Reviewing the Cleveland Browns' 2014 NFL Draft

Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The 2014 NFL Draft is officially over, and the Cleveland Browns walked away with six new players (not including undrafted free agents). This was the first draft that general manager Ray Farmer has been in charge of, and he did a fantastic job.

The news about WR Josh Gordon is certainly a downer, but that is not something we can pin on Farmer or anybody else in the organization for that matter. We knew the risks associated with Gordon last year, and the majority of us were going to protest to the nth degree if the previous front office had dealt him away for a second-round pick. Now, unfortunately, it looks like we'll have to suffer the consequences of that.

Here is a recap, along with my opinions, on how things went down this past weekend:

Bullet_mediumThe Browns' 2014 NFL Draft Class: You won't have to question whether any of this year's draft class will be roster casualties when the final 53-man roster is named. For the first time in franchise history (since the league went to the seven-round draft format), Cleveland did not make a single pick in rounds 5-7. It was the polar opposite of the draft in 2008, when Cleveland did not make a single pick in rounds 1-3. Here is how this year's draft class panned out:

  • 1st Round (#8): CB Justin Gilbert
  • 1st Round (#22): QB Johnny Manziel
  • 2nd Round (#35): OG Joel Bitonio
  • 3rd Round (#71): ILB Christian Kirksey
  • 3rd Round (#94): RB Terrance West
  • 4th Round (#127): CB Pierre Desir

The Browns began the draft with 10 draft picks. Realistically, we knew they weren't going to take that many players. The Browns entered the draft with 75 players under contract, the most in the NFL. If they took 10 players, that would have put them at 85 players, giving the team less flexibility to use roster spots on undrafted free agents in training camp (and believe me, that's important for teams who believe they can find gems).

Bullet_mediumPassing on Sammy Watkins: One of the most talked about decisions of this draft (and in the future) could be the team's decision to pass on Clemson WR Sammy Watkins at No. 4 overall. Think about the predicament that Browns GM Ray Farmer had to be in, though.

  • Let's assume the reports are true that Farmer and other members of the front office might have known about Gordon two weeks ago, and that head coach Mike Pettine and the coaching staff did not found out until all of the fans found out just before Day 2 of the draft.

  • I doubt that the Buffalo Bills called the Browns at the last second and said, "WE'LL GIVE YOU NEXT YEAR'S FIRST-ROUNDER FOR YOUR PICK, PLEASE TAKE IT!"

  • A deal of this magnitude was probably one of many under consideration for awhile, should the top three picks unfold the way that they did. Since Farmer and Pettine were hired, owner Jimmy Haslam has preached the importance of those two being on the same page and having a very good working relationship.

  • Now, if you are Farmer, league rules prevent you from leaking the Gordon information to Pettine and the rest of the staff. Do you suddenly place a higher priority on Watkins, while having to basically lie to the face of your head coach regarding your motives? If so, would that risk fracturing the relationship the two have built up at all?

  • Instead, the Browns stayed with their plan, and it was a very good one -- moving down just five spots, they picked up a 1st- and 4th-round pick from the Bills in 2015. As much as Bills fans would like to believe they are going to dramatically improve, history has it that they finish last in their division -- that's why Cleveland has been facing them year-in and year-out. The Bills should have a Top-10 pick next year.

Watkins was an enticing player to consider, but having two first-round picks in 2015 and still being in the Top 10 in 2014 is a whole lot more attractive to me.

Bullet_mediumThe Most Brilliant Psychological Deal Ever? I am pretty much going to bullshit my way through this possibility, but play along with me and think about it for just a second. One of the more peculiar deals during the draft for the Browns came in their trade up from No. 9 overall to No. 8 overall. We've seen the Browns move one spot in the past and give up way too much:

  • In 2004, the Browns moved from No. 7 to No. 6 to select TE Kellen Winslow. The cost? A 2nd round pick in that year's draft.
  • In 2012, the Browns moved from No. 4 to No. 3 to select RB Trent Richardson. The cost? A 4th-, 5th, and 7th-round pick in that year's draft.

In 2014, moving from No. 9 to No. 8 only cost the Browns a 5th-round pick, which wasn't too bad compared to the previous scenarios. At first, losing that 5th-round pick still irked me a tad, though. Did we really think a team was going to leapfrog the Browns to take CB Justin Gilbert? This is where my bullshitting begins:

  • One day before the draft, ESPN released a report that Cleveland was interested in trading back to select a cornerback -- specifically, the report mentioned CB Justin Gilbert as the player the team would be targeting. What if Farmer used ESPN to plant that rumor?

