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The Cleveland Browns Need A First-Round Knockout

What it takes to run an NFL franchise and what goes on behind the scenes I know is more complex than we know sitting on the outside. I'm aware of that. 

However, the ongoing mess at wide receiver and quarterback and the Browns inability or, in the case of the wide receiver position, unwillingness to address it high in the draft is frustrating.

Every fan looks at this team and says the same thing: We need a stud wide receiver and we need the quarterback position settled. Heck, we've said it for years. I'll admit that fan bases are ALWAYS obsessed with the quarterback position, but this fan base has cause.

QUARTERBACK

I'll give the Browns half a credit for at least TRYING to address the quarterback void. They've drafted eight quarterbacks since their return in 1999.

And I can't even crap on every choice they've made. In retrospect, yes. But at the time, I felt good about a few of those picks. Not because I liked them in college - I don't even watch college football - but because these draft "experts" had me sold on them.

Johnny Manziel, Colt McCoy and Brady Quinn. All seemed like really good choices, something to be excited about. Right now, the best of that trio may be Colt McCoy. 

I know it's not really fair to say that about Manziel. The guy hasn't had much of a chance to play. And the fact that he went to rehab and is still there should not be an indication that he is done, though I think he's pretty much written off by most of the public, the same public that couldn't stop clamoring for him to be the starting quarterback. 

I'll also make this observation about all three: They were drafted later than they were expected to be. I guess we know why.

Here are the quarterbacks currently on the Browns roster: Manziel, Josh McCown, Connor Shaw, and Thaddeus Lewis. Okay. So unless the Browns draft or trade for another QB, all chips appear to be in on Manziel, right? I guess I'm sort of okay with that. You picked him the first round. You could at least give him a season to try and prove something. But I hate that my best reasoning for a guy being a starter is because he was drafted in the first round.

WIDE RECEIVER

The other position of need is wide receiver. Here are their current receivers of note: Brian Hartline, Andrew Hawkins, Dwayne Bowe, Travis Benjamin, and Taylor Gabriel. Really, not a bad group if you could add one stud in the mix.

The big question is: Will they? Last year when they had a chance to, they traded out of the spot and ended up with a cornerback. They made six choices last year and not one of them was a wide receiver. At the time of the draft, the Browns knew Josh Gordon was going to be suspended and the thought then was that it would be for an entire year. Like the suspension he is serving now.

General Manager Ray Farmer has conceded that the team needs to upgrade the skill positions in order to put whatever quarterback is starting in a position to be successful.

Does that mean he'll draft one with a high pick? I have no idea. It's been ten years since the Browns took a wide receiver in the first round: Braylon Edwards. I understand that Farmer was only in charge of one of those drafts, but when it comes to the Browns, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Let's look at those past 10 drafts.

PAST DRAFTS

In the past ten drafts, the Browns have made 77 selections. They have chosen 41 defensive players, and 36 offensive players. In the first three rounds, they've made 33 picks, 19 offensive players and 14 defensive players. Almost half of those defensive picks were used on defensive backs. That's a little surprising.

My fancy spreadsheet of Browns draft choices since 2005. (I need a girlfriend)

As you can see, in the first round, it's 6 offensive players and 5 defensive players. Of those 6 offensive players, 3 were quarterbacks, Manziel, Brandon Weeden, and Brady Quinn. Yeah. 

As already noted, Edwards is the only wide receiver taken in the first round in that same time period. That was back in 2005. That was Romeo Crennel and Phil Savage. George W. Bush was just starting his second term as the POTUS. You know what else was just starting in 2005? YouTube. That's the last time this organization invested a first round pick in a wide receiver.

In the first three rounds over this time, the Browns have chosen 6 quarterbacks (Manizel, Weeden, Quinn, Charlie Frye, Colt McCoy, and Luke McCown.) And in the first three rounds, the Browns have chosen 5 wide receivers. (Edwards, Travis Wilson, Mohamed Massaquoi, Brian Robiskie, and Greg Little.)

Which brings up another point: It's not just about making the pick; it's about making the right one.

THE 2015 DRAFT

I'm not pointing all of this out as some way to pile on the Browns for the choices they've made. It's more of a backstory to the upcoming draft. What will the Browns do with the first of their two first-round draft picks?

