Centers becoming more important
Len Pasquarelli of ESPN explains why the Browns are part of a new trend in the NFL.
The new found popularity of the 3-4 defensive front, with a dozen teams projected to employ it this season, definitely forced some offensive choices in the NFL draft.
Uh, you mean defensive selections, right?
Nope, several offensive picks as well. Particularly at center.
It wasn’t a coincidence that two centers, Alex Mack of California (to Cleveland) and Eric Wood of Louisville (to Buffalo), were chosen in the first round Saturday. It marked the first time since 1968, when Cincinnati grabbed Bob Johnson of Tennessee and San Francisco chose Forrest Blue of Auburn, that two centers went off the draft board in an opening round. In fact, in the previous five drafts, there were only two centers taken in the first round, and there have been three since 2000.
Dating back to 2000, the only centers tabbed in the first round were Jeff Faine (Cleveland, 2003), Chris Spencer (Seattle, 2005) and Nick Mangold (New York Jets, 2006).
Blame the re-emergence of the 3-4 front, which will have at least three new converts in 2009, for the renewed high-round attractiveness of the center position. The 3-4 defense isn’t as popular as it was in the ’70s, but its resurrection has changed the thinking of how teams evaluate their defensive prospects, and offensive line positions as well.
Offenses now require a stout snapper and blocker who can hold up against the 3-4 front, and handle, oftentimes one-on-one, the opposition’s nose tackle. Because of the 3-4 defense, there aren’t many centers in the league who weigh less than 300 pounds. Fact is, the 300-pound center has become the norm, rather than the exception.
There is no doubt that Cleveland chose Mack and Buffalo took Wood because both are exceptional players. But an element in the rationale is that the teams play in divisions in which the 3-4 defense is the rage. In Cleveland’s division, the AFC North, the best two teams — Pittsburgh and Baltimore — employ the 3-4 defense. In Buffalo’s division, the AFC East, all three of the Bills’ rivals — New England, the Jets and Miami — are 3-4 teams.
The first order of business for any team is to be able to compete in its division, and for the Browns and Jets, that requires being successful against the 3-4 fronts.
Ever since two-time Pro Bowl performer LeCharles Bentley suffered a devastating knee injury during training camp in 2006, after signing with Cleveland as an unrestricted free agent, the Browns have experienced problems filling the center position. Cleveland tried eight different centers that season, before dealing for Philadelphia’s Hank Fraley, and he has started the past 48 games. But Fraley is 31 years old, and not as big or physical as the Browns would prefer, so Mack might have a chance to start as a rookie.
Few are arguing with this pick, though some fans and commentators were hoping for a sexier pick in round 2. If Mack comes as advertised, the Browns might have one of the best lines in football for the foreseeable future.
Draft grades coming in; Robiskie is most controversial pick for the Browns
As I mentioned in a previous post, the reviews of Ohio State wide receiver Brian Robiskie were mixed. That said, most thought he would be a pretty safe pick.
When the Browns picked him with their first pick in the second round, my initial reaction was that they reached with this pick. Robiskie probably would have been there with the other two picks they had in that round.
That said, most analysts agreed that Robiskie was the most “polished” receiver in the draft, and the Browns needed someone who could step in and start right away given the uncertainty at that position. Even though they haven’t traded Braylon Edwards yet, they still might make a move at some point.
In their post-draft analysis, both Mel Kiper and Steve McShay mention the Robiskie pick. Here’s Kiper’s grade.
Cleveland Browns: GRADE: B-
Alex Mack was a good pick at No. 21 and Mohamed Massaquoi was a very good pickup in the second round. I think fellow second-rounder David Veikune was a bit of a reach in that round, but not enough of one to seriously dent the Browns’ grade. They didn’t get a great receiver in Brian Robiskie in the second round, but he’s polished enough as a rookie that he could be a solid possession guy for this franchise.
McShay doesn’t like the Robiskie pick.
2009 draft class
Best pick: WR Mohamed Massaquoi, Georgia (Second round, No. 50 overall)
Worst pick: WR Brian Robiskie, Ohio State (Second round, No. 36 overall)
Bottom line: While teams don’t usually like to take centers so early in the first round, it’s unlikely Alex Mack would have been off the board in the next few picks had the Browns not traded up to No. 21 overall to get him. You can’t fault them for bringing Mack into the fold, but they had other priority needs including wide receiver and a pass-rush upgrade that could have been addressed there. Cleveland got its receivers in the next round, though I think Robiskie was a reach because he likely won’t turn into anything more than a possession-type No. 3 receiver. I expect Massaquoi to emerge as the bigger playmaker of the two. I also liked the way the Browns hankered down on Day 2 and found versatile, instinctive playmakers like DE David Veikune, LB Kaluka Maiava and DBs Don Carey and Coye Francies.
