AROUND THE NFL

My Complicated Relationship With the NFL Draft as a Cleveland Browns Fan

The changing context and perception of the Cleveland Browns within the NFL Draft is explored.

image courtesy of factoryofsadness.com

The NFL Draft kicks off at 8 p.m. Thursday, April 25. There is a different feel surrounding this sports spectacle for fans of the orange and brown than there has been in quite some time.

Despite what some national pundits would have you believe; things are looking up considerably in Cleveland. Thus, the NFL Draft is no longer considered to be “our Super Bowl” by the greatest fan base in the NFL. The only Super Bowl that will do now will be the real thing. There are no more substitutes, no more thoughts of wait until next season, no more excuses from ownership or coaches.

By inference, that means that the NFL Draft is now the equivalent of, well, the NFL Draft as other teams see it.

The Draft has meant so much to me over the last few decades. In many instances, it’s been a bastion of hope for fans of a franchise that was going nowhere.

You see, since 1999, the Browns have rarely been as close to contending as most of the thought. That’s probably obvious now, but at the time we were hoping for something that had such a minuscule chance of happening it was almost silly. In most instances, there was no way that one draft class was going to pull this team out of the rut it was in. I say that and yet one draft class almost did that in 2018. The difference there was the unprecedented amount of draft capital held by the club and the man in charge.

I think back to the hopes and yes, the fears surrounding the drafts I have seen this franchise conduct. The hope always lasts until the draft starts and then the fear that the team will once again make multiple blunders erupts from within. It has made many drafts akin to watching a horror movie.

I have often spent hours studying draft prospects and developing my own board only to see the team pass on every player I liked. It’s always been frustrating and until recently it created a perception in many of us that by doing a little homework, we could really do a better job than an NFL GM.

Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel were selected over Khalil Mack and Derek Carr. Shoot, I could have done that! Sure. The rest of that class included Joel Bitonio, Christian Kirksey and Pierre Desir. That’s not bad. Drafting is not an easy proposition.

We’ve had our share of busts or near-busts like Barkevious Mingo, Trent Richardson, and Corey Coleman. I think that’s easier to take that seeing guys like Alex Mack leave and continue to play at a Pro Bowl level.

I didn’t like the Brady Quinn pick. Of course, I didn’t like Manziel or Brandon Weeden either. I was in favor of the so-called Carson Wentz trade and I would still do it today. I called the Danny Shelton and Cam Erving picks and thought they were spot on at the time.

The 2018 draft changed everything for me. I sat at a table with some Browns Backers in a Cincinnati area bar and we watched the first round unfold. I liked John Dorsey at the time, but I wasn’t completely sold on him yet. When the Baker selection came in, you could have heard a pin drop. Some people were ready to leave right then. Most of us thought Sam Darnold was the pick. The process repeated itself when Denzel Ward was selected at number four.

I was sitting there with fans who have followed this team loyally for 20, 30, 40 or more years. They love the Browns with all their heart and soul. The issue was that we had seen this team do so many things wrong over the previous 20 years that they all thought they knew more than the guy in charge. Why would they think any differently?

Fast forward 12 months. The Browns are widely regarded as a favorite to make the playoffs in the AFC. The Browns 2018 draft class could go down as one of the best of all time. It’s all courtesy of one man, Browns GM John Dorsey. He’s done what no one before him could do over a 20-year span. He has solved the quarterback issue, rejuvenated the roster with talent, dumped a losing coach and restored the team to national prominence.

The draft has a different feel to it this season. The roster is already strong, and we have a truly excellent talent evaluator making selections for the Browns. We can rest easy. Sit back, relax and enjoy as John Dorsey adds more talent to this roster.

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