A Few Things I Learned from the 2012 NFL Draft – Rounds 4 through 7
1 – The Browns’ front office has faith in their current wide receivers:
Entering the draft many people, including myself, were clamoring for the front office to select a highly rated wide receiver. After the first three rounds, the position had not been targeted; but with their first pick in the fourth round, the team chose Travis Benjamin to fill this perceived void. However, several analysts envision the shorter speedster to be on the field more as a returner on special teams.
This leads me to believe that Heckert feels Cribbs, Little, Massaquoi, and Norwood will haul in a majority of passes in 2012. If Benjamin can have a reception here or there on a weekly basis, then that will be icing on the cake. The front office feels improved quarterback play will make the wide receivers better than they were a year ago. Many expect the Browns’ fourth rounder to not make a huge impact on the offense (at least immediately) so we have to believe the drafting of Brandon Weeden will improve (at least) two position groups.
2 – One (or both) of the drafted linebackers will see some playing time (at defense) in 2012:
The Browns chose two linebackers in the draft, James-Michael Johnson In the fourth round and Emmanuel Acho in the sixth. Outside of D’Qwell Jackson and sometimes Chris Gocong, this was one of the team’s weaker units in 2011. Scott Fujita, the Browns’ starting strong-side linebacker is 33 and has been on injured reserve the previous two seasons; I believe the front office’s expectations for the veteran are not as great as they have been in prior years. Additionally, the overhanging three game suspension for Scott (barring appeal) from the commissioner regarding the bounties as a former Saints player must be taken into account.
Therefore, I feel Johnson will likely be groomed as a starter in 2012. Depending on how quickly he picks up the defense in the offseason, and he will likely be the opening day starter. Regardless, he will at least be a special teams player until he can prove himself to be a cog in the defensive unit. There are only two other main threats for playing time at linebacker – Kaluka Maiava and Titus Brown; both are solid players, but if either of the rookies can wow the coaches then they will get the nod. Acho will have a longer shot to get a spot on the defense in 2012, but having a full offseason could give the rookie a good chance to prove himself.
3 – I do not believe I have seen this much young depth on the Browns roster for a long time:
The selections of Ryan Miller in the fifth round and Billy Winn in the sixth helped fortify the offensive and defensive lines, respectively. Since 1999, the Browns have had several members on these two units, however many of the guys were aging veterans and other franchises’ castoffs. Heading into the offseason, many felt the right tackle was the only weak link, and after picking an athlete to fill that role (in the second round) the rest would be capable backups. Miller is a giant who has played guard in college – his size is that of a tackle so assuming he can master the new position, he will be very valuable to the franchise. Winn joins Ahtyba Rubin, Phil Taylor, Jabbal Sheard, Frostee Rucker, and fellow draftee John Hughes as members of the defensive line; none have more than six professional seasons under their belt. With the several defensive fronts and situations (i.e. run or pass), one will likely see a steady rotation of defensive lineman in 2012.
Likewise Trevin Wade at cornerback will join Joe Haden, Buster Skrine, James Dockery, and Dimitri Patterson as potential members of the secondary. Patterson is the front runner to unseat the veteran Sheldon Brown as a starting cornerback while the other two (and Wade) will be primarily on special teams and passing situations; Skrine and Dockery were rookies last year. Brad Smelley is fullback/tight end/H back that will compete with last year’s rookies Owen Marecic and Jordan Cameron for playing time; fellow tight end Evan Moore has played only three seasons.
I’m not one for grading drafts immediately after they occur – I’d rather evaluate players after seeing what they can or can’t do on the field. That being said, I like what the Browns did last week to improve the team. Was it the best draft in the league? Probably not. Did they select players where other teams perceive the picks went too early? You better believe it. However, I feel several of the 11 members will help contribute to the team next season, and from top to bottom the roster is improved; now I’m eager to see what the roster is capable of in the coming months.