NFL.com's Lance Zierlein has the Browns taking a falling Marcus Mariota. So does Yahoo Sports' Shaun King. CBSSports has a panel of mock drafters, and they have the Browns taking either OT La'el Collins or NT Danny Shelton. BleacherReport.com also has them taking Shelton. I've also seen WR DeVante Parker a couple of times.

But I'll be honest with you, I have no idea what they will do. The reason I don't know is A) because I don't care/know enough about college players to make a specific pick, and, more importantly, B) because the Browns are so unpredictable in drafting with the exception of one thing: They just LOVE to trade out of their pick.

I wonder what the odds are of them even making a pick at 12. Most of the talk is about them packaging the 12th and the 19th pick to move up and get Mariota. Or trading the picks for the stud NFL quarterback rumored to be on the trading block this week. (See: Drew Brees, Philip Rivers). Also, they seem to be in love with trading down. 

Despite the glaring holes on offense, I truly expect the Browns to take a defensive guy. That makes some sense as their run defense last year was atrocious most of the time.

But it doesn't help when you're sitting at home watching them go 4-and-out because they can't move the football. Defenses, no matter how talented, will eventually wear down over the course of a game if they have to spend most of it digging in and pushing back the opposing offense.

Just as Farmer acknowledges that there needs to be a balance at the offensive skill positions in order for one position (QB) to be successful, he needs to know that the team as a whole is the same way. Just as scoring 20 point a game isn't going to matter if you're giving up 23, holding an opponent to 13 points isn't going to matter if you can only score 6. 

I have to say that it would be hard for them to turn down Mariota if they have the chance to get him. I think they're probably praying that they don't. I may be, too.

Everyone says that the guy is not NFL ready and really should sit behind a veteran and learn how to play in a pro system. Maybe that's true. But I guarantee that he won't make it a year here behind someone else. As the losses start to add up, as the games get less interesting, the fans will SCREAM for him to come in. "How much worse can he be?!"

Just kill me now.

And with the public asking and asking and asking, so will the press, and eventually, the coaches will cave. And Mariota will be run out there and then, not long after, run out of town.

ON THE BRIGHT SIDE

Am I wrong? Just being cynical? Maybe. I can't forever carry around the baggage of past Browns drafts. There is a room for some optimism here.

It's great that the team has two first round choices. They have holes. They need quality players. Of course, in the past ten drafts, the Browns have had 2 first-round picks three times. Who did they walk away with? Joe Thomas, Quinn, Trent Richardson, Weeden, Justin Gilbert, and Manziel. Thomas is going to end up in the Hall of Fame. The rest? No or unlikely. 

But that doesn't mean they will make bad choices this time. It doesn't mean that those last two picks, when all is said and done, were bad choices. But it doesn't leave a lot of room for optimism.

And if your optimism rides on the Browns getting some home run hitter (gosh, I just love to mix my sports metaphors) then you may want to temper it. We'll get a guy or two that everyone will say was a monster at this school or has a great skill set. As long as they don't say anything about his motor. Or how he can be impactful if he puts on some weight. 

For once, I want them to take the no-brainer. The fan in me wants it to be a receiver. They should have done that last year when they traded out of their pick. Will it be a wide receiver this year? Some mock drafts say they will. But those guys live in far away places like New York and Los Angeles.

Will they swing for the fences with a quarterback again? I think that's more likely. They are in desperation mode with that position, and it's going to be hard to compete without at least a 2nd tier QB. If that's going to be someone currently under contract, then it's going to be Manziel. It's not going to be Jake Delhomme. I mean, McCown. (That's really not fair to McCown. But it's hard to write about the Browns and not make one snarky comment.)

I think you'll see Shelton with their first pick and someone like Eric Flowers (offensive tackle) with the second. I'm pretty sure our own Jim Pete would be okay with that. They'll say they really wanted some receiver, but they weren't able to trade up and get him. That's my prediction for the first round.

I only ask that they, please, don't get fancy. These will be their 5th and 6th first-round picks in the past 4 drafts. So far they've all been misses. I want to see them come away with something this time. When everyone is doing their post-draft grading (a sure-fire content filler for everyone who writes or talks about the NFL), I want the Browns to walk away with at least a B for the first round. They don't have to be Hall of Famers, but at least be All-Pros. All-Pro Alternates? Still be on the team three years later?

Maybe I'll stop thinking about it for a while. Think about something more promising.

When do they unveil the new uniforms?
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