2012 NFL Draft: The One Where the Cleveland Browns Trade Down

The constant speculation over Robert Griffin III is making us mad. What really matters is what Cleveland Browns’ general manager Tom Heckert thinks of him, and how that aligns with his philosophy on running the NFL draft.

National and local opinions alike have praised Heckert’s first two drafts in Cleveland. Things are looking up.

In Philadelphia, Heckert also ran four drafts, giving us six total drafts to break down:

The Browns’ pick at No. 4 overall is the highest Heckert has ever had in the draft. He inherited a good team in Philadelphia during Donovan McNabb’s prime, and from 2006-2009 was picking near the end of the first round— 14, 26, 19, then 21.

Compare that to his drafts in Cleveland where he’s been sitting at pick No. 7, No. 6, and now No. 4 – each higher than the one before it. We’d all like to believe Heckert was hired because of his potential and track record, but he’s in a whole new world over here.

Tom Heckert also likes to trade down. He tends to stack his picks, and to the point above, is probably more comfortable gambling late in the draft than early.

In 2007, Heckert landed an extra second-round pick after trading his first-rounder down to Dallas. Incidentally, Dallas had a second-rounder to spare after trading their first rounder to Phil Savage so Cleveland could draft Brady Quinn.

In 2008, Heckert traded down again, first with the Carolina Panthers, and then with the Minnesota Vikings, to net the Eagles an extra second-round pick and fourth-round pick.

And as we all know, in 2011 he pulled off one of the biggest draft day trades of the last ten years, moving back 21 spots via the Atlanta Falcons to earn the Browns an extra first, second, and two fourth-round picks (for a receiver!).

Beyond that, Browns fans hoping Heckert stocks up on offense with his first-round picks stand to be disappointed. The highest offensive player he’s ever taken was Jeremy Maclin with the 19th overall pick in 2009. Under pressure to win with McNabb, he trades up here, from 21 to 19, with the Browns no less, who traded down themselves away from Mark Sanchez.

The other first-round picks on his record have all been defenders – Brodrick Bunkley, Joe Haden and Phil Taylor – and in four of his six drafts, he’s gone with a defensive lineman with one of his first two picks.

If you had to speculate as to why he seems to draft defense early, I am sure part of Heckert’s reasoning would be that defensive players are easier to project from college to the NFL. He probably prefers the 4-3 defense to the 3-4 for that same reason. Linemen also last the longest, which makes sense since you’re paying them the most money as first and second-round picks.

Wide receivers and running backs, on the other hand, are very dependent on a quarterback and much riskier to project. From Montario Hardesty to LeSean McCoy, to Greg Little and DeSean Jackson, even Kevin Kolb and Colt McCoy, Heckert clearly believes in drafting skill players on offense in the second and third rounds.

And he just might have a point. Here’s a list of this year’s top-ten free agent wide receivers, with the overall pick they were selected in parenthesis:

  • Vincent Jackson (61)
  • DeSean Jackson (49)
  • Stevie Johnson (undrafted)
  • Wes Welker (undrafted)
  • Dwayne Bowe (23)
  • Brandon Lloyd (124)
  • Marques Colston (252)
  • Robert Meahcum (27)
  • Reggie Wayne (30)
  • Mario Manningham (95)

Only three players in the class were drafted in the first round, and none higher than 23rd overall.

Anyways, it’s clear the idea of the Browns trading down is more than just a shot in the dark, and this presents an interesting narrative for them. If they move back this draft, it will be the third time in four years they have done so. Granted, Heckert was not on board when Eric Mangini traded away from Mark Sanchez as noted above, but that move still defines the Browns. Plain as day, they’re a team vacant of playmakers, and considering their history, can they really afford to pass on top-five talent again?

And have the Browns put more pressure on themselves to draft big after last year’s dismal season, given the extra ammunition they now have at their disposal? We saw Heckert break stride in 2009 to fit Maclin with McNabb, so would Mike Holmgren push him to do something similar, something out of his comfort zone?

Either way, this draft should prove to be extremely enlightening on the Browns’ and Tom Heckert’s interpritation of rebuilding.

How would you feel if they traded down again?

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Tags: 2012 NFL Draft Cleveland Browns Mike Holmgren Philadelphia Eagles Tom Heckert

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