Monday, April 27, 2009

The dust has cleared.

The second day of the draft wasn't as suspenseful or strange as the first one.

In the fourth round (pick 104), the Browns went defense again taking 6'0," 230 pound USC linebacker, Kaluka Maiava. Don't get excited. The elite defensive talent was gone at that point. Maiava's impressive but undersized. His likely role will be to be a special teams demon. He'll get a few snaps each game in the linebacker rotation, but I don't see him ever winning a starting job.

In the sixth, the Browns made good use of their three picks. With the first (177), the Browns grabbed CB, Don Carey. He's 6'1," 180 pounds and played at Norfolk State. Carey is a good solid cornerback who's never played against top competition. It will be interesting to see if he can use his considerable talent to develop into the kind of corner who can cover big-time receivers.

With pick 191, the Browns made what looks to be a terrific late round pick---Coyie Francies of San Jose State. He's 6'0" and 185 pounds with the speed and athleticism to cover almost anyone in the league. I was surprised that he was still on the board in the sixth. Francies is talented but a little undisciplined. A good secondary coach could help this kid turn into a strong DB. He's worth watching.

With pick 195, the Browns picked another guy who I was surprised to see still on the board---James Davis, RB of Clemson. He's 5'11" and 218 pounds. Most importantly, he's a strong runner who doesn't give up the ball. He can also block. There's a chance Davis can develop into a feature back or at least a strong back-up.

The three guys taken in the 6th all have a chance to be starters or primary back-ups. That's due in equal parts to their talent but also due to the Browns' extreme needs at CB and RB. Each of the three will be given huge opportunities to contribute to the team.

So, in the end, here's what happened.

In exchange for Mark Sanchez, the Browns receive a starting center ( Alex Mack), a project at outside linebacker (David Veikune), sixth round prospects, Coyie Francies (CB) and James Davis (RB), a starting defensive end (Kenyon Coleman), a starting safety (Abram Elam), and a third string quarterback (Brett Ratliff). That's not a bad haul, but it's not very exciting.

The rest of the draft added a starting possession receiver (Brian Robiskie), a back-up receiver (Mohamed Mossaquoi), a special teams player who can help out at inside linebacker (Kaluka Maiava), and another CB with some potential to play (Don Carey).

All of that manuevering gave the Browns one difference maker---Mack. The rest of the guys are filler and depth, which teams need but which won't raise the Browns to a playoff contender. The wild card---the one pick that will likely make or break this draft ---is David Veikune. If he can play OLB and provide a pass rush, it will be a good to great draft. If, on the other hand, Veikune ends up solely as a special teamer, it was a mediocre draft because a huge need---the ability to stop offenses---went unaddressed.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

First Day Grade: Gentlemen's C

Well, "Super Bowl" Saturday came and went, and much like if the Browns ever made it to the real big game, the good people of Cleveland were left with sick feelings in their stomachs.

For years, those in the know have pleaded with the Browns to trade down and load up on guys to play in the trenches. Sitting pretty at # 5 and watching Mark Sanchez's momentum build, it looked like the Browns were finally going to be the ones fleecing someone on draft day. Then the news came---pick # 5 to the Jets for pick # 17, pick #52 (second round) and three guys, Kenyon Coleman (DE), Abram Elam (S) and Brett Ratliff (QB). In terms of picks, Coleman is probably worth a 4th or 5th. As the back-up safety, Elam's probably worth a late 5th or 6th. Ratliff is just a guy.

When pick #17 rolled around, the Browns traded again. This time #17 went to Tampa Bay in exchange for pick # 19 and pick # 161 (sixth round). Here's where I started getting nervous. I suspected that the Browns were considering linebacker and bad man, Rey Maualuga, and I just wanted them to make the pick. In my mind, the additional 6th wasn't that big of a deal because most of the time, a 6th round pick turns out to be a cut or special teams player.

Well, pick # 19 came with Maualuga still on the board, and the Browns traded down again. They sent pick #19 to Philly for picks #21 and #195 (sixth round again). Maualuga survived to 21.

This time the Browns picked...Alex Mack, center from California. Judging by talk radio commentary, most people hated this pick. I didn't. In fact, at Thursday afternoon's Tribe game, I told the Hornless Rhino that I'd love for the Browns to grab Mack or another center, Max Unger, in the 2nd. Let's face it. The O line regressed last year, and part of the blame fell on Fraley for failing to seal the middle. Mack should be able to do that. He's a big, strong guy. He's 6'4" and weighs 311 pounds. In college, he just pounded the middle of the defensive line and punished defenders. He won't dominate tackles like that in the pros, but he immediately upgrades the line. He could be the kind of center the Browns thought they were getting when they signed LeCharles Bentley. He's that good. I'm very happy that the Browns grabbed him. I just think they took him too high. I think there was a strong possibility that he'd be there at 36, and even if he hadn't been, Unger was. The Browns passed on some good defensive talent to get Mack. But, this was a solid need pick, and I think Mack will be around for years manning the pivot. Great ballplayer. Good not great value at pick # 21.

