Only two teams throughout the National Football League finished last season with a four game winning streak. Many whom do not follow the downtrodden Browns would be surprised Cleveland made up half of said equation. Earlier in the season, Coach Mangini was attempting to lay the foundation for the type of football and players he prefers. As the season came to a close, an identity began to emerge…run the football and play overly aggressive defense. Now under the supervision of proven commodities such as President Mike Holmgren and General Manager Tom Heckert, the team has attempted to cement said identity throughout the team’s latest off season.
Sitting at number seven overall, the Cleveland Browns appeared to be in an unenviable position. By most accounts, the “elite” talents would all be off the board by the sixth selection. It eventually played out exactly as many predicted. With no concrete offers to trade down, the team chose Florida cornerback Joe Haden. Ironically, Haden was the most popular name attached at this particular selection throughout most of the process. He also showed enough on tape to warrant same aforementioned status. But the Combine came and went, and the cornerback severely disappointed many onlookers with a horrific forty yard dash time. It came to light later the former Gator was suffering from a strained back. A malady he informed all personnel evaluators prior to running in the event. He redeemed himself with a high 4.3/low 4.4 effort at his pro day. Also, the team acquired a solid starting cornerback from Philadelphia in Sheldon Brown. So the obvious need seemed to lessen. Still, Haden’s skill set projects nicely in Cleveland’s system which greatly needed improved athleticism and toughness in their secondary. Despite potentially lacking elite top end speed, his ability to open his hips; and an overall toughness making plays coming up in support proved too much to pass over as the team also liked Boise State cornerback Kyle Wilson greatly. Now the Browns possess three legitimate starting cover men, a growing requirement in a pass happy league.
Early turnaround of the team’s top second round selection, Oregon safety T.J. Ward, marked the choice as one of the biggest “reaches” early in the new day two format. A distinction must automatically be made in regards to these claims. Most had slighted Ward as a prospect based on a long injury history, not on-the-field performance. In fact, this safety played very well when on the field in 2009 and may have been the biggest hitting prospect in the nation from his position. Blessed with explosive hips, a reckless abandon on the field, and enough athleticism to warrant consideration as a starting cornerback in his career with the Ducks; Ward has all the tools physically to start from day one for the Cleveland Browns. Unlike the team’s previous starting safety, Brodney Pool, this prospect’s injuries do not appear chronic. As one researches his past a bit more thoroughly, the situation may have even been overblown slightly. This leader in the secondary has not suffered major injury since 2007. Over two years has passed to heal a knee injury. During his senior campaign, some time was missed due to a high ankle sprain but nothing of major consequence. Obviously, there should still be concern but not to the degree of which it has been played out. Terrell Ray Ward is exactly the type of presence needed in Cleveland’s secondary to improve attitude, tackling, and versatility in Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan’s aggressive scheming. Once the doctor’s thoroughly inspected, and the team was comfortable with what they saw; it became the natural choice at thirty eight overall.
As TFY prepared its 2010 NFL Combine coverage, this site spoke with a source within the Browns organization which identified a primary team focus on drafting a “pro ready running back”. By trading back into the second round, the Browns were able to claim such a prospect in Tennessee’s Montario Hardesty who fits said description to a tee. Very few prospects in this class present the three down capability as this Lane Kiffin prepared runner. At a hair under six feet and weighing 225 pounds, Hardesty has ideal size, accompanied by strong interior running, decisive, and even explosive one cut ability to carry the load on first and second down. What many overlook is this back’s ability as a check down option on third down. The former Volunteer finished second, only behind top ten overall selection C.J. Spiller, among their contemporaries with 25 receptions in 2009. Once again, concerns are raised because of past injury issues. Hardesty did suffer an ACL tear as a freshman. Subsequently, he was not able to find the field full time until his senior season. As the Browns look to become one of the top run dominant teams in the National Football League, Hardesty will add to a stable currently including Jerome Harrison, Peyton Hillis, James Davis, and Chris Jennings. In the end this second round selection may eventually become the bell cow of the offense.
