Browns GM offers few clues on draft plans

By Tom Withers

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, April 19 2012 3:40 p.m. MDT

Cleveland Browns general manager Tom Heckert discusses the upcoming draft at the NFL football team's headquarters in Berea, Ohio Thursday, April 19, 2012.

Mark Duncan, Associated Press

BEREA, Ohio — Wild rumors are flying around about Cleveland's plans in next week's NFL draft.

A hot one is they're trading down. One day, they're using the No. 4 pick on Texas A &M quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The next, they're taking Alabama running back Trent Richardson or Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon. LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne is ranked highest on their board. They're in love with 28-year-old quarterback Brandon Weeden. Southern Cal tackle Matt Kalil is their guy.

It goes on and on.

Only man knows the truth.

But Browns general manager Tom Heckert is keeping it a secret.

"There's a lot of mis-stories out there that I like right now and I want to keep a lot of them where they're at," he said. "I'm feeling pretty good about it."

As he prepares for a critical draft that could finally push Cleveland's franchise out of its depressed state, Heckert dodged specific questions Thursday during a 45-minute news conference where he talked a lot but offered little.

Heckert was tactful with his responses, careful not to divulge any information. He doesn't want to tip his hand, which is stacked with 13 picks, including the Nos. 4, 22 and 37 selections.

Heckert acknowledged that the Browns would like to keep the No. 4 pick and that the team has narrowed that choice down to two unidentified players. He added there's agreement between himself, president Mike Holmgren and coach Pat Shurmur over the pick.

"We're all on the same page," he said. "We know we're getting a really good player no matter what happens at No. 3. We know we're getting one of two guys, we just don't know who is going to go at three (to Minnesota). We're extremely happy and excited with whoever is going to be there at four."

Richardson and Blackmon are both expected to be available when commissioner Roger Goodell puts the Browns on the clock Thursday night.

Both would make an immediate impact on a Cleveland offense desperate for playmakers. The Browns scored just 218 points last season and Heckert needs someone to get the ball in the end zone.

"Everybody knows, it's not a secret," Heckert said. "We need guys that can score points."

Although the trend in recent years has been for teams to draft running backs later in the draft, Heckert said he wouldn't hesitate to take one at No. 4. Richardson, who rushed for 1,679 yards and 21 touchdowns last year, is the highest rated back in this year's class and would fill a major need after the Browns decided not to re-sign Peyton Hillis as a free agent.

Hillis' off-field drama and injuries to running backs Montario Hardesty and Brandon Jackson curtailed Cleveland's ground game last season. The 5-foot-9, 228-pound Richardson showed in college he could run inside and outside and Heckert said there's more comfort with a player coming out Alabama, which uses a pro-style system.

"You get to see him catch the ball and in pass protection," Heckert said. "Some guys you never get to see catch the ball. There are some guys in this draft, at least our top three running backs, all can catch the ball and block. Sometimes you can't tell."

Blackmon would be another weapon for Browns quarterback Colt McCoy, assuming that is, he remains Cleveland's starter.

Heckert downplayed a report that he favors Blackmon over other possibilities at No. 4.

"Everything you've heard is complete nonsense," he said. "It's that time of year and I understand that. Everybody is on the same page here with who we are considering."

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