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The NFL Draft. Quite possibly my favorite event on the sports calendar every year. Is it because that’s when Browns fans have the most hope? Probably – but I love it nonetheless.

In 2014 the Browns have 10 picks including five selections in the first three rounds so they are positioned to make a huge impact on the team. That is if Banner and Lombardi don’t screw things up! I’m here to make things easy for them so here’s the plan.

First, I’ve said it for months, the Browns need to find a way to get Johnny Manziel. Period. Will he be there at #4? That’s debatable. I honestly think he may go #1 but if the Texans take Teddy Bridgewater then there’s a chance. If they think they need to move up to #2 with the Rams I try to offer a third this year and a third next season and see what happens. Either way let’s say the front office does something right and gets my man Johnny Football.

Next, with the #26 pick they need to target a WR to pair with Josh Gordon. I really like Mike Evans from Texas A&M and Jordan Matthews from Vanderbilt. I’m also intrigued by Kelvin Benjamin from FSU but he doesn’t appear to play hard every play and we already have that with Gordon.

With the #35 overall pick, #3 in second round, I look at a MLB or my favorite RB in the draft – Tre Mason. It is clear when he plays he has a gear no one else has in college football. He also runs hard and can catch the ball too. Reminds me of LeSean McCoy and that’s the kind of RB the Browns have been missing. Pair him with Dion Lewis and we have a solid 1-2 punch in the backfield.

If Tre Mason is gone I love Shayne Skov the MLB from Stanford. He’s fast, hits hard and is a leader on defense. I might even look at Ryan Shazier from the Buckeyes who knows how to make plays.

In the third round I look at guard and corner with those two picks. The Browns guards are slow and undersized and can’t generate enough movement to establish a running game. At corner, Buster Skrine played much better in 2013 but he’s still better suited as a nickel corner long-term.

So after day two of the draft the Browns have a QB, WR, RB, CB, and MLB. Pair these guys with the pieces currently in place on offense (Gordon, Cameron, Benjamin) and defense (Haden, Mingo, Taylor, Ward) and that’s the making of a core of young players the team can finally build around.

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The NFL Draft has come and gone and this week is kind of like the week following Christmas. Fans take time to research all the players their teams drafted and analyze the draft a little deeper than first glance. At Christmas, you get all your presents and are all excited about all of them but can’t play with them all at once so you take the entire next week to play with each one.

Plus, the following week is when you realize you got all these cool things, but you need batteries or something else to make them work. This is akin to NFL teams signing undrafted Free Agents following the draft…the picks they got in the draft aren’t quite enough to fill out the roster so they need to add a few more players to the roster to make it complete.

This brings us to my final grade for the Cleveland Browns 2012 NFL Draft. Consider this as you read through my grading and rationale behind this. If you look at teams’ drafts from year to year if a team ends up with two or three solid starters from a draft that would be deemed a good draft. Sound low??? Go to nfl.com and look back at draft classes from 2009-2011 and see how many teams got more than two or three starters in those drafts. However, the Browns need to be held to a slightly higher standard this year as they had two first-round picks and two fourth-round picks thanks to the Julio Jones trade last season.

Overall, I’m going to give the Browns a “B-” grade on this draft strictly because I think they drafted a couple guys a little earlier than they needed to and I would have love to see them trade a pick or two in this year’s draft for a higher pick in next year’s draft to keep stockpiling draft picks.

Moving up one spot to take Trent Richardson was fine by me as we hardly gave up anything of huge value to move up and with 13 total picks we had plenty of ammunition to swing this deal. Plus, the Browns ended up getting one additional pick back by trading down in the third round. Richardson is a safe pick and will be a starter from day one. I think their only other option at #3 or #4 would have been Justin Blackmon and he seems like a risky pick to me and the Browns aren’t in a position to be rolling the dice on draft picks.

I would have been much happier with the Brandon Weeden pick at #22 had we turned around and taken WR Stephen Hill or Ruben Randall in the second round at pick #37. Instead we used that pick on a RT, Mitchell Schwartz. I said it before, I like Weeden and there’s no question in my mind he’s an immediate upgrade over Colt McCoy. The draft is about getting better and if he makes our team better at the most important position in the NFL then I’m ok with the pick.

With Mitchell Schwartz he seems like another safe pick who should come in and be a starter immediately. He’s big, strong and has lots of experience at the college level. If he can’t beat out Oniel Cousins at RT in training camp then the grade for this draft immediately drops. I’m ok with safe picks in the second round as the Browns have rolled the dice on some classic picks like Chaun Thompson and David Veikune in the past and how did those work out for the team?

The biggest question mark for me in the entire draft was the third round for the Browns. First, they trade down 20 spots when some quality players were still on the board. At this point they still hadn’t taken a receiver and guys like Mohamad Sanu from Rutgers and Chris Givens from Wake Forest were still on the board. Then, to top it off, they take a DT from Cincinnati, John Hughes, who isn’t well known by anyone and is going to be a rotational player at best. The only reason I’m not killing them on this pick is they have no depth at DT behind Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor so if this guy can play at all then it’s another upgrade over what is currently on the roster.

