It goes without saying that offense wins games and that defense wins championships, in the case of the 1-15 Cleveland Browns, they need to address both the offensive and defensive lines before they can claim either.
One year after allowing Pro Bowl offensive linemen Alex Mack and Mitchell Schwartz leave in free agency to the Atlanta Falcons and Kansas City Chiefs respectively, the Browns allowed the most QB hits (138) and surrendered the most sacks during the 2016 regular season, per NFL.com
As for the forementioned Mack and Schwartz, they are both prepping for the playoffs with their new teams.
In terms of defense, it’s no secret that the Cleveland Browns defense was a proverbial embarrassment to the very word itself, in allowing the second-most points per game (28.3) per TeamRankings.com, second-fewest sacks (26.0) and allowing the second-most yards per game (392.4) in 2016.
Despite the improved play of defensive linemen in Danny Shelton and Jamie Meder, flashes of potential from linebackers in Cam Johnson, Christian Kirksey, rookies such as cornerback Briean Coddy-Calhoun and defensive ends Carl Nassib and Emmanuelle Ogbah, Cleveland’s defense was among the worst in the NFL, despite the addition of former Pro Bowl linebacker Jamie Collins from New England.
Combine those factors along with the free agent losses of T.J. Ward, Tashaun Gipson, Buster Skrine and Craig Robertson and one can see why the Browns must address both offense and defense in the upcoming 2017 NFL Draft first before even thinking of taking a quarterback.
Yes, it may not be what some Browns fans may want to hear, nor is it the sexiest and most glamorous choice, but the above stats make such an argument hard to debate against.
Let’s try this. Look at playoff teams such as the Miami, Dallas, Seattle and New York.
Both the Dolphins and Cowboys had two of the best offensive lines during the regular season while the Seahawks and Giants have two of the best pass-rushing defenses and ball-hawking secondaries—two BIG areas of need for Cleveland, eh!—in the NFL.
Heck, look no further than the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos and their championship-level defense.
While there are so many Browns fans that want to see their Draft Day/Bernie Kosar-esque fantasy of seeing Cleveland tab local kids such as former Mentor High standout Mitch Trubisky of North Carolina or Toledo Catholic star DeShone Kizer of Notre Dame and having them magically morph into the Browns white knight in bringing Cleveland back to relevance once more.
With five picks in the first 52 overall thru the first two rounds, the Browns need to avoid the temptation of trading down to gather more picks in addressing needs and take the best available player for once. Thus asinine and backwards approach of trying to outsmart the NFL and trying to hit on late rounders has failed for far too long. Beau Bell and David Veikune, need I say more?
In April, Cleveland has a real shot in adding a bonafide edge pass rusher such as Myles Garrett, a solid five-technique beat in Jonathan Allen with the first pick overall, a complimentary enforcer/ballhawk in DB prospects such as Marlon Humphrey, Malik Hooker, Marcus Lattimore, Jamal Adams, Quincy Wilson, Jalen Tabor and Jabrill Peppers or a much-needed run-stopping hitter at inside linebacker such as Zach Cunningham, T.J. Watt or Reuben Foster with the 12th pick.
In the second round, Cleveland can be a little bit more liberal in their choices at DB, OL and possibly QB as prospects such as USC’s electrifying CB/KR Adoree’ Jackson, safety Budda Baker of Washington, C Ethan Pocic of LSU, OG Pat Elflein of Ohio State and quarterbacks such as Texas Tech’s record-setting Pat Mahomes II and Heisman Trophy runner-up Deshaun Watson who both should be available at either the top of the second or at the 52nd pick.
The bottom line is this; in order to improve upon their 1-15 record, the Browns must use their draft picks judiciously and build from the inside out before investing in another quarterback if they hope to avoid the sight of seeing the likes of Cody Kessler, Robert Griffin III or (insert sacrificial lamb here) walking off of a football gridiron dazed and confused again in 2017.
While fans can pine, dream and hope that the likes of Kizer or Trubisky may resurrect their once-proud franchise, in order to compete in the rugged AFC North, they will need the Browns to lay down a solid foundation in building from the trenches first.