I think Robiskie can become a very productive #2 receiver who catches everything thrown his way, so I think McShay is being too tough in him. We’ve seen Robiskie make incredible catches in the red zone, so he can be a useful weapon. He reminds me of Reggie Langhorn, and if he lives up to that status the Browns made a nice pick.
Browns surprise everyone and take C Alex Mack
They traded down several times, but they ended up with a very good player in Center Alex Mack who also fills a need.
For everyone who claims they want the Browns to take offensive linemen, this is a solid pick. They must feel the can get a linebacker and a running back later on.
Malcolm Jenkins picked by the Saints at #14
Malcolm Jenkins is the first Ohio State Buckeye to go in the 2009 NFL draft. The Saints took him at #14.
Sanchez falls, Browns trade #5 pick to Jets, will Brady Quinn stay?
Aaron Curry didn’t fall to the Browns, but mark Sanchez did. That gave the Browns a gift, as they were able to trade down with the Jets, who then drafted Sanchez. The Browns get the 17th pick, a second rounder and three Jets players.
Meanwhile, it looks like Brady Quinn will stay in Cleveland.
With the 17th pick, they will have the chance to pick up a stud linebacker like Maualuga or even Beanie Wells.
Aaron Curry might fall to the Browns with fifth pick
Many consider Aaron Curry to be the best all-around player in the draft. Now Mel Kiper (Insider only) and others have Curry falling, and he might fall all the way to #5 if Seattle doesn’t take him. Todd McShay has him falling to the Browns at #5.
Curry’s physical tools are astounding. He’s bulked up to a formidable 250 pounds after weighing under 200 coming out of high school (a big reason why he only received scholarship offers from Wake Forest and East Carolina University – he picked Wake for its academics). He’s a playmaker as much as he is a consistent run-stopping force. During his junior year, he returned three interceptions for touchdowns, bringing back the picks for a school-record of 226 total yards.
In a “three questions” interview with ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert, Detroit Lions Head Coach Jim Schwartz (the man helping to decide who the Lions will pick with the draft’s no. 1 overall pick) described Curry’s unique skill set.
“He plays ‘Sam,’ but it was interesting at Wake. He played an on-the-ball ‘Sam’ linebacker, which not a lot of people play anymore. You have to be really strong. But they also put him out in space … almost like a nickel back. Those are two almost mutually exclusive skill sets.”
Curry’s versatility, coupled with his fortitude, athleticism and undeniable playmaking ability has NFL scouts salivating, and in a draft littered with uncertainty, the Wake linebacker is becoming more and more of a hot commodity. For teams picking at the top of the draft that might have reservations about say, Georgia QB Matthew Stafford or Texas Tech WR Michael Crabtree, the reliable Curry could emerge as the preferred option.
I’d love to get Rey Maualuga, but Curry is probably too good for the Browns to pass up. He’s a stud against the run and he’s excellent in pass coverage as well. He could anchor the defense for years to come.
How high will Chris Wells go?
Take away the questions about his feet and Chris “Beanie” Wells would be a top-five pick. The team that gets him will probably get a steal, as Wells can dominate a game when he’s healthy.
Todd McShay has him going to the Chargers at 16.
16. San Diego Chargers (8-8): Chris “Beanie” Wells, RB, Ohio State
Top three needs: ROT, RG, SS
The running back situation in San Diego is not as good as you might think. LaDainian Tomlinson has dealt with nagging injuries recently, Darren Sproles was given the franchise tag during the offseason and Michael Bennett is an aging backup who won’t carry much of the load, so this is a good luxury pick for the Chargers. Wells would provide them with a big back who can keep Tomlinson fresh and allow Sproles to remain in a complementary role, and he would also provide some certainty for the future.
Anthony Stalter has him going one pick higher to the Texans.