  • I believe that teams monitor rumors loosely on the web, and Farmer knows that. I would be inclined to think that Farmer was sitting by his phone, hoping that the Vikings would try to milk an extra draft pick out of him. To try to convince Farmer, the Vikings could "claim" that another team offered them a deal to move to No. 8 and select Gilbert, and that they wanted to "check with the Browns" before they took the deal. That's when the Browns could quickly negotiate the sending of a 5th-round pick.

  • Wait a minute -- why would sacrificing a 5th-round pick make any sense? Johnny Manziel. We've heard that Farmer did a brilliant job in this draft "maneuvering the draft board." He probably gathered enough intel to be convinced that Manziel would not be drafted until the back third of the first round of the draft. My guess is that he had previous conversations with the Vikings, and gathered that they wanted a quarterback, but not until later in the first round. The fact that the Browns moved ahead of the Vikings, knowing of their interest in Manziel, and did not draft Manziel, could provide the Vikings with a sense of confidence -- as in, "if Cleveland really wanted Manziel, and they knew of our interest in him, they would have taken him ahead of us when they had the chance, right?"

That's where the No. 22 pick came into play. The Philadelphia Eagles were on the clock, and reports were that the Vikings made their pitch to trade up. The Vikings were outbid, though, by Farmer and the Browns. Boom. Just like that, the Browns were back on the clock and stole Manziel from the Vikings.

And that's how we went from this...

...to this...

Is all of that unlikely? Probably...but if it's not true, why did the Browns find the need to move up one spot?

Bullet_mediumJohnny Football in Cleveland: The turn of emotions I've had with QB Johnny Manziel coming to Cleveland has been unprecedented. I had zero interest in him and his theatrics back in January, but by the first day of the draft, I had long done a reversal: I was fully on board with wanting his talent and the circus associated with him. I was bummed when the Browns passed on him at No. 8 overall. I felt that Commissioner Roger Goodell had teased me because the first letter that came out of his mouth was a "J," but it was for "Justin," not "Johnny."

Then, Manziel kept falling...and falling...and falling. Could he get to the Browns at No. 26? When the Browns traded up to No. 22, my body was fully energized. I've never heard the Radio City Music Hall in New York break out in a chant for a player prior to selection, but the, "Johnny, Johnny" chants began as Goodell approached the podium.

When Goodell said his name, Farmer's legacy became firmly established in just his first year as general manager. My brother and I celebrated and hollered for what he was able to pull off -- getting the top-rated cornerback, and arguably the top-rated quarterback in the draft, plus another first-round pick in 2015? The world could have ended right then and there, and I would have died a happy Browns fan.

Bullet_mediumThere's Still Work to Do: Thankfully, the world did not end, so I got to experience a world in which the Browns were the talk of the NFL (in a good way). When I woke up on Friday, the Browns were still the talk of the country. I did my live blog for about seven hours before taking a break to play a game of Backgammon for an hour, planning to return to my DBN coverage at 6:00 PM ET (Day 2 of the draft would start at 7:00 PM ET).

After my game, I posted the next open thread without reading anything else, and then went to close the other tab in Firefox that I had open (the previous open thread). Before I hit "close," I caught a glimpse of a comment saying WR Josh Gordon is facing a year-long ban. My heart sank immediately. I whipped up Twitter and it was everywhere. I guess it's true -- Cleveland just can't have nice things...but we do.

We've still got Johnny Manziel. Joe Thomas. Joe Haden. Alex Mack. Phil Taylor. Ben Tate. Karlos Dansby. Donte Whitner. Desmond Bryant. Barkevious Mingo. Paul Kruger. Justin Gilbert. (and a lot of other key players)

As terrific as a year that Gordon had last year, the Browns still finished the season at 4-12. I would be foolish to say that we're a better team without him, but obviously, there are other areas a team can improve in to affect the bottom line result.

Bullet_mediumPositional Needs: In the first two rounds of the draft, I wanted the Browns to draft from the following positions: QB, WR, OG, CB. With three picks in those rounds, they'd only be able to achieve three of those needs. When the Browns were on the clock at No. 35 overall, the two positions left unaddressed were WR and OG. Personally, I was rooting for WR Marqise Lee, but that was completely unrelated to the situation surrounding WR Josh Gordon. Instead, the pick was OG Joel Bitonio. I'm calling him a guard because that is what head coach Mike Pettine already indicated:

"The great thing about Joel is that he has position versatility. He’s a guy we think can play all five spots. We’ll get him here and see what the best spot is for him. It’ll likely be at guard..."

