Past Drafts Part IV: The Browns 2.0

You might be asking why this feature is labeled as “The Browns v. 2.0.” Well, that’s because today’s Browns are not the Cleveland Browns of old–Art Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore in 1995 and re-named them the Ravens, with a new Browns franchise starting up in 1999 under Al Lerner. The city of Cleveland may have reached an agreement to keep the ‘Browns legacy’ in Cleveland, but nevertheless this is a different franchise.

Cleveland has had a very mixed group of picks over the past two seasons, producing success stories like Trent Richardson, Mitchell Schwartz and Phil Taylor, while also picking a potential dud in aged quarterback Brandon Weeden.

The Browns are a team that needs to draft well in 2013 if they’re going to improve on a 5-11 season.

2012 NFL Draft:

  • 3rd overall: Alabama RB Trent Richardson

While there are many examples of first-round running backs flopping in the NFL in past seasons, Richardson is a true exception to that trend. Richardson performed extremely well as a rookie runner, even with an abundance of injuries that plagued his season (and which he played through). Overcoming broken ribs and several minor injuries, Richardson started every game prior to sitting out of Cleveland’s week 17 game due to a high-ankle sprain. In total, Richardson rushed 267 times for 950 yards and 11 touchdowns. While Cleveland’s coaching staff would like to see Richardson improve on his 3.6 yards per carry mark in his rookie season, Richardson proved that he is a legitimate workhorse back that can play through tough injuries and still succeed. Richardson has a bright future ahead of himself, barring a Priest Holmes or Larry Johnson situation due to over-working by the coaching staff.

  • 22nd overall: Oklahoma St. QB Brandon Weeden

Weeden was and remains to be a controversial pick from the 2012 draft. While many pundits agreed that Weeden would likely remain until the second-round, the Browns shocked the NFL by drafting Weeden so early. Weeden was immediately installed in front of Colt McCoy as the starter in camp, and Browns’ president Mike Holmgren raved about Weeden being the most-ready of any rookie quarterback to play in the NFL. An old prospect at the age of 28, Weeden’s arm strength is undeniable (he was a minor-league pitcher prior to taking up football at Oklahoma St.), but coming out of college there were questions about his pocket presence becoming an issue at the professional level. Weeden ultimately started all-but one game in 2012, missing week 17 with a shoulder sprain. He finished the season 5-10 as a starter while throwing for 3,385 yards and boasting a poor 14:17 touchdown to interceptions ratio. Weeden was also sacked 28 times and put up both poor quarterback rating (72.6) and completion percentage (57.4). With a new regime in place in Cleveland, the current rumor is Weeden will be facing competition in camp from somebody other than Colt McCoy–with such a poor free-agent market (that’s already been picked pretty clean), it’s looking more and more like the Browns may bring in competition via the draft. Between VP of Personnel Mike Lombardi and new head coach Rob Chudzinski, Weeden has few believers on the coaching staff.

  • 2nd Round, 3th pick: California OT Mitchell Schwartz

Schwartz was considered a bit of a steal in the second-round after he managed to stop end Quinton Coples in the Senior Bowl leading up to the draft. A massive tackle at 6’5″ 320 lbs, Schwartz played primarily at left tackle for Cal. With Joe Thomas locked it as starter at left tackle, the Browns expected Schwartz to step in at right tackle as the immediate starter–and that’s just what he did. Although Schwartz graded out just about average in run-blocking, he did well as a pass-blocker and was ranked in the top-25 by Pro Football Focus out of offensive tackles. Schwartz is locked in at right tackle and forms a formidable duo with Thomas.

