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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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Anyone who knows anything about sports knows the Cleveland Browns have been a trainwreck since 1999. Numerous different regimes have tried to get things right and none have done so yet. The time has come to offer my solutions. If the so-called expert front office staff members who’ve worked for the Browns can’t get it right could a football junkie, self-proclaimed NFL Draft expert, life-long Clevelander and Browns fan like myself do any worse?

First things first, a Head Coach. I don’t think Chud was given a fair chance in Cleveland. Name any other NFL coach who could do much when they are rolling out three different below-average QBs during the year? However, the past is the past so I won’t dwell on what’s been done.

My first phone calls to find a new coach would be Marty Schottenheimer and Brian Billick. I know Schottenheimer has been out of the game for a few years but his last season coaching the Chargers he went 14-2! Also, while the league lasted only a couple years, he actually coached a UFL team as recently as 2011 (he actually won the league championship) so it hasn’t been that long. His one downfall is he can’t win in the playoffs, but if he could get the Browns even close to the playoffs he’d be a savior!

With Brian Billick all he did in his nine seasons as head coach of the Ravens was go 24 games OVER .500 and win a Super Bowl! In addition, he won without a franchise QB and let’s just say that’s been a little problem in Cleveland lately.

Those guys may not be perfect solutions so if you don’t like those options my other phone call would be to Stanford Head Coach David Shaw. He’s turned down other options previously so I would begin the conversation with “How would you like to triple your salary?” Shaw wins creatively with a pro-style offense which he molds around his personnel and his players love him and play hard for him.

So, once I have my head coach on board I turn my attention to the roster…

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Nobody Night…Awful Night… Mustache Appreciation…Used Car Giveaways…and even Salute to Indoor Plumbing. These are all promotional nights which have taken place at Minor League Baseball games in the past. Fans and outsiders hear about these events and even attend these events from time to time but does anyone really ever think about what goes into planning one of these nights or how they were developed in the first place? Keep reading and you’ll find out.

First, it’s a safe bet to assume that 95% of teams sit down at the conclusion of every season to discuss what went well during the season and to begin brainstorming ideas for the next season. In these brainstorming sessions many ideas are floated around…some of them great and some of them completely unrealistic. However, sometimes the ideas which may seem unrealistic at first become the well-known promotions we know and love thanks to the creativity of the folks in Minor League Baseball.

I classify Minor League “Theme Nights” into two different categories. First, some teams do these promotions just for fun and in hopes of not only local but national publicity. The Charleston RiverDogs once staged “Nobody Night” where they didn’t let fans into the ballpark until the 5th inning so they could announce an attendance of zero for the night. They very much accomplished their goal of garnering publicity from these event as it’s still talked about today, but this didn’t translate into any type of monetary benefit to the team. While Minor League teams are known for fun, wacky promotions they are also businesses with bills to pay and publicity doesn’t pay my salary as an employee of a Minor League team!

The other category for these promotional nights would be ones in which teams develop in order to try to increase sales – tickets, merchandise and food. I’ll use my own Cleveland Sports History Night with the Captains as an example of this type of promotion. Cleveland Sports History Night began as a theme night idea to re-live some of the infamous moments Cleveland sports teams are known for. Once the idea was dreamed up we brainstormed on what all should be involved in the night and came up with concessions specials, celebrity appearances, group ticket ideas, and merchandise sales opportunities. Our concession special we did was Nickel Beer (Dime Beer in year two) which was an idea to bring in the beer-drinking fans and generate media attention…it worked on both accounts.We did small, discounted beer for one hour and then sold full-price beer for the remainder of the game. We also thought bringing in former Cleveland athletes would help bring in true sports fans looking to meet and greet these athletes and this has worked for four straight seasons. Next, we targeted Browns Backers groups to do a group outing at the ballpark on this night which ended up turning into a large pre-game tailgate party in the parking lot prior to the game. Finally, we wanted to sell merchandise to these die-hard Cleveland sports fans so we bring in baseball cards of the celebrities, footballs, football helmets, photographs and anything else we think may sell and try to make money through incremental merchandise sales as well. The in-game promotions are icing on the cake for the fans who’ve come to the game and we hope that at the end of the night fans enjoyed their experience and will come back for another game in the future.

In a perfect world everything comes together and a team not only gets great publicity from a wacky promotional night but they also find a way to cash in financially. My current team, the Lake County Captains, and I were lucky enough that the stars aligned for us on Cleveland Sports History Night which has been going strong for four seasons and was named Promotion of the Year by ESPN Magazine in 2009. This year’s event came and went this past weekend and now I’m hoping the folks at Minor League Baseball will recognize our event as part of their Golden Bobblehead Awards for Minor League promotions.

