The Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars are two teams in the AFC that are trying to build their way out of the NFL’s basement. Both teams drafted a top quarterback prospect in the first round of the draft. Despite that similarity, the two teams took a very different approach to building in the early rounds of the selection process.
As you may recall, the Jaguars selected quarterback Blake Bortles with the third overall selection of the draft. Then, Jacksonville spent the next two rounds putting pieces in place around Bortles that should give him the greatest chance for success. Rookie receivers Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson, both taken in the second round, give Bortles weapons to work with despite being drafted by a team that has been terrible through the air during the now concluded Blaine Gabbert era.
In addition to adding weapons in the passing game, the Jaguars took Bradon Linder (OG) to help keep Bortles upright. It’s clear, considering the team’s early picks, that the Jaguars focused heavily on defense during free agency with the purpose of staying heavy on offense during the draft. It’s a strategy that allowed the Jags to add a lot of core players in one draft class that could be with the team for many years to come.
That’s where the Browns went wrong.
The Browns ended the draft with six selections, five of which came in the first three rounds. Cleveland, and general manager Ray Farmer, were focused on patching holes in the Browns’ roster. Unfortunately, at least for Cleveland’s lackluster offense, Farmer forgot to draft any weapons that could help Johnny Manziel develop into a top quarterback in the NFL.
The Browns’ first pick of the draft was cornerback Justin Gilbert. After picking Manziel 22nd overall, the team bounced back and forth between adding supportive offensive pieces and defensive players. The Browns eventually landed Manziel, offensive tackle Joel Bitonio and running back Terrance West on offense. You’ll quickly notice that targets in the passing game were lacking in the Browns’ draft.
Worse yet, the Browns now face the possibility that standout receiver Josh Gordon could be suspended for the entire 2014 season. Even worse, the Browns knew about that possibility heading into the draft. The unlike some, I won’t crucify the Browns for not taking Sammy Watkins with the fourth overall pick. Their trade with the Buffalo Bills was a steal for Cleveland. I will, however, throw them under the bus for not giving their new franchise quarterback someone to throw to.
Some analysts are pointing to Cleveland as a potential surprise playoff contender. They’re wrong for one simple reason. Manziel is good, but he can’t lead that offense to the playoffs. The Browns have a solid defense, but it’s nowhere near stellar enough to win games with only 15 points of support from the offense. With no weapons, that’s about what I’d expect the Browns to be putting up week in and week out, and it’s because of that point that the Jaguars’ draft strategy was considerably better than the Browns’ strategy.