  • 3rd Round, 24th pick: Cincinnati DT John Hughes

Hughes was considered a bit of a reach by the Browns, a team that had closely watched Hughes as a senior and hoped he would fall to the later round of the draft. Rumors abounded Hughes could be in for a starting job in then-coordinator Dick Jauron’s 4-3 defense, but ultimately Hughes only drew a couple starts due to injury to 2011 first-round pick Phil Taylor. Hughes totaled 34 tackles and three sacks in his time on the field as a rookie, boding well for his future with Cleveland. However, the transition to 3-4 under new coordinator Ray Horton could present a problem–Hughes’ size (6’2″ 320) fits a nose tackle, yet Phil Taylor is more favored as the starter in 2013. While Hughes may be given time as a rotational tackle behind Taylor, there’s little chance he’ll be starting in his second professional season.

  • 4th Round, 5th pick: Miami WR Travis Benjamin

Benjamin is another small speedster, given his 5’10” stature and sub-4.40 40-yard time. While perfectly suited for the slot, as Benjamin was a good route-runner and capable receiver with exceptional burst, Benjamin has a known preference for playing outside–given his size he is severely outmatched physically. Benjamin played in 14 games as a rookie, with 18 receptions, 298 yards and two touchdowns. With his speed, Benjamin can be a deep threat and a big play receiver, but his size will likely limit him to deep routes, underneath routes and the return game–making him very much a slot receiver rather than an outside receiver. Benjamin may benefit from strong-armed Weeden remaining under center rather than noodle-armed Colt McCoy or a quarterback brought in from free-agency or the draft.

  • 4th Round, 25th pick: Nevada ILB James-Michael Johnson

Johnson is another example of a player drafted by the former coaching staff to play in one defensive scheme as a rookie, only to have to make a transition in 2013 if he wants to get on the field. A 4-3 outside ‘backer, Johnson was ticketed for some time as a starter with weak-side ‘backer Scott Fujita suspended for the first three games due to the Saints bounty scandal, yet Johnson was sidelined with an oblique injury for the first four games of the season. Johnson tallied 36 tackles as a rookie in eight starts (10 games) prior to ultimately landing on injured reserve for a knee injury in December. Johnson may actually benefit from the transition to 3-4 heading into the 2013 season, as Cleveland currently has no inside ‘backer to match up with D’Qwell Jackson–Scott Fujita is likely done for his career, Kaluka Maiava departed via free-agency and Chris Gocong is uncertain to start the season due to an ACL injury. Johnson did play as an inside linebacker for Nevada, so he’ll slide inside as a run-stopping ‘backer with an ability to cover inside the box–albeit his man coverage abilities are very limited.

  • 5th Round, 25th pick: Colorado OG Ryan Miller

When you think of an offensive lineman, Miller is about as big as they come at 6’7″ and 321 lbs. Even so, Miller started twice as many games at guard than tackle while at Colorado–proving the big man has a high degree of versatility. Although he has been criticized by scouts as being too weak to play tackle and too big to play guard, Cleveland took Miller with the intention of making him a long-term swingman. As a rookie, Miller was active for eight games as the primary backup at right tackle. He’ll likely have a roster spot moving forward.

  • 6th Round, 34th pick: Texas OLB Emmanuel Acho

The brother of Arizona ‘backer Sam Acho, Emmanuel came into the league as a 4-3 outside ‘backer with some potential as a passing down sub. Decent against the run and capable in coverage, Acho’s weakness is his inability to shrug off blocks, meaning he’s unlikely to see the field on early downs. Acho’s rookie season was largely a wash, as he was placed on injured reserve after only the second preseason game due to injury. Acho could be a candidate for middle linebacker, but it’s likely he’ll be stuck in a reserve role with the move to 3-4 imminent.

  • 6th Round, 35th pick: Boise St. DT Billy Winn

While third-round pick John Hughes may suffer from the move to 3-4, it’s likely that Winn may benefit in a way. While the starting tackles in Cleveland’s 4-3 defense were Rubin and Taylor, Rubin will shift over to end and Winn is likely to play a rotational role behind recent acquisition Desmond Bryant and Taylor. Winn’s rookie season at tackle was promising, as he racked up 26 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble while grading out favorably according to Pro Football Focus. Winn is the best candidate of Cleveland’s defensive linemen to play end–Taylor is a nose tackle through and through and Hughes stands in similar regard. Barring an addition in the draft, Winn will still have a role in 2013 on the defensive line.

