Even before Browns General Manager Tom Heckert learned the order of the NFL’s supplemental draft, he decided to use a second-round pick to bid on Josh Gordon, a prospect Heckert said he believes has the potential to evolve into a No. 1 wide receiver despite a history of off-the-field issues.
The bold move allowed Heckert to secure his target Thursday afternoon. The Browns paid a steep price for Gordon, forfeiting their second-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, but they felt the need to bolster a receiving corps lacking an adequate number of proven playmakers.
The Browns were hot on the trail of at least a few other receivers this offseason. In March, they pursued Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan in free agency. They also targeted Kendall Wright, another former Baylor receiver, with the 22nd overall pick in this year’s draft. But Garcon and Morgan signed with the Washington Redskins, and the Tennessee Titans selected Wright 20th overall.
Two spots later, the Browns took Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden. They later selected University of Miami receiver Travis Benjamin in the fourth round (100th overall), though the Browns remained desperate for more weapons in the passing game.
Heckert thinks Gordon will be a key piece, perhaps sooner than some have predicted.
“We hope he comes in and plays right away,” Heckert said during a conference call. “That’s the goal. Obviously we will see him here in a couple weeks [when training camp starts]. A lot of it will depend on how he picks things up and all that stuff, but we expect him to play.
“He can start in the NFL. That’s obviously what we thought, and that’s what we still think.”
The 6-foot-3, 224-pound Gordon showed his talent when he was a sophomore at Baylor in 2010, catching 42 passes for 714 yards and seven touchdowns.
“I think the kid’s got great hands, he’s got the ability to adjust to the ball and he’s big,” Heckert said. “Those are some good qualities to have. Does he need some route work? Sure. But I think his other [attributes] outweighs some things.”
The order for the supplemental draft is determined by a weighted lottery, the results of which were revealed to teams shortly before the event started at 1 p.m. The Browns were granted the second pick in every round, the league announced afterward. The Buffalo Bills had the first pick according to Jason La Canfora of CBS.
The procedure is akin to that of a silent auction. If a team wants to bid, it sends an e-mail to the league office to declare the round in which it would like to select a player. Heckert didn’t hesitate to click the mouse when it came to Gordon, the only player selected Thursday. It’s the first time the Browns have picked a player in the supplemental draft since 1985, when they nabbed quarterback Bernie Kosar.
“We were going to take [Gordon] in the second round, and whatever happened, happened, no matter where we were picking,” Heckert said. “That’s where we thought he was going to go, so we weren’t real concerned about who else was interested.”
Gordon expressed his gratitude in a prepared statement.
“I want to be able to contribute to the offense in any way I can, and I am ready to come in and work hard to make that happen,” Gordon said. … “Being taken this high in the supplemental draft and mentioned among the likes of Bernie Kosar is a humbling experience in itself, as well as a dream come true.”
The Browns are believed to be the only team that submitted a second-round claim for Gordon, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Several national analysts ripped them for giving up an early pick and described it as a panic move.
Tony Softli, formerly vice president of player personnel for the Rams and director of college scouting for the Panthers, wrote the following on Twitter: “Cleveland Browns make a pivotal decision in 2012 Supplemental Draft that could have a negative rippling effect on front office and coaches.”
Some of the criticism is a result of Gordon’s baggage. He was arrested in 2010 on a charge of marijuana possession, and he recently told the Houston Chronicle’s John McClain that Baylor suspended him indefinitely after he later failed a test for marijuana. Gordon then enrolled at Utah and sat out last season because of NCAA transfer rules. He reportedly chose to enter the supplemental draft because of financial burdens.
Heckert said the Browns hosted Gordon during a visit last week and did extensive research on him. They attended his Pro Day on Tuesday in Houston, where he reportedly posted a time of 4.52 seconds in the 40-yard dash, bench pressed 225 pounds 13 times, had a vertical leap of 36 inches and a broad jump of 10 feet, 1 inch. He pulled his left quadriceps during his second attempt in the 40, but reportedly finished the workout by running routes without dropping a pass.
Heckert said he also received positive reviews from Baylor coach Art Briles, Baylor associate head coach Brian Norwood, the father of Browns receiver Jordan Norwood, and Browns defensive tackle Phil Taylor, who was Gordon’s teammate at Baylor.
“There were some concerns about [Gordon], so I drilled him pretty hard when I was with him, and he didn’t back down and he told me everything that I thought I needed to hear from him,” Heckert said. “He promised to be a guy that we’re going to love having in Cleveland.
“I talked to a lot of people, and everybody loves this kid. They think he’s a really good person and a great football player. Everybody was on board with it.”
The Browns took another gamble last year, when they drafted wide receiver Greg Little in the second round. Little missed his entire senior season at North Carolina because the NCAA ruled him permanently ineligible for receiving about $4,952 in impermissible benefits. Heckert acknowledged the similarities, but he said even though Gordon did not play in any games for Utah, he practiced with the Utes last season. Little was not permitted to practice at UNC during his suspension.
With the selection of Gordon, the Browns have added another player to a rookie class that includes Weeden, running back Trent Richardson and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz.
“They’re young, but we think we’ve gotten a lot better on offense in one draft, now if you add Josh into the mix, too,” Heckert said.
Heckert said he hasn’t talked to the agents of Richardson or Weeden for a while, but he still expects both of their rookie deals to be completed in time for training camp. Rookies are scheduled to report to camp on July 24.
“I’m sure they will [be in camp on time],” Heckert said. “There’s a lot of guys unsigned left, so they’ll start falling into place here pretty soon, right before camp starts.”
Richardson, the third overall pick, and Weeden are two of 14 first-round picks from this year’s draft who have yet to sign.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/browns.abj.