When I looked back at who the Browns drafted in the first three rounds, I couldn’t help but think that the Browns are trying to build a true blue collar team. Last year Mike Pettine’s mantra was to “play like a Brown” and Ray Farmer seems to building around that with hardnosed selections. Last year’s first round was a flashy one with Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel but this year was blue collar as they come with Danny Shelton and Cameron Erving. The Browns continued that vein in day two with OLB Nate Orchard, RB Duke Johnson and DL Xavier Cooper. While the “Draftniks” cried out for the Browns to pick a wide receiver, Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine chose to go to smart and unsexy picks that will have a bigger impact on how many games the Browns will win next year. It should have been no surprise really with Ray Farmer’s views about wide receivers and their value.
“I know everyone says I’m stubborn or I’m going to be obstinate about this wide receiver position, but I just think that at the end of the day an offensive line affects every single play of the game,” he said. “A wide receiver may touch the ball 10 times if he’s having a great day, so I just like the idea of ‘let’s get the guys that affect the game all the time, and let’s try and get those guys and make a difference for our football team.’ ”
Pettine who was defensive coordinator on Rex Ryan’s Jets teams who went to two consecutive AFC Championship games with Mark Sanchez at quarterback knows that you don’t need an elite quarterback to succeed and win games. Those Jets teams that Pettine was part of were a mix of a bruising run game and an elite defence that is not too dissimilar to last year’s Seahawks. Last season, the Browns made strides but were held back by the league’s worst run defence. Gone are Ahytba Rubin and Jabaal Sheard in free agency, neither of whom really suited Pettine’s 3-4 defence and replaced with the space gobbling Danny Shelton at nose tackle, Randy Starks and Xavier Cooper at end and Nate Orchard at outside linebacker. Next season the Browns will have the depth they craved so badly last season especially upfront and this influx of talent gives the coach Pettine more freedom to call those exotic that he loves. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that will have a top 10 defence next year.
The other place that the Browns really struggled last season was offensive line depth after Alex Mack went down with a broken leg. That coupled with the fact that Mack has player option at the end of this season, made finding a potential replacement at centre a priority. Farmer responded to this by going out and grabbing Cameron Erving from Florida State who has played at both left tackle and centre for the Seminoles in his senior season. Erving obviously won’t be starting at either position this season with the Browns having All Pros at both positions but could potentially start at right guard or right tackle this season or sit this season as he acclimatises to the NFL.
But what is the use in having all that beef up front of you don’t have an elite running back to take advantage of it? That’s where Duke Johnson comes in. Johnson who played his college ball at the U will be an immediate upgrade catching the ball out of the backfield and Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller reckons he should be at the top of the depth chart straight away ahead of Isaiah Crowell and Terrence West. Johnson is Miami’s all time leader in rushing ahead of former NFL players such as Frank Gore, Clinton Portis and Willis McGahee. Johnson was terrific value in the third round considering many had an early second round grade on him. Having three running backs capable of pounding the rock will be a key part of establishing this new blue collar team.
Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine have made it clear the direction they want this team to go and hopefully continue to draft quality players in the later rounds.
The Browns seem to have learned from last year’s immature rookies and are placing an emphasis on drafting team captains with Danny Shelton, Cameron Erving and Nate Orchard all being team captains in college.
The most encouraging sign for this draft, that the main two decision-makers were Mike Pettine and Ray Farmer, not Jimmy Haslam and a homeless guy.