  • 7th Round, 38th pick: Arizona CB Trevin Wade

Coming out of Arizona, Wade’s size (5’10”) similarly limits him in the way that Skrine is unlikely to play outside of the slot. Wade was little more than a special teams player and sub package corner as a rookie–he saw time in 13 games and tallied 16 tackles and a deflection in his time on the field. Wade’s future is uncertain with a new coaching staff, but he has the abilities to succeed as a nickel or dime corner.

  • 7th Round, 40th pick: Alabama TE Brad Smelley

A compensation pick, Smelley’s addition to the roster put pressure on 2011 pick Owen Marecic as a possible starter at fullback. Smelley is a capable pass-catcher, who will need to develop run-blocking skills if he’s going to overtake Marecic. Smelley was waived at cuts, but was added back to the roster in December to contribute on special teams. If Smelley is to stick on the roster in 2013, it will likely be at the cost of Marecic or any other fullbacks and tight ends brought in to challenge Marecic, Smelley, Jordan Cameron and Gary Barnidge.

2011 NFL Draft:

  • 21st overall: Baylor DT Phillip Taylor

Originally touted as a bit of an overdraft when the Browns traded out of the top-ten and then up again to 21st overall, Taylor played primarily nose tackle in Baylor’s 3-4 scheme as a run-stuffer in college. As Cleveland employed a 4-3 defense under coordinator Dick Jauron over the past two seasons, Taylor was forced to make the transition to 4-3 tackle in the process. 2011 saw Taylor have some measure of success, as he tallied 59 tackles and four sacks in 16 starts. Following a promising rookie season, Taylor suffered a torn pectoral muscle during offseason workouts, and was placed on the physically unable to perform list as a result. Taylor made his 2012 debut in early November in week 9 versus the Ravens. Following his sophomore debut, Taylor started the remaining seven games at tackle–racking up 14 tackles and one sack in the process and grading out positively in run stopping. The upcoming season will see Taylor transition back to nose tackle in Cleveland’s new 3-4 system, so he could be in for the biggest season of his short career.

  • 2nd Round, 5th pick: Pittsburgh DE Jabaal Sheard

Thus far in his career, Sheard has been a very successful defensive end. A strong rookie campaign saw Sheard rack up 55 tackles, five forced fumbles and 8.5 sacks as a 16 game starter. His sophomore campaign was a bit more rocky, with only one sack recorded in the first five games of the season. In total, Sheard managed 55 tackles and seven sacks in his second season. The 2013 season could prove to be difficult for Sheard, as he will be forced to transition to outside linebacker in Ray Horton’s 3-4 scheme. Although Sheard isn’t a complete stranger to playing as a stand up rusher (he played over 150 snaps standing up in 2012), it’s unknown whether Sheard can truly make the transition to an every down 3-4 oustide ‘backer.

  • 2nd Round, 17th pick: North Carolina WR Greg Little

Little’s draft stock was questionable heading into 2011 following a lost season in 2010 with North Carolina due to injury. With good size (6’2″) and great catching skills before going pro, Little may not possess overwhelming speed, but was comparatively polished as a rookie. In 12 starts (16 games) Little caught 61 passes for 79 yards and two touchdowns with noodle-armed Colt McCoy under center. The beginning of 2012 was less fortunate, as Little was plagued with drops and suffered in performance, yet he put up similar statistics in his sophomore campaign–53 receptions, 647 yards and four touchdowns. Little is a big part of Cleveland’s passing attack, wherever he plays (outside or in the slot).

