Yesterday, Browns rookies reported to camp, and hope has yet again proven to spring eternal in the local media. GM Tom Heckert’s prized draftee’s (and some non-draftee’s) were on display as the countdown to the 2012 NFL season hits another milestone. This got me to thinking about Heckert’s strategy in this the latest Cleveland Brown rebuild.
Heckert was cautious and slow in taking two drafts to rebuild the front and back of the defense, using a first and second rounder on both the line and secondary. Perhaps inspired by an additional first round pick this year, Heckert seems to have gone for broke on offense. He went so far as to concede a 2013 second rounder to acquire the services of Josh Gordon in the supplemental draft, getting the talent a “year early” so to speak. In total, two first rounders, two second rounders and a fourth round pick were used, with all but one coming at the skill positions. This strategy doesn’t necessarily reek of desperation, but it does concede that last year was unacceptable, thus the complete facelift. Lets take a look first at what Heckert grabbed, and then at what his thought process could have been:
Trent Richardson: As close to a sure thing as Clevelanders are are willing to admit. Richardson will immediately come in and fill a significant role on offense. Let’s be honest for a second here, record notwithstanding, the 2010 Browns were better than the 2011 version for one reason…2010 Peyton Hillis was far better than his 2011 namesake. If Richardson can give a 1,000 on the ground and 40 receptions, it will give our rookie QB more time in the pocket and more short yardage situations, just as HIllis did for his rookie QB in 2010.
Brandon Weeden: Selected 22nd, the same as Brady Quinn, Weeden is destined for…oops! While many fans believe Weeden was drafted too high, the fact is Heckert lost his ideal choice at 22, Kendall Wright, to Tennessee two picks prior, and went with his next best option. While he may have lasted a bit longer, I can believe that a quarterback hungry team would trade up for a guy with top 10 talent prior to the Browns next selection at 37, so I’m OK with the pick. Bottom line, the guy has a top 10 arm which is certainly mitigated by his age, but I’ll take it at 22.
Mitchell Schwartz: Please be Ryan Tucker, please be Ryan Tucker, please be Ryan Tucker. One would find it tough to argue against Schwartz at #37 if he could play at Tucker’s best level for the next 10 years. Love the pick, although it was likely made possible only by missing out on Wright at 22, as #37 and other picks would have been used to move up and acquire Weeden, and Schwartz wasn’t getting much further down in the draft. The offensive line could be very good.
Josh Gordon: Hopefully this pick will amount to a low second rounder, both in terms of value and the Browns 2012 record. I must say I love this pick too. Heckert really seems to shine in the second round, even with Montario Hardesty on his record. TJ Ward, Jabaal Sheard, Greg Little and now Schwartz and Gordon, I will take that package any day even if it means Hardesty comes with it. The first rounds are a must to get right, but contenders really separate themselves in rounds 2 and 3. Gordon has all the tangibles including….gasp….a set of soft hands! Haven’t seen a set of those in Cleveland since Evil Knieval #80 left town. Is he a risk? Yes, but whether injury or off field issues, prior to this year, all 4 of Heckert’s second rounders have had red flags, and he has delivered on all but one. Have a little faith in this one.
Travis Benjamin: Strength hurts, speed kills, but when you weigh 175 lbs in the NFL and your role doesn’t involve using your foot, you are at a distinct disadvantage. Some fans are getting really excited about this guy thanks to his sub 4.4 speed, but he’s a fourth rounder for a reason. Probably closer to a project than a contributor on day one, the pick addresses an overall lack of speed and helps with depth at receiver.
So what did Heckert do here? I honestly think he addressed need instead of best available, but that’s what happens when the best available in prior drafts pan out and you have young proven talent at certain positions. The Browns had needs at some spots, so Heckert went for it. Perhaps this is nothing but a strategy of saying “Our offense was awful, we need to fix it,” then playing a numbers game by throwing some picks against a wall and seeing what sticks. Weeden being a quarterback is a must hit for contention, but for simple offensive improvement, he doesn’t need to be a Heckert home run. If Gordon or Benjamin surfaces and offers a realistic 40+ catches, then it will rest solely on the shoulders of Greg Little to be a #1 receiver and our wr group would take a huge step towards respectability. Factor in the assumption Heckert is right on the two “safe” picks in Richardson and Schwartz, and he has already greatly improved the offense.