The 2014 NFL Draft is the most important draft in Cleveland Browns history

by Cleveland Frowns on May 7, 2014

Matt Borcas is a Mentor native and lifelong Browns fan who writes about football and other things for ESPN’s Grantland. His writing about the NFL has appeared here regularly in the past and here it is again to preview the latest most important draft in Cleveland Browns history.

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Ray Farmer, like most NFL execs, is remarkably skilled at saying nothing. Not in the way of the last Cleveland Browns GM, who never actually uttered any words, but in the way of a savvy politician, stringing together hollow and highly qualified statements in a way that makes them sound meaningful. Like this gem from a 2/16 interview with The Notorious MKC:

Q: Will you draft a quarterback?

A: I don’t think we have to do anything. The charge is to get it right regardless of which position. [But] there are players in this draft who can help us at that position and dependent upon where they’re at and where we’re at, if the two can match up, we can be in good shape. I just don’t know if we’re going to have the opportunity to take those players.

This is all 100% true, of course. The Browns don’t have to do anything. And despite reams of evidence to the contrary, one can only assume the charge has been “to get it right” since 1999. The hard part is actually getting it right.

As for whether they will in 2014, there’s certainly no telling from Farmer’s pre-draft statements on top prospects like Sammy Watkins (a “ginormous[ly]” impactful player), Johnny Manziel (“exciting, electric”), Teddy Bridgewater (“good college football player”), Khalil Mack (“explosive”), Jadeveon Clowney (“difference maker”), Blake Bortles (“complete package”), Mike Evans (“he’s got ball skills”), and more.

Which is why we have reporters. Unlike football execs, they’re paid to provide the public with useful and reliable information. So it’s worth remembering that just four months ago, something approaching a national consensus had emerged linking the Browns to Johnny Manziel. “I hear Cleveland really likes Manziel,” wrote SI’s Peter King on 12/30. “[T]he Browns are…very high on Manziel,” noted CBS’s Jason La Canfora on 1/11, who later added that the organization would trade up for the Texas A&M quarterback “if need be.” And in a not unprecedented show of conviction, MKC replied “I would have to think so” when asked by Dan Patrick if the Browns were “all-in” on Manziel on 1/22.

Point being, it’s safe to conclude that the Browns were smitten with Manziel in January. So why wouldn’t that still be the case? While it’s easy to point to the February ouster of GM Mike Lombardi, that strikes me as a weak line of reasoning. Sure, maybe Lombardi was the only dude in Berea who coveted Johnny Football, and now that he’s gone the Browns definitely won’t take him. But since a GM’s opinions are largely influenced by those around him, wouldn’t it follow that the Browns remain Manziel aficionados, seeing as “those around him” (i.e., Farmer and the scouts) still work for the team? In other words, the fact that Lombardi wanted to draft Manziel in January significantly increases the probability that Farmer, Lombardi’s former right-hand man, will draft Manziel tomorrow.

From here we might assume that Farmer went deep into damage control mode upon becoming GM, understanding the obvious benefit of not revealing his draft board to Jason La Canfora. This would explain the dropoff in Manziel rumors that coincided with Farmer’s promotion, and also the uptick in reports of the Browns’ supposed interest in other quarterbacks, like Bridgewater and Derek Carr.

If you doubt any of this, consider Adam Schefter’s report about the Browns coveting Ben Tate in free agency from last September, written in the wake of the Trent Richardson trade, and how it turned out to be completely true despite the front office overhaul that occurred in February. Here we have a case study of Lombardi planning to make a certain decision, getting canned shortly thereafter, and then Farmer, in his elevated role, making that very decision. At this point there’s no reason to believe things won’t play out similarly with Manziel.

Which is just as well, because Johnny Football would light up FirstEngergy Stadium’s publicly-funded scoreboards like Vegas. While Bortles and Bridgewater would also make fine picks, prospects like Manziel only come around so often, and if Farmer passes on him, there’s a decent chance he’ll be forever remembered as “the guy who passed on Johnny Football.” Not the legacy most first-year GMs are aiming for, but right in line with his infamous predecessors.

