With the draft exactly one week away, Cleveland Browns general manager Tom Heckert took to the podium for his pre-draft press conference, fielding questions about headlines, smokescreens and the pressure to perform given the draft history of the team under which he presides.
While he would understandably not get into specifics, reacting to all draft board questions with body language that ranged from slight chuckles to belly laughs, Heckert discussed philosophy and where, exactly, the front office is when it comes to analyzing specific players.
Unless the team is presented an offer like they received last season, one which Heckert claims he is still happy with, the Browns general manager stated that not only do they wish to stay with the fourth-overall selection, but there is collective agreement on who they will take when their helmet pops into the corner of the screen during ESPN’s Thursday night broadcast.
“I haven’t talked to Peter King in years,” Heckert exclaimed. “Everyone says stuff [about the draft] that they do not know — it’s their best guess.”
Armed with 13 draft picks and a boat load of needs, much of the focus heading into next Thursday night will be surrounding skill players, specifically those on the offensive end. Heckert claims that the guys whom the team opts to select in the first three rounds will all be starters, but a lot of what happens is also in the hands of luck. The team has what they call “scenario boards” which aim to replicate a mock draft in fantasy football. If they select Player A with the fourth pick, who do they land at Nos. 22 and 37?
No players were discounted. Justin Blackmon and Trent Richardson were called “class guys.” Mo Claibourne could be one of the three cornerbacks Heckert feels a team needs to succeed in a passing league. Ryan Tannehill had an excellent workout and hasn’t moved up draft boards — he’s where teams had him on day one. Is Brandon Weeden’s age an issue? No, but it’s there. The more pre-draft stories of diversion that are released, the better.
Heckert confirmed that the team does not have a tiered approach to their first selection and that there are difinitive numbers one through four. And not long before providing yet another vote of confidence for quarterback Colt McCoy, Heckert claimed that the team feels that there are presently 18 players who grade out as “first round-talent,” two of which they are confident they can obtain with their two first-round selections. When the draft board shakes out, however, while the team is very aware of their needs, their philosophy of drafting whom they feel is the best player available will continue to dominate.
“You have to be careful, can’t panic,” said Heckert. ”I’ve made bad mistakes and it was not from a skill position standpoint, but it was a position of need. We traded up for both positions, but they were bad moves and something we never should’ve done. It was a long time ago and we learned from it. There’s a lot of pressure from media and fans, but it’s my job to say ‘wait, it’s not the right thing to do.’ I think it’s the hardest thing to convey to fans. We want guys as much as they do, but we can’t make mistakes. We just try to do the right thing.”
Photo: Gus Chan / The Plain Dealer