Bob Hunter commentary: With plenty of needs, Browns tried to fill one

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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The NFL draft offers endless hope for the tired, the poor and the downtrodden, huddled masses who sound an awful lot like Cleveland Browns fans.

The draft is often mistaken for a place of refuge for fans whose teams missed the memo on parity, which should be the first clue that it isn’t what it seems: If Tim Couch, Gerard Warren, Courtney Brown, William Green, Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow Jr. had been as good as they looked when they were drafted, the Browns wouldn’t have to sell so much hope on draft day.

So where does LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo fit in relation to this dubious list? Unfortunately, there’s no way to know.

The Browns took him with the No. 6 overall pick, ahead of players such as Alabama cornerback Dee Millner and a couple of quarterbacks who also might have filled critical needs, so team officials obviously believe Mingo is the answer to their pass-rushing problems.

“We’ve talked about bringing in aggressive players to fit an aggressive scheme,” Browns president Joe Banner said. “In building this team with aggressiveness, character and quickness, we just felt he was the right guy at the right time.”

And he might be. But as every Browns fan knows, they aren’t always rewarded for their blind faith on draft day. Nearly every player taken near the top of the first round gets glowing reviews from team officials and draft analysts, and the Browns’ string of first-round disappointments shows that players don’t always live up to the draft-day accolades.

In the midst of the mountain of glowing adjectives that were piled upon Mingo last night — extremely gifted athlete … great speed off the edge … outstanding pass rusher — it should be noted that a pre-draft scouting report on NFL.com called him “a proverbial boom or bust prospect” and noted that his “production dropped as a junior and he failed to show much overall growth in his game over the course of his career.”

If there’s a positive in this, it’s that the Browns didn’t try to force the issue at quarterback, where team officials have been unconvincing in their support of the incumbent. This fed rumors before the draft that the Browns were going to make a deal for New England Patriots quarterback Ryan Mallett, who supposedly would be a star if he weren’t a clipboard jockey for Tom Brady.

That rumor was quashed later, but it sprouted because the team has apparently been nosing around Mallett for a while, a sign team officials don’t believe Brandon Weeden has the skills to be their franchise quarterback.

It’s clear that the team’s inability to trade up and take Robert Griffin III last year was costly, and that a draft that has been described as weak at quarterback has been a source of some anguish in Berea, but there’s not much the Browns can do about either now.

West Virginia’s Geno Smith was regarded as the best quarterback in the draft but not worthy of a high pick. When Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel was the first quarterback taken at No. 16, that seemed to indicate that the Browns would have had to reach to take either quarterback at No. 6. Instead, they took Mingo, who might not be a sure thing but looks to be a better bet.

“I think I’m the best rusher in the draft,” Mingo said, during a conference call with reporters last night.

And the Browns’ need that, almost as much as they need a quarterback. The Browns, 5-11 last season, have so many needs that they knew they couldn’t afford to get spooked into taking a quarterback who might not be better than the one they have.

“We won’t force filling a need on a short-term basis,” Banner said. “We’re not going to fill all of our needs on this team this year.”

Team history suggests that ably filling just one critical need would be nice.

Bob Hunter is a sports columnist for The Dispatch.

bhunter@dispatch.com

@dailyhunter

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