Cleveland Browns: For Better or Worse, Draft Shows Browns Will Find Out What Current Roster is Made Of

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Updated: May 13, 2013

By Bob Evans
Senior Writer

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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3 Comments

  1. Bob Evans

    May 13, 2013 at 10:34 pm

    No problem MJM. I will be posting more often now again on the Browns. In regard to the 3-4/4-3 debate, I still think you are blowing it out of proportion. There is going to be way more versatility and attacking nature in the 3-4.

    In regard to Rouse (the 5’6″ RB) he was an undrafted free agent….just a guy they take the chance on to see if he can stick. Sam actually has a really good post on him for tomorrow.

    • MJM1MJM1

      May 13, 2013 at 10:45 pm

      Looking forward to reading it.

      In regard to Rouse, I will actually be rooting for the guy. I hope there ia a niche for the athletically enriched, height challenged player. It gives us age and weight challenged (older and fat) fans someone to personally root for.

  2. MJM1MJM1

    May 13, 2013 at 8:57 pm

    Bob, great article. Wish you were able to post more often.

    Now, a few comments. Jamieson Hensley on espn.com ranked the D-lines in the AFC North. Cincy with a 4-3 was considered, at least by him, as having the best D line in our division. How is this possible? How can a 4 3 ever be better than a 3 4?

    To this fan, forcing the switch to the 3 4 is eerily reminiscent of Shurmer forcing his offense to play West Coast when his personnel clearly was suited for a different type of offense. The Browns now are forced to move players into roles where their impact on the game may be significantly less than would be the case otherwise.

    I do feel that the decision not to trash Heckert’s draft last year was stunningly surprising. Building on the core of players already here, rather than cutting them to make room for Lombardi’s ‘guys’ showed a degree of wisdom I did not think would be displayed. I honestly, without sarcasm, applaud them for that. It may be their second most intelligent decision of their tenure so far. Their best decision was replacing Shurmer with Chudd and Turner. Maybe I will be proven wrong about Banner and his hand picked GM.

    The FA selections were OK, given Horton’s insistence on forcing the 3 4 on the defense. It remains to be seen if the value that Krueger & Co. will bring will offset the possible drop off in impact (value) that we might have seen if Sheard, Taylor, Rubin, Wynn, and friends might have had should we have stayed with the 4 3. I think that the players gotten via trade during the draft and FA will have a greater impact than some experts believe.

    Heckert’s ability to shed the aging vets, replacing them with young quality (value) players, AND providing 30 million in cap space for this front office (even more value) in just less than three years has not been commented on enough. This made possible the current FA signings and along with the wealth of young developing player, like Little, Gordon, Wynn, Hughes, JMJ, and others places this team in a position to contend…this year.

    I cannot accept that there will not be signicant upgrade this year. It is discouraging that the new FO seems to be talking about three years, at least, for their makeover to show results. Heckert started in a FAR deeper hole than the current crew. With the FAs, current group of quality young pkayers, along with Mingo and McFadden, I am absolutely looking for a team that will be significantly bettrr than 500.

    Now a question. Just read we drafted a 5′ 6” running back. Was this to complement the equally diminutive Bejamin or was it done so that McFadden would have another player or two that were marginally smaller than he was? Will this make the Browns, on average, both the youngest AND the smallest team in the NFL?

    Again, thanks for your post.

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