There’s often a sort of hierarchy to drafting at the wide receiver position, with one sturdy pillar needed in place before others can be lined up. Just like the uber studs at other positions, the sexy, soon-to-be diva wideout is difficult to resist with his combination of size, speed, and sheer athleticism.
For the Browns, however, that temptation should be pushed aside.
Earlier this morning Sports Illustrated’s Peter King relayed the latest rumors regarding the Browns and their fourth overall pick, an early simmering trade hot spot that’s made the Mistake by the Lake cool again, at least temporarily…very temporarily. But if the Browns stay there and select hypothetically the fourth best player in this year’s draft, the general consensus throughout the silliest season in the NFL calendar is that the name called by Roger Goodell will be either Trent Richardson, or Ryan Tannehill.
We’ve gone on record multiple times with the stance that although there’s clear uncertainty with Tannehill, drafting in the top five raises the level of risk management needed for success. Given the short shelf life of running backs and the pounding at the position, it’s more appealing to take a calculated risk with Tannehill, gambling on his upside to address a clear area of need in Cleveland instead of using a top five pick on a running back.
But there’s a chance that month-long debate between Tannehill and Richardson could be useless, because King’s sources told him that wide receiver Justin Blackmon is seriously entering the draft discussions currently being held somewhere deep inside the Factory of Sadness.
I heard different things over the weekend from people I trust. GM Tom Heckert loves Blackmon and that would be his pick; president Mike Holmgren is still trying to decide with finality if Tannehill is the franchise quarterback worth taking here.
Wide receiver is indeed an area of need after Greg Little, Cleveland’s leading wideout, had just 709 receiving yards. In the most recent edition of Todd McShay’s mock draft where he laid out several scenarios for each team, Blackmon is listed for the Browns. But McShay stresses that Cleveland’s decision centers around their evaluation of Tannehill.
Blackmon’s potential future in Cleveland centers around the evaluation of another quarterback: Colt McCoy. If there isn’t enough confidence in McCoy’s future–and at this point, there should be only lukewarm confidence at best–then getting the desired return on a top-end receiver could be difficult.
McCoy finished the 2011 season with a passer rating of 74.6, which puts him in the prestigious company of Tim Tebow (72.9), and Rex Grossman (72.4). His 57.7 completion percentage ranked the former Texas star 26th, while his yards per attempt was a lowly 5.9, and was better than only Blaine Gabbert.
There’s the impulse to compare a McCoy-Blackmon tandem with the near instant chemistry we saw between Andy Dalton and A.J. Green last year, but adding both Green and Dalton in Cincinnati slotted in the final two crucial pieces for an offense that already had talent and youth at key positions. Cedric Benson is a reliable if unspectacular running back, while Jermaine Gresham at tight end was a first-round pick just two years ago. Green was also supported by Jerome Simpson and Jordan Shipley.
The problems with the Browns’ offense are far more deep rooted, meaning a McCoy turnaround won’t be instant. As the roster sits right now prior to the draft, Montario Hardesty is the likely starter in the backfield, and his upside is matched by his feeble frame after he missed the entire 2010 season, and six games last year. When he was healthy, Hardesty averaged only three yards per carry.
Beyond that, Ben Watson at tight end is aging (he’s 31) and he’s also injury prone after starting just 11 games last year. There would still be the problem of having little downfield support for Blackmon too.
Oddly and frighteningly, Gregg Williams may have summed up the Cleveland offense best with his infamous “kill the head and the body will die” quote. From failures like Charlie Frye and Tim Couch, to brief success followed by bitter disappointment in the form of Derek Anderson, the central figure in the Browns’ offense has continually killed the rest of the unit.
If the grade is high enough on Tannehill, spend a top five pick on a quarterback. If it isn’t, wimp out and take Richardson, but selecting Blackmon is putting several layers of duct tape around a gushing pipe in the kitchen sink. He needs someone to, you know, throw him the ball.