Assuming there is an NFL season, which is not a guarantee by any stretch, the Browns will certainly be relying on several members of the 2011 draft class to have an instant impact on the team. The Browns and their fans aren’t the only ones thinking that way it seems. ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper has pegged second round selection Jabaal Sheard as an immediate impact type of player-
Jabaal Sheard, DE, Cleveland Browns (Round 2, No. 5)
The impact: As a team, the Browns notched just 29 sacks in 2010, good for 25th in the league. Sheard has a nice variety of pass-rush moves and could quickly move to the top of the depth chart on the edge in this scheme. He holds up very well against the run when he can sidestep or gain enough leverage on massive offensive tackles. A good two-way player, he fills an immediate need.
The hurdle: Sheard is athletic, but it’s yet to be seen whether he can be a truly explosive pass-rusher. If he’s asked to drop, there are questions about whether he’ll be a liability in the open field.
For Cleveland’s sake, he and first round pick Phil Taylor need to be impact players.
Both should become starters for the Browns right away because of the lack of players (impact or not) on the defensive line. The Browns have 4 defensive lineman under contract for this season- Ahtyba Rubin, Travis Ivey, Ko Quaye and Brian Sanford. If the CBA includes restrictions on free agents similar to what was in place before (which is up for debate) the Browns would have exclusive rights to Titus Adams, Marcus Benard and Brian Schafering. (Auston English and Scott Paxson have non-guaranteed agreements for next season.)
Who are your 4 starters from that group?
Which is exactly why the Browns went defensive line with both of their first two picks. You can all but pencil in Sheard, Taylor and Rubin, and assuming they can sign him, Marcus Benard. That is unless the Browns become players for bigger fish in the free agency pond, but that seems a little unlikely. Simply by starting right away Taylor and Sheard would be making an impact on the team, but much more is needed if the Browns are to have any success defensively. Taylor and Rubin will be charged, along with the MLB, with stopping the running game up the middle. Sheard will be responsible for some outside containment on extended running plays, but will need to be a force in the pass rush game as well.
By no means am I limiting this draft’s immediate impact to just Taylor and Sheard however. Many fans might point to WR Greg Little as a guy that should have an instant impact with the offense. While he does seem to have the physical skills, history suggests that receivers don’t usually make a splash in year one. In addition, Little sat out last season because of an NCAA violation. Not only that, but when he went to UNC it was as a running back. He is still learning quite a bit how to be a wide receiver, and he will have to do that at the highest level possible.
To the end, Jordan Cameron is probably the more likely of the two to make an impact in the passing game this season, despite the depth at the tight end position. But if you are looking for the offensive draft pick most likely to make his presence felt this season, look no farther than FB Owen Marecic.
As has been speculated, the selection of Marecic will probably mean the end of the Vickers era in Cleveland. If that is indeed the case, Marecic will have to become Vickers. He will be charged with opening holes for Hillis and Hardesty. He will also have to pick up protection schemes and keep McCoy upright. A few catches out of the backfield won’t hurt either.
Statistically speaking, Marecic and Taylor might not show up in the box score much. But their contributions will be major factors in the success of the offense and defense this season.
OL Jason Pinkston will have a shot to win the right tackle spot, but the norm for late round offensive linemen is to build strength and technique for the first season or two before moving into a starting role. I am still holding out hope that the Browns invest in a quality RT for the upcoming season. A guy can dream can’t he?
Photo credit: Joe Rubino