Continuing with my 2011 NFL Draft grades for each of the four AFC North squads, let's turn to the Pittsburgh Steelers' historic rival, the Cleveland Browns.
AFC North Draft Grades
Cleveland Browns (5-11 ; 1-5)
Total Draft picks: 8 (one 1st; two 2nd; two 4th; two 5th; one 7th)
First Round Pick: Phil Taylor, NT, Baylor
The Browns of course made headlines early on in the first round last Thursday night by pulling off a massive trade with the Atlanta Falcons. The Browns acquired an additional second and fourth round pick in this year's draft, as well as a first and a fourth in 2012 from the Falcons to move down 21 spots to No. 27. Of course, some people scratched their head when Mike Holmgren turned right around and gave up a third rounder this year in order to move back up six spots to No.21 to get Taylor. But according to Holmgren, Taylor was definitely coming off the board before the Browns selected at No. 27. If that's the case and the Browns really wanted Taylor, then nice move to slide up a few slots even at the sacrifice of a pick. God knows they had plenty to maneuver with following their trade with Atlanta.
Best 'Value' Pick: Jordan Cameron, TE, USC
Colt McCoy loves to look to his tight ends. Look no further than Ben Watson setting career highs in receptions and receiving yards a year ago. Watson is 30 years old though and despite being reliable, not very explosive at this stage in his career. Cameron, a former hoops player at 'SC, could turn into a big-time asset for McCoy and the Browns offense after getting his feet underneath him a bit as a pro.
Best 'Need' Pick: Jabaal Sheard, DE, Pittsburgh
The Browns absolutely had to improve their pass rush at defensive end. In 2010, Cleveland recorded just 29 sacks as a team, the 25th fewest in the league. Linebacker Marcus Bernard accounted for over one-quarter of that total (7.5), so needless to say, the productivity from the Browns' DEs left plenty to be desired. I'm not convinced Sheard will be a great pro, but he only needs to be above average to demonstrably improve Cleveland's front-seven.
Biggest 'Boom/Bust' Pick: Phil Taylor
Any time you take a guy with some character and conditioning concerns with your first round pick, there's some 'bust' potential. But Taylor's upside is undeniably impressive. With Shaun Rogers' departure, the Browns absolutely had to find themselves an anchor in the interior of the defensive line. The Steelers have one; so do the Ravens. Now Cleveland to the list.
Swing Picks: Eric Hagg, S, Nebraska; Buster Skrine, CB, Tennessee-Chattanooga
If either or both of the two defensive backs selected turn into contributors in several years, this year's draft turns from very good to terrific. Skrine in particular has some very intriguing upside as an athlete. He's fast, strong, and though his game's unpolished, he could very well turn out being a stud after a few years of grooming.
Sleeper Selection: Greg Little, WR, North Carolina
Little understandably saw his draft stock fall when he was forced to sit out his senior season. But it's not often that you find a 6'3" with decent speed that can jump 40.5 inches vertically. Scary redzone prospect for the Browns, the exact type of asset they've been missing on offense in recent years. After using their first two picks on players who play in the trenches, the Browns add a freakishly athletic skill player at the end of round two. A great first two rounds for them.
2011 Impact Index ***: 5.25 (Taylor = 8 ; Sheard = 8 ; Little = 8 ; Jordan = 4 ; Marecic = 3 ; Skrine = 4 ; Pinkston = 4 ; Hagg = 3)
Projected 53-man Survivors: 6 (Taylor, Sheard, Little, Jordan, Marecic, Skrine)
Overall Grade: A-
There's a whole lot to love about this draft if you're a Browns fan. In addition to the talented crop of players that acquired, they also positioned themselves nicely for next year's draft as well.
*** My 2011 Impact Index is an entirely made up and subjective assessment of which guys are likely to have an immediate impact, and to what degree, during the 2011 NFL season. I assigned a score of 1-10 to each selection, then divided the total by the number of picks. For a team like the Browns with several big holes on their roster that rookies can immediately fill, the 2011 Impact Index score is going to be higher than with teams like the Steelers and Ravens where there's fewer immediate opportunities to slide into important roles.