The Jaguars made me a bit jealous by scoring both Lee and WR Allen Robinson at the receiver position, but we have to move on. With their next couple of picks, the Browns addressed some of their next-level needs: inside linebacker (Christian Kirksey) and running back (Terrance West). To top it off, they added another cornerback in the fourth round: Pierre Desir, a guy who has a lot of upside. Here are some notes that Pettine and Farmer had on the lower-round picks:

On comparing Terrance West to other running backs:

Farmer: "That’s interesting. I will tell you that the best attributes about this kid, again, he’s a shorter, more compact-frame kid. I don’t want to say he’s quite as short as… It’s kind of interesting because I actually piece guys together in my head. I don’t just give a simple comparison. He’s kind of like a Maurice Jones-Drew build, but he’s actually a slightly taller kid, but he’s got the same kind of thick-ish frame when you look at him – big legs, barrel-chested kind of kid – but he’s a nifty-footed kid. People are going to say it sounds like an egregious comparison, but he kind of has the (former NFL RB) Jerome Bettis nifty-footed guy kind of feel to him when you watch him play."

On Christian Kirksey’s ability to play inside or outside linebacker:

Pettine: "That’s one thing we like about him is his position flexibility. We’re in the business of adding outstanding football players who fit the ‘play like a Brown’ attributes, and we’ve always been one in our system to really cherish a player that can play multiple spots. He can play the MIKE, play the WILL, play outside on the edge if he had to. He has some strong safety type attributes, which I think today’s linebacker is something you’re looking for given the athletic tight ends and the spread formations you’re getting."

Bullet_mediumBuilding on the Brilliant Trades: After the draft was over, GM Ray Farmer discussed some of the trades that were made and draft positioning. I'll quote those in full because they were interesting to me, and somewhat plays into my out-there theory from earlier:

On the feedback he received from his colleagues during the draft:

"Trader Ray became the call as I would answer the telephone. It was definitely interesting to hear friends and colleagues call and say, ‘Is Trader Ray available?’ Specifically as the draft moved on and there were opportunities for us to move back, I think that people just naturally assumed that because we had been so active the first couple of days that we’d be eager to move around even more as the draft moved on."

On if he thinks he got to draft Terrance West just before the Baltimore Ravens who were reportedly interested in him:

"I believe I got to Terrance West just before somebody got to Terrance West. I don't know who specifically, but there was definitely the feeling that, the term we like to use in our draft room is 'murderer's row.' When murderer's row comes up, you're going to lose the guys that you want. There were several instances throughout the draft where we referred to pods of teams that could take players that we were interested in. As we saw those pods of teams coming up, we felt it was advantageous for us to move in front of those teams."

On if he traded up to the 22nd pick because he thought the team selecting 23rd might take Johnny Manziel:

"Again, interestingly enough, there were pods of teams that we thought were trying to move in front of us. Strategically, there was a lot of conversation about that before the draft. Because we had the two first-round picks, depending on how things fell early, there was the notion that other teams would try to move in front of us with the assumption that we would pick a quarterback at 26. That's what the assumption was from the general public. Those pieces of information definitely helped us make a determination strategically for how we wanted to approach that pick in that circumstance that we were in."

On if the Cowboys’ potential to select Manziel was why the Browns discussed a trade with the Titans:

"I think there were multiple teams that I thought had the chance to take Johnny. We worked through kind of trying to track and see where teams exactly were. You never really know who is going to make that pick when it’s their time to make that pick. That’s what I said before when I said there are players that I hoped or I thought may slide to us that they got gobbled up. As much as you look at your board and you think, ‘Man, this guy has a chance to be here in the second round; this guy has a chance to be here in the third round,’ and then you look at your board like, ‘Man.’ It’s like Battleship. Guys start plucking off and you’re like, ‘Man, they got me. There’s no one left at the level that I wanted them,’ when it’s your turn to pick. It’s funny; I texted another team today and I was like, ‘Battleship. You got me.’ I put B-17 or I put a number down and I was like, ‘You sank my battleship.’ They got me. They got me."

Bullet_mediumBy the Numbers: I want to thank everyone who tuned in to Dawgs By Nature over the past few days, and I hope you continue to check-in for our continued post-draft coverage this week! For the three days of the draft, we had 24 posts with a total of about 11,225 comments! To compare, last year, we had 6,855 comments during the three-day stretch of the draft.

Also, we continued to break DBN draft records in terms of traffic.

  • 2011: 88,545 pageviews, 37,381 visits
  • 2012: 142,533 pageviews, 55,975 visits
  • 2013: 188,009 pageviews, 75,985 visits
  • 2014: 287,972 pageviews, 120,737 visits

In addition to all of our readers, I'd like to give a big thanks to Jon Stinchcomb, Matt Wood, rufio, Mike Krupka, Josh Finney, Zach Miller. notthatnoise, and mooncamping for all of the assistance they provided, both behind-the-scenes and in terms of coverage.

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