Same Ol’ Browns? Not This Time Around
The news of Josh Gordon's reported failed drug test—and potential year-long suspension—might have been a buzzkill, but the Browns still are headed in the right direction. Plus, draft thoughts on the other 31 teams in the league
A Browns buzzkill? Don’t let it be.
One day after Browns fans saw their team’s future suddenly look brighter after the draft of cornerback Justin Gilbert and quarterback Johnny Manziel, they were crestfallen to find out top receiver Josh Gordon reportedly failed another drug test for marijuana and was facing a season-long suspension.
It’s bad news on two counts. One, Gordon was coming off a Pro Bowl season and is one of the most physically gifted receivers in the game. And, two, the rest of the receiving group is thin and now has Nate Burleson dealing with a broken arm.
This is part of the deal with Gordon, whose well-publicized troubles go back to stops at two different colleges. The Browns have known Gordon is one misstep away from a serious suspension for some time now. The team, more than anyone, knows that Gordon has yet to earn the trust that he will do the right thing and fly right. This isn’t a surprise to anyone in Berea.
And this should not take away from what general manager Ray Farmer is doing just months into the job. The Browns are really building something.
The easy criticism is to say the Browns shouldn’t have traded out of the fourth spot with the Bills, and the Browns instead should have drafted Sammy Watkins, knowing Gordon’s troubles. That’s not how you build a team. You take the haul (a first-round and fourth-round pick next year to move down five spots) and take good players. That’s what Farmer has done.
Gilbert, Manziel, offensive lineman Joel Bitonio and linebacker Christian Kirksey could all start as rookies for the Browns. Running back Terrance West gives them a solid backup to Ben Tate, who has durability issues.
As for receiver, the draft is deep with them—all the way through undrafted free agency. Veteran receivers could be available after being released or via trade. Receiver is one of the toughest positions in the draft to project to the NFL. I don’t blame Farmer for going the cautious route there, and sticking to his draft board.
“At the time we made our selections we took the best player available for what we wanted to do,” Farmer told reporters Friday. “We stuck with our board and took the name that was best for us at that time. … I’m not concerned with the depth at wide receiver because we play games in September. There’s still plenty of opportunity for us to acquire players, whether it’s (through) trades, draft someone, whether it’s players who are cut. There’s always opportunities to acquire players.”
But there’s only one way to build a team, and that’s through successful drafts. Farmer is well on his way to having one his first time out with the Browns. Yes, it’s disappointing that Gordon had another lapse, but he’s just one of 53 and doesn’t play quarterback. It takes a team to win the NFL, and that’s the important work Farmer is doing.
AROUND THE LEAGUE’S WAR ROOMS
Arizona Cardinals: They played their best on offense last year when they went tight end heavy. Second-round pick Troy Niklas is a better all-around tight end than Jake Ballard. Both will make a terrific blocking duo in short yardage.
Atlanta Falcons: GM Thomas Dimitroff continued a strong offseason (which was needed badly) with offensive tackle Jake Matthews and defensive end Ra’Shede Hageman, who will help two lines that need it. Third-round pick Dez Southward has a lot of athletic upside but is a bit of a project at safety. No immediate need there.
Baltimore Ravens: An impressive haul so far. After getting linebacker C.J. Mosley on Thursday, the Ravens replaced now-Colt Arthur Jones with FSU defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, and then got a safety in Terrence Brooks who could prove better in the long term than any of them. Strong safety Matt Elam needs a future running mate, and Brooks, who is smart and fast, could arrive quickly. Could prove to be a great pick.
Buffalo Bills: Didn’t love the trade up for Sammy Watkins because of the cost and position, but loved the second day picks of offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and linebacker Preston Brown. Kouandjio will start on the right side from the first day, and Brown is basically a clone of MLB Brandon Spikes, who is only on a one-year deal.
