DRAFT PREVIEW – CLEVELAND BROWNS

A look at the Browns heading into the 2011 NFL Draft; Cleveland has the 6th pick in the first round.

REVIEW OF 2010

Record – 5-11, the Browns won four of six games at one point, but finished the season with four consecutive losses. They dropped a 16-14 decision to the Chiefs in Week No. 2.

Finish – third in the AFC North, seven games behind Pittsburgh and Baltimore in first place. Cleveland finished one game ahead of Cincinnati.

Playoffs – It’s been awhile for the Browns, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2002, when they finished 9-7 and lost the tie-breaker for first place in the AFC North to Pittsburgh. They then lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Steelers.

OVERVIEW

It’s hard to believe how badly the Browns have struggled since they made their return to the NFL in the ’99 season. In a dozen seasons to date, they finished with a winning record twice, but only made the playoffs once. In four of the last five seasons, they had either four or five victories.

Another change has come down from ownership last year when Mike Holmgren was put in charge of the entire operation. Holmgren has pretty much swept the decks clean of previous administrations and has placed his own people in charge. Last year, all the changes didn’t show in the win-loss column, as they went 5-11, just like the team did the season before.

There are pieces to the puzzle, including RB Peyton Hillis, LT Joe Thomas, CB Joe Haden and a talented offensive line. The QB is going to be Colt McCoy, selected in the third round of the ’10 NFL Draft. But with only nine Browns draft choices in the starting lineup – three from last year – there is an abundance of opportunities.

PARTICULARS

Offense – averaged 289.7 yards per game to rank No. 29 among the 32 NFL offenses. They scored 26 touchdowns, 13 on the run and 13 in the passing game. Peyton Hillis led the running game, running 270 times for 1,177 yards and 11 TDs. Hillis had 72 percent of the run game. There was no other serious running threat as McCoy was the second leading rusher. Cleveland’s leading receiver was TE Ben Watson with 68 catches for 763 yards and 3 TDs. Hillis added 61 catches for 477 yards. McCoy eventually jumped ahead of Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace and closed out the season as the starting QB. He had 6 TD passes compared to 9 INTs. The team as a whole was 13 TDs and 18 INTs. McCoy finished with a 74.5 passer rating in his limited time. Cleveland passers were sacked 36 times.

Defense – the Browns gave up an average of 350 yards per game; that had them ranked No. 22 among the NFL defenses. They gave up 33 touchdowns, including 26 TD passes. They struggled most against the run, giving up an average of 129.4 yards. Cleveland’s defense forced 28 turnovers and had 29 sacks on the season. That left them in the negative category in each of those ratios. Haden led the team with 6 interceptions. DT Rocky Bernard led them with 7.5 sacks on the season.

Special teams – K Phil Dawson was 23 of 28 on the field goals, but was money inside the 40-yard line at 20 of 20. P Reggie Hodges had a strong year, with a 43.9-yard gross average and the Browns had a net average of 39 yards. Cleveland has one of the league’s all-time great returners, but Josh Cribbs did not get a punt or kickoff into the end zone. He averaged 8.4 yards on punt returns and 20.4 yards on kickoff returns. The Browns did not give up a TD on their coverage teams and in fact held opponents to no more than 33 yards on any return.

DECISION MAKER

Mike Holmgren is now the man in charge with the title of President. But essentially he’s the king of all football for the Browns, including hiring new head coach Pat Shurmur, who replaced Eric Mangini.

The G.M. is Tom Heckert, who came over from the Eagles, where he had served for four years as G.M. His background is player personnel working with the Eagles and Dolphins. The Director of Player Personnel is Jon Sandusky, who joined the Browns last year, coming over from the Eagles as well. The Director of College Scouting is John Spytek, who also came over from Philly with Heckert.

Who has the draft room juice? Holmgren has the all the power in the building, but I’m going to bet he’s allowing his personnel folks to make some big decisions here. This year with a first-time head coach, it’s a good bet it’s Holmgren and Heckert making the calls.

TEAM NEEDS

1. Defensive lineman. The Browns were low on numbers along the defensive line all of last season, and that was with a 3-man front. Now, they are going to the 4-3 and that’s going to require a big influx of bodies. Starters last year Shaun Rogers and Kenyon Coleman have already been released. In the last nine years, the Browns have invested eight picks in D-Linemen, but only one higher than the fifth-round. The only one they hit was NT Ahtyba Rubin (6th-2008).

2. Middle linebacker. As they make their way back to the 4-3, from the 3-4, the Browns have extra linebackers but no real middle linebacker. Former Chiefs draft choice Scott Fujita is coming off knee surgery and could move inside. Eric Barton and Chris Gocong are ILB for a 3-4. That figures to have Cleveland looking through a mediocre group of LBs to find help early in this Draft.

3. Right tackle. The Browns have actually pieced together a decent offensive line with free agents and draft choices, but they have a big hole at RT. Last year that spot was held by John St. Clair, who will be 34 this coming season and he’s played for four teams over his journeyman career. With the number of talented OTs available in this year’s draft class, they should be able to find something and find it quickly.

FIVE-YEAR DRAFT HISTORY

The Browns returned to the field for the 1999 season after the original Browns moved to Baltimore. They tried to build the team through the NFL Draft and have failed miserably, screwing up so many first-round choices over the years – QB Tim Couch, DL Courtney Brown, DL Gerard Warren, RB William Green, C Jeff Faine, TE Kellen Winslow Jr., WR Braylon Edwards, OLB Kamerion Wimbley, OT Joe Thomas, QB Brady Quinn, C Alex Mack and CB Joe Haden. They still have the last three. The rest washed out long ago.

Every year the Browns seemed to be wheeling and dealing with the first-rounders and they never had much to show for the moves and trades. Plus, they hit on very few late round draft choices over the years. At the end of the 2010 season they had only nine of their own draft choices in the starting lineup, and only four among their backup players. Those are sad numbers.

2006: Only FB Lawrence Vickers (6th) remains from this group. First-rounder Wimbley is now with the Raiders, traded away last year.

2007: Thomas in the first round was a good one, but it’s a disaster after that, including giving up first and second-round picks to get back into the first round so they could draft Quinn. Ugh.

2008: A complete disaster, as they traded away their first three picks and nobody else they picked really amounted to any type of contributor save NT Rubin.

2009: Lots of wheeling and dealing in the first round and in essence it got them Mack at center and a pair of pedestrian WRs in Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi.

2010: Holmgren’s first draft and at least he got a bunch of his picks on the field, including McCoy on offense and Haden and Ward on defense.

PREDICTION

Befitting a team that has drafted so poorly over the years, the Browns have a lot of holes they need to fill. They could zero in on any number of places and their choice will depend on who might be left for them after the first five picks. If Cam Newton, Marcell Dareus, Von Miller, A.J. Green and Patrick Peterson are all off-the-board, the Browns should be checking on the likes of Alabama WR Julio Jones, Nebraska CB Prince Amukamara and DE’s like Da’Quan Bowers of Clemson, Aldon Smith of Missouri, Robert Quinn of North Carolina and Ohio State’s Cameron Heyward. Prediction – Bowers.


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