The NFL draft can make or break teams. It’s that simple.
In the Cleveland Browns’ case, the draft has unmercifully broken the once-proud franchise that resides on the banks of Lake Erie. It’s debatable, but in the past 15 years or so, no professional organization has been more inept and just flat-out awful on draft day than the Browns.
In short, great teams in sports are mainly built through the draft.
This year’s Super Bowl contestants happen to follow that very same model of success, as both the New England Patriots’ and the Seattle Seahawks’ rosters were largely assembled via the draft.
And the proof is in the pudding. In the last three seasons, the two have combined for an 83-28 overall win-loss record, they’ve played in a total of five conference championship games and they have a combined three Super Bowl appearances to boot.
It takes patience, superb coaching and a competent front office to construct a true contender. The Browns strike out in each category.
One doesn’t have to look too hard to see just how terrible Cleveland has been when it comes to drafting and developing talent. Many of the players that the Browns have selected dating back to the beginning of the century have rarely lasted more than a handful of seasons in Northeast Ohio.
The Browns have tried to rectify such an embarrassing catalog of draft day failures in recent years to no avail. You’d be hard-pressed to find a finer example of this than in Cleveland’s last four drafts leading up to 2015.
In an attempt to acquire more picks to stockpile much-needed talent during the 2011 draft, the Browns orchestrated a trade with the Atlanta Falcons that appeared to be an ingenious steal at the time. The Falcons gave up a whopping five picks to move up 21 spots to No. 6 overall. It was a deal that unquestionably favored the Browns in every imaginable way.
Or so it seemed.
The Falcons selected two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Julio Jones, who has compiled 4,330 yards on 278 receptions, including 26 touchdowns, over his four-year career.
On the opposite end of the spectrum sits the Browns. Of the numerous picks the team received, there isn’t a single one that is a part of the current roster.
The Browns notably took defensive tackle Phil Taylor in the first round in 2011, then used the remaining two picks that carried over into 2012 on what looked like a future superstar duo in running back Trent Richardson and quarterback Brandon Weeden, both also first-rounders.
Weeden was released after two mediocre seasons and is now the backup quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. Just two games into his sophomore campaign, Richardson was dealt to the Colts for a 2013 first-round pick. On Aug. 31, the Oakland Raiders cut the former Alabama standout, making them his third former team in four years.
Three days before Richardson was let go, Jones was given a five-year, $71.25 million contract extension. The last of the players from the 2011 blockbuster trade, Taylor, was cut by the Browns on Sept. 1 due to injury issues and inconsistent play.
Cleveland would ultimately use the pick they received for Richardson to trade up for controversial quarterback Johnny Manziel, who has yet to remotely impress in meaningful action.
Draft day hasn’t been merely unkind to the Browns, it’s been downright cruel to them.
In order to improve going forward, the lowly franchise must get better production not only from their players, but from their coaching staff and management positions. The two have collectively let fans and the overall team down for what has seemed like eons now, and after Taylor was cut, it’s clear as to just how much it has gotten out of hand.
Drafting and actually cultivating young talent is the key to the Browns’ long-awaited success.
This year’s draft haul has things looking up for the much maligned team, though. Major concerns were addressed along the defensive and offensive lines in the opening round. Nose tackle Danny Shelton and versatile offensive lineman Cameron Erving each have great upside and are projected to make an immediate impact in 2015. Other noteworthy selections include linebacker Nate Orchard and speedy running back Duke Johnson.
Heading into the regular season with a youthful, yet potential-filled team, the Browns are finally starting to resemble something that has the makings of a professional organization instead of what was previously seen as the perennial laughingstock of the league.
It’s unknown right now as to what is in store for the Browns this season, but if the front office and the coaching staff can consistently handle their business accordingly on and off of the field, then they’ll start to see winning results.
The first glimpse of the new-look Browns is scheduled for Sunday when they’re set to travel to the Big Apple for their opener against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium.