Mike Holmgren's home run comments was ringing fresh in my mind during the NFL Combine after seeing the numbers pop up for the top WR targets for the Cleveland Browns. And the more I think about it, the more I have this gut feeling that the Browns will look towards a wideout in general with one of their first two picks. But who and how they take one is the question with which I continue to grapple.
It's pretty clear that the breakdown of wide receivers are as follows:
1.) A.J. Green (Georgia)
2.) Julio Jones (Alabama)
3.) Torrey Smith (Maryland)
And all three offer that "home run" ability that the Browns absolutely need. I'm not discounting Cleveland's glaring defensive weaknesses. That much is still blatantly clear, but with the draft more of an even playing field, rather than a set in stone hierarchy defensively, I get the feeling that the Orange and Brown will look towards acquiring picks and setting their focus in the 2nd-4th rounds for their defensive scheme.
So what strategies can the Browns take? First and foremost, if A.J. Green is there at six, that's the answer. That's the easy plan. Former Bulldogs' WR Mohamed Massaquoi spoke to the Plain Dealer about Green's playmaking ability:
"I'm not up on all the combine numbers yet, but I think A.J. is the best receiver in this draft," said the Browns' third-year receiver. "He's got phenomenal hands, he runs well and he's physical. He's got a tremendous body of work at Georgia. If you put all of that up against anybody, I think A.J. would come out on top."
But if Green is off the board, Julio Jones' draft stock skyrocketed at the combine with his metrics.
Widely regarded as the second-best wideout, Jones (6-4, 220) recorded a 4.39 in the 40, 11'3" in the broad jump and 38.5 inches in the vertical jump. His broad jump was two inches away from the combine record.
Would Jones be worthy of the sixth overall pick if a team in the top five snatches Green? There's an argument to be made there. But if the Browns feel confident that he will slip a few picks based on some of the needs of the teams below them, there's another option: trading down. Unless a team has the #1 overall pick, or there is an absolute can't-lose in the top ten, I always advocate trading down in the first place.
If you are picking in the top ten, it's pretty obvious that you need a lot to make your team more competitive, so stocking up on picks is a great idea. If it is looking like Jones will go in the 10th-15th range, and a team below them needs a defensive lineman or linebacker who is still on the board (like Dareus, Quinn or Bowers), they might be able to find a taker.
And if that isn't an option, Torrey Smith is still looking like a guy that could be there late in the first or early on in the second. Although he reportedly struggled with his route running, he ran an unofficial 4.37 40 (later changed to a 4.43) and is still targeted somewhere between 25th and 40th in the draft.
Although the routes give me pause, there is an excuse--Maryland didn't exactly force him to run crisp routes. He was used as a deep threat his entire career, and while others were possession receivers, he was out there to get safeties to shade his side and put him in double coverage. If the Browns are confident that they can work on his route running, he is still a very viable solution.
Regardless of whether the Browns go offense or defense, it is reassuring that there are wideouts who can make an immediate impact for a team that is in desperate need of a big play receiver. And if they choose to go defense, or strike out with the guys they want, there is always free agency (Plaxico Burress, come on down).