Now that the “severe” punishment (spoiler alert, it wasn’t severe) has been levied against the Cleveland Browns for “TextGate,” it is time to re-shift the focus back to the 2015 NFL Draft. With Ray Farmer not losing any picks for sending text messages to the sidelines, the Browns will have 10 total picks in the 2015 NFL Draft—as it stands today.
Thanks to wheeling and dealing with the Buffalo Bills last season, the Browns are owners of six picks in the first four rounds of the draft (two in the first, one in the second, one in the third and two in the fourth). Also, Farmer made a deal with the Baltimore Ravens in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL Draft—which netted the Browns an additional sixth-round pick in 2015.
Despite the jury still being out (though most are pessimistic) on first-round picks Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel, Farmer and the Browns front office had a good first season at the helm when it came to draft prospects.
Not only did they net a stud offensive lineman in Joel Bitonio in round two, they found a starting linebacker in Christian Kirksey in round three and another potential starter in running back Terrance West in round three as well. In the fourth round, Farmer saw Lindenwood CB Pierre Desir still on the board—to the surprise of many—and drafted him in a “redshirt role” in year one. Desir came out and played late in the 2014 season due to injuries, and looked very good in his limited action down the stretch.
Though the draft ended, Farmer wasn’t done. He inked undrafted free agents Isaiah Crowell, Taylor Gabriel and K’Waun Williams—who were all major contributors to the team last season. The duo of Crowell and West at running back looked at times to have the makings of a solid 1-2 punch for the Browns for the foreseeable future. Aside from those three, undrafted rookie QB Connor Shaw held his own in the final game of the season as a starter against the Baltimore Ravens—showing more promise in his debut than Manziel did in his six quarters.
With many willing to “judge a book by its cover” in Farmer’s first draft (the cover being Gilbert and Manziel), the first-year GM did a solid job. His selections contributed to a 7-9 record in year one, with the team being 7-4 at one point staring a potential playoff appearance in the face.
Now that the 2015 NFL Draft is nearly upon us, Farmer and company have the opportunity to make some impactful selections to alter the franchise right away—potentially growing into a playoff team as early as next year. With this in mind, the following are the major areas of need for the Cleveland Browns in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Current Players on the Roster: Josh McCown, Johnny Manziel, Connor Shaw, Thad Lewis
The Manziel crowd will certainly be all over me, but the Cleveland Browns do not have a QB of the future on their roster. And until they have one, this will remain the No. 1 need for the franchise each and every season heading into the NFL Draft.
Many want to say you cannot judge a rookie QB by six quarters of play, and that is true. But in regard to Manziel, it is more about the body of work that is extremely concerning. He spent the offseason partying when he should have been putting in the hours learning his first-ever playbook, and he displayed a lackluster effort in practices according to reports. As a player with a number of “red flags” before the selection, this set off alarms in the organization—and now he is in rehab.
The problem for the Browns is, the 2015 NFL Draft isn’t stocked full of franchise QB potential. At the top of the draft are Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, who will both likely go in the Top 10. Neither are without their flaws, but both easily present better long-term options for the Browns if the organization is willing to trade up and go get one of them.
After Winston and Mariota, the next tier of quarterbacks will likely need development but players like Bryce Petty could come in and push McCown and Manziel in camp. No matter where the organization decides to draft a QB, they need to add a young player without character concerns to come in and compete.
Farmer and the front office have greatly improved this group with the additions of Bowe and Hartline this offseason—but that should not stop them from taking one of the top WRs in this class. The suspension of Josh Gordon has left the team without a prospect at the receiver position with No. 1 upside, and that is exactly what the Browns need to come away from this draft with.
If they stay put at No. 12, one of the top three WRs—DeVante Parker, Amari Cooper and Kevin White—could fall to them. All three would be great additions to the roster, and could grow while not being relied upon for heavy targets early.
Some may disagree that WR is not a major need for the team after the signings, but the lack of a true No. 1 combined with the short deals given to Bowe and Hartline makes it a major need.
After letting Jabaal Sheard walk in free agency, the Browns could absolutely target an edge rusher early on. Kruger finally showed fans why the Browns gave him a big contract two years ago, but despite this fact his contract drops to just $2.4 million in dead money following the 2015 season—making it very easy for the team to move on from him if they choose to.
On top of that, Mingo has not shown the edge-rushing ability many expected when he was drafted. So if the Browns have an opportunity to take one of the top talents available at No. 12 or No. 19 if they fall to them, do not be surprised if it happens.
Despite having a deep defensive line, the Browns were riddled with injuries last year—which resulted in the team having one of the worst rush defenses in the league. Ahtyba Rubin left in free agency from that group, and the Browns added Starks from Miami to replace his production. But even with the addition, the team will look to add a young lineman with the ability to disrupt the point of attack in this class.
Names like Danny Shelton and Malcom Brown have been tossed around in the first round, but the rotational nature of the Browns defense doesn’t display a major need for taking a first-round defensive lineman who isn’t an elite prospect. With this in mind, if someone from the group of Arik Armstead, Eddie Goldman or Jordan Phillips falls out of the first into the second round, you could see them address the position there. If not, keep an eye on a possible trade back into the second round or the Browns to add depth on defensive line in the third or fourth rounds.
After a disappointing, injury-riddled season, former Pro Bowl TE Jordan Cameron left the team via free agency. The Browns were reportedly in the mix for Charles Clay, who got a major contract from Buffalo instead, and haven’t been seriously linked to any other TEs at this time.
When you look at the 2015 NFL Draft class for TEs, it is an intriguing mixture of talent. Many people are very high on Minnesota’s Maxx Williams (first round projection), but it does not seem like the Browns would look to address the position in round one or round two for that matter. This means fans should focus on third and fourth-round TE prospects to upgrade the roster.
With the Buckeye-centric mentality of this area, Jeff Heuerman from Ohio State has a third-round grade currently from a number of members of the scouting community. He has already displayed very good blocking skills throughout his collegiate career, and possesses the athletic abilities to develop into a very good pass catcher in the NFL.
Another player to keep an eye on is Blake Bell from Oklahoma. A converted TE from QB, Bell is rumored to have met with the Browns brass already. Dane Brugler from CBS Sports has a fifth-round grade on him, which would be a nice spot to take a 6’6” and 252-pound TE with upside.
Some will quickly note the fact that offensive line was left off this list. Though Mitchell Schwartz has been maddening at times, Alex Mack being back will help the offensive line as a whole. However, that does not mean the Browns will not take an offensive linemen early—it is just tough to get a grasp on their feelings in regard to the position right now.
Also, do not rule out the Browns taking inside linebacker at some point. Just like with the selection of Kirksey last year, Farmer seems to stick to his board—meaning if one of the top ILBs falls and the team has a high grade on him, they will not hesitate to use an earlier than thought pick on the position.