Jan 9, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back Trent Richardson (3) looks at LSU Tigers safety Eric Reid (1) coming toward him during the BCS National Championship game at the Louisiana Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-US PRESSWIRE

Franchise Development 8 of 32: The Cleveland Browns

Pictured here is the apparent savior of the Browns offense for 2012. With Colt McCoy not showing any signs of breaking out, the Browns took Alabama beastly RB Trent Richardson. Here’s the Browns 2012 draft:

1 3 Trent Richardson RB Alabama
1 22 Brandon Weeden QB Oklahoma State
2 37 Mitchell Schwartz T California
3 87 John Hughes DT Cincinnati
4 100 Travis Benjamin WR Miami (Fla.)
4 120 James-Michael Johnson LB Nevada-Reno
5 160 Ryan Miller T Colorado
6 204 Emmanuel Acho LB Texas
6 205 Billy Winn DT Boise State
7 245 Trevin Wade CB Arizona
7 247 Brad Smelley RB Alabama

The Browns wanted Richardson so badly they unnecessarily traded up from 4th to 3rd overall to get him. Be that as it may, it was worth it for a team with no real weapons on offense to draft him at all costs. The Browns have built a solid defense and the plan is to use Richardson as a workhorse back – something rare these days – and shorten games to keep things closer.

Along those lines, they drafted Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden with their 22nd pick overall. Word is he’ll start over Colt McCoy and Richardson’s presence will force opposing defenses to play “honestly.” That should open the passing lanes a bit more, improving overall efficiency. They have all the makings of a run-first offense while mixing in a lot of play action passes.

The also drafted two tackles for the offensive line which should help fill holes they had. I’d expect Mitchell Schwartz to be able to start immediately on the right side while All-Pro tackle Joe Thomas anchors the left side. Mitchell is Minnesota Vikings tackle Geoff Schwartz’s younger brother, so the pedigree is there.

I don’t know yet for sure, but it’s possible Ryan Miller will be moved inside to guard – a more and more common strategy these days and he played both positions in college. For instance, the Panthers drafted Amini Silatolu from Midwestern State to kick inside (he was a left tackle there) and the Bills drafted guard prospect Cordy Glenn to play tackle. So, don’t let the college position fool you. They mean little especially after the first round. They have one of the best young and underrated centers in the league in Alex Mack, but need help at both guard spots and right tackle. They appear to have taken care of most of that during the offseason, so it looks like Richardson will indeed find holes to get through.

Also drafted was Emmanuel Acho from Texas. Another brotherly connection, Sam, played well in his rookie campaign with the Arizona Cardinals with 7 sacks from the OLB position. Travis Benjamin, a WR from U of Miami, should crack the starting lineup since that’s another position of need for this team. Josh Cribbs is a capable starter but his biggest value lies in the return game, so Benjamin and probably Mohamed Massaquoi along with Greg Little will be their 3 main targets at that position. The receiving corps isn’t quite as bereft of talent as people say, but they just don’t have anyone that stands out.

D’Quell Jackson is the tackling machine on the defense, having totaled 158 in 2011. Fellow LB Scott Fujita is embroiled in the Bountygate saga as he was a part of that New Orleans team so his contribution early on is questionable as suspensions are being appealed and lawsuits filed. Chris Gocong is a name nobody outside Cleveland knows about but racked up 70 tackles while starting all 16 games once again.

Former first-round pick Joe Haden capably holds down one cornerback spot. Remember how he slid because of a poor 40 time at the NFL combine? His play shows that a bad day at the combine doesn’t necessarily mean anything. He’s no blazer, but he does his job well. However, the secondary really has no big playmakers, so the Browns need to put heat on opposing quarterbacks. Doesn’t everyone need more pass rushers?

All in all, the Browns should wind up in the cellar once again in the NFL’s second-toughest division but if Richardson stays healthy and runs like we think he’s capable of, they’ll be an improved team and will pose difficulties for other teams to deal with in their old-school style of play. Offensively, probably the best comparison in that style would be the New York Jets. Defensively they remind me of the Miami Dolphins – very few standouts individually, but they play pretty well collectively.

It’s interesting that the Browns knew Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon and Richardson would both be available to them…even if they felt they had to trade up a spot for Trent Richardson. They knew quite well they were going to be able to nab QB Brandon Weeden at 22 overall – that was the plan going in. They COULD have had a situation like in Indianapolis where they drafted Andrew Luck with their #1 overall and added TE Coby Fleener with their top pick in round 2. Fleener was Luck’s favorite target at Stanford and should help give Luck some measure of comfort. A Weeden-Blackmon pairing would have given the Browns’ offense, aching for years for a passing game, an instant connection.

However nice that would have been, it didn’t fit in with the plan. Instead, they went for the stud running back in a pass-happy era. Look for Richardson to get 350+ carries in 2012 if he stays healthy, and watch Cleveland upset the Pittsburgh Steelers once and the Bengals once. I’m not sure they can handle the Ravens and their run defense, but even they will be without Terrell Suggs for most of the year. The Browns could be the Kingmakers in the division this year. Or…King breakers.

If everything falls into place and they take care of the football, the Browns could push for an 8-8 season in 2012. That would be a good start with Head Coach Pat Shurmur’s second year looming. They still need help at TE, S, and in the DL/pass rush but I really like what the team has done in the draft since Mike Holmgren took over the General Manager position. It’s a tough division to climb with the Steelers always being so good and the Ravens defense so stifling. Now, the Bengals are on the rise and appear to be poised to stay a force in the future. With all this in mind, I say the Browns took….

One step forward. The divisional headwinds mean this team needs to improve more than most would in order to compete and they got some really good help at several positions of need. They had to draft well just to keep pace and they did. Give ‘em a year to grow up, and with another very above-average draft in 2013, they could muscle their way into contention with the others.

Next up: the Dallas Cowboys

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Tags: Alex Mack Brandon Weeden Cleveland Browns Colt McCoy Emmanuel Acho Joe Thomas Justin Blackmon Scott Fujita Travis Benjamin Trent Richardson

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