Cleveland Browns beat writer Tony Grossi has said that the team might regret not taking wide receiver Julio Jones in this year’s NFL Draft. He isn’t wrong in pointing out the Browns’ continuing need for playmakers at the position, which is only amplified by the fact that, yes, Jones most likely will be a playmaker in this league.
However, was it really that bad a decision not to draft him? Think of it this way: with the Browns’ transition to a 4-3 defense, the defensive line was going to be as vulnerable as ever, and the front office couldn’t just assume that they’d pick someone up in free agency who could help (look at how that’s turned out for them so far).
Besides, championship teams are built on the offensive and defensive lines. Look at what an improved offensive line – featuring young studs such as perennial Pro Bowler Joe Thomas and Alex Mack - was able to do for running back Peyton Hillis. With Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard in place, 2011 could be the defensive line’s opportunity to turn heads. A better defensive line improves the linebackers and takes pressure off of the secondary – it’s the most important cog in the defensive machine.
Plus, you have to consider what the Browns got in return from the Atlanta Falcons for the trade that would allow them to draft Jones. For the sixth overall pick, the Browns received five picks in return, including the Falcons’ number-one pick in 2012, giving the Browns two first-round selections next year.
Just as true as the importance of a team’s offensive and defensive lines is the importance of building a team through the draft. The trade with the Falcons not only allowed the Browns to address their pressing need for defensive line depth, but allowed them to stockpile picks for 2012 that gives them the flexibility to either make two first-round selections or parlay one of those picks for an even better pick like, say, a playmaker.
The process of rebuilding the Browns will be a long one, and simply drafting Julio Jones wasn’t going to magically solve every one of their problems. He’ll be a fine wide receiver but let’s face it, the Browns play in the AFC North where defense is king. One solid wide receiver won’t mean anything if his offensive unit can’t get on the field – to compete with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens of the world means to finally develop a brand of defense that can carry the Browns through the division and into the playoffs.
The big playmakers will eventually find their way to Cleveland, or possibly be developing right under our noses now. The quicker path to the playoffs lies with the offensive and defensive lines, and that’s the route the Browns front office is taking. All the fans have to do is remain patient and hope Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard both develop into something special. And if that doesn’t happen then, well, there’s always that drawing board we can go back to.