The Cleveland Browns seem to at least have a strategy for the upcoming NFL draft. That’s a change from past years when the Browns clearly didn’t know what the hell they were doing and appeared to be just winging it on draft day.
The Browns had the number 2 pick in this year’s draft — no surprise there; given their record of failure, the Browns always have a pick in the top ten — but they traded down with the Eagles to try to accumulate picks. That took the Browns out of contention for the two hot quarterbacks in the draft, but it left them with the eighth pick and gave them 12 picks overall and six in the first 100, in a draft that’s supposed to be a deep one. That’s a smart play in my book, because the Browns’ roster is starved of talent. In fact, it’s so bad that Las Vegas oddsmakers currently have the Browns as underdogs in every game of the 2016 season. 0-16, here we come!
I’m leery of drafting a QB in the first round, too. First-round quarterbacks often are busts. That’s been true for the Browns, starting with Tim Couch and including Brady Quinn, Brandon Weeden and Johnny Manziel. All were dismal failures. And you can’t blame the quarterbacks exclusively for the failures, either, if there’s no offensive line or surrounding talent. Rather than spend a high pick on the quarterback of the moment, I’d rather build the talent level. The best picks the Browns made after coming back into the NFL — Joe Thomas and Joe Haden — were bread-and-butter players you could build a team around. Unfortunately, the Browns didn’t have the eye for talent that let them complete the team-building process. That doesn’t mean the model is wrong, it just means that the Browns need somebody who can distinguish a stud from a dud.
This year, the Browns have a new team of people to try to accomplish that. They have a new head coach, a new front office and a new approach: analytics, a la Moneyball. The Browns hired Paul DePodesta away from the New York Mets and put him in place as Chief Strategy Officer. It’s weird to think that an NFL team needs somebody to set a “strategy” — how about, “Just win, baby!” — but maybe a clearly delineated strategy will help the rudderless Browns. I’m hesitant to buy into generic “analytics” as a panacea, too, but I think taking a more structured approach to evaluating players is bound to help. No one using analytics would have drafted Johnny Manziel. (Of course, the Browns being the Browns, some fans of analytics in the NFL are afraid that having Cleveland lead the way inevitably means that analytics in the NFL are doomed, and one commented that they thought DePodesta was a genius until he decided to work for the Browns.)
So we’ve got a new set of decision-makers, and a new strategy and approach. Now comes the hard part — actually picking players, both in the draft and via free agency. Browns Backers the world over are holding their breath, hoping that maybe, just maybe, this group will actually show that it knows what it’s doing. Why not? We’ve been holding our breath for so long it’s become second nature.