  • 4th Round, 6th pick: USC TE Jordan Cameron

Touted as an athletic project player coming out of Southern California, Cameron put up an excellent 4.59 40-yard dash at the NFL combine and boasts size to boot (6’4″ 245 lbs). However, Cameron also exhibits very poor blocking skills for his size, and has been used more as a move tight end in his short career as a result. Cameron had little significance to the Browns as a rookie, playing in eight games and totaling only six catches. His sophomore year saw more playing time as a receiver behind starter Benjamin Watson, with Cameron playing in 14 games. Still, his second season only saw marginal improvement in production–20 receptions, 226 yards and one touchdown–with some glimpses of possibly being a part of the Browns’ offense. The departure of Watson could mean Cameron is in for a significant increase in playing time, but Cleveland did also sign veteran Gary Barnidge–supposedly as a blocker and special teams player–who could cut into Cameron’s snaps should he struggle.

  • 4th Round, 28th pick: Stanford RB Owen Marecic

Drafted with the intention of being Cleveland’s lead blocker of the future, Marecic started four games as a rookie while contributing mostly as a special teamer in parts of 14 games as a rookie. The following offseason saw Marecic on the roster bubble after Cleveland drafted fullback/tight end tweener Brad Smelley late in the 2012 draft. Even so, Marecic began the 2012 season as the starting fullback in Cleveland’s offense. He would only start two games before losing the job to veteran Alex Smith, a blocking specialist who can play both tight end and lead blocker. After two disappointing seasons, Marecic is again on the roster bubble. It would not be surprising if Smelley’s presence or a drafted lead blocker leads to Marecic’s release prior to the 2013 opener.

  • 5th Round, 9th pick: Tennessee-Chattanooga CB Buster Skrine

Skrine is blessed with blistering speed, supposedly timed in the 4.20-4.30 range at times. However, his small size (5’9″ 185 lbs) has been a problem for Skrine. As a rookie, he mostly played in sub packages and on special teams, but was active for all 16 games (18 tackles, 2 deflections and a pick). The offseason saw Cleveland’s coaching staff talk up Skrine as a potential starter opposite Joe Haden, but ultimately he was used mostly as a nickel and dime corner with injury to nickel corner Dmitri Patterson. 2012 saw Skrine total 85 tackles and 11 deflections, but a failure to register any picks and poor showing as a starter have proved to lessen his value with the Browns. Skrine may yet succeed as a slot corner, but his display of poor tackling skills and inability to guard physical receivers will prove to be roadblocks in Skrine’s future.

  • 5th Round, 22nd pick: Pittsburgh OT Jason Pinkston

A guard/tackle tweener, Pinkston was immediately regarded as a guard by the Browns. Pinkston started his rookie season at left guard following injury to Eric Steinbach, but struggled as a rookie and graded out very poorly. Much of his struggles were attributed to the lack of an offseason to prepare for the 2011 season due to the lockout. Pinkston headed into the 2012 season as a starter and showed marked improvement with a full offseason of preparation–only to be diagnosed with a blood clot following Cleveland’s week 6 game. The clot forced Pinkston onto injured reserve, but he should be good to go in 2013 and is cheaply signed–ensuring his roster spot. Pinkston is a very capable pass-blocker and has improved as a run-blocker, and should be in consideration for a starting spot once again.

  • 7th Round, 56th pick: Nebraska DB Eric Hagg

Hagg played both safety and slot corner for the Huskers and was touted for his flexibility entering the draft. The Browns quickly decided that Hagg would be better served as a safety than a corner due to his lack of speed and appropriate size (6’1″). A preseason injury led to Hagg’s inactive for the beginning of the season, put once healthy Hagg played both special teams and in sub packages for the remaining ten games of the season. Hagg only totaled 11 tackles as a rookie with one pass deflection. Heading into his second season, Hagg was labeled as the starter at free safety, and started the first two games before being removed in favor of veteran Usama Young. In total, Hagg managed only 22 tackles as a four-game starter and 12 total games. It’s unknown exactly where Hagg stands with new head coach Rob Chudzinski’s coaching staff.

Well, that’s it for the Browns. It’s noticeable that the Browns still have every player drafted within the past two seasons on the roster–a rare feat in today’s NFL.

I’ll be working to get the Steelers Past Drafts segment up as quick as possible following a delayed posting of Cleveland’s feature.

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