I know what I am about to say is going to go over as well as a turd in punch bowl for many Browns fans out there. The Browns botched the 2012 NFL Draft so badly that it will set back rebuilding efforts by an entire decade. I had to wait over a week to deliver this news so my blood pressure had a chance to go back down.
Please keep in mind I am not calling for the firing or Mike Holmgren or Tom Heckert. I thought they did a good job drafting their first two years with the organization. That is what makes this draft all the more frustrating. I thought they were smarter than this.
I am going to grade the picks in reverse order.
Round 7 Brad Smelley FB Alabama
Owen Marecic did a really subpar job of replacing Lawrence Vickers at FB last season. However, he was just a rookie with room to improve. I'm not sold on drafting a FB when you already have one on the roster and still have plenty of holes to fill. What makes matters worse is that Smelley is not even a true FB. Some project him as more of a TE. I prefer my FBs to be smash mouth lead blockers like Vickers.
Round 7 Trevin Wade CB Arizona
The Browns needed to add a CB at some point for depth. Wade was about as good as any CB prospect still available at this point in the draft. Not a steal or a disaster. Just a solid value pick.
Round 6 Billy Winn DT Boise State
Most people had Billy Winn graded out much higher as a draft pick. That would make you think this pick deserves a better grade. The problem is Winn's fit within the defensive scheme. He projected best as a 3-4 DE. Can he play DT in a 4-3 defense? Yes, but it does not fit him as well. That scheme issue is what drives down this grade.
Round 6 Emmanuel Acho OLB Texas
The Browns needed to add an OLB in the draft. Acho even provides decent value at this point in the draft so I will not give him a lower grade. However, OLB should have been prioritized more in the draft. The Browns should have drafted a better OLB prospect much earlier and used this pick elsewhere.
Round 5 Ryan Miller G Colorado
The Browns needed to add a G to compete for a starting spot in the draft. Miller might be capable of beating out Pinkston or Lauvao for a starting gig. At the very least he should make the team to provide depth at the position.
Round 4 James-Michael Johnson MLB Nevada
The Browns needed to add a backup MLB for D'Qwell Jackson. Johnson was known as a run thumping MLB in college. He should do an adequate job backing up Jackson right from the get go.
Round 4 Travis Benjamin WR Miami (FL)
The Browns needed to add a true #1 WR and a slot WR. Benjamin has the speed and shiftiness to potentially fill the slot WR role. He also has value as a return man - which will be important as Josh Cribbs continues to erode. The grade gets a slight hit since it was a slight reach in terms of value.
Round 3 John Hughes DT Cincinnati
Did the Browns need some additional depth at DT? Yes. However, they took a DT in the 3rd round that was projected by many people to go undrafted. Those that did project him getting drafted saw him as a 7th rounder. This was a horrendous pick in terms of value. Despite the Browns need for depth at DT I would not be surprised to see 6th round pick Billy Winn beat out Hughes for a roster spot despite his poor scheme fit. Hughes could very well end up on the practice squad. That is inexcusable for a 3rd round pick on a team with so many holes.
Round 2 Mitchell Schwartz RT California
The grade has more to do with what the Browns did not do as opposed to Mitchell Schwartz himself. Schwartz should be able to step in and play RT right away. The Browns also needed a RT in the worst way possible.
However, the Browns also need a #1 WR which is way harder to find than a decent RT. Most teams do not have a true #1 WR on their roster. I felt like there were only two potential #1 WRs in the entire draft. The one I liked best and advocated the Browns go after here; http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1050883-2012-nfl-mock-draft-cleveland-browns-needs-strategy-and-top-4-overall-picks was still on the board. That man was Alshon Jeffery. He dropped in the draft after a blown out of proportion weight gain and a dip in numbers his junior season. The dip in numbers had way more to do with inconsistent QB play than it did with the mild weight gain. Jeffery represented tremendous value there in the early second round.
The Browns should have drafted Alshon Jeffery here and taken a RT with that third round pick they wasted on John Hughes. Schwartz was projected as a late second to early third round pick so he very well could have still been on the board then. If they felt like they had to trade up to get him they had enough ammo to do so. They would have had even more ammo if not for a horrific first round (more on that in a bit). Even if they did not want to trade back up for Schwartz and they lost him they could have taken RT Bobbie Massie from Ole Miss who was widely regarded as a Top 5 RT prospect by most experts in the third round.
So the Browns did upgrade at RT - which they needed to do. However, by failing to kill two birds with one stone they botched the job from a strategic standpoint.
Round 1 (22nd overall) Brandon Weeden QB Oklahoma State
Grade: F or anything lower than that if available
It is not hyperbole to say this was the worst pick in the history of the NFL Draft. Let me explain.
Will Weeden end up having the worst statistical numbers for a 1st round QB? No.
So why is he the worst pick in the history of the NFL Draft?
His combination of age, skill level, draft value and the position in which he plays.
Weeden's skill level indicates that he might be able to turn into a good back up QB. The last time I checked you should not draft a back up QB in the first round.
