|Matthew Emmons/US Presswire|
|The Browns need a running back, and Alabama's Trent Richardson is easily the best back available in April's draft.|
The Cleveland Browns have a plan, and they're sticking to it. This became clear when the franchise refused to give up three first-round picks to the St. Louis Rams for the rights to Robert Griffin III. Apparently, the Browns believe in the steady building process they began a year ago with the hiring of coach Pat Shurmur. The plan will continue with the big picture in mind of improving the franchise each year until Cleveland becomes a playoff-caliber team, much like the Detroit Lions have done under Jim Schwartz and Martin Mayhew.
When it comes to the 2012 NFL Draft, the Browns probably will focus on offense first and foremost. They need to upgrade the right tackle position, add playmakers and bring in a quarterback to at least compete with Colt McCoy. However, I don't believe GM Tom Heckert will pass on a defensive player if he has him graded higher than an offensive player, even if there is a greater need on offense. At the end of the day, this team still needs to upgrade its general base of talent.
Obviously, Cleveland's draft plan will be affected by which needs are filled in free agency. At the moment, though, I see a few possible strategies with the early picks. The first option is to just always take the best player available. Most mock drafts currently have Andrew Luck (Indianapolis Colts), Robert Griffin III (Washington Redskins) and Matt Kalil (Minnesota Vikings) coming off the board with the first three picks. This would leave Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon and Alabama running back Trent Richardson available at No. 4, and Cleveland needs both positions. Browns brass can decide which player has more pro potential. Then take the top overall player on the board at No. 22 and again with their second-round pick, hopefully filling offensive needs along the way.
The other strategy is to make sure running back and wide receiver are both addressed. So, returning to the No. 4 pick, which player between Richardson and Blackmon puts the Browns in better position to address positional needs going forward in the draft? Cleveland needs a speed receiver to stretch the field. Stephen Hill's draft stock skyrocketed after a stellar showing at the NFL Scouting Combine, but with his limited production in Georgia Tech's triple-option offense, he could be a risk in the first round. If the Browns are confident in Hill's ability, then they can go with Richardson at No. 4 and gamble that Hill is still available at 22. But if they question Hill's ability, they should just take Blackmon with the fourth pick. That way, Cleveland solves the receiver problem and hopes an effective RB starter is available at No. 22 (potentially Miami's Lamar Miller) or in the second round at No. 37 overall (Virginia Tech's David Wilson, Boise State's Doug Martin or Washington's Chris Polk could be options).
The wild card is the quarterback position. I believe Browns president Mike Holmgren subscribes to the philosophy of his former Packers GM Ron Wolf: Take a QB every year. But this year's class of signal callers presents a bit of a problem on this front. Luck and RG3 are going first and second, but is Ryan Tannehill really accomplished enough to go fourth overall? With only one full season as a college starter, that's questionable. But at this point, it appears he'll be long gone when the Browns come up again at No. 22. I would probably just wait until the middle rounds to take a quarterback.
As mentioned before, the other big position of need is right tackle. Unless there is one more highly rated than any of the above players when the Browns are picking, I think they'll go with playmakers early and fill the RT spot in the third round.
Ideally, the Browns will address some needs in free agency, making this draft puzzle a little easier to piece together.
Follow Charley Casserly on Twitter @CharleyCasserly