inexperienced players to and already muddled mix.
Mingo and McFadden will be expected to be heavily in the mix early on, but safety Jamoris Slaughter—who is recovering from injuries—and the likes of Armonty Bryant and Garrett Gilkey literally have no expectations when it comes to their impact on the roster in 2013. In fact, part of me feels like Bryant and Gilkey were just boom or bust selections in the seventh round, with Banner and Lombardi hoping to take a page from the Bill Belichick handbook and hit on no-name players later in the draft.
What this offseason has really seemed to be about was finding a way to see what the team has in the leftovers from the Heckert era while adding veterans to the team. Last season there were a number of young players and undrafted free agents—especially on the defensive side of the ball—that showed promise in the 4-3 system, but nobody truly knows what kind of role they will play in Ray Horton’s 3-4.
On a stacked defensive line, Horton and company will need to find out where John Hughes and Billy Winn fit in with the likes of Bryant, Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor. Obviously the two players will add depth to an always rotating format Horton prefers, but after primarily playing defensive tackle in the 4-3 we will find out if these two have the versatility to play defensive end in the 3-4.
In the team’s linebacking corps, the team has an intriguing mix of players after adding Kruger, Groves and Mingo this offseason. With D’Qwell Jackson locked in, my assumption is James-Michael Johnson will be starting at the other inside linebacker position; but the likes of L.J. Fort and Craig Robertson showed flashes of being starting caliber as well. Let’s also not forget about Jabaal Sheard making the transition from defensive end to outside linebacker, because if he can the Browns will find themselves with four outside linebackers capable of pressuring the cornerback.
In the secondary—easily the team’s biggest question mark—the youth on the roster will really determine what the Browns season is like. Outside of Joe Haden and T.J. Ward, the Browns front office is really rolling the dice on the youth already on the roster.
Between Buster Skrine, Johnson Bademosi, Tashaun Gipson, Eric Hagg and Trevin Wade, the team is looking to find capable cornerback and free safety depth—with one of those players needing to emerge as the starting free safety. The team also added former 2009 third-round picks Kevin Barnes and Chris Owens to the mix via free agency, but nobody really knows what to expect from them.
On the offensive side of the ball the Browns decided to stand pat in the 2013 NFL Draft, instead utilizing trades to acquire running back Dion Lewis and wide receiver Davone Bess. Already locked and loaded with youngsters Trent Richardson, Josh Gordon, Greg Little and Travis Benjamin, the team needed to add veterans like Bess and free agent David Nelson to provide stability and a knack for making big catches in clutch third-down situations—something that plagued the team via drops and receivers who couldn’t get to the chains last season.
All in all, it is tough to really knock the front office for realistically adding two players that will make an impact in the 2013 NFL Draft.
With so much unknown, a team in the midst of yet another coaching staff change eventually needs to find out what the players on the roster have to offer. As outside observers, we all saw flashes out of a lot of the youngsters last season—and another year in the NFL could mean added production from these players in 2013.
As I stated before, for better or worse we will find out if these youngsters from a year ago have grown at all in the offseason, because many of them—especially the secondary—will have integral roles on this team come September. It may be a tough pill to swallow for some fans and could result in yet another losing season if they cannot step up, but continuous player turnover is just as bad for an organization as constant front office and coaching turnover—as we have all seen since 1999.
So as the Browns enter mini camps and soon training camp, let’s not destroy them for a lack of inactivity in the draft. Instead, let us sit back and give them a solid golf clap for promoting continuity on the roster for the first time in a while.
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