NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 10: Heisman Trophy finalist Trent Richardson of the Alabama Crimson Tide speaks during a press conference at The New York Marriott Marquis on December 10, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Whether Cleveland goes with Trent Richardson, Morris Claiborne or entertains the possibility of trading down, it's how the Browns use their flexibility that will determine the team's success in the 2012 NFL Draft.
No one is going to fault the Browns if they go with Trent Richardson or Morris Claiborne with the fourth pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Both players are incredibly gifted and fit the role of instant impact guys.
While Claiborne would offer another shutdown corner beside Joe Haden in a much-improved Browns defense, Richardson would give Cleveland the kind of running back talent the team hasn't had in decades.
If that's the route the Browns take come 8:30 p.m. ET or so this evening, most fans will be happy and turn their attention to No. 22, the pick acquired in the trade with Atlanta last year that netted the Falcons Julio Jones with Cleveland's pick.
But there's another option, albeit one Cleveland fans might be tired of: trading down. If the Vikings are indeed shopping the third overall pick and move it to a team interested in Richardson, or if Cleveland ends up being blown away by an offer, it'd be hard not to consider it.
The Browns have plenty of needs. They are weak at quarterback, linebacker, wide receiver and running back, and they could definitely use help at offensive line and in the secondary. They already have a lot of picks in this draft, but a trade down could lend way to another move, leaving Cleveland with what conceivably could be three picks in the first round or a possible five picks in the first 40.
This is hard not to entertain considering the talent available on many draft boards in the 10-40 range. Guys like Michael Floyd, LaMichael James, Doug Martin, David Wilson, Kendall Wright, Brandon Weeden and Jonathan Martin have the ability to help a team right now and could potentially offer more than the duo of Claiborne and a guy like Cordy Glenn at No. 22 would in the long run.
Take for instance the Dolphins' much-rumored interest in Ryan Tannehill. If Miami gets the feeling the Browns just might take the quarterback from Texas A&M or is worried he might not make it to them at pick eight, the Fins might panic. If they are offering a package including a future first-rounder or at the very least their first and second round picks this year, that gives Cleveland more bullets in the gun in hopes of landing a high percentage of instant impact players for the 2012 season.
Moving down to eight to allow Miami to select Tannehill also means that there's a solid chance that one of Claiborne, Richardson, Matt Kalil or Justin Blackmon will still be there when the Browns select a few spots lower, and Cleveland could use any of those guys depending on how the draft results play out.
It's not ideal, but since the Browns have glaring gaps at a lot of positions, it's not as if one guy in the secondary or a star runner will make this team relevant in the first place.
This way, Cleveland can take more risks with their picks - for instance, landing Weeden a bit earlier, selecting a running back a bit later like Wilson, James, Martin or Lamar Miller - or taking a flyer on a wide receiver like Alshon Jeffery, Ty Hilton or Chris Givens. This also gives them more leeway to help out the linebacking corps and offensive line, problems that weren't specifically addressed in free agency.
While it's frustrating to see Cleveland miss out on a talent like Robert Griffin III, the fact remains that the team has a plethora of picks in a deep draft, and those selections offer a variety of opportunities and explorative options.
This isn't a bad thing as long as the front office has strong player evaluations and the willingness to answer the phone and be creative.