The fourth round is where it began to get interesting for the Browns and others in this draft. Before the round began I told numerous people the Browns needed to come out of the round with a receiver and a linebacker. Well, the Brownies delivered and they got a LB I really liked going into the draft, James-Michael Johnson and a WR who not many people knew much about, Travis Benjamin, from Miami, FL. Johnson can play any of the four LB positions and I think he may take over for Scott Fujita as a starter before the season is over. Plus, this is another area where the team had zero depth. In Benjamin the Browns got a fast, deep-threat kind of receiver but he’s not a tall guy so hopefully he can do the job of stretching the field to keep teams honest. Something no team did last year with McCoy at the helm and the rag-tag bunch of receivers we rolled out there from week to week.

Finally, in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds teams are usually looking for bottom of the roster guys or special-teamers. The Browns took a ginormous OL in Ryan Miller (6’7″ and 321) who played guard at Colorado but can also play tackle in the fifth round. He can compete with Schwartz at RT and hopefully be a swing tackle in case something would happen to either starter. We saw what happened last season with Artis Hicks and Oniel Cousins at RT so this guy can’t be any worse than those two. In the sixth the Browns took two guys I actually really like – Emmanuel Acho, a LB from Texas, and Billy Wynn, a DT from Boise State. A draft expert I trust more than any other, Gil Brandt, the GM of the Cowboys in the 70’s and 80’s, had Wynn ranked #63 on his top 100 players. Again, these guys can be special teams guys and add depth to two areas we desperately needed it. Acho put up big numbers in college but was considered a little undersized for the NFL. Wynn put up good numbers but was knocked because of his effort in college. Hopefully one of the two pans out and we can get some help and depth from them moving forward. Lastly, the seventh round is usually a throw-away round where no-name guys from no-name schools get drafted and rarely make an impact. In 2011 the Browns took Eric Hagg, a safety from Nebraska, who was hurt most of the season but came in and played some quality football for the Browns at the end of the season. This year they take CB Trevin Wade from Arizona and FB/H-Back Brad Smelley from Alabama. Wade was projected to go much higher in the draft but had consistency issues in college. He has the speed and skills to be successful, so hopefully a little NFL coaching can get the best out of him. Smelley was Richardson’s blocker at Alabama and may be able to compete with Owen Marecic for the FB spot or possibly even Alex Smith or Jordan Cameron for the final TE spot on the roster.

This seems to be the third solid draft for Tom Heckert and the Browns so hopefully it’ll translate to success on the field. Ultimately it’s going to come down to Brandon Weeden more than anything else, so if he’s a success then everything else the Browns did or didn’t do this off-season will be water under the bridge. I’ll leave you with one last thing. In looking at the picks the Browns had and who was on the board at the time, here’s what I would have done if I were turning in the index cards at Radio City Music Hall in NYC…

Round 1, Pick 3 – Trent Richardson – RB – Alabama
Round 1, Pick 22 – Stephen Hill – WR – Georgia Tech
Round 2, Pick 37 – Brandon Weeden – QB – Oklahoma State
Round 3, Pick 87 -Bobbie Massie – T – Mississippi
Round 4, Pick 100 – Ronnell Lewis – OLB – Oklahoma
Round 4, Pick 120 – Brandon Boykin – CB – Georgia
Round 5, Pick 160 – George Iloka – S – Boise State
Round 6, Pick 204 – Billy Wynn – DT – Boise State
Round 6, Pick 205 – Chase Minnifield – CB – Virginia
Round 7, Pick 245 – Eric Page – WR – Toledo
Round 7, Pick 247 – James Brown – G – Troy

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I’ve tried to keep my posts topical and have really tried to stay away from just discussing current events in sports. This is an exception…as many of you know, I’m a huge NFL fan and my favorite part of the season is the NFL Draft. This season’s draft will be upon us this Thursday and I’ve made my final mock draft of the year. You can check out my full two-round mock draft with insight on potential first round picks at www.neilstein.com or if you just want to see my first round projection I’ve listed it below. Enjoy and feel free to give me your feedback and tell me where I’m wrong in the comments section at the bottom of this post.

