By Tony Grossi
Who could have envisioned the lone receiver joining the Browns after a horrendous year at the position would be one of the smallest and lightest players in the draft?
Travis Benjamin – all of 5-9 7/8 and 172 pounds -- to the rescue?
Yet the Browns claim there is no panic about the position. They say their returning receivers will be better because of the new players added around them – specifically first-round draft picks Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson.
“I do know this, when you have outstanding quarterback play, we all look good,” said coach Pat Shurmur.
“They will be better for a lot of reasons,” Browns President Mike Holmgren said. “That’s why no one’s in a panic about how the draft went as far as our receivers. We will not drop the ball like we did last year. We will have a running game to go with our passing game. Just by those things by themselves, it will be better.”
Here are our grades on how the Browns did over the three days of the draft:
Round 1, 3rd overall, Alabama RB Trent Richardson: Jim Brown called him ordinary. Most everyone else considers him an extraordinary back. He is the highest-drafted running back ever – ever – by a franchise steeped in tradition at the position. He has the physical stature of a tough-to-tackle back – short, wide, squatty – the quickness to get around the edge, the speed to turn short runs into long gains, the power to pass block effectively, and the hands to catch. He has been grounded by a difficult upbringing and sounds supremely motivated to support his two daughters by maximizing his athletic talents – not taking them for granted. After a season-long soap opera at the position last year, player dependability and accountability was demanded by the coach. Grade: A.
Round 1, 22nd overall, Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden: If he were 23, two things would be different. He would have gone higher in the first round, and there would be less inclination to force him in immediately. But he’s 28 and there is no time for him to ease in. He makes a great case for his age being a positive in this situation. His natural maturity will help, but it will come down to adjusting from a shotgun-spread offense against little or no pass rush to scanning the field in the West Coast offense with James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley bearing in on him. His physical stature and arm strength are much needed at QB in the AFC North, and his accuracy numbers against Big 12 defenses are impressive. Grade: B.
Round 2, 37th overall, California OT Mitchell Schwartz: He was the third offensive tackle taken in the draft. Critics said that: 1. They could have used the choice on a wideout, and 2. More highly rated tackles were available. The Browns liked his size (6-5 and 318, though he’s not a mauler) and his experience at both left and right tackle. He’ll be counted on to fill out the starting unit at right tackle immediately – a significant need. His brother is an NFL lineman and one of his position coaches at Cal was Steve Marshall, a former Browns line coach. Grade: B-minus.
Round 3, 87th overall, Cincinnati DT John Hughes: This wasa head-sratcher, as most draft services projected him in the late rounds or undrafted. At best, they see him as a strong, two-down, run-clogger who will be off the field on passing downs. As teams amp up their three- and four-receiver sets, he could see even less time on the field – unless an opponent is grinding the clock with handoffs in the fourth quarter. The need was there to ease the load on Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin, but this was a reach. Grade: D.
Round 4, 100th overall, Miami WR Travis Benjamin: When they finally got around to taking a receiver, they chose one of the smallest, lightest players in the draft. He’s a shade under 5-10 and 172 pounds. His redeeming quality is blazing, 4.3 speed. At his size, he better be fast, because if any NFL defender – or special teams kamikaze – makes direct contact, he could snap like a No. 2 pencil. Despite his speed, he doesn’t have a great resume as a returner. Grade: C-minus.
Round 4, 120th overall, Nevada LB James-Michael Johnson: He has a bunch of qualities desirable of a middle linebacker, but is said to lack the brute strength to take on blockers at the next level. His determination and motivation is contagious and will serve him well on special teams to begin his NFL career. Grade: C.
Round 5, 160th overall, Colorado OL Ryan Miller: Potentially a valuable swingman. He broke in as a right tackle and finished his college career at right guard. At a towering 6-7 and 321 pounds, some project him returning to tackle in the NFL. He calls himself a nasty player who will “bleed, bite, crawl and scratch to get the job done.” He also played under Marshall, the former Browns line coach. Grade: B.
Round 6, 204th overall, Texas LB Emmanuel Acho: He might not have the athletic ability of younger brother, Sam, a fourth-round pick of Arizona last year, but has the instincts at the position to earn a roster spot on special teams and backup linebacker. Grade: C.
Round 6, 205th overall, Boise State DT Billy Winn: If you switch his draft position with that of Hughes, they fall in line with their pre-draft projections. He has more initial quickness than Hughes, giving him some penetrating rush potential. He completes the effort to upgrade the defensive line depth inside. Grade: B.
Round 7, 245th overall, Arizona CB Trevin Wade: He rebounded from a poor junior season to recoup his draft status. He has some good ball skills and is very aggressive. Not a great tackler. Grade: C-minus.
Round 7, 247th overall, Alabama FB-TE Brad Smelley: A hybrid fullback-tight end type who can save the team a roster spot by filling two roles. Grade: C.
* Traded Nos. 4, 118, 139 and 211 to Minnesota for No. 3:This was done to insure no team jumped ahead to steal Richardson. At least one national online columnist contended the Browns were bluffed into moving up when no other team was interested. The Browns disputed that, saying they knew what offer the Vikings had in hand. When you have 13 picks, using three late ones to insure your No. 1 target is a small price. According to the draft value chart, which might be obsolete, the difference in No. 3 and No. 4 is 400 points. The value of the Browns’ three picks surrendered was 101.5 points – chicken feed. Ultimately, those picks were used on Arkansas WR Jarius Wright, Notre Dame S Robert Blanton and Rice DE Scott Solomon. Trade grade: B.
* Traded No. 67 to Denver for Nos. 87 and 120: This was an absolute baffler. The Browns moved down and took Hughes at No. 87 and picked up a fourth-round pick. Heckert said he immediately second-guessed himself because he feared somebody would snatch Hughes. By moving down, the Browns lost out on receivers DeVier Posey of Ohio State (No. 68 by Houston) and Mohamed Sanu (No. 83 by Cincinnati). They then used No. 120 on Johnson. Trade grade: D.
Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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