Cleveland Browns Redraft:1994

After pondering the immense failure of Bill Belichick as head coach of the Cleveland Browns during the 1990s, I’ve gone back and looked at one aspect of that five-year tenure, the draft. Being the football nerd I am, I’m playing the role of fantasy general manager and redoing their 1991-1995 draft picks. Wishful thinking, yes, but I wonder if the draft played out the way I redid it, maybe the Browns would have never left in 1996. And maybe the long-eluded Super Bowl championship would have finally found a home in northeastern Ohio.

I’m up to 1994, the only winning season under Belichick in Cleveland. The Browns finished 11-5 that year, one game behind the Steelers in the Central Divison, and a wildcard entry in the playoffs. Cleveland fielded one of the strongest defenses in the league that year. Vinny Testaverde was the starting quarterback after the ugy divorce between fan-favorite Bernie Kosar and the head coach the previous season. After beating the Patriots in the Wildcard game, Cleveland faced their long-time nemesis in Pittsburgh. Unfortunately for the Browns, the results were the same as the regular season (Pittsburgh won both contests) with a sound tumping by the Steelers.

Cleveland’s draft before the 1994 season was average at best. First off, Cleveland traded away their second round picks in 1994 and 1995 to Philadelphia in order to move up into the last spot of the first round. They had also lost their fourth round pick to Miami in a trade the previous year for OL Gene Williams (I don’t remember him either). That left them with six picks in the 1994 draft. Here’s what they did with them:

Round Number Player
1 9 CB Antonio Langham
1 29 WR Derrick Alexander
3 75 DT Romeo Bandison
5 141 DB Issac Booth
6 171 FB Robert Strait
7 203 OL Hamza Hewitt

Langham and Alexander both has good careers, although neither will see the Hall of Fame unless they buy a ticket. Bandison and Booth barely played during their short careers, and Strait and Hewitt never made it on the roster.

Now let’s take over. First off, the two draft trades that cost the Browns their two second round picks and their fourth round pick would never have happened. That gives us a pick in each of the seven rounds of the draft. So let’s look at our needs coming into the 1994 draft. Here’s our starting roster, based on draft picks only, at this point:

Offense Defense
QB Brett Favre (9) DT Chester McGlockton (4)
FB Kimble Anders (3) DT Santana Dotson
RB Gary Brown DE Michael Sinclair (3)
WR Keenan McCardell (2) DE Michael Strahan (7)
WR Donald Driver MLB Ed McDaniel (1)
TE Ben Coates (5) OLB Mo Lewis (3)
C Jay Leeuwenburg OLB Bryan Cox (3)
G Will Shields (12) CB Aeneas Williams (8)
G Ron Stone (3) CB Dale Carter (4)
T Erik Williams (4) SS Blaine Bishop (4)
T none taken FS Merton Hanks (4)

The numbers in ( ) indicate how many Pro Bowls each player has appeared in during their actual NFL careers. We also have depth at wide receiver (Troy Brown), tight end (Frank Wycheck), linebacker (Corey Widmer, Jesse Armstead), cornerback (Mark McMillan) and free safety (John Lynch). Our areas of biggest need are running back and offensive line, especially tackle and center. Here’s our new draft board. I’m omitting round numbers at this point because I’m assuming our new, Pro Bowl-laiden roster would have performed better than the original 1993 team (7-9). Hence, we would end up picking later in the rounds:

Round Player
1 CB Antonio Langham
2 ???
3 DT Romeo Bandison
4 ???
5 DB Issac Booth
6 FB Robert Strait
7 OL Hamza Hewitt

Let’s go at it and complete our rebuilding of the Browns:

Round Original Pick New Pick
1 CB Antonio Langham C Kevin Mawae

Drafted in the second round by Seattle, Mawae is considered one of the top centers in the past decade. He was elected to the Pro Bowl on six consecutive occasions (1999-2004) while playing for the Seahawks and Jets. In 2006, he signed a free agent contract with the Titans, where he continues to play today.

Round Original Pick New Pick
2 none T/G Larry Allen

Originally drafted by the Cowboys in the middle of the second round, Larry Allen (along with tackle Erik Williams) became the cornerstone of the great offensive line for Dallas during their three Super Bowl Championships during the 1990s. Able to play both guard and tackle, Allen played 13 years, 11 with the Cowboys, and made the Pro Bowl 11 consecutive years (1995-2006).