The relevant numbers here seem to be Manziel’s 86.3 QBR and incredible third down efficiency, due in large part to his success as a runner. But when it comes to Johnny Football, numbers are secondary. Plays like these take center stage:

22 minutes. Quadruple the time of an average Derek Carr highlight package, because after watching three or four bubble screens, it’s easy enough to get the idea. Throw in a horrendous third-down completion percentage and talk of a “rifle arm,” and one begins to get the sense that Carr’s Weeden potential is off the charts.

Which reminds me that Mike Holmgren recently issued a firm denunciation of all things Johnny Football. If ever there was a reason to take Manziel, this is surely it.

freelancey

“Too freelancey,” says Holmgren, who has a Super Bowl ring thanks to one of the most freelancey quarterbacks of all time in Brett Favre.

And if ever there was a town in need of a quarterback whose attitude screamed IDGAF, it’s surely Cleveland.

With any other franchise, the importance of filling such a critical long-term need would be obvious. In Cleveland, though, a not-insignificant number of folks are content to anoint Brian Hoyer the quarterback of the future and maybe take an A.J. McCarron (shudder) or Aaron Murray later on. This mindset is both completely understandable and certifiably insane. You can’t put a Band-Aid on cancer, and you can’t expect to fill a critical long-term need at quarterback with so-called lottery tickets year after year after year.

However, in the event that Farmer refuses to address the Browns’ most glaring need at no. 4, there are better ways to go about it than others. The best way would be to grab Manziel’s partner in crime, wide receiver Mike Evans, who was engineered in a lab to stunt on defensive backs. He spent the past two seasons dominating the best corners the SEC had to offer and would be virtually impossible to double-team opposite Josh Gordon. (Yes, I’d take him over Watkins, ginormousness be damned.)

In keeping with the A&M theme, Jake Matthews’s versatility (he played right and left tackle in college) and bloodlines are hard to ignore. Full disclosure: I was named after Jake’s uncle Clay, so this is in no way an objective opinion. Trading down is an attractive option, too, and also an increasingly realistic one. In fact, Peter King’s mock draft has the Browns acquiring Atlanta’s third-rounder to move down to no. 6, where they’d still be able to get Manziel or Evans. Unfortunately, this scenario is contingent on Clowney falling to no. 4, which almost definitely won’t happen.

At no. 26, the Browns would be wise to select the fast-rising Kyle Fuller or Ohio State’s very own Ryan Shazier, both of whom would fill holes on defense. Of course, this all depends on what Farmer does at no. 4, but odds are he’s going offense first. Meanwhile, if Fuller’s off the board by then, hulking corners Pierre Desir and Stanley Jean-Baptiste are likely targets at no. 35. Vanderbilt wideout Jordan Matthews would make sense there as well, provided the Browns don’t go receiver in the first round. After that, you can probably expect a running back (preferably Bishop Sankey) and safety (preferably Deone Bucannon) to be picked next.

Aside from not drafting Tom Savage, my only day three request is for Farmer to take a sixth-round flier on former Oregon tight end Colt Lyerla. “Former” being the operative word here, because Lyerla left the Ducks in early October after a string of rules violations. He then proceeded to get arrested for cocaine possession, torpedoing his draft stock despite the tremendous physical tools seen below.

Even if there’s a 75 percent chance he busts, that’s not out of line with the success rate of most sixth-rounders. The upside, of course, is something along the lines of a Vontaze Burfict situation, where Lyerla matures and blossoms into the All-Pro talent that everyone thought he would be before the off-field issues emerged.

The rest we can discuss at Map Room. The most important draft in Cleveland Browns history is tomorrow night, and I for one couldn’t be more terrified.

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UPDATE:

Ugh, Glazer’s never wrong. Whatever. Maybe this means they use no. 26 to trade up for Manziel somewhere in the first round? We’ll see GLUG, GLUG, GLUG, GLUG, GLUG.

  • Warburton MacKinnon

    awsome a football article….and fluffy and nice. That is to say an article I didn’t have to think about,and be pissed about things I can’t change,Thank you Mr. Borcas. Oh wait I can still be pissed about the draft not happening yet….heh,which is of course something I can’t change. Hmmm, now I know I am from Cleveland you gave me something I wanted and I am still not happy.

    • Matt Borcas

      Just be thankful Goodell hasn’t expanded the first round to 32 days yet, which is bound to happen by 2018.

      • Warburton MacKinnon

        shoot me now

      • bupalos

        They should just do that. Go ahead and generate 24 hours of talk off every single pick. Why not?

