The NFL draft begins yesterday, and when the fifth choice arrives, the Browns trade with the Jets, who draft Mark Sanchez. That seemed like a smart move to me — I’m not sold on drafting QBs high in the draft; too often they turn out to be million-dollar busts. (See, e.g., Tim Couch.) The Browns get three players (none apparently of the impact variety) and the Jets first- and second-round picks. Okay, I’m willing to trust Eric Mangini’s knowledge of the Jets’ talent, and the Browns have so many needs — on defense, at running back, on the offensive line — that stockpiling picks makes sense. Then, the Browns trade down again, and again — and in the meantime Russell and I are texting like mad, hoping against hope that the Browns draft Beanie Wells.
I am a proud Ohio State fan, and I’ve watched Beanie Wells for three years. In every big game he has played in, he has broken at least one big run. He breaks tackles, gets past the line of scrimmage, pulls away from lineman and linebackers, and then punishes defensive backs and safeties with a wicked stiff-arm. He has that rare combination of size, speed, power, ferocity, and toughness that makes him a special player — easily one of the best offensive players at Ohio State during the past 40 years. He has carried a major part of the Buckeyes’ offensive load during his three years in school, and he has been nicked up, but he has played through the pain. His injuries, however, apparently are what caused pro scouts to move him down the draft board. I think that kind of analysis is stupid. Too many pro scouts seem to be wedded to metrics, rather than paying attention to what kind of player the prospect is on the field, against challenging competition. By that measure, Beanie Wells is a stud.
Finally, the Browns announce their first-round pick — and it is a center named Alex Mack. Leaving aside the fact that the guy is named for a Nickelodeon show the kids used to watch in the ’90s, he is a center who played in the Pac-10! He is probably an upgrade from Hank Fraley, the current center, but a center simply is not an impact player — and the Browns desperately need impact players. And while USC obviously has had a terrific team, the PAC-10 hasn’t exactly had a bunch of great teams with great defensive lines lately. So, instead of a potential game-breaking talent who had great games against tough competition, the Browns pick . . . a center. It’s unbelievable — but not really, since the Browns did this some years ago when they drafted Jeff Faine. As for the rest of the draft so far, the Browns picked up two receivers (including Brian Robiskie of Ohio State, who has been a quality player, but not a game-breaker) and a defensive end from Hawaii. (Again, what kind of competition has that player faced?) The end result is a head-scratcher.
This is why it is so challenging to be a Browns fan. Your hopes get raised as the Browns appear to be making savvy trades, stockpiling picks, and then just as they have the chance to draft a great player who could help to turn the franchise around they draft . . . a center. Sigh.