The Browns’ ongoing search for Casablanca: While We’re Waiting…

Hue Jackson Sashi Brown
Joshua Gunter/cleveland.com

The NFL Draft — especially any iteration thereof prominently featuring the Cleveland Browns — is fun. It doesn’t always seem that way for Browns fans, I grant you. All the hemming and hawing of passing on the right guy and picking the wrong guy and the trade-downs and screw-ups and everything else is enough to knock out all the enjoyment and put angst in its place. Yet I insist that the draft is still fun. It’s fun because it’s all about the possibility of the future, and the possibility of the future is limited by nothing but your own imagination.

For many Browns fans, I imagine that this is more curse than gift. It’s forgivable if all but two of the post-1999 seasons ending as losers has put a damper on your optimism. Rather than visions of Ezekiel Elliott as Jim Brown Lite or Paxton Lynch launching tomahawk touchdown missiles all over the field, perhaps you’re stricken with thoughts of Myles Jack’s leg falling clean off during training camp or Connor Cook looking like Charlie Frye’s less talented brother. It’s certainly fair if 185 losses in 17 years have tested the limits of your happy-funtime-conjuring capabilities.

A Browns draft is a fun thing, and it’s fun for the same reason that the beginnings of movies are fun

But I maintain that a Browns draft is a fun thing, and it’s fun for the same reason that the beginnings of movies are fun. When you watch, say, the first 45 minutes of a new flick, you aren’t immediately concerned with the endgame. You’re just getting to know the characters, seeing what they’re about, and hopefully enjoying some laughs or otherwise interesting stuff. You’re picking up characters’ tics and trying to figure out what makes them, them. Part of the pleasure of watching a movie for the first time is the thrill of meeting all these new people.

The draft is the same way. Unless you’re the sort of degenerate who spends hours upon hours poring over college game tape or kneeling at the altar of his holinesses Kiper and McShay — and more power to you if you have that sort of energy — odds are you’ll be learning about most of the draftees for the first time starting Thursday night. There are only a few non-Buckeyes I’ve heard enough about to have any sort of opinion about them. Jared Goff seems very good at playing quarterback, but a little skinny. Carson Wentz has all the physical tools and is fiercely North Dakotan. Jalen Ramsey might have some Woodsonesque potential. Laremy Tunsil’s name looks like a word scramble.

Other than that, I have precious little clue as to who most of these dudes are. Ronnie Stanley? Sheldon Rankins? William Jackson III? Jack Conklin? I could cobble together an image of each based on tropes and stereotypes — Conklin, what is that, Nigerian? — but nothing meaningful. They’re just names to me, but I suppose Andy Dufresne and Annie Hall were once just names too. Thus we have the draft, and all the bells and whistles and video packages that go with it, to introduce us to these various young men seeking to ply their athletic craft at the highest level possible.

Knowing we have such a collective appetite for information about these players and teams and decision-makers, both ESPN and the NFL Network are pulling out all the stops for their draft coverage. Sports Illustrated‘s Richard Deitsch dove into how each side is preparing to bring us the goods starting Thursday night. For instance:

[NFL Network coordinating producer Charlie] Yook said that the NFL Network has film on 750 prospects and 1,800 pieces of tape on those prospects. He credited NFL Network associate producers Zach Arnstein and Scott Sellz and NFL Films associate producer Ben Fennell for grinding out the tape.

“I think the one big goal we have is, have we given our viewers everything they need to know about who this player is and what he will do for my team heading forward?” Yook said. “Did we give them access they could not have gotten anywhere else?”

The draft coverage is completely excessive, yes. But I’m glad it’s out there. If I get a hit of that good draft smack Thursday night and find myself fiending for sixth-rounders come Saturday morning, it’s good to know where to find a fix. If you’re willing to entertain the analogy, those bringing us the draft coverage are the filmmakers introducing us to their characters. They aren’t the creators of said characters, but they’re the ones charged with introducing them to the public. It’s a responsibility that too often follows a familiar path, the ol’ build up to break down, and it can saddle players with reputations that are hard to shake.

Still, if you take the draft as a standalone event and cast aside the talk of busts and reaches it’s fun. It’s fairly easy to have a good draft — or at least to earn a decent immediate post-draft grade — just as it’s relatively easy to put together 45 minutes’ worth of good movie. The hard part is figuring out how to land the plane, in the form of either a competitive football team or a cohesive motion picture. By this standard, the Browns have a sizable portfolio of crappy short films. Odds are they aren’t close to churning out a football Casablanca. The fun part of the draft is hoping that they’ll at least introduce us to somebody who can play a part.