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Josh Gordon Was The Substance Behind Browns Draft

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Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images.
Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images.

Did Cleveland Browns General Manager Ray Farmer earn an A for his work in last week’s NFL Draft?

Or an F?

Or maybe an I, for incomplete?

No one knows at this point.

But a case – and a strong one, at that – can be made for each grade after the first-time GM ran his very first draft.

In Thursday night’s first round, Farmer was able to get his franchise quarterback in Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel at No. 22 overall, and before that, at No. 8, he got his other shutdown cornerback in Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert.

Since both positions were ones of great need on the team – the Browns have been looking for a quarterback since Bernie Kosar was unceremoniously cut halfway through the 1993 season, and they have spent the past several years searching for a corner to play opposite of Joe Haden, a first-round draft pick in 2010 – Farmer gets an A for his work here. And from a public relations standpoint, he gets an A-plus. The fans erupted when the high-profile Manziel was taken. So did the national media. As such, the Browns are relevant again – really relevant, in fact, judging by the initial buzz -- from coast to coast.

That’s pretty cool.

But less than 24 hours later -- when the Manziel celebratory parties were still raging on – word came down that WR Josh Gordon, who in 2013 had arguably the best season ever by a Browns pass catcher in leading the NFL with a franchise-record 1,646 receiving yards, might be headed for a year-long suspension after allegedly violating the league’s substance abuse policy for the third time. Cleveland had a franchise quarterback in Manziel, but no franchise receiver for him to throw to.

It seemed certain, then, that on Friday night Farmer would use his first pick – the third one overall on the day, at No. 35 overall in the second round – to get a much-needed wide receiver. Yet he instead used it on a guard, Nevada’s Joel Bitonio. Later that night, Farmer got an inside linebacker in Iowa’s Christian Kirksey (No. 74) and a running back in Towson’s Terrence West (94) with his two third-round selections.

The Browns needed a guard and an inside linebacker, so both Bitonio and Kirsey will start right away. And they needed a backup running back to free-agent signee Ben Tate, which validate’s the selection of West.

But no wide receiver? Really?

And when it was learned that Farmer knew of the alleged problem with Gordon before the draft began, the fans’ jaw-dropping became much more pronounced. After all, the GM had the No. 4 overall pick and, instead of staying there and taking Clemson’s Sammy Watkins, the highest-rated wide receiver in the draft, he traded out of the choice with Buffalo. The Bills, for whom new Cleveland head coach Mike Pettine served last season as defensive coordinator, used the pick to take Watkins.

Cleveland took the No. 9 pick from the Bills, traded it to Minnesota for the Vikings’ No. 8 selection and then tabbed Gilbert.

But why didn’t Farmer just stay at No. 4 and take Watkins? At least in that way the team – and Manziel or Brian Hoyer or whomever would be playing quarterback – would have a game-breaking, downfield, go-to target.

Couple all that with the fact that on Saturday afternoon as the draft concluded, the Browns again bypassed wide receiver and used what turned out to be their last pick, a fourth-rounder at No. 127 overall, to take another corner in big Pierre Desir of tiny Lindenwood .

For that, at least on the surface, Farmer gets an F, maybe even an F-minus. Instead of canonizing him, maybe he should be thrown into solitary confinement. He went into the draft needing one starting wide receiver and came out of it needing two.  So in that regard, then – and an important one at that, since the NFL is so heavily dominated by the pass – the club has gotten precipitously worse.

What in the name of Greg Little was Farmer thinking? Does Farmer know how bad Little is? Does he know the rest of the wideouts are Smurf-like, slot guys (Andrew Hawkins and Travis Benjamin), long-in-the-tooth veterans with injury concerns (free-agent signee Nate Burleson, who recently had surgey to repair a fractured arm) or unproven young players (Josh Cooper)? If anybody in that group reminds you of Paul Warfield, Dante Lavelli, Gary Collins or Webster Slaughter, please let us know.

But here’s where it gets interesting. Farmer is a smart man. He knows what he’s doing, and it showed in the way he assembled what appears to be a pretty good draft class from top to bottom.

Understanding that, then, common sense seems to indicate that Farmer and the other deep thinkers in the organization such as Pettine and team owner Jimmy Haslam, must know something the rest of us don’t. Is it that Gordon is completely innocent of the alleged offense and won’t miss any time at all? Is that Gordon will be suspended for just four games instead of the entire season (he was suspended for two games at the start of 2013 for his second violation of the league’s substance abuse policy)? Or is it something else?

Until we know the answers to those questions, and until we see what ultimately happens and what, if anything, Farmer ends up doing to fix any problem that may exist, it would be foolish to jump to concrete conclusions one way or another.

So we’ll give Farmer not the A grade for his big first-day splash and his work overall, and not an F, either for so irresponsibly failing to replace a player he might lose, but rather an I – an incomplete – because even though the draft is over, where the Cleveland Browns really stand is still up in the air. They are still very much a work in progress – albeit a much more controversial one and, with Manziel, a much more exciting, intriguing and high-profile one – but a work in progress nonetheless.