Thursday, March 01, 2007

Browns need to trade down.

Adrian Peterson could be the next LaDainian Tomlinson. With the third pick in the draft the Cleveland Browns must be salivating over the prospect of drafting such an amazing athlete. They’d be crazy not to pick him. Right?

Except when it comes to the draft there is no such thing as a no-brainer. For every Peyton Manning there’s a Ryan Leaf. For every LaDainian there’s a KiJana. When you look through the history of the draft, particularly in the early part of the first round, there’s a lot more heartbreak than happiness. Remember 1999? Tim Couch was the first player drafted by the new Browns. He was compared to Peyton Manning coming out of college but 8 years later Peyton Manning is the toast of the town and Tim Couch is just toast. He’s out of the league as is his fellow first round counterpart Akili Smith.

The Browns landed another number one pick in 2000 and selected Courtney Brown, a big, bruising athletic defensive end from Penn State. Sure, Brown has established himself as a productive member of the Denver defensive line but he was drafted because he was supposed be the next Bruce Smith. In Cleveland he struggled with injuries and never showed the tenacity of a premier pass rusher.

The Browns look back over their misfortunes and kick themselves. They could have drafted Donovan McNabb in 1999, Brian Urlacher in 2000 and in 2001, when they drafted Gerard Warren with the third pick LaDainian Tomlinson slipped all the way down to number five. DOH!

Surely the front office muckety mucks are kicking themselves over what could have been. Imagine how dominant that team would be! Of course rewriting draft history and making those choices wouldn’t address the issues the Browns have struggled with all along. The organization was run into the ground by Carmen Policy and Dwight Clark. Smart people who had ties to the old Browns were pushed away in favor of the arrogant lackeys who jumped Eddie DeBartolo’s ship when it started to take on water.

The Browns would still have a soft offensive line and key weaknesses in the defensive front. As an expansion team in 1999 they were unable to acquire quality players through the expansion draft and lacked the budget to attract big name free agents. They set their sights on that 1999 draft and pinned their hopes on the arm of a promising quarterback who struck everybody as a more athletic version of Peyton Manning.

Truth be told, Couch might have been a great quarterback if he had landed on a team with a few supporting players. Had the Browns committed themselves to easing the young quarterback into a productive offense rather than throwing him to the wolves as a rookie, Couch would have maintained a sense of confidence. And who’s to say McNabb would have fared better? With no line and an unimaginative offense McNabb would have struggled mightily in Cleveland.

LaDainian Tomlinson is a great player but he’s on a loaded team. He’s surrounded by talented players who make it impossible for teams to focus on stopping him. If a team pulls its safeties up to stop the run, Antonio Gates will be open in the seam. If they slide a cornerback over to cover gates they leave a receiver unchecked at the line. And speaking of the line, how about those blockers up front? LT might be great but he doesn’t have to work for every yard. Would LT be as dominant in Cleveland? Probably not.

Instead of trying to guess right and draft another sure thing, the Browns should see the bigger picture. If they had traded down in 1999 they would have acquired more picks. Mike Ditka was willing to trade everything in order to bring Ricky Williams to New Orleans. With multiple picks in later rounds the Browns could have loaded up on offensive linemen and built a team capable of making anybody look good.

The Browns are not an Adrian Peterson away from contending. Brady Quinn won’t improve their passing game and Joe Thomas is just one man. If the Browns want to get on the right track they need to trade the third pick in the draft and load up on promising blockers who will shore up that porous line. Even if Adrian Peterson sets the world on fire as a rookie, there’s no way he will help the Browns. Bad teams often make the mistake in thinking one star will make all the difference. In the NBA that might be true but in the NFL it takes 10 supporting players to make one guy stand out. After all these years the Browns should know that better than anybody.

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