When the NFL Draft commences on 04/28/2011, Cleveland Browns fans everywhere treat the event with a curious mix of anticipation, hope, and fear. Hope in the event that this will be the draft that fans can point back and say, "this is when the team began to turn the corner.". Fear that the organization will squander high draft choices on players such as David Veikune, Travis Wilson, or William Green (I realize that there are other players I could have listed, but I wanted to give some other names from the painful draft past a quick trip down memory lane...).
The NFL Draft is an inexact science. Trying to project college players into professional football is something that even the best of teams will sometimes miss upon. Unfortunately for Browns fans, the misses have been more common than the hits.
Looking back at last year's draft, the Browns were able to acquire Joe Haden, T.J. Ward, and Colt McCoy. If Montario Hardesty is able to return from injury, the 2010 draft is one of those benchmark drafts that quality NFL teams routinely use to make them into championship contenders.
Tom Heckert is a solid talent evaluator who has done his homework. Unlike last season, Heckert and Mike Holmgren are on the same page with new head coach Pat Shurmur offensively, while also being on board with new defensive coordinator Dick Jauron. The Browns are moving to a 4-3 scheme under Jauron, unlike the 3-4 scheme espoused by Eric Mangini and Rob Ryan that Heckert and Holmgren were not familiar with in their previous organizations.
If I had the opportunity to make the first round pick, this is how I would proceed:
1. Trade down for extra picks - if Cameron Newton and Blaine Gabbert are still available, I believe the Browns will have opportunities to trade down. Picking up extra picks is always my first prerogative.
2. The top player on my wish list? DT Marcell Dareus of Alabama. Until the Browns are able to effectively stop the run, they will be an also-ran in the division against the Steelers and Ravens. I look for Dareus to be taken in the first two picks, more than likely by Denver.
3. More than likely, Dareus will not be there. My second choice? CB Patrick Peterson of LSU. Arguably the best player in the draft, Peterson could take the other cornerback spot opposite Joe Haden, allowing Sheldon Brown to move to safety with T.J. Ward. The secondary would immensely improve. While not providing any help to the defensive line, shoring up the secondary can only help in the Browns' quest towards respectability - being able to slow down the passing games of the Steelers, Ravens, and Bengals would be a big step.
4. OLB Von Miller would be my third selection. I do not believe he will be there. My concern is Miller may be best suited for a 3-4, but I am sure the Browns could put Miller on the field in a weakside linebacker spot to rush the passer. Again, I do not believe Miller will be there for the Browns to pick. Look for Miller to be Buffalo's selection at third overall.
5. I have never been a fan of taking wide receivers high in the NFL Draft. Year in and year out, wide receivers can be (and usually are) found in the lower rounds. Think of the top receivers in the division (Hines Ward, Mike Wallace, Derrick Mason, Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens) - none of them were first round draft choices. With that being said, if none of my top players are available, I would prefer the Browns select WR Julio Jones of Alabama over WR A.J. Green of Georgia. Green may be the more acrobative receiver, but I prefer Jones for his downfield blocking skills.
6. While I believe both DT Nick Fairley of Auburn and DE Robert Quinn of North Carolina are good players who could help the Browns, both carry some risk. Again, I would prefer to trade down a few spots and gain some picks, versus taking a risk. Dropping down a few spots, and taking DE J.J. Watt of Wisconsin or DT Corey Liuget of Illinois may be preferred.
The NFL Draft will start around 8pm. I will have a beer in hand, watching the events unfold, with high hopes the Browns will be selecting another player more along the lines of Joe Thomas than Gerard Warren.