        • Warburton MacKinnon

          well they are close to thatnow if you include the pre draft talk right?

  • rodofdisaster

    Loved the article, Matt.
    I don’t doubt that the potential for electricity from Manziel is huge, however, I have concerns and none of them are that he’s an Aggie and I’m a Longhorn.
    1) Just because he’s undersized and fast, that does not make him Russell Wilson. Manziel’s decision-making is not good under pressure. Go back and watch LSU and Missouri footage and you’ll see what I mean.
    2) He has a pair of the fastest feet I’ve ever seen in a QB. Everyone in the NFL is fast. Good luck. That means that he might be peaking NOW.
    3) There was no route tree at A&M and, yes, there was a lot of “freelancey” stuff going on.
    4) He puts the ball in jeopardy too often.
    Does any of this preclude drafting him? No, it doesn’t. It does mean that it’s a huge risk as there are questions here. His arm is good enough. His accuracy is generally good. He has the “it” factor. Those are all good things. That being said, I’m hugely optimistic on Garropalo. I just love the kid’s release and touch on the ball. I won’t be disappointed with Johnny Football but I’ll be skeptical.

    • rodofdisaster
      • bupalos

        Not his best game, but nothing horrible. Some nice plays in there. If that’s supposed to be a lowlight reel, it makes me higher on him than I am.

    • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

      If I were a betting man I would venture to say that if the Browns take Johnny Football he’ll be horrible, and if they don’t he’ll be a star.

      • Warburton MacKinnon

        Isn’t that just par for the course,in Cleveland I mean? Couch might be a star if the Eagles had drafted him.

      • Matt Borcas

        Well, yeah.

      • bupalos

        Kucheeekooo…kucheekooo… come on little guy….

        There’s that frown!

      • actovegin1armstrong

        How many Super Bowls will Weeden win with the Cowboys?

        • Warburton MacKinnon

          less than kosar did,so 0

          • actovegin1armstrong

            Are we going back to that horrid “Less Than Zero” theme again?
            Bupa started it.

  • Matt Borcas

    One thing I want to address that didn’t really fit in the post is the latest Kirk Cousins rumor, which has the Browns giving up no. 26 for the former fourth round pick. In short, the idea that Cousins is worth a first round pick (or even a second) is, well…the absurdity of absurdities. After leading the Patriots to a 11-5 record and putting up decent numbers in the process, Matt Cassel could only fetch a second rounder from the Chiefs. Alex Smith only fetched two second rounders from the Chiefs after taking the 49ers to the NFC title game. So it’s ridiculous to suggest that Cousins, who’s started a total of four games and whose only above-average performance came against Dick Jauron’s infamous “think less, play faster” defense, deserves a first. And there’s no point in surrendering any pick for Cousins with Hoyer on the roster, who’s just as (if not more) likely to become the team’s long-term starter.

    A complete rundown of this rumor from WFNYCraig can be found here: http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/2014/05/kirk-cousins-to-cleveland-browns-trade-chatter-just-wont-die/

    • Warburton MacKinnon

      I’d be buying this rumour if the Walrus was still here,since whatever talent for picking/trading for QBs left him years ago,and it’s a deal I think he’d make,wouldn’t be surprised if he is a source for the rumour since he is all about making himself look blameless for his time here.

    • bupalos

      Money is the biggest reason that’s insane. He’s still pretty green and you’ve only got 2 years before his contract is up. There is 0 reason you wouldn’t just draft your highest QB available at the pick rather than trade it. Hell that might be Bridgewater. He’s a damn sight better prospect than Cousins with double the years.

      • Warburton MacKinnon

        hey we agree on something,lol.

  • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki
    • bupalos

      But Kanick, tackles aren’t playmakers. We need playmakers. You know, guys that make plays. Playmakers. Because we need plays to be made in order for there to be made plays that were made. How can a tackle make a play? I mean, they just block. They don’t make plays. At best they just make giant gaping holes that my grandmother could run through. But I mean, Granny makes the play there.

      Playmakers. Look it up kanick.

      Granny at 4. You heard it here.

      • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

        well thats true bup. but youre playing checkers and mkc is playing chess. she goes on to explain:

        “… Having seven-time Pro Bowler Joe Thomas has been great for the Browns, but they still win four or five games every year.”

        just can’t argue with that logic, ya dig? just can’t.

