Browns’ General Manager Phil Savage came to Cleveland with the reputation as a draft day genius, based upon his years at Baltimore, picking out such gems as Ray Lewis, Jamal Lewis, Chris McAlister, Jonathan Ogden, Ed Reed, Peter Bouleware, Todd Heap, and Terrell Suggs.
But three drafts into his Berea tenure, and certain facts just keep getting in the way of that “genius” label. Yes, Savage has done an excellent job at the very top of the draft during each of his three years. No one can argue with his selections of Braylon Edwards, Kamerion Wimbley, Joe Thomas, or Brady Quinn.
Although when it came to Edwards, plenty of people last year were questioning the decision to draft him based on his so-so performance, and prima donna attitude. But as often tends to be the case with elite wide receivers, they come into their own in the third round, and Braylon has certainly delivered in that regard. Look at the other receivers drafted in the first round in 2005: Troy Williamson (7th, Vikings), Mike Williams (10th, Lions), Mark Clayton (22nd, Ravens), and Sharod White (27th, Falcons)…think any of those teams prefer who they got over Edwards?
Savage’s selection of Wimbley also looks very good in retrospect. There were many people that wanted either DT Haloti Ngata or DT Brodrick Bunkley instead of Wimbley…and those people were wrong…Wimbley was the right choice amongst those three.
For this past year? A brilliant job by Savage in the first round, as has noted in so many places.
But once the Commissioner steps off the stage in New York, and the second round begins…Phil begins to falter. And on the second day? He might as well pick names out of a fish bowl for all the contributions the Browns have received from second day draft picks in the Savage era.
The draft is supposed to be how teams are built, but in three years, Savage has gotten almost no value whatsoever from his picks in rounds 2 – 7. Out of 21 picks in those rounds, only four are starters, six are backups, three are on the practice squad, and eight are no longer on the team.
Of those starters, two of them, D’Qwell Jackson and Brodney Pool, are substandard players at this point in their careers. Jackson is an undersized middle linebacker who lacks speed in coverage, seldom able to make a stop behind the line of scrimmage.
Pool has simply looked lost as a starter. He is a natural strong safety, but that’s where Sean Jones plays, so he is being forced into the free safety position, and his play so far has made everyone wish that Savage had kept Brian Russel. His coverage skills are mediocre at best, and his tackling skills might be the worst on the team.
2006 4th round pick Lawrence Vickers is another starter, albeit one who plays the most irrelevant position on the field; fullback…a position that many teams simply don’t use, and even with the Browns offensive system, he is on the field for less than half of the offensive plays.
Eric Wright is the last of these…and in that regard Savage again deserves credit…as does the entire Browns front office for the investigative work they did. Wright was said to have certain first round talent, but the off the field incidents when he was 19 scared most teams away. Savage and company did their due diligence, and discovered that Wright had indeed learned from his mistakes, and could be counted on to not behave like a Cincinnati Bengal.
But what of the others? Third and fourth round picks have been especially disappointing, because you really do expect players taken in those rounds to be able to make the team and contribute. Not the case for Savage’s picks. Charlie Frye (3rd round 2005) and Antonio Perkins (4th round 2005) are no longer with the team. Leon Williams (4th round 2006) is seeing more action, but is not able to crack the starting lineup in front of two poor inside linebackers. Isaac Sowells (4th round 2006) is buried as a third string lineman on the depth chart.
And then there is Travis Wilson. By far the most confusing pick made by Savage, in the third round of 2006, Wilson held out, describing himself as “the best receiver in the draft”. Once on the field, he exhibited nothing that would back up that boast. This year, given a chance to be the third receiver, and heir apparent to Joe Jurevicius, he earned the nickname here of “Steely McHands”, failing to beat out a smaller receiver also possessing suspect hands, Tim Carter.
So far this year, Wilson has been inactive for every single game. As has 2006 5th round selection Jerome Harrison…the man that was supposed to be a third down threat.
For rounds 5 – 7…other than the aforementioned Vickers and Harrison, two are special teamers, David McMillan (5th round 2005) and Brandon McDonald (5th round 2007). The final three players selected by the Browns this year are all on the practice squad; defensive ends Melila Purcell and Chase Pittman and return specialist Syndric Steptoe.
Off the team entirely are Nick Speegle (6th round 2005), Andrew Hoffman (6th round 2005), Jon Dunn (7th round 2005), DeMario Minter (5th round 2006), Babatunde Oshinowo (6th round 2006), and Justin Hamilton (7th round 2006).
No one can make every pick a good one. There is just too many extenuating circumstances when judging how college juniors or seniors will perform at the next level. However, Savage’s record is poor in regard to finding hidden gems that can at least be solid contributors, if not starters. To do a quick comparison, look at last year’s Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts. Yes, they’ve been drafting great for years, and have SEVEN former #1 picks in the starting lineups. But they also have EIGHT draft picks from rounds 2 – 7 as part of their starting offense or defense, four of them fourth round or lower picks.
Unfortunately, this tendency of poor lower round picks does not look to be an exception, but a pattern for Savage.
As mentioned, he and Ozzie Newsome did a great job of drafting first round picks for the Ravens. But as with Cleveland, they were terrible on their other first day selections.
DeRon Jenkins (2nd 1996), Jamie Sharper (2nd 1997), Kim Herring (2nd 1997), Jay Graham (3rd 1997), Pat Johnson (2nd 1998), Chris Redman (3rd, 2000), Gary Baxter (2nd 2001), Casey Rabach (3rd, 2001), Anthony Weaver (2nd 2002), Musa Smith (3rd, 2003), Dwan Edwards (2nd 2004), and Devard Darling (3rd, 2004).
12 players, with only Sharper and Baxter being worth-while starters. Rabach was the weak link on the line until they dumped him, Herring was a predecessor to Brodney Pool talent-wise, and the rest never started.
No wonder Ozzie would so often work out a trade to get an extra first round pick, usually dealing away second and third round picks to do so. He must have known that he couldn’t trust his scouting department (Savage) to discover quality players outside of the top 32, so he’d just trade the picks away to move up to where it was easier to find contributors.
The Browns don’t have a pick in the first round of 2008 due to the trade to the Cowboys to get Brady Quinn. This is similar to what happened to Baltimore in 2004, Phil’s last year, when they had traded their #1 away the year before to obtain QB Kyle Boller.
In 2004, the Ravens draft picks were DT Dwan Edwards, WR Devard Darling, LB Roderick Green, QB Josh Harris, WR Clarence Moore, WR Derek Abney, and T Brian Rimpf. Only Edwards and Darling are still on the team, and neither sees any real playing time.
So I’m not looking optimistically towards the Browns’ draft next year. I’m just hoping Phil keeps up his respectable record when it comes to free agent signings. But a few more like Eric Steinbach, Joe Jurevicius, and Dave Zastudil, and a few less like Ted Washington, Willie McGinest, Joe Andruzzi and LJ Shelton would be fine with me.