The Cleveland Browns have struggled for the better part of the past decade. From the days of Derek Anderson slinging to Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow, to Tim Couch doing his best to depress the people of Cleveland a bit more.
But despite slow progress on the field, the pieces seem to be falling into place at just the right time. They have their franchise bookend with Joe Thomas playing as well as any blindside protector in the league. Their other franchise Joe plays on the corner. Haden was a standout at Florida, and it working his way into the conversation of the second tier corners, behind Revis Island.
Last year the Browns were in a power position with the sixth overall pick in a draft ripe with offensive talent. Julio Jones was on the board and the Falcons simply could not help themselves. They paid a ransom that is still being paid off, and the Browns are starting to pile up highly skilled assets as a result.
The defensive line was solidified with the picks acquired last year. Phil Taylor is a beat on the inside, and Jabaal Sheard quietly had a solid rookie season off the edge. Now they sit with three picks in the top 37 of this years draft, and are positioned to add talent that the team has lacked for the better part of the last generation.
The top three picks of the draft are all but guaranteed, with Luck, RGIII and Kalil likely already working with the teams that will snatch them up. Cleveland holds the fourth pick after seeing the Redskins get impatient and trade up for the Heisman winner. But the Browns’ patience may pay off, as they can go with a franchise back or corner with Trent Richardson or Morris Claiborne at four. Trent could be the next AP and Claiborne could create one of the most potent set of corners in the league.
They get to come back up to the podium and use up their first rounder from the Falcons. This can be used to grab a right tackle, a position in need of an upgrade, or a downfield threat. Colt McCoy struggled to find anyone aside from Greg Little last year. Little, another rookie, failed to make many appearances in the endzone, but he emerged as a solid possession receiver in need of a complimentary burner.
One of Kendall Wright, Alshon Jeffrey or Rueben Randle will be on the board with 22 and 37. One of these wideouts would make life on the entire offense a little easier. Teams were able to key on Little last year without much fear of anyone else separating from single coverage.
The Browns are also now past the Peyton Hillis era. After bursting onto the scene out of nowhere, the CIA wannabe was unable was stay healthy last year and seemed to rub management the wrong way with his contract demands. So he is out of the picture and only Montario Hardesty and Chris Ogbannaya remain in the backfield. If they go with Claiborne at four, do not be surprised if Holmgren makes the call to get a back.
It is not as bad as it seems in Cleveland. McCoy is not the long-term answer in town, but the pieces are being place around him so he can either manage the team to success or keep the seat warm for at least another year. Matt Barkley, Landry Jones and Tyler Bray will all come out next year, and any of them could be a franchise answer under center for the Browns.
Or a slower developmental approach could be taken with a project pivot like Brock Osweiler out of Arizona St. He is a beast of a player, standing 6-foot-7 and tipping in at 242-pounds. If he can keep his cannon under control, a year of watching Colt work the offense could turn him into a dangerous weapon in a year. He could likely be had with a third-round pick, and could be worth the risk for the quarterback starved club.
Cleveland has been patient. They dealt from a position of power last season and robbed the Falcons. They refused to overpay for RGIII this year, and as a result they are primed to load up on talent and set themselves up for long-term success.
The core of this team was thought to be Edwards, Winslow and Quinn, but those days are gone. It is time for the new core to step up. The game has developed to the point that receivers and running backs are becoming increasingly disposable. More and more teams are lining up in spread formations, which shifts the balance of power amongst prime positions.
Priorities are protecting your pivot, and covering receivers. The high-level quarterbacks have so many options when they split double tight and two wide, that if they are given enough time, they will try to make all the throws. Hence the value of giving him the time, and trying to protect against such skilled execution.
Enter Joe Haden and Joe Thomas. Two of the best in the league at their respective positions, and coming into their prime at the perfect time for this Browns team.
Be careful of the Browns, and don’t let them sneak up on you.