        • bupalos

          DAMN. Shut down by logic once again. Browns haven’t won. Browns have good tackle. Therefore tackles can’t help you win.

          It’s fucking airtight. We need to trade everyone on the team yesterday!!!

    • nj0

      I think Colt McCoy will take this team to a Super Bowl within the next five years. There, I said it.

    • actovegin1armstrong

      “Draft Tackles and Centers!”
      Some Really Smart Guy With a Hair Helmet

  • actovegin1armstrong

    Thank you Matt!

  • Everyone else

    The odds of farmer being the idiot who drafted Johnny is maybe 4 or 5 times greater than being one of the smart ones who passed on him. Media aside…this isn’t Vegas it’s a pro football team.

  • beeej

    I predict some teams will pick exactly who they were predicted to pick in some peoples 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th drafts of mock drafts. The absurdity of absurdities will happen when other things happen that no one expected. Some players will fall while still others will get picked earlier than expected. At least two teams will have picks that make no sense at all, and there will be a few 5th and 6th round picks that come out of nowhere to have decent careers. Hopefully, we don’t pick any of the 1st round busts that are bound to eventually bust. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few teams made some moves while others make no moves at all.

    • nj0

      My favorite part of the draft is when a team picks someone earlier than predicted and Kiper gets that look of disgust and becomes indignant as though it’s an attack against him personally.

      • actovegin1armstrong

        “The Colts needed to draft Trent Dilfer! What were they thinking? That was a totally idiotic pick!”
        Colts Guy, “Who in the hell is Mel Kiper? He never wore a jock strap.”
        Mel did however, hit a few more home runs in the majors than his brother Duane.

        • bupalos

          you’re thinking of mel turpin.

          • actovegin1armstrong

            Please Bupa, that is a bit too sad for our daily discourse. I was referring to a draft when the Colts made a rather dubious selection of a linebacker I have forgotten, (no time to use that interwebonline stuff.)
            Mel Turpin had some early disadvantages that he never could overcome. I try to do some help kids stuff, and I see plenty of life altering situations. (My apologies if this is an inappropriate venue for reality.) You know I love you Bupa.

    • bupalos

      Let me get this straight, you think there’s a good chance that some of the predictions will be CORRECT, and others INCORRECT? And then if I’m reading this right you also think some players will end up being BETTER than their draft positions, while others will be WORSE?

      I hope you can see how totally insane and hypocritical this looks.

      • beeej

        I just wanted to sum up 4 months of draft coverage for anyone who hasn’t been paying attention.

        • bupalos

          would that it had been as informative as your summary.

        • nj0

          An infinite number of things MIGHT happen this Thursday at the NFL draft…. but only a very small number of things actually will.

        • actovegin1armstrong

          But what about next year? We need to start thinking about next year! It is time to analyze the approximate draft positions, possible trades, senior class, early entries….. beeej, there is still so much to do.

          • nj0

            Don’t forget grading this years draft, round by round, pick by pick…

    • Beeej

      I think we can all agree that my prediction was dead-on. Our secondary is going to be sick.

  • beeej

    Are there any prop bets for the draft? Whatever the o/u is on # of times “Johnny Football” is said, take the over. This is my Cheddar pick.

  • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

    Sorry to interrupt the draft talk but here’s a document breaking down the Issue 7 election results. The City of Cleveland rejected the sin tax, as did several of the working class inner ring suburbs. Not surprisingly, the sin tax received the strongest support from the County’s wealthiest areas. This has been your latest installment of the rich convincing the middle class to take from the poor to give to the rich so the rich can make even more of the middle class poor. God bless America.

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/222958845/Breakdown-of-Cuyahoga-County-voting-on-Issue-7-sin-tax-on-May-6-2014

    • bupalos

      Holy hell. I mean, you know that’s the deal, but look at the correlation there. Orange, Chag Falls, Beechwood at like 75-25. It really simply is the wealthier the community, the more they want to send poor people’s money to billionaires as a bribe for their downtown playground.

      That should be a front page story.

  • bupalos

    Bouts to set sail from ye ancient training grounds to Map. Carrying the holy fire with which to burn out the eyes of anyone suggesting Derek “Poor Man’s Weeden” Carr.

    • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

      Woe and death to all who oppose your will.

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