It's true that the Cleveland Browns fell very short of expectations this season, after starting off looking as though they'd compete in the extremely tough AFC North. A stellar defense kept them afloat for a short while, but offensive woes and an identity crisis quickly had them on losing streaks and out of competition in most games. But there was still some good about 2011, and with some holes potentially filled (albeit big ones) this offseason, who knows how good they could be in 2012?
And if the Browns did end up doing well in 2012, what would be the catalyst? There's some players who have been there for more than a year that are playing well, but most feel as though it would be what now appears to be a strong 2011 NFL Draft class that would lead them to it. ESPN's Mel Kiper re-graded the 2011 draft based on how this past season went, and the Browns received high marks. Make the jump for his evaluation.
Post-draft grade: B+
Summary: Forgive the superlatives, but this draft could be a quiet monster in terms of getting value up and down the board. It's a fair critique to wonder about the value of a rookie class on a top team versus the time rookies can see for a noncontender such as Cleveland. And the Browns still need to get something done on offense if they want to compete, particularly at quarterback. But you at least can say the strength of this team is on defense, and the first two picks were a big part of that. No. 21 overall pick Phil Taylor started all 16 games and proved to be a great fit in this scheme. Jabaal Sheard looks like a future star and piled up 8.5 sacks along with forcing five fumbles. Greg Little needs to become more consistent, but, after missing a year of football, he showed hints of future stardom -- he had seven more catches than Julio Jones. Buster Skrine looks really good in what was already a good secondary, and Jason Pinkston gave the Browns 16 starts after being taken at No. 150. Owen Marecic and Jordan Cameron have potential. The offense couldn't do enough to make this team competitive, but it can't really take the shine off this class for me. Put it this way: If the Browns make the playoffs next season, it won't be because they had to replace any of these picks.
New grade: A-
That's some pretty high praise for the Browns draft class, and it's all apt. Sheard has been very good this season, much better than most projected him to be during draft time. He and Phil Taylor could be long-time starters for the Browns, and along with Joe Haden, make the cornerstone for a fantastic defense. Now all they have to do is get some more done on offense and who knows where this team can go?