Carolina Panthers: The pick of defensive end Kony Ealy in the second round looks strange considering the Panthers have two pretty good ones in Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson, but it’s probably not sustainable for Carolina to keep both in the long term. Hardy’s on the franchise tag, and Johnson could be gone after this season as a cap casualty. Ealy at least helps as a sub-package pass rusher as a rookie. Guard Trai Turner will compete immediately for a spot on the right side of the line.
Chicago Bears: Impressive depth draft by GM Phil Emery with a defensive back in Kyle Fuller (who is very versatile), and two 300-pound defensive tackles in Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton. The DTs aren’t immediately needed, but they’ll provide quality depth and will compete for starting spots in the future.
Cincinnati Bengals: They just ticked off spots where they need to get younger competition with cornerback Darqueze Dennard, running back Jeremy Hill and 6-foot-6 defensive end Will Clarke. Well done by Mike Brown and coach Marvin Lewis.
Dallas Cowboys: They sent two picks to NFC East rival Washington to draft defensive end Demarcus Lawrence, who they hope can fill some of the production void left by DeMarcus Ware (Broncos). That’s a lot to give up when you have some holes to fill, but it won’t matter if Lawrence turns out to be a player.
Denver Broncos: Drafted, basically, a future Eric Decker (Jets), in speedy 6-foot-3 Cody Latimer. The Broncos signed Emmanuel Sanders as a free agent, but Wes Welker had some injury problems last year. Latimer provides some insurance short term.
Detroit Lions: Through three rounds, the Lions still haven’t provided any help to a secondary that has been a running problem for years in the NFC North. Either GM Martin Mayhew will look like a genius by correctly gauging the talent on his roster, or he’s going to be on the hook for overvaluing his guys, which happens more than you think. But linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who should start immediately, was a very good pick.
Green Bay Packers: WR Davante Adams is a clone of departed James Jones (Raiders), and the Packers got some much-needed athletic size on the defensive line with Southern Miss defensive tackle Khyri Thornton (6-3, 304). Draft, develop, set a fixed price. Rinse and repeat. The Ted Thompson way.
Houston Texans: Love what GM Rick Smith has done with every pick. Especially like the selection of Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix, who addresses a vital position in Romeo Crennel’s 3-4 defense. Now, they just need to get him to play with his hair on fire all the time. Easier said than done.
Indianapolis Colts: Didn’t pick until 59th and 90th, but they got two needed players in offensive tackle Jack Mewhort, who should compete right away at right guard, and wide receiver Donte Moncrief. He’s one of my favorite players in the draft, and the Colts can bring him along slowly behind Reggie Wayne and Hakeem Nicks at the boundary receiver spots.
Jacksonville Jaguars: After taking QB Blake Bortles and declaring that they would redshirt him for a year, the Jaguars got receivers that can grow with him in Marqise Lee (USC) and Allen Robinson (Penn State). Justin Blackmon (suspension) is probably not long for Jacksonville, so the team needed to restock and targeted two accomplished receivers. Jaguars traded up for OL Brandon Linder, who will compete for a starting spot as a rookie.
Kansas City Chiefs: Cornerback Phillip Gaines brings needed competition and speed (4.38 in the 40-yard dash) to the secondary. Look for the Chiefs to target offensive speed on the final day. Still need a lot of help at receiver.
Miami Dolphins: Surprisingly, they don’t have a lot of glaring needs, so adding depth at receiver (underrated Jarvis Landry) and raw offensive lineman Billy Turner was good work by GM Dennis Hickey. They also picked up two later picks in trades.
Minnesota Vikings: One of the more interesting players in the draft is Georgia Southern running back Jerick McKinnon, the Vikings’ third-round pick. He played cornerback and quarterback in college, and eventually will be a safety. Rare that you see a player drafted this high who doesn’t even know which side of the ball he’s going to be on.