Round Original Pick New Pick
3 DT Romeo Bandison LB Jason Gildon

Jason Gildon was picked by the Steelers in the third round, and is versatile enough to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He is Pittsburgh’s all-time leader in sacks with 77, and went to the Pro Bowl three times (2000, 2001, 2002). He averaged nearly 11 sacks a season from 1998-2002. Although not a need, Gildon is a defensive terror that can’t be passed up. Bonus points for hurting the Steelers.

Round Original Pick New Pick
4 none SS Rodney Harrison

Again, another position of strength, but I’m a believer in taking the best talent available unless there is a serious need, and Harrison is too good of a player to not take. Drafed by San Diego in the fifth round, Harrison became a starter in 1997 and made the Pro Bowl twice (1998, 2001). He was cut by the Chargers following the 2002 season in a salary cap move, and signed with the Patriots, where he won two Super Bowls. Harrison is the only player in NFL history with 30 INTs and 30 sacks.

Round Original Pick New Pick
5 DB Issac Booth P Mitch Berger

I haven’t really paid much attention to special teams in these drafts, so this is a good spot to address them. Mitch Berger was taken by the Eagles in the late sixth round, but really came into prominence when he signed with Minnesota following the 1995 season. He played with the Vikings for five years, and made the Pro Bowl in 1999. He spent one year with the Rams before signing with New Orleans, where he played for another five years and made his second Pro Bowl in 2004. He is currently playing with the Steelers.

Round Original Pick New Pick
6 FB Robert Strait RB Jamal Anderson

I finally address my last glaring weakness, running back. In hindsight, Jamal Anderson was the second best running back to come out of the 1994 draft (Marshall Faulk was the best and picked second overall). The only reason I waited until the sixth round to take him is because he originally wasn’t selected until the last round (7th) by Atlanta, so I had almost the whole draft to wait for him. Anderson played eight years for the Falcons before retiring following the 2001 season after an ACL tear, amassing 5,336 rushing yards, 156 receptions for 1,645 yards, and 41 touchdowns. Inventor of the Dirty Bird touchdown celebration, Anderson made the Pro Bowl in 1998 when he ran for an NFL single-season record 410 times for 1,846 yards and 14 touchdowns. That year, the Falcons made their only Super Bowl appearance, losing to the Broncos. He ran for 96 yards for a 5.3 average in the Super Bowl.

Round Original Pick New Pick
7 OL Hamza Hewitt WR Rod Smith

Undrafted, Rod Smith signed with the Broncos in 1994, where he played 13 years and became a favorite target of Elway and Plummer. Becoming a starter in 1997, Smith averaged 75 receptions for 1,000 yards and six touchdowns during his last 11 years, and only missed three games during his career. He’s had two seasons of at least 100 receptions (2000: 100; 2001: 113), and his reception total in 2001 led the league. In Super Bowl XXXIII, Smith had 5 receptions for 152 yards, the fourth highest total in Super Bowl history. He also was elected to three Pro Bowls.

1994 Redraft Summary

Coming into this draft, I identified two areas of need: offensive line and running back. With three of our seven picks, I’ve more than adequately addressed those. Kevin Mawae and Larry Allen bring a combined 17 Pro Bowls to a line that already has 19 Pro Bowl appearances, giving us 36 Pro Bowls among center Mawae, guards Ron Stone and Will Shields, and tackles Allen and Erik Williams. That is a loaded offensive line. Jamal Anderson also gives us another Pro Bowl running back in the backfield (along with FB Anders). Add another Pro Bowl wide receiver (Smith) to a fine collection of pass catchers (Donald Driver, Keenan McCardell, Troy Brown, TE Ben Coates, TE Frank Wycheck) and a future Hall of Fame quarterback iin Brett Favre, and we have one of the most talented offenses in the history of the league.

We strengthened an already dominating defense with depth at linebacker and strong safety, and added a future Pro Bowl punter in Berger. Although with this team, Berger may never get in a game. If you can come up with a better championship-contending team, I would like to see it. There is no reason this team shouldn’t have won at least three or four Super Bowls, and we still have one more year to go.

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