After years of abysmal performances on draft day it appears that Phil Savage and Romeo Crennel finally have this franchise on the right track. Even though their most recent class won't earn them many style points it features solid prospects who fit their scheme and should be able to contribute early on, which is exactly what the doctor ordered.
Heading into the 2006 NFL Draft there was no doubt that Cleveland had their sights firmly set on the defensive side of the ball and were looking for help in the front seven. It was no secret that the team really liked Kamerion Wimbley of Florida St. but I was still shocked when they passed on the chance to select Haloti Ngata. Wimbley is a great pass rusher and workout warrior who will be a perfect fit at outside linebacker in their 3-4 scheme but you can get those types of college 'tweeners later in the draft. A dominant nose tackle is one of the key ingrediants of a 3-4 defense and while Ted Washington was brought in he is near the end of his career and Ngata would have made more sense for them long-term in my opinion. Still the team got the guy they wanted and Wimbley will definitely help them put some pressure on opposing quarterbacks so you can't fault them too much. At the top of round two the Browns went for another linebacker, this time looking to the inside by selecting D'Qwell Jackson of Maryland. A fast, athletic and very productive 'backer, Jackson was a good value and will further strengthen their front seven while battling Matt Stewart for a starting job as a rookie.
In round three I thought the Browns made a questionable decision in selecting wide receiver Travis Wilson of Oklahoma. Going into his senior year it looked like Wilson was on the verge of big things but he failed to take that next step and for a team in need of a talent boost the Browns might have been able to bring in help elsewhere rather than spend a valuable pick on a #4 wideout. In round four Cleveland landed who players that I really like in linebacker Leon Williams of Miami and offensive tackle Isaac Sowells of Indiana. Williams is a great athlete with all the physical tools you look for but he struggles with the mental aspect of the game and doesn't always play up to his ability. At the very least he provides the Browns with a great developmental prospect and depth with the potential to possibly be much more. Sowells is an experienced veteran of the Big Ten wars and is versatile enough to play either tackle or guard at the pro level. Right now it looks like the team will groom him as the eventual heir at right guard, where Cosey Coleman's contract will be up soon.
With the first of two selections in round five the Browns chose Washington St. running back Jerome Harrison, who was extremely productive in college. Reuben Droughns was everything the team had hoped for and more in 2005 but they needed someone to spell him since Lee Suggs can never manage to stay healthy and William Green is a bust so Harrison has a legitimate shot at winning the backup job early in his career. With their next pick Cleveland may have gotten a steal in Georgia cornerback DeMario Minter, who has all the physical tools you look for and is another talented guy who will add the type of quality depth the team needs.
In round six Cleveland landed a guy who many felt was the top fullback available in Lawrence Vickers of Colorado as well as a big defensive tackle in Babatunde Oshinowo of Stanford. Vickers is a versatile player who can run, catch and block and while Terrell Smith is entrenched as the starter Vickers should be able to assume the #2 role right away. After passing on Ngata in round one the Browns needed a big nose tackle as insurance behind Ted Washington and while Oshinowo isn't flashy he is a massive run stuffer who could maybe be their long-term answer at the position. Looking back in 3-5 years it would not surprise me if Oshinowo turns out to be one of the best picks this team made in 2006. With their final choice in round seven the team brought in safety Justin Hamilton of Virginia Tech, who will battle to make the team and is probably just a special teams guy at best.
All in all the Browns addressed their most glaring needs and got excellent value with the vast majority of their picks throughout the seven rounds. Look for Wimbley and Jackson to pay immediate dividends while guys like Sowells, Minter and Oshinowo could develop and make an impact down the line. There is no denying that they still have a ways to go but the Cleveland Browns are gaining some momentum and if they can continue to bring in talent like they have the past couple of offseasons it won't be long before they are serious playoff contenders.
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