Thursday, April 24, 2014

How Good is the Browns' Offensive Line?

Although many fans are fixated only on the quarterback position, last time I checked the NFL is planning to once again require that 11 guys participate in each offensive play.  So it looks like the Browns are going to develop other players, not just quarterbacks. 

No fan wants their team to draft an offensive lineman, it seems.   It is just more boring than a skill position guy.

But the consensus view from analysts is that there are five guys that are likely Pro Bowl calibre guys in the 2014 draft:   DE/OLB Jadeveon Clowney,  OLB Khalil Mack, LT Greg Robinson, 
LT Jake Matthews, and WR Sammy Watkins and  probably in about that order. Just to clarify, the Village Elliot actually likes WR Mike Evans better than Watkins, but it would be fair to say that that is not the majority opinion.

    So there is a very good chance that a tackle might be the best available pick when it is the Browns' turn at number 4.  Many people think a tackle would be a horrible pick, especially since we already have a great left tackle in Joe Thomas, so someone would have to move to the right side.  Of course right tackle is considered slightly less important than the left tackle (passer's blind side protector) position.
Joe Thomas is very tough in pass protection, shown here saving Seneca Wallace's hide.   

      However, before dismissing this idea out of hand, I am going to subject my readers to another rant about the OL.  In fact, I have been on a rampage all off season.  

       The fact is that, even though the Browns had two Pro Bowlers at OL (Thomas and C Alex Mack), overall they had a terrible year. Note, moreover in football it really matters how good your weakest guy is.  The prime pass rusher isn't coming after Thomas or Mack.  Instead they are coming after your weakest guy.  

Alex Mack ain't going anywhere folks.  He's a Cleveland Brown.    

        Consider this:              

    The Browns were FIRST in the  NFL in hits allowed on the quarterback with a (literally) staggering 121.  By comparison, the Bengals allowed only 47.  No wonder we couldn't beat them.  
     The Browns were THIRD in the NFL in sacks allowed, with 49.  

         Due in part to the pounding taken by the qbs, there were four injuries to qbs that caused them to miss games:  Hoyer out for the year with an ACL; a concussion and hand injury for Brandon Weeden; and a concussion for Jason Campbell.   The Browns have lost their first string quarterback every year since 2001, if you can believe that.  

      I'm tired of that. And to all you kiddies out there that think that all the Browns need is a new quarterback, I'm here to tell you that your boy is going to get pasted until and unless the Browns upgrade their offensive line.  

     The running game had TERRIBLE results, 27th out of 32 teams, with a good number of yards turned in from wide receiver reverses. Feature back  Willis McGahee turned in 2.7 yards per carry, one of the lowest per-carry averages in history.   

     I'm not sure what to think about Mitchell Schwartz.  In general line play is hard to evaluate because they are always banged up to some degree.   But many observers believe that Mitchell's play was not as strong in 2013 as it was for his rookie year. On the other hand, Mitchell played ever snap on offense last year, indicating he is one tough amigo. Maybe what might happen is that the Browns will acquire a right tackle and then shift Mitchell to a guard position.

The Browns also struggled at both guard positions.  Jason Pinkston on the right and John Greco on the left were both injured for much of the year.    Shaun Lauvao and Oniel Cousins both saw extensive playing time, but did not establish themselves.  Put it this way, GM Ray Farmer did not fight for them to stay.  
     The Browns will have to evaluate the talent on the roster to determine whether any of the holdovers will be able to contribute as starters.      If not, they might draft a starter next month for the O-Line, and they still have enough money to sign a good lineman if one should be come available at some point.
     In the best case scenario, I see the Browns drafting a lineman as a starter in an early round.  It might be at the number four overall position in the first round, but I could just as easily see them trading down and picking an O-Lineman in a later round
.  They may also sign a veteran after training camp cutdowns begin.   I look for two new starters on the O-Line and maybe even three. 

    It is not foolish to add a guy who the scouts think can develop in to an All Pro right tackle via the fourth overall pick in the first round if that is the way it plays out.  If that fellow is Jake Matthews, nephew of Cleveland Browns star Clay Matthews and son of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, Browns fans should welcome him with open arms.  There is still a lot of work that needs to be done to improve the team and specifically the offensive line.     

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Mike Evans: a Future All-Pro Wide Receiver?

    Mike Evans, not Sammy Watkins, should be the first receiver picked in the upcoming NFL draft.  Watkins is a great talent, but I believe Evans is even better.  Sammy has excellent speed, 4.43 secs for the 40 yard dash, which is very good indeed but not necessarily a record.  Some people were predicting Watkins would be in the 4.3 range or even 4.2.   He also turned out to be 6'1", rather than 6'2" as he had been listed in college. 

Evans is a beast, with the size and strength to rip the ball away from defenders and then knock people over on his way downfield.  At 6'5 and 231 lbs, I like Evans better than the more famous Watkins.  Watkins is 4 inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter but is a full 0.1 seconds faster in the 40 yard dash. 
Mike is not slow either, at 4.53 seconds for the 40.  But what sets him apart is his size.  He is 6'5" and 231 pounds.   He picked up 1322 yards on 65 catches (over 20 yards per reception) with 12 TDs in 12 games, playing in the SEC Conference.. Although overshadowed by media sensation Johnny (Football) Manziel, he was a legit All-American talent. 
    Watkins also piled up great stats at Clemson in the ACC, getting the same number of TDs, with 142 more yards in one more game than Evans.  Watkins yards per reception average was 14.2 versus 20.3 for Evans. 
    To me it is better to average 20.3 yards per reception in the SEC than 14.2 yards per reception in the ACC. 
     Moreover, Evans was only a sophomore last year, and is still improving rapidly.  It seems to me that he has a much higher ceiling than Watkins, who is the more polished of the two.  Watkins can play anywhere, but I think the smaller faster guy might be especially suited for a dome team or southern team, whereas Evans size and strength might be appealing to a cold weather natural turf team like the Browns. 

    But it is going to be hard to pass up a guy who is as big and fast as Evans.  I believe he will be first receiver taken, rather than Watkins.  Watkins, though enormously talented, is probably not really a top five pick as many sportswriters have suggested.  I think his combine performance suggests he is not quite as superhuman as previously believed, and so he might get picked around tenth.   Evans is so talented he might get picked around fifth. 
   I think the Browns might be  looking for prospective All Pros on defense; namely Khalil Mack or Jadeveon Clowney.  But if those guys are not available the next logical suspects are stud left tackles Greg Robinson or , Jake Mathews.  Because that is the same position currently occupied by All Pro Joe Thomas, someone would have to shift to the right side.  If the Browns would rather not do that, then Evans might be a legitimate possibility.  Alternatively they might trade down or go for their favorite quarterback (Jimmy Garappolo?  Derek Carr?  I don't believe it is Manziel, Bortles or Bridgewater, the consensus Big Three this year).