New England Patriots: So Bill Belichick took his first swipe at finding Tom Brady’s successor by picking Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo with the 62nd selection—the highest Belichick has ever drafted a quarterback. Look, backup Ryan Mallett is either going to be gone soon in a trade, or after the season via free agency. Garoppolo, who possesses a very quick release and is proficient in the short to medium passing game, fits the Patriots’ offense much better than Mallett, whose drafting basically was a shot to see if they could steal a future first-rounder in a trade (won’t happen). Brady has showed no signs of slowing, but that might not still be the case in two or three years. For a team that doesn’t have many holes, it was worth the shot if they think this could be their Aaron Rodgers.
New Orleans Saints: After seeing him up close at the Senior Bowl, I’m not as high on second-round corner Stanley Jean-Baptiste as others. Yes, he’s big (6-3), but he doesn’t move very well for a corner. He might actually end up being a better free safety, which would be fine.
New York Giants: Center Weston Richburg should start immediately. The Giants really did nice work overhauling the offensive line in free agency and with Richburg. Eli Manning might have a chance this season.
New York Jets: GM John Idzik continued to do good worth with tight end Jace Amaro, who will be a badly needed instant offensive weapon, and corner Dex McDougle. Hopefully coach Rex Ryan gave his blessing on the Maryland cornerback because he’s small and has durability issues. Still, he can fly and the Jets love cornerbacks that can run.
Oakland Raiders: Reggie McKenzie got his future quarterback in Derek Carr, and now he needs to work out. McKenzie decided not to trade back into the first round for Johnny Manziel or Teddy Bridgewater, so the career comparisons of all three players will start immediately.
Philadelphia Eagles: With DeSean Jackson gone and Jeremy Maclin coming back from injury, coach Chip Kelly got two receivers in Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff (played for Kelly at Oregon) that will fit nicely in his system because they aren’t afraid of physical play. They needed competition at receiver.
Pittsburgh Steelers: It’s a bit of a shock that the Steelers have yet to pick a needed cornerback. And the Steelers must feel good about speedy RB/returner Dri Archer because they tried this before with Chris Rainey and failed miserably.
San Diego Chargers: GM Tom Telesco traded up to get linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu, who was really the last available good 3-4 edge player. Chargers really needed one, and he also brings some inside/outside versatility.
San Francisco 49ers: GM Trent Baalke passed over receivers in the first round and we know why after he acquired Stevie Johnson from the Bills. Johnson is one of the best in the league at getting away from tough man coverage, which will be handy against the Seahawks. Baalke knocked it out of the park on the second day of the draft with running back Carlos Hyde, center Marcus Martin and redshirt offensive tackle Brandon Thomas (ACL). Hyde will get touches this season, and Martin will compete for a starting spot. Thomas is a gamer who will give the team options next year. Linebacker Chris Borland is small, but he’s smart and provides needed insurance for the injured NaVorro Bowman.
Seattle Seahawks: Without many holes, the defending champs reached for wide receiver Paul Richardson (speed) and offensive tackle Justin Britt (huge at 6-6, 325) who they hope can pay off big down the road.
St. Louis Rams: GM Les Snead continued to load up impressively with versatile corner/safety Lamarcus Joyner and stud Auburn running back Tre Mason. There’s little doubt the Rams have gotten better in this draft, but will they get up to speed quickly enough to challenge in the deep and strong NFC West?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: GM Jason Licht may have pulled off a rarity, getting three offensive specialists (wideout Mike Evans, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and running back Charles Sims) who have the talent to contribute quickly as rookies. The odds are against that, but if any three can do it, it’s the Bucs’ picks.
Tennessee Titans: They bid farewell to Chris Johnson and got an instant backfield companion for Shonn Greene with Washington’s Bishop Sankey. Still badly need to find a quarterback to compete with Jake Locker.
Washington: In Stanford’s Trent Murphy they got some OLB insurance in case Brian Orakpo doesn’t agree to a long-term deal. They also added much-needed OL help with OT Morgan Moses and OG Spencer Long. Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris might have some blocking on the right side this season.