Expectations will likely be overwhelming for the team’s initial selection in the third round, Texas quarterback Colt McCoy. Cleveland fans have long clamored for any potential pulse of talent behind center since Bernie Kosar was forced out of town. Many believe this gunslinger would be the team’s object of affection much earlier in the process. Yet the team stood firm on their evaluation and waited. The gamble paid off. Now Cleveland has the luxury of sitting this signal caller for a period of time as he develops both mentally and physically to the NFL game. Ideally, the quarterback will get to sit and learn behind two legitimate and capable veterans in Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace for at least one full season. Obviously, there is a need for development in both aforementioned areas for McCoy and became primary reasons as to his sliding on actual draft day. Looking past being the NCAA’s all time winningest quarterback [NOTE: Mike Holmgren selected the previous record holder, David Greene, in the same exact slot five years prior]. Not being completely blinded by his impressive career numbers which include a completion percentage of 70.33%, 13, 252 yards passing, and 112 touchdown throws; McCoy’s lack of top end arm strength as well as playing in a spread offense hurt his draft stock. Given time in an NFL weight room, while learning proper technique, and gaining repetitions making legitimate reads from under center in practice; he will likely get his opportunity to become this team’s starter in the future. There are tools to his game which give him the chance to be successful when the time does arrive. Those include his amazing touch in the short game, intelligence on the field, toughness about his game, and athleticism which belie his size. Despite the perceived overwhelming value of this selection, the question becomes…will this team make the internal decision Colt McCoy is their future and subsequently stick to said evaluation when next year’s quarterback crop looks so intriguing? President Mike Holmgren has displayed a tendency to stick to his guns over the years.
One prospect which generally received praise around these parts, but never seemed to garner much attention nationally was the Cleveland Browns’ selection of offensive lineman Shawn Lauvao late in the third installment. Starting thirty three straight games for Arizona State, his final sixteen were spent at left tackle. A position he will not play at the NFL level. Instead, the native Hawaiian will slide back inside to guard, where he competed earlier in his career as well as at the Senior Bowl. The interior blocker fits the same mold as many of this team’s draft selections: smart (almost finished with his graduate studies), tough, and experienced. Powerful in the weight room, Lauvao’s playing strength does not always translate and can be overwhelmed despite solid overall technique. Expectations for Lauvao are continuing to develop and potentially even compete for a starting guard spot as early as this season. His best option may be to “redshirt” this year before being placed in the team’s opening lineup at guard during next year’s schedule.
Safety Larry Asante of Nebraska became the choice in round five. Asante’s game is very similar to the earlier selection of T.J. Ward. Both are potential intimidators with a big presence against the run, field generals of their respective defenses, and very intelligent diagnosing plays. As a result, many scouts were high on a prospect such as this former Cornhusker. The difference lies in Asante’s limited abilities against the pass. He is clearly more effective moving forward in a straight line than dropping back in coverage. Again, those previously mentioned attributes make him attractive as a prospect; but his biggest overall contribution is providing potential quality depth to a position which had to start a converted wide receiver at safety the final half of last season.
Two selections in the sixth round finalized this particular draft class. Both come with high potential return. South Florida wide receiver Carlton Mitchell was generally regarded as an early to mid round selection but fell to a degree. At times, the wide receiver struggled with inconsistency in both his play and was deprived of solid quarterbacking to help highlight his talents. But at 6-feet-3-inches tall, 217 pounds, and capable of low 4.4 speed; Mitchell has ideal physical traits to develop. Much like the latter selection of South Carolina defensive end Clifton Geathers. Physically, there are very few who are in the same realm as this lineman. Standing almost 6-feet-8-inches tall, near 300 pounds, sub five flat speed, freakishly long arms, gigantic hands, and possessing great NFL bloodlines; Geathers never lived up to his potential while playing under Coach Spurrier. His junior campaign was his best before jumping ship early, and even then he only netted 8.5 tackles for loss including 3.5 quarterback sacks. With a lack of burst off the edge, considering his physical tools, Geathers may ideally be suited as a developmental five technique in Cleveland’s 34 defense. As many may have noticed, the usage of terms such as “physical”, “tools”, “development”, and “potential” have been used liberally describing these two particular prospects. The final reward could be tremendous. They could also find themselves on the outs quite quickly at the game’s highest level.
After finishing thirty-second in the league offensively and thirty-first defensively, there is but only way for the Browns to go. The presence of both Holmgren and Heckert, who have run draft war rooms previously, clearly brought a streamlined approach to this year’s class. Nothing about this particular group will skyrocket fans’ team expectations, yet the instant impact could be tremendous. With the potential of landing three to four immediate starters, a long term franchise quarterback prospect, and high end late additions; the Cleveland Browns quietly went about their business acquiring talent which fit well within their burgeoning identity.