Browns makeover backfield in NFL draft
BEREA (AP) — Fixing the running game wasn’t enough for the Cleveland Browns.
They decided to remodel their entire backfield.
Desperate for playmakers to ignite one of the NFL’s worst offenses, the Browns traded three late picks to Minnesota and moved up one spot to No. 3 and selected Trent Richardson, Alabama’s explosive running back. Later Thursday night, the Browns used their other first-round pick on Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden.
The arrival of the 28-year-old Weeden, a former minor league baseball player, could end Colt McCoy’s tenure in Cleveland’s starter.
“I was hoping that this would happen,” said Weeden, who spent draft day at home in Oklahoma. “This night went just as I hoped.”
For the Browns as well.
They entered the draft looking to improve an offense that ranked 30th in scoring last season, averaging just 13.6 points per game. Cleveland general manager Tom Heckert’s priority was to find playmakers, and in Richardson and Weeden, the Browns believe they’ve found two players who can help them win and close the gap on the rest of the AFC North.
“I don’t know if we transformed the offense, but we’ve gotten better,” general manager Tom Heckert said. “That was the goal.”
Heckert said the Browns selected Weeden to be a future starter — perhaps immediately. Heckert said the club will spend the next few days discussing a trade of McCoy, who went 6-15 as a starter.
The dynamic Richardson should make an immediate impact on Cleveland’s rushing game, which managed just four touchdowns last season. The 5-foot-9, 228-pound Richardson scored 21 for the national champion Crimson Tide.
“He’s passionate. He’s productive. He’s durable and he’s the kind of runner we feel is going to help us get our offense together to score the points that we need to win the games that we’re going to win,” said Browns coach Pat Shurmur, who went 4-12 in a tumultuous first season.
Shurmur said the Browns were convinced a team would leapfrog them to select Richardson. The deal with Minnesota ensured they would get their man.
“Unfortunately we had to make a little trade to secure the pick,” Shurmur said. “We knew as we went through the process that he was our guy and so we did what we had to do to secure it. We had pretty good knowledge that there were teams behind that wanted him as well, so we gave up a couple of picks to make sure we got him.”
Richardson was stunned to be taken by the Browns.
“I didn’t expect to go this high,” he said after donning a Browns No. 1 jersey and baseball cap on the stage of New York’s Radio City Music Hall.
Richardson seemed destined in most mock drafts to be going to the Browns at No. 4, but about an hour before the draft, Heckert pulled off his trade with Minnesota. Heckert sent the Vikings picks in the fourth (No. 118), fifth (139) and seventh (211) rounds to move up and select Richardson, who rushed for 1,679 yards last season.
It was a bold move by Heckert, who entered the draft with 13 selections and planned to use some of them to move if he really liked a player. Last year, Heckert passed up taking Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones at No. 6 and acquired extra picks from the Falcons. He used one of those in the package for Richardson.
During the offseason, the Browns fell short in their pursuit for quarterback Robert Griffin III. Cleveland was outbid by Washington, which selected the Heisman Trophy winner second overall.
They weren’t about to lose out on getting the best back.
“He’s a terrific runner,” Shurmur said. “He can run with power. He can make you miss when he gets in the open. He can score. I like the fact that when he is asked to pass protect, he will do it aggressively. When you throw him the football, he catches it. Unless I am missing something, that’s what runners have to do.”
Richardson is viewed as the most complete back in this year’s draft and perhaps the best since Adrian Peterson in 2007.
He can run inside the tackles for tough yards and bust outside for long gains. Richardson made a strong impression on the Browns during his pro day at Alabama when he flattened Cleveland running backs coach Gary Brown during a blocking drill.
“I’m pretty sure I got their attention when I knocked him down,” Richardson said in a conference call.
While Weeden’s age may have been viewed negatively by some teams, the Browns feel he can answer their problems at QB. McCoy, a former third-round pick, made 13 starts last season before missing the final three games with a concussion.
“I wasn’t concerned about his age,” Shurmur said. “I was impressed with his maturity and production on tape. We became very fond of him.”
Shurmur said he was certain Richardson should be the pick long before the 21-year-old’s workout. Richardson also caught 29 passes for 338 yards and three more TDs.
Earlier in the day, Browns Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown, who has been at odds with the organization for several years, called Richardson “ordinary.” However, Brown’s former team felt differently and selected a player whom they believe can help them close the gap on Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati in the AFC North.
Richardson said he wasn’t bothered by Brown’s comment.
“I have a lot to play for,” he said. “I’ve got a lot to prove. I’m an ordinary human, but as a back, I’ll be a special guy.”
Cleveland’s rushing game was inconsistent last season, ranking 28th overall. Peyton Hillis, who rushed for nearly 1,200 yards in 2010, was unreliable and injured. Montario Hardesty struggled with injuries, and third-down specialist Brandon Jackson missed the whole season with a foot injury.
When Hillis, who missed one game with strep throat and had other off-field issues, left as a free agent, it left a gaping hole in Cleveland’s ground game.
Shurmur feels Richardson will plug it, and fill other offensive needs.
“Every player you bring from college you need to project some,” he said. “I saw him play running back in a physical style and in an outstanding conference, the SEC, and they won a lot of games. He helped that team win a national championship. In my mind, you saw what you needed to see to project the fact that he is going to be an outstanding player in this league.”
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