Reporting Daryl Ruiter
CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) - It is a decision that will shape the Browns potentially for the next decade.
What general manager Tom Heckert and the Browns do with the fourth pick in the 2012 NFL Draft could make or break his tenure in Cleveland.
The decision comes down to three players: Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon, Alabama running back Trent Richardson and LSU corner Morris Claiborne.
Actually, it should be between two players because Blackmon just doesn’t fit with Heckert’s draft philosophy.
Heckert is very big into “value” and he could get significant value by waiting to select a receiver at No. 22.
Baylor’s Kendall Wright, who caught 108 passes from Robert Griffin III last year, or Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill are the top two candidates.
Heckert also has the assets to move up from 22 to grab Notre Dame receiver Michael Floyd or another player should he desire to do so.
The popular pick at No. 4 among fans is Richardson and who can blame them?
All he did was rush for a school single-season record 1,679 yards and 21 touchdowns as the Crimson Tide rolled to a national championship last season.
Richardson received First Team All-SEC and All-American honors, was named the SEC Offensive Player of the Year and received the Doak Walker Award which is given to the nation’s top running back. He was also a finalist for the Heisman Trophy.
But you know what they say about listening to fans – start listening to them you’ll become one of them sooner rather than later. There isn’t a general manager better at tuning out uproars from fans than Heckert.
Running backs have a very short shelf life in the NFL.
It’s not a stereotype.
It’s a fact.
Richardson would be no different – especially coming off of “minor” arthroscopic knee surgery. The knee procedure was described as “no big deal” and a “minor clean out.”
That could be very true but if it was a problem – no matter how minor – that needed to be corrected already, what will the wear and tear be like on his knee in the years to come in the NFL? Especially with the offensively challenged Browns, who would likely need to ride him until they get the offense on track.
The last time Heckert took a running back who had knee surgery was Montario Hardesty in the second round of the 2010 draft.
It’s not gone well.
They are hoping Hardesty, who spent his rookie year on injured reserve and played in 10 games in 2011, is healthy in 2012 and able to stay on the field and show the flashes of brilliance that he did at Tennessee.
Despite, Heckert’s disagreement with the assessment, Cleveland clearly has the worst group of skill position players in the NFL. The Browns are in desperate need of explosive playmakers in the backfield and lined up wide.
The numbers don’t lie. See the measly 218 points that they scored last season.
Not even Heckert can hide from that.
It’s not a selection that would prompt a celebration like Richardson would, but selecting Claiborne is the right pick for Heckert and the Browns.
Aside from the leaking of a sub-standard Wonderlic score, there are no negatives with Claiborne.
Claiborne started as a sophomore in 2010 opposite Patrick Peterson. He recorded 37 tackles, six pass break ups and a team-best five interceptions to earn Second Team All-SEC honors. Last season as a junior he finished with 51 tackles, six pass break ups and six interceptions – one returned for a score to earn First Team All-SEC and All-American honors.
The SEC Defensive Player of the Year and winner of the Thorpe Award, which is awarded to the nation’s top defensive back, can also return kicks.
Claiborne returned 22 kickoffs for 552 yards and a touchdown.
By pairing him with Joe Haden, the selection of Claiborne would give the Browns their best cornerback duo in the secondary since Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield.
The NFL has become a pass happy league and even Heckert admits teams need three solid corners to be successful.
Combining Claiborne with Haden and Dimitri Patterson, who just signed a three-year, $16.05 million contract, would give the Browns exactly that.
Sheldon Brown would slide to safety behind Usama Young and provide needed depth in the secondary.
A caller to Cleveland’s Talking Heads on 92.3 The Fan Wednesday had it right.
Mo-Joe does have a nice ring to it.
And Claiborne would last a lot longer in the secondary than Richardson would in the Browns backfield.