The 2011 NFL Draft has come and gone, and unfortunately the league is back in a lockout. That means that teams will not be able to sign undrafted free agents indefinitely and the futures of regular free agents will remain uncertain. In the mean time, we can take a look at how well the Cleveland Browns did in this year's draft.
As a Browns fan, it is difficult to not be optimistic about all of the picks the team made. General manager Tom Heckert has a great history when it comes to making picks, so even if the guys he takes are not "flashy," they are bound to be solid contributors.
This year's draft cannot be graded without considering what the Browns gained in their first-round trade with the Atlanta Falcons. Come this time next year, we might not think much of the two fourth-round picks the team has, but the two first-round picks will allow the team to add some young talent to build upon whatever progress is made after Pat Shurmur's first year as head coach.
Here is a quick look at each of the Browns' draft picks and how they are expected to contribute this year:
- DT Phil Taylor - Big, run-stuffing defensive tackle who will start immediately alongside Ahtyba Rubin to form a massive duo up front. I don't think he was much of a reach since he was projected to go at the end of round one and Cleveland feared someone trading up. (First round)
- DE Jabaal Sheard - Cleveland had two spots vacant at defensive end, so Sheard will be another starter from the get go. He was the best-rated defensive end left on the board. (Second round)
- WR Greg Little - This might have been one of the favorite picks for Browns fans. He wasn't as big of a name as A.J. Green and Julio Jones because he has a higher chance of being a bust, but it is intriguing that he also has a high chance of being a No. 1 receiver even from the get-go for Cleveland. (Second round)
That was it for day one for the Browns. To get two definite starters and another potential starter means that Cleveland drafted wisely -- they took players at the positions that they were in dire need of help at. What they gained from the first-round trade with Atlanta was the icing on the cake. Because Cleveland didn't get an "absolute stud" like a Patrick Peterson or A.J. Green (which wasn't their fault), the first two days of the draft can be given a solid "B."
Let's take a look at what Cleveland did on the final day in rounds 4-7:
- TE Jordan Cameron - I'm not sure you could have found a better place for Cameron than in Cleveland. They already have Ben Watson and Evan Moore as receiving tight ends on the roster, but as we saw with the Patriots last year, multiple tight ends can be used in a deadly fashion. Cameron didn't have much experience but is quick for his size (6-5) and can be a nice target for Colt McCoy in the West Coast Offense. (Fourth round)
- FB Owen Marecic - The culture in Cleveland seems to favor having tough players who don't need all the glory, especially on special teams where they have been among the best teams in the league when it comes to coverage. Marecic is expected to contribute heavily on special teams, and if the team doesn't re-sign Lawrence Vickers, they have a replacement fullback. (Fourth round)
- CB Buster Skrine - There has been a lack of depth at cornerback for awhile in Cleveland. They got better in depth last year but were still lacking a fourth cornerback, which presented matchup problems against teams that lined up heavy receiver sets. Skrine is known for his speed and will be a wait-and-see guy for Cleveland in terms of how far he can move up the depth chart. (Fifth round)
- OT Jason Pinkston - I was surprised to see Pinkston still around this late, so it is another good value pick for the Browns. It is tough to tell whether he'll contribute more at guard or tackle right away, but the Browns took him for his versatility. He will probably be a reserve lineman for guard and tackle in his first year and can fill in for Tony Pashos should he suffer another injury. (Fifth round)
- S Eric Hagg - This was the Browns' final draft pick. There is uncertainty of who will start alongside T.J. Ward at safety since Abram Elam is a free agent. If the team doesn't bring Elam back, Hagg could have the opportunity to see some reps back there. You usually don't expect seventh-rounders to start though, so we'll tame our expectations. (Seventh round)
Most people were surprised to see the Browns take a tight end and a fullback in the fourth round, but Heckert said they simply went with the best players available on their draft board. It is a sound strategy, and everyone has a chance to play a role on the team this year based on the players that were let go or are free agents. For these rounds, I think another a "B-" is fitting. Cleveland drafted wisely, but most of their guys are "high potential" players who are not guaranteed to succeed. I know nobody is a guarantee to succeed, but I'm trying to stress how Cleveland really went for "potential" over "proven" more so than other teams.
Taking all of the rounds into consideration and the trade that was made, I'll give Cleveland a solid "B+".