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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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Well, tonight is like Christmas night (or Rosh Hashanah for my Jewish friends) for many NFL fans and especially those of us Browns fans. The Browns had two first round picks in the NFL draft and a huge opportunity to improve the team which has struggled since coming back to Cleveland in 1999. So, with the picks of RB Trent Richardson from Alabama and QB Brandon Weeden from Oklahoma State how did the Browns do improving their team?

First, let’s discuss the Browns trading up to take Trent Richardson at #3 instead of #4. When I first heard about the trade the first thing I heard was that they gave up three picks to move up one spot. When I heard that I squirmed for a minute but said “As long as it isn’t a 2nd or 3rd round pick I’m ok with it.” It ended up being the second of two 4th round picks, a 5th and a 7th. When I found that out I was ok because we were getting our guy for sure and weren’t going to let Tampa or St. Louis move up to snatch him away from us. Also, the next thing I looked at was what “value” did we give up to move up one spot. Using the Trade Value Chart moving from three to four should cost 400  additional points. The value of the picks we gave was only about 115 points so in theory we got a bargain! Plus, the Browns still have 10 picks in the draft – plenty of picks to improve the team.

Next, Richardson fills a HUGE hole on the Browns. Do Brandon Jackson, Montario Hardesty or Chris Ogbonnaya scare any defenses? Hell no. Does Richardson – absolutely. He’s going to be an immediate starter for the Browns and a top five or ten RB in his first season.

Now on to the much more controversial pick of Brandon Weeden at #22. First, let me say I like Weeden as a potential NFL QB. As a Minor League pitcher he threw in the upper 90’s so he has a great arm. He made tons of throws at Oklahoma State so has plenty of passes under his belt.  However, think about this…

Brandon Weeden is 28 and will be 29 during this season so any NFL team who would want to maximize his value would want him to play right away in the hopes of getting 8-10 years out of the guy. If you look at every team before the draft started how many teams fit the criteria of needing a starting QB for the 2012 season? The Dolphins could have been one of them but they took Ryan Tannehill at #8. The other team who was considered to be looking for a QB was Kansas City but they have a starter and wouldn’t have chosen until after the Browns in the 2nd round. Any other teams come to mind? No. So why would the Browns think they’d need to take him at #22? I’d almost argue that Weeden may have slipped to the 3rd round if the Browns didn’t take him in the 2nd round!!! Again, I like Weeden and will be rooting for him to be a success…sooner rather than later.

Had the Browns passed on Weeden they could have taken the second best tackle in the draft, Riley Reiff, the best guard in the draft, David DeCastro, or the best WR left on their board (who knows who this is but maybe Stephen Hill, Ruben Randle or even Alshon Jeffery). If the Browns can get Hill, Randle or Jeffery in Round 2 then I think the pick if Weeden looks a lot better. The other direction the Browns may look in the 2nd round may be RT with both Cordy Glenn and Jonathan Martin still on the board.

Overall, I’m happy with the 1st round of the draft for the Browns and am almost as excited for the 2nd and 3rd rounds of the draft tomorrow!

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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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This may be my first and last post about hockey, but I was watching a few minutes of the NHL playoffs the other day and started thinking about how many fights and penalties there are in hockey. It seems like every 10 minutes or so there’s a mini-fight because someone happened to skate a little too close to the goalie or because someone got checked into the boards too hard. I understand fighting has been a part of hockey forever, but in this day and age with all of the emphasis on stats and figures in MLB and even the NFL why hasn’t anyone taken a long hard look at the impact of these penalties on wins and losses in hockey?

I don’t have the time to dig intensely deep into the stats related to Power Plays and penalties in hockey but I did look up a handful of numbers to use as an example for people to start thinking about. Depending on the year, anywhere from about 20% to 30% of ALL goals scored in an NHL season come on Power Plays.  That’s anywhere from 1/5 to 1/3 of ALL goals scored because one team committed a penalty.

Consider those numbers relative to a sport like football which we all know and love. If an NFL team gave up 1/4 of their total points during the season because they did something like commit multiple holding penalties, or pass interference penalties or false starts I would go out on a limb and guess that the coaches would do everything in their power to eliminate or cut down on those penalties in the future. It’s a little something called statistical analysis – or as I tell my children “Learn from your Mistakes.”

I’m realistic enough to know that not ALL penalties in hockey can be eliminated as there are going to be tripping or high-sticking penalties during the normal course of play. However, if teams really wanted to cut down on their penalty minutes and creating Power Plays for their opponents they could easily do so by stopping their players from dropping their gloves and fighting every chance they get.

Initially there would be an adjustment period and everyone else in the NHL would look at that team and call them “soft”, but the same thing happened in MLB when the Oakland A’s began their transformation from traditional player analysis to statistical analysis. Not long after the wins started piling up for the A’s did many other teams jump on the same bandwagon.

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