AFC North: Courtney Brown
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
Jesse from Boulder, CO writes: James, as a Browns fan I have been through too many lackluster 1st round picks. I feel like Eric Mangini and George Kokinis need to get at least a good starting player with our 5th overall pick. [Wake Forest linebacker] Aaron Curry seems like the surest thing, but he probably won't fall to us. Who is the next "surest" player deserving of a fifth overall pick?
Jesse is one of many Cleveland Browns fans who is nervous about the NFL draft on April 25-26. The Browns have high picks in nearly every round -- including the No. 5 overall pick -- which should be comforting and exciting. But historically Cleveland has floundered in this position more often than not, which is one of the primary reasons the Browns have just one playoff appearance since returning to the NFL in 1999.
This will be the sixth time in the past decade that the Browns own a top-five pick in the first round. Only the Oakland Raiders and Cincinnati Bengals are even in the same ballpark with four top-five selections in the same span.
Next week's draft will build or break the foundation of new Browns coach Eric Mangini and first-year general manager George Kokinis. In an effort to completely rebuild the team this offseason, it is vital that this pair nail this draft.
"The great thing I think about the league is you don't start where you finish," a confident Mangini said at the NFL owners' meeting. "The way that we work in this offseason, the things we're able to collectively do, the choices we make every day, ultimately define how successful we are."
Cleveland has had hits in the top five, such as offensive lineman Joe Thomas in 2007, and major misses, such as quarterback Tim Couch in 1999. Will this new regime take the sure picks and avoid the pitfalls?
With that in mind, here is an in-depth look at Cleveland's history in the top five the past 10 years:
- Pick: Tim Couch, QB, Kentucky (No. 1 overall)
- Career stats: 59 starts, 11,131 yards, 64 touchdowns, 67 interceptions
- Players passed over: QB Donovan McNabb (No. 2), RB Edgerrin James (No. 4), WR Torry Holt (No. 6), CB Champ Bailey (No. 7), CB Chris McAlister (No. 10)
- Analysis: The first pick of Cleveland's return to the league turned out to be a bad one. Couch was the top pick in 1999, one spot ahead of McNabb, who has had a very productive career with the Philadelphia Eagles. There are some Browns fans who believe Couch simply played on awful teams and never got a fair chance to show what he could do. Despite the occasional flash, Couch was battered and beaten to the point where he retired after only five seasons. To this day, the Browns are still searching for a franchise quarterback.
- Boom or bust? Bust
- Pick: Courtney Brown, DE, Penn State (No. 1 overall)
- Career stats: 60 starts, 125 tackles, 19 sacks
- Players passed over: OT Chris Samuels (No. 3), RB Jamal Lewis (No. 5), Thomas Jones (No. 7), Brian Urlacher (No. 9)
- Analysis: After going for offense the year before, the Browns wanted a cornerstone to build a defense around and took Brown. After a decent rookie year, durability issues began to play a major factor with Brown in his second year. The defensive end only played 16 games once in his career and was out of the NFL after six seasons. By 2004, Cleveland was without Couch and Brown. How often can a team whiff on back-to-back No. 1 picks?
- Boom or bust? Bust
- Pick: Gerard Warren, DT, Florida (No. 3 overall)
- Career stats: 111 starts, 260 tackles, 30 sacks
- Players passed over: DE Justin Smith (No. 4), RB LaDainian Tomlinson (No. 5), DT Richard Seymour (No. 6), DT Marcus Stroud (No. 13)
- Analysis: Passing over both Tomlinson and Seymour are among the biggest mistakes in Cleveland history. Warren wasn't a bad player, but passing over those two players magnified drafting an average defensive lineman with the No. 3 overall pick. Warren was traded away after four meager years in Cleveland. Tomlinson and Seymour, on the other hand, went on to have potential Hall of Fame careers for the San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots, respectively. It makes you wonder if they would have had equal production with a struggling Cleveland franchise.
- Boom or bust? Bust
- Pick: Braylon Edwards, WR, Michigan (No. 3 overall)
- Career stats: 228 receptions, 3,358 yards, 28 touchdowns
- Players passed over: LB DeMarcus Ware (No. 11), LB Shawne Merriman (No. 12), QB Aaron Rodgers (No. 24)
- Analysis: This was a brutal year to be in the top five and a case can be made that the Browns made the right call here in taking Edwards with the third pick. The top 10 in 2005 is littered with misses, including players such as quarterback Alex Smith (No. 1), tailback Cedric Benson (No. 4), cornerback Adam "Pacman” Jones (No. 6) and receiver Troy Williamson (No. 7). What were the Browns to do? They got at least one Pro Bowl out of Edwards, who is in the final year of his deal and probably won't return if he becomes an unrestricted free agent. The two players at the top of this draft were Ware and Merriman. But it's kind of hard to expect Cleveland to take players with the third pick who weren't rated in the top 10 at the time of the draft.
- Boom or bust: Jury is still out
- Pick: Joe Thomas, OT, Wisconsin (No. 3)
- Career stats: 32 starts, two Pro Bowls
- Players passed over: S LaRon Landry (No. 6), RB Adrian Peterson (No. 7), LB Patrick Willis (No. 11)
- Analysis: It's hard to argue with Cleveland taking one of the top left tackles in the NFL. Thomas was the safest pick in this draft, and Cleveland went the safe route. One season later, the Browns had 10 wins and a Pro Bowl left tackle. Thomas struggled a little during his second season, but he still made the Pro Bowl in a year the offense as a whole couldn't move the football. Some would argue having Peterson on the roster would've made a bigger impact. But good running backs are a dime a dozen. Great left tackles are not.
- Boom or bust: Boom
What will this year's top-five pick hold for the Browns? Based on Cleveland's track record, it could go either way.
It is no wonder Jesse and so many other Browns fans are so nervous.