2012 NFL Draft: The Cleveland Browns Blue Chip Complex

Noah Poinar@@noah_poinarCorrespondent IApril 22, 2012

There are four, and only four, blue chip prospects available in this draft: Andrew Luck, Matt Kalil, Morris Claiborne, and Trent Richardson.  Because we have a good feel as to how the first three picks will play out, the Cleveland Browns are essentially “on the clock,” and there will most likely be the following two blue-chipper’s left for grabs; Trent Richardson and Morris Claiborne. 



Lay Tannehill to rest

Ryan Tannehill was never an option for the Cleveland Browns.  This is what happened: Once the St. Louis/Washington trade fell through, everyone knew Cleveland needed a quarterback.  And everyone was right—the Browns needed either Griffin or Luck, but no one else.  Over the last decade, the Cleveland Browns haven’t exactly built themselves the best of reputations.  Because of that, the media had no choice but to catapult Tannehill up the draft board and assume the “always desperate” and “highly irrational” Cleveland Browns would take him with the No. 4 pick, or at the very least give him heavy consideration.

It was at this time that the Browns realized the Dolphins, who have the eighth pick, needed a quarterback as well.  So they began doing what any team in their position would do, they began shopping offers (whether genuine or not) for the fourth selection.  

Throughout it all, here's what most people forgot...if the Browns were in the position to take “their quarterback of the future,” why would they openly market their fourth selection to their direct competitors (Miami Dolphins)?  There’s a reason the Colts never announced any intention to trade down from the first spot. There’s a reason the Rams, on the other hand, did announce their intentions; that’s why we saw them swap picks with Washington two months ago instead of a couple weeks/ days/hours before the draft.     

Cleveland put on a clinic of leaked sources in a hard fought attempt to drive up the price of their pick until a team was dumb enough to give them a good offer for the rights to draft Ryan Tannehill or anyone else.  But because the Browns still sit at the fourth spot, we can infer that a good offer never came.  With that said, we can either assume no one—including the Browns themselves—is truly high on Tannehill, or the Browns have been set on either Trent Richardson or Morris Claiborne and weren’t ever likely to trade down past the No. 6 spot, in which they would not be able to draft either of the two.

Either way, the Cleveland Browns will not take Ryan Tannehill.

(To make things a little more interesting, I’ll propose this bet.  If the Browns select Tannehill at four, you will never read another story from Noah Poinar on the Browns Bleacher Report page again.)  



So have the Browns made up there minds?

As recently as Thursday, Tom Heckert made it known, via ESPN 850, that the Browns have in fact decided who they will take.  There’s a 99 percent chance the team made up their minds weeks ago though, probably sometime within the four day period when St. Louis traded down and everyone started pulling “Ryan Tannehill to the Browns” sources out of their a-nose's.

Over the last couple of weeks the Browns have managed to "come off" as the organization we've known them to be for the past 13 years—clueless and dysfunctional.  In reality though, they've come off as purely methodical and rather easily predictable. 

As mentioned, this team has basically been “on the clock” for the past month.  Do you really think in that time span the Browns hadn’t made up their minds?  And do you think that if the Browns hadn’t yet made up there minds, they would actually go around leaking links that said, “we have no idea what we’re doing yet...yes, we are dumb and this franchise is doomed” all over the Twitter-sphere?   



So who are they taking at No. 4?  

Trent Richardson.  It’s between him and Claiborne and no one else.  You haven’t heard Heckert and company say how the team is still undecided between Richardson and Claiborne, have you?  Well, there is a perfectly good explanation for that. The Browns could care less if another team traded up ahead of them to the No. 3 spot to grab Ryan Tannehill or Justin Blackmon; hence why they’ve said, “We’re undecided between Tannehill and Blackmon.”  If you lead everyone to believe you're interested in Blackmon and/or Tannehill, then there might just be a team that trades up ahead of you to take Blackmon or Tannehill. The only thing is...no one will trade up for either of those two players.  99 percent of everyone in NFL team circles know the Browns are leaning towards Richardson or Claiborne.  If a team were to pull the trigger and move up to No. 3, the Browns would be left with at the very least, one of the two.  In other words, despite missing out of Robert Griffin III, the Browns were always in a sort of win-win position.  And there is your explanation as to everything we've heard from the Browns camp over the last two tumultuous months.  

I can explain every Browns draft "rumor" we've heard by saying this: It was all much ado about nothing.  I fully expect the Cleveland Browns to take Trent Richardson.       


But it’s not smart to take a Running back this high.  They’re injury prone, they have shorter careers, and this is a passing league now

True, but that doesn’t mean you force feed yourself Ryan Tannehill or Justin Blackmon.  I’ll ask this, if you just bought an NFL franchise and you were allowed to start your franchise off with either one of the following two player’s, who would you pick:

Trent Richardson or Christian Ponder? 

Anyone ever wonder why Minnesota never tried to get into the RG3 Sweepstakes?  Because they already have Christian Ponder after reaching for him with the 12th selection last year.  Want to know why the Browns won’t be getting in the Matt Barkley sweepstakes next year if, god forbid, the Browns were to go 3-13 this year after taking Ryan Tannehill?  Because they’ll already have their quarterback. 

I’m not saying Richardson is a reason to pull a tank job this year for Barkley (I’m completely against the cult of people who believe that), I’m just saying that there’s a potential for Tannehill and the Browns to suck this year.  There’s a difference between the Browns finishing 4-12 with Tannehill, as opposed to the Browns finishing 4-12 with Richardson.  The difference?  Browns fans are carrying an ungodly amount of straws on their backs.  A 4-12 finish with Tannehill might be the straw that finally breaks the back.  That’s all I’m saying.



