Gordon Selection Quietly Criticized

The Sports Exchange
Posted Jul 13, 2012


One underrated factor in Cleveland's selection of wide receiver Josh Gordon in the supplemental draft was the quick success, relatively speaking, that the Browns experienced with Little in 2011.

 

Never to be mistaken for George Allen, whose well-known suggestion about the connection between the time-space continuum and winning games stretched about as far as the tip of his nose, Cleveland Browns coach Pat Shurmur might want to paraphrase the famously impatient Hall of Famer's legendary admonition.

Allen is well known for adopting the phrase "Future is Now" and his constant wheeling and dealing, including 131 trades, was more than a passing phrase.

With the investment of a second-round choice in Thursday's supplemental draft on former Baylor/Utah wide receiver Josh Gordon, the lone prospect selected in the special summer lottery, the Brown's future is, obviously, well ... the future.

Anything can happen between now (which is when Allen contended is the future) and the start of the season.

But the admitted projection by Cleveland officials for an offense that statistically ranked among the four lowest in the NFL in each of the past four seasons, and has been No. 23 or worse in all but one of the last 10 years, is to start rookies at quarterback (Brandon Weeden), tailback (Trent Richardson), and right tackle (Mitchell Schwartz); second-year veterans at one wide receiver spot (Greg Little), left guard (Jason Pinkston) and fullback (Owen Marcecic); and a third-year pro (Shawn Lauvao) at right guard. Add Gordon to the mix -- and Shurmur said after Thursday's draft that he expects the youngster to contribute as a rookie -- and it's clear that youth will be served on the Cleveland offense.

But will it be immediately serviceable?

Probably not, since the Browns might have just three starters -- center Alex Mack, perennial left tackle Joe Thomas and tight end Benjamin Watson -- with more than three seasons of previous league experience. And since, even though Weeden will turn 29 years old before he starts his sixth game, the latter of the club's two first-round choices almost certainly will suffer the inconsistencies inherent to any rookie at the position. Given that background, it's easy to criticize the early choice of Gordon, especially since the No. 2 pick forfeited by the Browns figures to be a slot high in the round in April 2013.

But the Browns, one assistant allowed Thursday evening, "desperately need some" offensive play-makers. And the feeling among team officials and coaches, who did as much background work, and maybe more, on Gordon, as any team in the league, is that he can partner with Little in the not too distant future to provide Cleveland with a pair of big, physical wideouts.

And maybe, given the recent history of second-round receivers, he can.

Little himself was a second-rounder and, while he rated among the NFL leaders in dropped passes in 2011, he still registered 61 receptions, third most among 2011 rookie wide receivers. Of the 21 wide receivers chosen in the second-round in the past five "regular phase" drafts, Little was one of six with 50 or more catches in his debut campaign. That's not a lot, you say, especially in a league that is so skewed to the pass? Maybe not, but after Little, the wide receiver with the second-highest number of receptions for the Browns was converted return specialist Josh Cribbs. Heck, nine of the 21 wideouts taken in the second round over the last five seasons posted at least 30 receptions as rookies. If Gordon can do that, he'll be about as productive for Cleveland as three-year veteran Mohammed Massaquoi (31 catches) was last season.

It's undeniably a ballsy gamble by the Browns -- one criticized in many quarters around the league, since no one has used higher than a third-round pick in the supplemental draft since Houston grabbed flop tailback Tony Hollings in 2003, and Gordon was the first wide receiver taken since Rob Moore in 1990 -- but it was one that Cleveland officials felt they had to make. One club official insisted to The Sports Xchange on Thursday night that the grade the Browns had on Gordon was "pretty damned close" to the one they assigned Kendall Wright, another onetime Baylor wide receiver, and the prospect Cleveland apparently wanted in the first round three months ago. When Wright went off the board to Tennessee two slots ahead of Cleveland, the Browns picked Weeden instead.

Also, there was a suspicion that Buffalo, the only team ahead of Cleveland in the weighted lottery the NFL conducts before the supplemental draft to determine the order of selection, might have tabbed Gordon at the top of the third round.

Time, something for which Allen had no use, will tell if the Browns won the bold gamble on Gordon, for whom it's believed no other team on Thursday afternoon submitted a second-round bid. For now, though, the Browns seem to feel that, in time, Gordon will be a productive receiver who will be able to emerge as all of the very young components of the club's offense grow into a viable unit.

The operative caveat there is "in time," something about which George Allen seemed to know very little, but in which Shurmur appears willing to invest.

Around the League

One underrated factor in Cleveland's selection of wide receiver Josh Gordon in the supplemental draft was the quick success, relatively speaking, that the Browns experienced with Little in 2011.

The aforementioned drops aside, Little progressed fairly well as a rookie, and did so minus the benefit of any offseason work, because of the lockout.

It's clearly not the optimum situation, but Cleveland officials note that Mike Wilson did a nice job with Little last season, and that the wide receivers' coach learned from the experience of preparing a player without participation in minicamps and OTAs.

The situation for Gordon and Wilson will be similar, with very little exposure, none on the field, to the Cleveland offense before camp starts for rookies July 24. Wilson, kind of the unsung guy in the Browns' rationale to aggressively go after Gordon, will be expected to ready the rookie the same way he did Little last season.

Remember, because he was ruled ineligible by North Carolina officials for receiving improper benefits from agents, Little didn't play a single game the season before he was taken by the Browns.

Gordon didn't play at all last season, after transferring to Utah, after he was dismissed by Baylor following a marijuana-related incident. Gordon was also said by Browns' officials to have been very impressive, and notably candid about a background he described as "spotty," during his two-day visit with the team.

The Browns, who brought Gordon to Cleveland last Thursday and Friday, were the lone club to have him in for an official visit.

While just about everyone agrees that Gordon needs plenty of work on his route-running, his football acumen, the ability to translate concepts while working "at the board" and to assimilate principles of the Cleveland offense, were said to be very high.

On the success rate of former second-round wide receivers, cited earlier: It is notable that the Browns have had mixed results recently taking pass-catchers in the round. Little figures to become a good player, but Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie, both selected in the second round in 2009, haven't exactly panned out. Massaquoi has 110 catches in three years, but might be hard pressed to earn a spot in Cleveland's top three wideouts in 2012. Robiskie was released last November, after catching just 39 balls in two-plus seasons.


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