Weeden played in a spread offense in college so there will be a several year learning curve to a pro style offense. If he had elite talent (which he does not) and he was 21 or 22 (which he is not) it would not be the end of the world to ride out that learning process. However, when he will turn 29 years old early in the season that several year waiting period is a death sentence.
Best case scenario (even though it is unrealistic) is that Weeden turns into a good QB within two years. QBs start going down hill when they reach their mid-30s. So even if Weeden is capable of turning into a Super Bowl winning QB (which he is not) then the Browns would only have him at that level for five years tops. Why on earth do you spend a first round pick on a guy that best case scenario can only give you five good years?
If you roll the dice on a typical 21 or 22 year old QB coming out of college at a normal age you have the possibility of a decade plus window. The Browns just sent back the rebuilding efforts by at least a decade. The supporting cast is not good enough to win a Super Bowl within the next six years. By that time Weeden will be done. They then have to select a new QB and start all over with a new learning curve. By that time current stars like Joe Thomas, Alex Mack and Joe Haden will be on their last legs or retired. If Weeden flames out early they can select another QB, but the first round pick they squandered on will hamper them long term. Selecting Weeden was a lose-lose proposition.
To make matters worse the Browns did not have to take him when they did. There was not another team that would have taken Weeden until the Seahawks in the second round. The Browns should have traded down to garner more picks from some team looking to move up (presumably for David DeCastro). So even though I would not have drafted Weeden in the first several rounds, they at least could have made a bad situation a little better by saving some cap room and getting an extra pick(s). It was terrible asset management.
Round 1 (3rd overall) Trent Richardson RB Alabama
Where do I even start?
Let me say a few positive things before I go all Debbie Downer on you.
This was a better pick than Brandon Weeden.
The Browns did have a big need at RB.
Trent Richardson was the best RB in the draft this year.
Now for the rant.
I said it before and I will say it again. Under no circumstances can you draft a RB in the Top 10 picks on the NFL Draft unless he looks like a surefire Hall of Famer coming out of college. Since the mid-90s there have only been three RB that I felt that way about that ended up getting drafted in the Top 10. They were LaDanian Tomlinson, Ricky Williams and Adrian Peterson. Tomlinson is a mortal lock to be Canton bound. Williams probably falls just short, but did rush for 10,000+ yards in his career. If he had been able to stay away from marijuana he would have put up the numbers he needed to make that a lock. Peterson suffered a devastating knee injury last season. However, if he can come back anywhere close to his former self he will get in as well. He has been a flat out stud so far in his career.
Trent Richardson is not in the same class as those three RBs. He looked good in college. For a RB to go that high in the draft he has to be spectacular. When you look at all the RBs taken in the Top 10 of the NFL Draft in that same time frame you will see that the vast majority of the teams regretted their decision in the end. You can find RBs later in the draft. The leading rusher in the NFL in 2010 was former undrafted free agent Arian Foster. The Denver Broncos used to routinely churn out 1,000+ yard runners with low round picks year after year.
RBs shelf lives are just too short to make them a good value pick in the Top 10. To make matters worse Richardson had knee surgery this past offseason. He also missed an entire year in high school due to an ankle injury. Injury histories at RB should make you run for the hills in the Top 10 picks of the NFL Draft.
To make matters even worse the Browns traded up for Richardson. They gave the Vikings a 4th, 5th and 7th round pick to move up one freaking spot in the draft. No one was trading up for that pick and the Vikings sure as hell were not drafting Richardson with Peterson already on the roster. Not only should they not have drafted Richardson with their own pick they failed to call the Vikings bluff. What happened after they failed to call the bluff? They vastly overpaid on top of it. Total panic move.
Richardson now has to make the Hall of Fame to justify the pick. Jim Brown the greatest RB in the history of the franchise called Richardson "ordinary". This is not going to end well for the Browns. I see Richardson rushing for about 6,000-7,000 yards in his career before injuries render him useless. Normally I give teams a pass for guys getting injured. Not this time. Not when the guy has an injury history and plays a position that chews up and spits out guys faster than any other position.
Yet some moron will respond to this article or post on my bulletin board next year after Richardson has a big game or a good season with an emphatic "I told you so! You are an idiot!" I fully expect Richardson to have some 100+ yard rushing games next year. I expect him to have several 1,000+ yard rushing seasons. What I do not expect happening is Richardson to have any 1,600 yard rushing seasons, 10,000+ rushing yards for his career or to remain healthy for a lengthy stretch of time.
Richardson will be good but not great - and only for a short amount of time. It will be yet another wasted draft pick in the history of the reborn Browns.
What the Browns should have done was trade down with the Cowboys and picked up an additional second rounder just like the Rams did. Instead the traded up when they had tons of holes to fill and not enough high round picks to fill them.
The Browns absolutely butchered the 2012 NFL Draft. It should be referred to as The Debacle in the future. In case you did not notice the Browns picks in the first three rounds garnered grades of C-, D-, F and F. The best grade at any point was only a B. Be prepared for another decade of not winning the Super Bowl. The Steelers, Bengals and Ravens all drafted well this year. The Browns are simply a factory of sadness.