OK, so you’d take Richardson over Tannehill, anyone in there right mind would.  But what about Blackmon, son? You still can't convince that the Browns aren't considering him.  

You mean, if I pretend to ignore all the rumors about how he doesn’t want Cleveland to take him?  

OK.  How many times is Justin Blackmon likely to touch the ball in a given game?  Actually, here’s the more proper question...how many stalled drives, 13 point games, and consecutive losses would it take until Blackmon becomes frustrated and ultimately disconnected from the rest of team? 

Look, I’m not trying to stereotype Blackmon as “that” receiver (this says he's not), but if you are a wideout who is a high end pick in the draft and you find yourself on a cruddy team that can’t get you the ball and the team is losing at a alarming rate, things can get ugly.  

Furthermore, if the Browns take Blackmon, they really don’t know who will be throwing him the ball this year or in future years.  It could be McCoy, it could be Weeden, it could be anyone.  Bottom line: you don’t want the success or failure of your fourth overall selection, in a top-heavy draft, hinging on another player (AKA the guy throwing them the ball).  That’s essentially what a team is doing any time they take a receiver in the top-five whose name is not Calvin Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald.  Speaking of those names, in the last 10 years, those receivers were the only blue-chip prospects in the draft at their position (you can definitely argue A.J Green was another last year).  In case you're curious...no, Braylon Edwards was not a blue-chip when the Browns took him No. 3 overall in 2005.

But the case of Justin Blackmon begins and ends with the reports we've heard that say he would not want Cleveland to take him.  It's not definitive that he said this, just heavily rumored.  But as I learned in high school, when everyone was practicing adolescent polygamy, there's always some truth to rumors.  


OK then, what about Morris Claiborne, you said he’s the other blue-chipper?

Up until a couple weeks ago, I had been all over the Morris Claiborne bandwagon.  I was actually near convinced the Browns were going to take him.  Last season they targeted LSU corner Patrick Peterson and traded down with Atlanta most likely because Peterson (and A.J. Green) was off the board. 

A lot of people forget that Patrick Peterson was the No. 1 talent on nearly every credentialed experts’ big board last year. Because Claiborne is considered by many to be an even better talent than Peterson, I figured he was Tom Heckert’s guy this year.  But then I remembered something...

Trent Richardson is considered a higher rated prospect than Claiborne and would have been the No. 1 talent in last year's draft.  The Browns plan for Thursday night is probably quite simple in that they'll take the best talent available.  That talent will most likely be in the form of Trent Richardson as opposed to Claiborne.  



The Case for Richardson

Since the Browns returned as an expansion team, Browns fans have had one explosive playmaker who actually gave fans an adrenaline rush every time he touched the ball; that player was (and still is) Josh Cribbs.   

Trent Richardson is like a Josh Cribbs; only imagine a Josh Cribbs who is faster (not super fast though), stronger, quicker and touching the ball 30 times a game from the backfield, instead of six times a game on kick/punt return.  You could say he is Josh Cribbs and Peyton Hillis combined into one. 

Put it this way, Trent Richardson will give Browns fans a reason to watch their team throughout the season, regardless of what there record is.  Don’t underrate the importance of that. If this were a Google Plus commercial, I would conclude this paragraph by saying this:  Watching Trent Richardson in a Cleveland Browns uniform on Sunday’s, now that’s a plus.    

But hey, why am I making Josh Cribbs comparisons.  We’ve all heard by now how Richardson is the best prospect since Adrian Peterson.  Quite frankly though, I think we’ve desensitized ourselves to that fact.  This is forgivable considering that, over the span of the last four months we’ve heard this comparison approximately 1,038 times, but nevertheless, there's a great chance we’re under appreciating Adrian Peterson.  Up until a couple weeks ago I sure was. 

I’m aware that nothing is for sure and Richardson, for all we know, could blow out his patella tendon in Week 4 of the season, or he could just be an overall bust.  But what I do know about Richardson is this:  if Cleveland passes on him and he goes somewhere else and becomes a stud, Browns fans will be living this draft day blunder down for the the next two decades, as they’re annually (and begrudgingly) taking Richardson with the No. 1 overall pick in their fantasy football draft. 

Remember when the Browns passed on LaDainian Tomlinson for Gerrard Warren?  It happened more than a decade ago, and Browns fans still won’t let themselves forget.  If you’re a Browns fan, do you really want that to happen again?  Because there’s a good chance it would.

We know the value of running backs in the draft has declined over the past decade, but while all of us have spent the entire draft period reminding ourselves of this fact, we've failed to remember something.  If their were to be a re-draft of the 2007 draft class, Adrian Peterson would probably go No. 1 overall, even with the knowledge of his recent injury.  

Question: If running backs have become too expendable and non-valuable, then why is Trent Richardson projected as a top-five pick?  Answer:  Because he's that good.  If you've never seen a single snap shot of Trent Richardson at Alabama, that's the only information you need to know.

Personally though, I don’t even think Richardson will pan out like Peterson.  I think he’ll be a better version of Shaun Alexander with more hair.  No, not the Shaun Alexander who vanished off the face of the Earth after appearing on the Madden 07 cover.  Rather, the Shaun Alexander that was the best running back in the NFL (by far) in 2004 and 2005.  The Shaun Alexander that set the record for most rushing touchdowns in a season in 2005.  The Shaun Alexander that put Mike Holmgren and Matt Hasselbeck on his back and took Seattle to their first Super Bowl ever.

But lets not get ahead of ourselves and start talking about Richardson carrying this team to a Super Bowl.  Browns fans just want the chance to watch their team play meaningful football games after the Thanksgiving holiday. 


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