I spent two days at Browns rookie minicamp last weekend. Let me give you my thoughts on each of the Browns draft choices.
Joe Haden - I was a little surprised when the Browns pulled the trigger on drafting Haden, but after observing him in interviews and on the field drills, my first impression is he’s the real deal. He seems like a very confident young man and it is no secret the Browns need to bolster their secondary. With the acquisition of Sheldon Brown, it appeared the need for cornerback was less, but Brown will be 32 this season and sometimes corners lose a half step by the time they hit their 30’s. The Eagles were talking about moving Brown to safety and the Browns have the flexibility of doing so if T. J. Ward isn’t ready to start from day one. The Browns need a lock down corner and Haden has a chance to be the Browns best cornerback within a couple of years. If Ward can step in from the beginning of the season, Brown and Haden could be the starters with Eric Wright being the third corner. Brown and Haden are more physical than Wright is and either way, it gives the Browns depth and flexibility.
T.J. Ward - In my opinion, this is the key to the draft. The Browns literally, do not have a starter opposite Abe Elam. Ward is counted upon to step in quickly and be the starter this season. Unlike one of last year’s second-round picks, David Veikune, Ward needs to contribute this season.
If he’s not ready to play, either Sheldon Brown or Mike Adams will be the starter. Most experts have said the Browns reached to get Ward. They passed on Taylor Mays in the draft. The Browns need to be right on Ward as the Browns need a tough, physical safety to anchor their secondary. The word to describe Ward is that he is physical and tough. The knock on Ward is that he’s injury-prone.
The Browns said they are convinced that Ward’s injuries are behind him. Ward patterns his style of play after former greats Jack Tatum and Ronnie Lott. If he plays half as good as either of those players, the Browns and their fans will be very happy.
I like what I saw of Ward in his first weekend with the Browns. We’ll obviously, have to wait until they put on pads in late July to see if he’s what the Browns hope he is.
Montario Hardesty - I have been a Jerome Harrison fan for the past two seasons. I was clamoring for him to get the opportunity to show what he can do long before the coaches seemed to realize that Jamal Lewis was over the hill. However, as much as I like Harrison, I think Hardesty is going to be the feature running back.
The Browns traded up to get him in the second-round. A second-round draft choice should play right away on a 5-11team, but when a team trades up in the second-round to get a player, it means they really like him.
I think the Browns will pair Hardesty and Harrison in the backfield. Whether Hardesty starts the season as the feature back or finishes the season in that role, I believe that will be the case. Eric Mangini likes to employ a big, physical back and a speedy, smaller back. He used Thomas Jones and Leon Washington with the Jets.
Hardesty showed good hands in last week’s minicamp and he has a reputation of being able to pick up the blitz. I like a 225-pound back who runs a 40 in the 4.4 range. The big question regarding Hardesty was the ‘I’ word, but Hardesty said he hasn’t been injured since his sophomore season at Tennessee.
Last season, Hardesty carried the ball 282 times. He played against some of the top competition in the nation in the SEC. He also did so without fumbling. He is a big, physical runner that could be exactly what the Browns need in the AFC North.
Colt McCoy - The Browns took no risk in drafting McCoy with the 85th pick. They obviously, weren’t in love with McCoy because they passed him three times. Mike Holmgren said he ‘pulled rank’ when they decided to draft McCoy, which would indicate they didn’t have McCoy at the top of their board when they selected him.
I’m alright with that because if the Browns take their time and develop him properly, he could be the long-term answer for the franchise. After he is with the team a year, Holmgren and his staff will have a much better understanding if they think McCoy can be the guy. If not, they can get another quarterback in next year’s draft when the class is considered to be much deeper.
In the drills I observed, McCoy seemed to be as accurate as advertised. I think this was not only the sexiest pick of the draft for the Browns, but also the safest—meaning if he pans out, they only used a third-round pick on him. They’ve done worse in the third-round—remember Travis Wilson?
Of the first four picks, three of them have been described as ‘tough and physical’. The Browns need to change the culture in terms of being a tough and physical team. The more players with that description, the better.