I don’t spend much time scouting college football players, so I’d be the last to claim status as a draft guru. But I do have some credentials: Last year a Browns beat reporter wrote “who needs Kiper when you have Ace Davis?”
If only PHD had followed my advice in 2004! The way the first round played out, we would have ended up with Big Ben. We most assuredly would have not spent our two highest picks on a single 20-year-old, who ended up missing 14 games. And I highly doubt the Steelers would have gone 15-1.
No way I’m subjecting myself to the mockery of predicting what the Browns will do next weekend. Phil Savage has been appropriately opaque. The number of variables — Browns’ needs, player rankings, trade possibilities, etc. — is beyond counting.
Instead, I burned some cell phone minutes consulting with my
crotchety and shopworn exceptionally experienced uncle, Old Dawg Trey Davis. Fortunately, I caught him when he happened to be both continent and lucid enough to set me straight about some possibilities. At risk of being sued for wiretapping, defamation, or both, here’s the transcript:
Ace: Hey, Uncle Trey, what’s on your platter today?
Trey: There’s apparently some fatty ham on the other end of the line here, and I’ve got a beef with that. So how do you plan to mooch from my mental majesty today, Ace?
Ace: Glad you’re feeling like your old self, Trey. I won’t waste any more of your time, as I know it’s extremely limited. What would constitute a successful first draft for Phil Savage and the re-re-remade Browns?
Trey: Drafting five players who eventually become average-or-better starters, with two of them Pro Bowlers. This is not correlated whatsoever with the post-draft grades meted out by the media.
Ace: Well, the scribes have to write about something, I guess. You know that old saw. Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Those who can’t teach, grade. So anyway, how quickly can expect these rookies to contribute?
Trey: The NFL is not a developmental league. A team’s fortunes can change fast, and “rebuilding” better not take more than a year before the playoffs become a realistic expectation. Some positions have a steeper learning curve, but in general, we shouldn’t use a roster spot on anyone we’d be scared to see take the field this year. Except for quarterbacks, rookies must compete for starting jobs, fill out rotations, contribute on special teams, and show improvement over the course of the year.
Ace: And you’re stressing this to me why?
Trey: Short memory there, Ace-in-the-hole-in-the-head. Last year, only two picks would have qualified, and both those guys were hurt early. We don’t have the luxury to take risks on shady characters, greenhorns, or specialists. We never had that luxury before; we just acted that way.
Ace: Ya, Trey, but we’re dealing with a new deck here. We’re not exactly flush with talent, so let’s get straight to business. Which player suits you best for that third overall pick?
Trey: I don’t have my heart set on any particular diamond in the rough to join this club. You’d be a dummy to oppose trading down. Actually, you’re a dummy anyway.
Ace: That’s why I don’t play bridge with you any more, Trey. But even if there were a trading partner, how much can we really expect to get for the three in a draft that’s relatively light at the top?
Trey: I’d be satisfied if we ended up with a lower first-round pick that still resulted in an immediate defensive starter — a Derrick Johnson or Shawne Merriman — plus at least a second round pick, or maybe a third plus a first-day pick next year.
Ace: How about Tampa Bay’s fifth pick plus Chris Simms?
Trey: Yes, I’d take that deal. Simms is a more game-ready backup QB this year than any rookie we might draft.
Ace: Are you saying that we need to pick up a QB somewhere along the line this weekend?
Trey: Actually, no. Only if one of the top-tier QBs is the highest player on Phil’s draft board when we get on the clock. I’m not giving up on the potential of McCown or even Harris, at least not to the point of reaching for another bird in the bush. If we don’t draft a QB or trade for Simms and it becomes apparent we need a short-term backup, we can probably sign one after June 1.
Ace: So what if no other team offers a reasonable package for the third pick? The clock is ticking…
Trey: Well, I only need to name three players in order, because one of them is sure to be on the board. So here goes: Mike Williams, Derrick Johnson, Alex Smith.
Ace: Wow! Why Williams over Braylon Edwards?
Trey: He has better hands, and I think he’d be the best complement to the existing receiver corps. With the huge investment it takes for such a high pick, you need to get a spectacular performer. There’s no such thing as a safe pick that high. You need to swing for the fences. I think Williams could make that type of impact.
Ace: So what if Savage picks Edwards instead?
Trey: He has more information, resources, and experience at his disposal, so he deserves some level of trust. I won’t say he’s wrong until the games are played.
Ace: You’d pass on every single defensive player on the board in favor of a wide receiver coming off an idle year?
Trey: With the third pick, yes. Our starting wideouts are both in the last year of their contracts. And after Gerard Warren, Courtney Brown, Craig Powell, Clifford Charlton, Mike Junkin, Chip Banks, Tom Cousineau, and Mack Mitchell, excuse me if I’m a little gun shy about investing such a premiere pick in the front seven. Maybe, just maybe, take Johnson with Tampa’s pick at five, but if we’re “stuck” with the third pick, I say go for the biggest impact player on the board.
Ace: What about the cornerbacks, Antrel Rolle and “Pac Man” Jones?
Trey: Maybe if we trade down, but like I said, this draft is light at the top. Rather than obsessing on the first rounder, we need to focus on how many holes get plugged, and at which positions.
Ace: So where are the biggest priorities?
Trey: Basically, everywhere except tight end, running back, and center. There are several areas where the Browns need this draft in order to improve over the long term, by which I mean the next two to five years. Linebacker, offensive tackle, defensive end, nose tackle, cornerback, guard, safety, wide receiver, quarterback.
Ace: That’s a mighty wide range of needs. More needs than picks, in fact.
Trey: Good math there, singleton simpleton. That’s why trading down and thoroughly restocking this roster with talent upgrades is the main order of business for this draft. The March free agents and trades helped seal the cracks in the foundation. Now is the time to build the structure that will weather the storms for several years.
Ace: I suppose those are the kind of metaphors you get when you feel a draft coming on.
Trey: Oh, Ace, I’ve gotta go. Really. Your puns are mortaring me.
Ace: Throwing in the trowel, huh?