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Safe and sound: Browns go back to basics in draft, fill needs and finally take wide receiver

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BEREA, Ohio — No splash, no sizzle, and surprisingly, no quarterback.

One year after Cleveland made three trades in the first round, selected quasi-celebrity quarterback Johnny Manziel and was widely praised for having one of its best NFL drafts in several years, the Browns played it safe and sound in 2015.

Back to basics.

"We did a good job sticking to the plan," general manager Ray Farmer said. "We know what we want to be. We know where we want to go. We know before you build the roof and put the walls up you have to build the foundation."

The Browns made 12 selections — their most since 2000 — and while none of the picks caused a run on jersey or ticket sales the way Manziel's arrival did last year, Cleveland addressed some major needs and Farmer finally picked a wide receiver after ignoring the position for 10-plus rounds since the start of last year's draft.

In all, the Browns took seven defensive players, five on offense and seven who played in the Pac-12 Conference.

And although there was an expectation before the draft that Farmer would either trade up to get Marcus Mariota or take a young QB later to groom, he avoided a position that has perplexed the Browns for years. Cleveland has had 22 starting quarterbacks since 1999, and the Browns will head into this season with as much uncertainty as ever.

During the winter, owner Jimmy Haslam made the search for a long-term answer at quarterback as the team's No. 1 priority, saying "we've got to get it fixed."

On the surface, the situation doesn't appear repaired. After all, the Browns signed veteran Josh McCown, who went just 1-10 as a starter in Tampa Bay, and Manziel followed up a rough rookie year with a 70-plus-day stay in rehab and his future remains cloudy.

But Pettine, who called the team's QB issue "muddy at best" after last season, is certain the the Browns can overcome any shortcomings.

"We're very confident of the guys in that room," he said. "I'm very confident in the guys coaching them. I'm very confident in the plan we're going to build and I'm thrilled with the players we're going to put on the field around the quarterback. We go 11 against 11, we're not just trotting quarterbacks out on the 50-yard line and thumb wrestling.

"To me there are a lot of different ways to win football games.

PHOTO: Cleveland Browns general manager Ray Farmer, left, stands with Browns first-round draftees Danny Shelton, second from left, and Cameron Erving, second from right, and Browns head coach Mike Pettine, right, at a news conference in Berea, Ohio, Friday, May 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Phil Long)
Cleveland Browns general manager Ray Farmer, left, stands with Browns first-round draftees Danny Shelton, second from left, and Cameron Erving, second from right, and Browns head coach Mike Pettine, right, at a news conference in Berea, Ohio, Friday, May 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

Farmer never ruled out taking a quarterback, but there wasn't one available at a spot where he thought it was worth a pick.

However, Farmer finally came around on wide receivers, using his second pick Saturday on Washington State's Vince Mayle, a former junior college basketball player who had a school record 106 catches last season.

Cleveland entered the day as the only AFC team not to select a wide receiver or tight end in the past two drafts. Farmer has been adamant that the team's group of receivers is more than capable, but he ended up grabbing the 6-foot-2 Mayle with his 13th pick as GM.

Mayle was the 17th wide receiver taken in this year's draft and the 50th selected over the past two years. He had 1,483 yards receiving and nine touchdowns in 2014, but some draft analysts questioned his hands.

"I believe the scouting reports are wrong," he said.

The Browns began Day 3 of the draft by taking their fourth defensive player, nabbing Northwestern safety Ibraheim Campbell, a 5-foot-10, 210-pounder who likes to hit. He started 45 games in four years for the Wildcats.

"I would consider myself a physical player," he said. "It's a violent game, and I try to be as violent as possible in everything I do."

With the first of their three sixth-round picks, the Browns nabbed Louisville cornerback Charles Gaines. At 5-10, 180 pounds, Gaines is viewed as a potential nickelback or kick returner, and said he's grown from two suspensions from rules violations.

"I'm a totally new man," Gaines said. "I feel it made me who I am today."

With pick No. 195, the Browns took Malcolm Johnson, a hybrid fullback/tight end from Mississippi State and selected Southern Cal tight end Randall Telfar three picks later.

Cleveland used its two seventh-round picks on USC inside linebacker Hayes Pullard and Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who was projected to be a first-round pick last year before suffering a knee injury. The Browns aren't sure when he'll be able to play.

By the end, a draft that began on Thursday with first-round pick Danny Shelton, a defensive tackle from Washington, hugging and lifting Commissioner Roger Goodell off his feet, went about as well as the Browns could have hoped. Not as sexy as last year, but solid.

"We took the players that we liked," Farmer said. "It's not about taking someone with name recognition. It's not about taking a guy for any other reason than we think the guy is a good football player."


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PHOTO: Cleveland Browns first-round draft selection Cameron Erving talks with members of the media after a news conference at the team's NFL football headquarters in Berea, Ohio, Friday, May 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Phil Long)
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