Under normal circumstances, it would be premature to fully evaluate each of the last three drafts, but constant turmoil is the norm for the Browns, so I think an analysis of Tom Heckert’s drafts is justified. Heckert was a popular man in town because he had done much better than any of the other talent evaluators we’ve had since returning to the league. That distinction cannot be used to deem Heckert a success, just that he was better, like outscoring the cast of Jersey Shore on the Wunderlic because you made it to double digits. Many Browns fans are lamenting the firing of Heckert because of their skepticism of his replacement, Mike Lombardi, and the Banner-Lombardi drafts are going to be closely compared to Heckert’s record. Because of the near total void of talent when he arrived, Heckert’s draft picks have seen a lot of action, including the 2012 guys, so I believe a fair evaluation is possible and useful in examining the new regime’s moves going forward.
1 (7) Joe Haden… An all-pro caliber corner. Suspension proved his value to the defense
2 (38) T.J. Ward… A solid starter at safety
2 (59) Montario Hardesty… Traded up to get a RB with a history of knee problems
3 (85) Colt McCoy… Holmgren takes credit for picking Colt
3 (92) Shawn Lauvao… Starter at RG but needs replaced
5 (160) Larry Asante… Out of the league, but can tell his grandkids he INT’d Drew Brees once
6 (177) Carlton Mitchell… Flashed physical abilities but never proved it on the field
6 (186) Clifton Geathers… Cut before the season, still bouncing around practice squads
1 (21) Phil Taylor… Solid starter at DT
2 (37) Jabaal Sheard… Good pass rusher with upside to be more
2 (59) Greg Little… Stone hands softened in the second half of this season
4 (102) Jordan Cameron… Great athlete, could thrive in Chud’s system
4 (124) Owen Marecic… FB that can’t run, catch or block
5 (137) Buster Skrine… You always know when he’s on the field, unfortunately
5 (150) Jason Pinkston… Solid LG prospect, hope he gets healthy
7 (248) Eric Hagg… Found the doghouse after Week 1
1 (3) Trent Richardson… Slowed by injury, great hands
1 (22) Brandon Weeden… An upgrade but not the long term answer
2 (37) Mitchell Schwartz… By midseason, he was an excellent right tackle
3 (87) John Hughes… Head scratching pick, played better than expected
4 (100) Travis Benjamin… Great speed, may be the new return man
4 (120) James Michael Johnson… Hurt early, looked like a useful player
5 (160) Ryan Miller… Enormous human being drafted as a project guard
6 (204) Emmanuel Acho… IR for the season
6 (205) Billy Winn… A diverse lineman who looks like a steal
7 (245) Trevin Wade… Limited action, looked better than Skrine at least
7 (247) Brad Smelley… Should have made the team out of camp instead of Marecic
Heckert will be most remembered, and judged, for the Julio Jones trade, moving up to get Richardson, drafting Weeden and the trades they were unable to make.
Julio Jones is an outstanding receiver, but I wonder how great he would have looked in 2011 with McCoy throwing to him and Greg Little instead of Roddy White on the other side. I can’t fault Heckert too much for trading for the extra picks given the state of the roster he inherited, and the picks were of good value. The issue is how he used the pick: Phil Taylor, Greg Little, Brandon Weeden, and Owen Marecic. Taylor will probably start at tackle for a long time, and Little may still develop into a good #2 receiver. The big question is Weeden. Weeden was clearly an upgrade at QB, but is not the elite player every team needs at the position to play well into January. Marecic makes Braylon Edwards look like Gluefingers Lavelli and would make my list of the five worst Browns in my lifetime.
The trade up to get Richardson concerns me because they didn’t need to move up to get him and he’s a running back. I thought the days of drafting running backs in the top five were over and rightfully so. Given the direction of the game and the nature of the position, drafting a running back that high is unnecessarily risky and it is difficult to get good value unless you’re drafting Adrian Peterson (which Richardson is not). Despite what the Vikings said at the time, no one was going to move up to get Richardson, and the extra picks could have given them greater flexibility with the rest of the draft.
Efforts were made in 2010 and 2012 to trade up to draft a franchise quarterback (Bradford and RG3). As badly as we needed a QB, the costs of moving up would have been enough that it would have made it difficult to improve the team around them. Given the reported offers, I would have opposed the trade for Bradford (because the team was so bad at that point… imagine what the Browns would have looked like the last three season with Bradford and without their high picks) and supported the trade for Griffin (potential generational league-changing talent).
Other than the sale of the team, perhaps the greatest reason for the demise of Holmgren-Heckert regime was the choice of Pat Shurmur as head coach. His offense was the most predictable in the league and he was an atrocious game manager. Even though the team was very young, there was enough talent on the team to win more games this year and make the decision to clean house more difficult for Haslam and Banner.
Overall, Heckert left the team in better shape than he found it on both sides of the ball and was a legitimate NFL general manager. I believe if Heckert had been retained the Browns would have been in good shape in the long run. However, after three drafts, the team achieved the same 5-11 record Mangini did with almost no talent the season before Holmgren and Heckert arrived. The team’s record and new ownership can justify moving in a different direction, it’s just a matter of whether or not Banner and Lombardi are an upgrade. I have my doubts, but they have my support.