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Marla Ridenour on Sports

Browns' lack of attention to receiving corps baffling

By Marla Ridenour Published: April 28, 2012

I can’t understand it.

The Browns had 13 picks when they started the NFL Draft and finished with 11, and only one of them was used on a wide receiver. And they waited until the 100th overall selection to take the University of Miami’s Travis Benjamin, who said he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.26 seconds the summer before his junior year.

Before the draft, I believed the Browns could justify taking two receivers in the first round – Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon at No. 4 and Baylor’s Kendall Wright at No. 22 -- then take Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden at No. 37.

I believed the receiving corps was that weak and I wasn’t the only one. At the 2011 combine, Mike Lombardi of the NFL Network said the Browns and Ravens had the slowest receivers in the NFL. During a conference call recently, draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN said the Browns had the worst skill position players in the league.

The latter is no longer the case after the Browns selected Alabama running back Trent Richardson and Weeden. But the team’s top receivers – Greg Little, Mohamed Massaquoi, Josh Cribbs, Jordan Norwood and Carlton Mitchell – are nowhere near playoff-caliber standards.

Browns coach Pat Shurmur and president Mike Holmgren believe that Weeden will make the receivers they have better.

“An outstanding quarterback brings synergy to the whole team. Just like the addition of a running back helps the quarterback,” Shurmur said. “If a quarterback that throws the ball accurately, on time, makes the receivers looks good. Receivers that make circus catches or make the hard catches make the quarterback look good. When the quarterback has a little bit more time to throw it, because the line is doing their job, it makes everything look good. I think that it is all connected, I really do.

“I think that it is hard on offense to talk about one specifically not connected to the other. I do know this, when you have outstanding quarterback play, all the players on offense and all of the people in this room, we all look good.”

Holmgren said Richardson will also help the passing game.

“He will make everybody look better,” Holmgren said.

But Holmgren also issued a challege to the receivers, who dropped more passes than anybody in the league last year.

“The receivers, what will make them look good, is if they catch the ball better than they caught it last year,” Holmgren said. “We dropped way too many balls and that wasn’t the quarterbacks’ fault. I don’t care if bring back Otto Graham, the receivers have to catch the ball. They will be better, for a lot of reasons.

“That’s why no one is in a panic about how the draft went as far as how our receivers went. We will not drop the ball like we dropped it last year. We will have a running game to go with our passing game. Those things by themselves it will be better.”

But for their inattention to one of the team’s biggest weakness, I have to give the Browns a B minus for this draft.

I love Richardson and Weeden. Cal’s Mitchell Schwartz (37th overall) should fill the hole at right tackle. But there were two receivers there for the taking – Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill (who went 43rd to the Jets) and South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffrey (picked 45th by the Bears).
Dropping down from 67th to 87th in the third round, the Browns passed on a chance at Ohio State’s DeVier Posey (68th to Houston) and N.C. State’s T.J. Graham (69th to Buffalo).

Benjamin has speed, but must cut down on his drops and refine his route running or he will be reduced to a special teams role, possibly supplanting Cribbs as punt returner.

But there was at least one baffling choice for the Browns -- Cincinnati defensive tackle John Hughes (87th). His high school coach at Gahanna Lincoln told the Columbus Dispatch he wasn’t sure Hughes would be drafted. Hughes had planned his family’s draft party for Saturday, not Friday.

As much as I like the Richardson and Weeden picks, I liked the Bengals draft better. Among their selections were Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (1st round), Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler (1st round), Penn State defensive tackle Devon Still (2nd round, projected as a first-rounder), Rutgers receiver Mohamed Sanu (3rd round) and another slider, Georgia tight end Orson Charles (4th round), one of the three best at his position.



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