The Browns experienced a forgettable year in 2011, finishing last in the AFC North with a 4-12 record. That in itself firmly underscores how difficult it will be for Cleveland to attain respectability this season. However, the sobering fact that all three divisional rivals qualified for the postseason, further illustrates how much Cleveland needs to improve, just to compete within its own division. But Mike Holmgren and GM Tom Heckert can make a sizable move in that direction if they shrewdly utilize their whopping total of 13 picks in this year’s draft. That includes three of the initial 37 selections, which in itself presents a rare opportunity to quickly garner a trio of desperately needed difference makers. Especially on offense, where Cleveland finished a woeful 29th in yardage (288.8 YPG) last season, and even worse in scoring (30th), with a paltry 13.6 PPG . They struggled mightily in the passing game, ranking 24th (193.1 YPG), as Colt McCoy threw just 14 TDs, while finishing only 36th among all QBs with a 74.6 rating. Greg Little was the Browns’ leading receiver, but 40 other WRs exceeded his team high 61 catches, and 54 surpassed his total of 709 yards. Their rushing attack was even more anemic, finishing just 28th overall (95.7 YPG), and manufacturing a meager four TDs. Cleveland must also consider an upgrade at RT, since former starter Tony Pashos has been released. Defensively, Cleveland finished 10th overall, which was achieved on the strength of a stingy pass defense that ranked second (184.9 YPG). However, they were only 30th at stopping the run (147.4 YPG), and just 23rd in sacks (32). Those deficiencies should also be addressed.
1st Round (1.4): Trent Richardson (RB) – Alabama
There are still multiple schools of thought concerning what the Browns will do with this selection. And the team is certainly in need of playmakers at multiple positions. But logic would seem to dictate that last year’s horrific running game must be addressed first. Which means that Richardson, who is the consummate package, and the most sensible choice. He would immediately ascend beyond incumbent backs Montario Hardesty and Chris Ogbonnaya, into the feature role, and elevate their attack instantly.
1st Round (1.22): Jonathan Martin (OT) Stanford
While the Browns might decide to grab Brandon Weeden, it is more likely that they will fill the gaping hole at RT. The belief here is that the 6’5”, 315 pound Martin will be the pick to solidify that position, which became an even higher priority when Pashos was jettisoned in March. Martin has the passion, and athleticism to help the running game immediately, while developing in pass protection.
2nd Round (2.5): Rueben Randle (WR) – LSU
If Stephen Hill were to somehow be available here, then Holmgren and Heckert will address their glaring need at WR in a big way by grabbing the explosive combine star. But it is more likely that their best remaining receiving option will be Randle, who has the size and reliable hands to develop into a big play receiver. He should become a contributor quickly, which can only help the effectiveness of their passing game.
3rd Round (3.4): (QB) – Kirk Cousins (QB) Michigan State
The offensive renovation continues, as the Browns select a signal caller to ultimately compete with McCoy. Cousins doesn’t possess the upside of the QBs who have already departed the draft board, but he still delivers good value at the onset of round three. He is also a proven leader, with an excellent work ethic, and will benefit from starting 39 games in a pro style system.
4th Round (4.5): Chase Minnifield (CB) – Virginia
The Browns secure a smart, disciplined corner with excellent pedigree. Minnifield exhibited good ball skills at Virginia (13 INTs.), which could enable him to compete with 33-year old Sheldon Brown for the starting CB slot opposite Joe Haden. Plus, this selection will energize the fan base even further, because his father (Frank) was a four time Pro Bowler for Cleveland from 1986-1989.
4th Round (4.23: (OLB) – Demario Davis (OLB) – Arkansas State
A talent enhancement at this position would be beneficial. Not only is Scott Fujita’s availability is in question, due to his role with Bountygate as a Saint, but he has failed to perform in all 16 regular season games since 2006. But the instinctive Davis will supply Cleveland with another option, and his awareness and lateral quickness should make him a contributor.
5th Round (5.4): Josh Chapman (DT ) – Alabama
This selection will be made primarily to supply depth on the defensive front, which is a sensible decision. Chapman gives offensive linemen everything that they can handle, and based upon ability alone, would already have exited the draft board. But concerns regarding his January knee surgery, combined with a history of health issues, will allow Holmgren and Heckert to grab him.
5th Round (5.25): Dwight Jones (WR ) – North Carolina
When you consider the current deficiencies at this position, there is no reason not to draft another target at this point in the process. Jones is tall and athletic, and collected 85 receptions and 12 TDs last season. While he must work on his ability to separate, he is a genuine deep threat, that could help an offense in urgent need of it.
6th Round (6.35): James Brooks (DE) – North Alabama
The Browns signed ends Frostee Rucker and Juqua Parker in free agency, but there is a continual need for pass rushers. Brooks, who transferred from Arizona State for his senior year, has enough ability to be utilized in rotation behind starters Rucker and Jabaal Sheard. And could eventually improve as a run stuffer.
6th Round (6.36): Blake Gideon (S) – Texas
While the safety position is not an area of urgent need, depth is always a worthy goal. T. J. Ward will return from last season’s foot injury to solidify the SS slot, and Gideon also won’t challenge Usama Young to start at FS. But he is a smart player, who will work diligently, and eventually contribute.
7th Round (7.4): Jermarcus Hardrick (OT ) – Nebraska
Hardrick is immense (6’7”, 320 pounds), physical, and more developed as a run blocker. But he is somewhat of a project in pass protection, and will require time and patience while he develops. That makes it highly plausible that he will be eventually moved inside to OG.
7th Round (7.38): Rishard Matthews (WR) – Nevada
An unimpressive combine hurt his value, but a productive senior season with 91 receptions, 1,364 yards, and eight TDs, is enticing enough for Cleveland to choose him here. He also possesses size and strength, which could propel him into an eventual role.
7th Round (7.40): J.R. Sweezy (DT) – North Carolina State
A broken foot cost him the initial four games of the season, but he still registered 42 tackles. He has size at 6’5”, but is not explosive. Sweezy should be considered a project, which is not particularly shocking for a late seventh round draft selection.