15. Houston Texans: Chris “Beanie” Wells, RB, Ohio State
Houston has bigger needs than running back, most notably at cornerback, defensive tackle and outside linebacker. But Wells might be too good to pass up at this spot and pair with speed back Steve Slaton. Wells has the best combination of size and speed of any back in the draft and could be one of the better picks of this year’s draft. Of course, many pundits thought that the Texans would draft a running back last year and they traded down and took offensive tackle Duane Brown.
I hope he goes high so we don’t see him in a Pittsburgh uniform.
Will James Laurinaitis get drafted in the first round?
Once thought to be a possible top-10 pick, James Laurinaitis has seen his stock fall a bit leading up to the 2009 NFL draft. Anthony Stalter doesn’t have him going in the first round, so there’s a chance that Laurinaitis might fall to the Browns in the second round. Neither does Mel Kiper.
Todd McShay has Laurinaitis ranked as the 32nd best player in the draft, and he has him going to the Rams in the second round, just ahead of the Browns pick in that round.
I think he will be a very solid pro player. He won’t dominate, but he’ll excel if he’s part of a good defense. I hate the thought of him going to the Steelers. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Patriots snag him.
Tags: 2009 NFL Draft, James Laurinaitis, James Laurinaitis Browns, James Laurinaitis Cleveland Browns, James Laurinaitis first round, James Laurinaitis NFL draft, James Laurinaitis Ohio State, James Laurinaitis photo, James Laurinaitis profile, James Laurinaitis second round, Mel Kiper, Todd McShay, Todd McShay mock draft
Everyone in Cleveland wants Rey Maualuga
It seems like everyone in Cleveland wants Rey Maualuga in the NFL draft for the Browns, from Tony Grossi to Kenny Roda and most of the other talk radio hosts at WKNR.
Intensity escapes the best of us. The amount of focus required to sustain a level appropriate for something as aggressive as collegiate football defense is hardly something to write off. Where does it come from? Can it be taught or learned? I’d like to hope so, though it seems a bit of a catch-22 in that in order to be intense enough to learn to be intense we must first be intense enough not to need to learn at all.
In any case, for those lucky enough to have it, raises seem to drop out of the sky and skirts appear to fly up into it. Rey Maualuga has it, and that’s gonna have to suffice for now since I am unaware of every single thing he does in his personal time (probably getting that 10% increase I should have had after landing the Gibson account). He’s been using that, along with his considerable speed and strength, to run roughshod over offensive lines and make tackles that look like Cthulu versus Howdy-Doody.
I have to agree here. Maualuga would give the Browns a physical presence in the middle of their defense. Maybe we all just want the Browns to have someone on their team as tough as Troy Polamalu or Ray Lewis, but we need someone like that in this division.
It looks like Aaron Curry might fall to the Browns with the #5 pick, and that would probably be a steal. Curry is a more complete player. That said, I wouldn’t mind seeing them trade down to grab the more physical player.
Malcom Jenkins should be drafted high in first round
Malcolm Jenkins didn’t wow the scouts with his 40 time, but everyone realizes he’s an impact player who can help at corner or at free safety, so many expect him to go high in the 2009 NFL draft.
Anthony Stalter has him going to the Patriots.
23. New England Patriots: Malcolm Jenkins, CB, Ohio State
Several media outlets (including Don Banks of SI.com) say that Connecticut cornerback Darius Butler is a lock to go to New England at this pick. Which is exactly why I’m going with Jenkins. Every time a player is a “lock” to go to a team past the top 10, it’s usually wrong and I don’t trust anything coming out of New England around this time because Bill Belichick is the last person to let any draft information leak. Jenkins is a perfect fit for Belichick’s scheme because he’s smart, intuitive and has a great head on his shoulders. He would be a solid pick here.
The National Football Post has him ranked as the 15th best player in the draft.
15. CB/FS Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State
Offers some versatility to an NFL secondary; possesses the ball skills and footwork to play either corner or safety.
ESPN’s Todd McShay has him going with the 14th pick, as does his colleague at ESPN, Mel Kiper.
14. New Orleans Saints (8-8): Malcolm Jenkins, CB, Ohio State
Top three needs: OLB, FS, RB
The Saints have been rumored to have their eye on Jenkins’ former teammate Beanie Wells, but Jenkins is the safer pick here. He has the versatility to play both corner and safety but would fit best at free safety on a New Orleans defense that is in desperate need of playmakers on the back end.
If the Browns get an extra pick we might even see Jenkins in a Browns uniform.
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