1. Colts – Andrew Luck – QB – Stanford
2. Redskins – Robert Griffin III – QB – Baylor
3. Minnesota – Matt Kalil – T – USC
4. Cleveland – Trent Richardson – RB – Alabama
5. Tampa Bay –  Morris Claiborne – CB – LSU
6. St. Louis – Justin Blackmon – WR – Oklahoma State
7. Jacksonville – Mark Barron – S – Alabama
8. Miami – Michael Floyd – WR – Notre Dame
9. Carolina – Fletcher Cox – DT – Mississippi State
10. Buffalo – Riley Reiff – T – Iowa
11. Kansas City – Ryan Tannehill – QB – Texas A&M
12. Seattle – Chandler Jones – DE – Syracuse
13. Arizona – Luke Kuechly – LB – Boston College
14. Dallas – David DeCastro – G – Stanford
15. Philadelphia – Dontari Poe – DT – Memphis
16. NY Jets – Michael Brockers – DT – LSU
17. Cincinnati – Stephon Gilmore – CB – South Carolina
18. San Diego – Melvin Ingram – DE/LB – South Carolina
19. Chicago – Quinton Coples – DE – North Carolina
20. Tennessee – Dont’a Hightower – LB – Alabama
21. Cincinnati – Kendall Reyes – DT – Connecticut
22. Cleveland – Stephen Hill – WR – Georgia Tech
23. Detroit – Dre Kirkpatrick – CB – Alabama
24. Pittsburgh – Courtney Upshaw – DE/LB – Alabama
25. Denver – Jerel Worthy – DT – Michigan State
26. Houston – Kendall Wright – WR – Baylor
27. New England – Harrison Smith – S – Notre Dame
28. Green Bay – Doug Martin – RB – Boise State
29. Baltimore – Shea McClellin – LB – Boise State
30. San Francisco – Janoris Jenkins – CB – N. Alabama
31. New England – Alameda Ta’amu – DT – Washington
32. NY Giants – David Wilson – RB – Virginia Tech

Click here to go to my second round… 

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In about a month the Browns will have two very large decisions to make with the #4 and #22 picks in the NFL Draft. They also have a high pick in the second round at #37 overall. The Browns won a whopping four games in 2011 so needless to say they need help in all areas of the team. However the offense was terrible in all facets of the game and needs to be addressed if the Browns are ever going to put a competitive team on the field.

Based upon what the Browns have (or haven’t) done in free agency I think they will target offense with at least two of their first three picks in the draft. Their biggest need on defense was finding a defensive end to play opposite of Jabaal Sheard and they found a serviceable player in Frostee Rucker. He’s not Mario Williams, but he is a decent short-term solution. With that signing they can focus on offense in the draft.

What I think the front office needs to consider with the first two picks are these two questions. “Do we want to come away from the draft with the hands-down best RB in the draft by a landslide, Trent Richardson from Alabama and the third or fourth best WR (Kendall Wright – Baylor, Stephen Hill – Georgia Tech) OR would we be better off with the top WR in the draft, Justin Blackmon from Oklahoma State and the second, third or fourth best RB in the draft (Doug Martin – Boise St., Lamar Miller – Miami, David Wilson – Virginia Tech)?”

With the Browns lack of success from their WRs taken in the second round (Brian Robiskie, Mohamed Massaquoi, Andre Davis, Quincy Morgan, & Dennis Northcutt) they may decide it’s time to pull the trigger on one early.

To see what I’m predicting will happen, not what I would do personally, check out my mock draft by clicking the link below.

http://www.neilstein.com/march-25-mock-draft.html

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Cleveland fans lost arguably the best player in the NBA only a couple short years ago when LeBron James took his talents to South Beach and the Miami Heat. What if Cleveland is paid back in the form of one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, Peyton Manning, spurning a lucrative offer from the Miami Dolphins in South Beach to come to Cleveland?

Obviously these two scenarios are much different as LeBron James was peaking when he turned his back on his hometown whereas Peyton Manning is on the downside of his career and is coming off a major surgery which cost him the entire 2011 season. Nonetheless, the excitement and passion that the signing of Manning would bring to Northeast Ohio would rival the anger and spite that the exodus of LeBron caused when he stabbed the Cavs and his fans in the back.

To take this unlikely scenario one step further, what if Manning came to the Browns and somehow found a way to help bring the Lombardi Trophy and a Super Bowl victory to Cleveland? In an area starving for a winner, a Peyton Manning-led championship would temporarily erase the memories of “The Fumble”, “The Drive”, “Red Right 88”,  and “The Decision”. Nothing could ever happen in sports to erase those memories (except maybe a Grand Slam of championships with the Browns, Indians and Cavaliers all winning in the same season) but Peyton Manning would forever be immortalized in the eyes of every sports fan in Northeast Ohio.

Could this happen? Absolutely – because the Browns are one of the few teams who not only need a quarterback, but they also have plenty of salary cap room where they could overpay and sign Manning to bring him to Cleveland. He won’t come here for a discount, but if he gets the Browns to the playoffs is he worth $15 million a year? If Manning wins them a Super Bowl I think every person in Northeast Ohio would say he’s worth $50 million!

Will he come to Cleveland? Realistically no, because the Browns don’t play in a passer friendly environment, don’t have quality receivers and run a very conservative offense. If the Browns would agree to open up the playbook and bring in a playmaker like Vincent Jackson, draft Justin Blackmon, or even bring in Manning’s go-to guy, Reggie Wayne, the offer gets a lot more appealing, but it’s still a reach. As a life-long Cleveland fan I’ve been brainwashed to give the Browns a 1% chance of signing Manning because good things don’t happen to Cleveland sports teams. However, to quote Jim Carrey (Lloyd Christmas) from Dumb and Dumber, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance!”

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