November 23, 2014

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Browns GM Ray Farmer says he’s ready for draft, heaps praise on Johnny Manziel, Sammy Watkins, other top prospects

Cleveland Browns general manager Ray Farmer laughs during a news conference at the NFL football team's headquarters in Berea Monday. Farmer talked about the upcoming draft as well as confirming the team's interest in two quarterbacks, Vince Young and Tyler Thigpen. (AP Photo/The Plain Dealer, Gus Chan)

Cleveland Browns general manager Ray Farmer laughs during a news conference at the NFL football team’s headquarters in Berea Monday. Farmer talked about the upcoming draft as well as confirming the team’s interest in two quarterbacks, Vince Young and Tyler Thigpen. (AP Photo/The Plain Dealer, Gus Chan)

BEREA — Ray Farmer would prefer to flip the page on the calendar and speed up the clocks. He doesn’t want to wait nine more days for his first draft as a general manager.

Farmer, who was promoted by Browns owner Jimmy Haslam when CEO Joe Banner and GM Michael Lombardi were fired in February, met with the media Monday to preview the three-day draft from May 8-10. He’s ready now.

“Absolutely. Let’s go,” Farmer said. “Can we call New York and get it done?”

The draft was pushed back two weeks this year, which has led to even more conjecture, more hype and more time for teams to second-guess themselves. The rookie Farmer said he’s trying to avoid that temptation. The Browns’ draft board is set and it’s not going to change.

“That’s a dangerous piece of the puzzle,” he said. “The more boards change, the more people get further away from football, they still think they see these grandioso changes. It is a dangerous proposition.”

Farmer said he “absolutely” knows who he wants with the No. 4 pick — the first of 10 for the Browns.

“The question is: Do I get a chance to take him?” he said.

Farmer didn’t reveal his preference, board or intentions, but he discussed several players that have been connected to the Browns. As always, the discussion began with the quarterbacks.

Farmer and rookie coach Mike Pettine have been open about the need to draft at least one. Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Central Florida’s Blake Bortles, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and Fresno State’s Derek Carr are considered possibilities at No. 4. But some, if not all, could also be available at No. 26 — the pick acquired from Indianapolis in the Trent Richardson trade.

Many experts believe none of the passers is worth a top-five pick. Farmer wouldn’t divulge his feeling on the subject.

“That’s interesting because if I say yes, people will make the assumption that we’re going to take a quarterback at four,” he said. “If I say no, they’re going to make the assertion that we’re going to pass on a quarterback. So I’m going to plead the fifth. We have players on our board at the right positions that we do think are worthy with that pick and it just comes down to what happens in front of you. So inevitably for us it’s best to stay quiet as to who is graded where and where those guys really sit on our board.”

Farmer said the Browns have held multiple mock drafts to try to get a feel for different scenarios. They’ve produced first rounds with zero quarterbacks taken to first rounds with five or six gone.

The league can’t seem to agree on the ranking of the quarterbacks. There’s also been a lot of discussion whether Manziel will be committed enough to the job.

“I don’t think I have any reservations about who Johnny is,” Farmer said. “We had a lot of conversations and spent a lot of time with him. He’s a good young man.”

What about Manziel on the field?

“Again, exciting, electric. He’s dynamic,” Farmer said. “The guy turned a lot of heads. He won a lot of games. There are things definitely to be excited about.

“The questions everybody wants to talk about are is he big enough? Is he going to get hurt? Is his arm strong enough? Again, he’s different. He’s not the quintessential quarterback everybody looks at and points to. Again, that speaks to a lot of who and what Johnny has been his entire life. It’s different.”

Manziel’s stock has reportedly been rising since an unusual and efficient pro day. The opposite side of the spectrum is Bridgewater, who struggled at his pro day, raising doubts about his potential despite three strong seasons as a starter.

“Oddly enough, I think there was a lot of media speculation that he was the top quarterback going into the offseason,” Farmer said. “It really comes down to guys in my position deciding, do you hold onto the tape? Do you hold onto a private workout? Do you hold onto his pro day? And all of those pieces kind of factor into it. But again, it really comes down to how does he play football.”

Farmer didn’t say anything negative about any of the prospects, but he was his most glowing about Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins. He seems like a natural for Cleveland if he’s still around at No. 4, and Farmer couldn’t say enough when asked the impact Watkins could have.

“Big, big, really big, ginormous,” he said. “He’s explosive. He’s got really good hands. He’s demonstrated he can run all the routes. He can be productive. So saddle him on the opposite side of Josh Gordon and wow.”

Trades are always possible during the draft, and Farmer said he expected to talk to eight to 10 of his counterparts in the final 24 hours before the first round. The first choice he’ll have is whether to move down from No. 4.

“I’m starting to formulate some of those opinions as to who’s interested, who may be interested,” Farmer said. “Nobody wants to trade up if their guy’s gone.”

And no one wants to trade down if the return isn’t enough.

“When you look at the totality of it, is one player better than this player and another player?” Farmer said. “If the blue players in a general sense are considered the elite players, below blue there’s generally red. So is one blue player worth two reds? It’s a debate. It’s a great question. I would then tell you it depends on what positions they play.”

A trade up could be possible later in the first round. If Farmer passes on a passer at No. 4, he may want to move up from 26 to get his guy.

“What do you have to give to get there and then is that a player that we really can’t live without or is there a player in a similar value range that we’re going to get at 26,” he said.

Farmer also had praise for the rest of the players in the mix at No. 4, including Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack and offensive linemen Greg Robinson of Auburn and Jake Matthews of Texas A&M — calling them possibilities even with All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas on the roster.

Another option is South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who has a good shot to be the No. 1 pick of the Houston Texans. Clowney’s effort has been questioned, but Farmer said he doesn’t see a problem.

“As we get closer to the draft, the more you’ll see smoke,” he said. “Is he supremely talented? Yes. Do people wonder about certain pieces of his game? Sure. But the more you overthink it, we could shoot holes in all of these guys.

“But the reality is you want to take the time to really unearth what can this guy do, how can he help your program and can this guy be a difference maker, and I think Jadeveon Clowney could do those things.”

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @scottpetrak.

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