When pick #36 rolled around, there were still stud defenders on the board. In addition to Maualuga, cornerbacks, Alphonso Smith, Darius Butler and Jairus Bird, and outside linebackers, Everette Brown, Clint Sintim and Connor Barwin, were available. Most of those guys were given first round grades by various analysts. More importantly, the Browns sucked at stopping other teams' offenses. This is when the draft went very wrong for me. The Browns picked 6'3", 209 pound, wide receiver from Ohio State, Brian Robiskie. I was utterly stunned. Sure, the Browns need a receiver, even if Braylon Edwards is still on the roster, but I didn't want to use this pick on one, and certainly not on a guy who'll more likely be viewed as a possession receiver rather than a # 1 guy. He doesn't have big-time speed and won't be the guy to "stretch defenses." He will, however, catch the ball when it's thrown his way.

Pick #50. This was the one received for Kellen Winslow. Most of the elite defensive talent was gone, but there was one guy who I liked---Paul Kruger, DE of Utah. He's a big boy who has a knack....
Nevermind. The Browns didn't get him. They took another friggin' receiver, Mohamed Massaquoi of Georgia. He's 6'2" and 198 pounds, is pretty good at hauling in passes, and will be a good target for the QB. Like Robiskie, he lacks the kind of speed to pressure a secondary. He'll be good at working seams and catching slants.

The Browns received pick #52 in their trade with the Jets, and with it, they finally took a defensive player, David Veikune. He's a 6'2", 257 pound defensive end from Hawaii, who the Browns will ask to switch to outside linebacker. He had 16.5 tackles for loss and 9 sacks last year. Unlike Kamerion Wimbley, this kid is strong. Real strong. I don't think he'll get shoved around when he's rushing the passer. I just don't know how good he'll be making the switch to outside linebacker. There's part of me that likes this pick very much, but I'm terribly disappointed that the Browns passed on more reliable outside linebackers. Veikune is a project in the same sense that Wimbley was. He'll play in his first year. We'll just have to see how he adapts.

After the first day, here are my thoughts. I'm thrilled with Alex Mack, but wish they had drafted him later. I'm scratching my head about Robiskie and Massaquoi. They're both nice receivers, but neither is a game-breaker. And I'm pretty damn sure neither is going to tackle anyone. I like Veikune a lot but would have really preferred a few other guys who were taken earlier. I think the Browns didn't get enough for the # 5 pick. If you look at the pick value chart, the Browns should have gotten # 17 and next year's first from the Jets. They received a late second and a few players. Mangini must love getting Kenyon Coleman to play defensive end. I guess he thinks Coleman will be a difference maker on the defensive line. He'd better be considering the defensive talent that they let pass.

I think this is clear. Mangini will want to run the ball a lot. Jamal Lewis will run left behind Thomas, Steinbach and now Mack. He'll play a possession game with steady but unspectacular receivers, who will catch the ball in traffic and hang on to it. That means that Brady Quinn is probably the QB. Drafting two receivers really has me puzzled. After all Braylon Edwards is still a Brown, and two rounds of picks are gone. That means if he's going to be traded, it's going to be for next year's picks or a significant player. I'd been hoping that that player was going to be defensive end, Mathias Kiwanuka . He was allegedly the Braylon Edwards deal breaker from the Giants perspective. Anyway, that's probably not the case now that Mangini has his boy, Kenyon Coleman. Maybe Braylon's not going anywhere. That's why Mangini picked two complementary receivers rather than a deep threat. Maybe Mangini believes the Browns can win this year.

Stay tuned for day two of the draft. The Browns don't have a third, fifth or seventh, but they've got a fourth (104) and three sixths (177, 191 and 195). Maybe they'll grab a receiver.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Here comes the draft...

This Saturday is, and for 10 years has been, the Cleveland Browns' version of the Super Bowl. It's the NFL draft. Each year, the good people of Cleveland pray that the guy the genius of the month selects will put an end to decades of futility. It's never happened. Rather than the Super Bowl, the draft has been more like Waterloo for the Browns. In my lifetime, the Browns have never, never been good drafting players. Never.

Sure, they've grabbed a few mediocrities and role players who've become fan favorites, but they've never drafted a true stud (with perhaps the exceptions of Ozzie Newsome, Clay Matthews and Joe Thomas). The saying is that victory is the son of many fathers, but defeat is an orphan. In the case of the Browns, it's the other way around. Disaster and incompetence had numerous architects and co-conspirators. The faces and titles have changed over the years, but the inability to select talent never has. Even during the blessed days of the Kardiac Kids and Bernie, Bernie and the Dawgs, the Browns won in spite of their drafts, not because of them.

So, what do we do with 45 years of consistent failure in preparing for this Saturday's draft? Perhaps, as the French philosophes suggested, we should ignore the past and strive for the perfectibility of man. That sounds pretty sweet, but really, Kokinis needs to pull his head out of his ass, quit jacking around with the league-wide smoke screen about the fifth pick, and take a stud.

That's easy.