Browns need first-rounders to pan out in worst way

Browns GM Ray Farmer must hit on his 2015 first-rounders -- and hope that last year's picks, Johnny Manziel and Justin Gilbert -- mature sooner rather than later. AP Photo/Tony Dejak

CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Browns mined the undrafted rookie pool for several impact players.

They entered the season with more than $20 million in cap space. They hit on below-radar draft picks such as Joel Bitonio and Chris Kirksey.

All those are positives on general manager Ray Farmer's bill.

They will go unnoticed if Farmer fails to fix the trend of first-round picks serving in cameos or supporting roles in the Browns' motionless AFC North picture.

Save an impressive maturation process this offseason, the drafting of Johnny Manziel and Justin Gilbert accentuates a three-year stretch of draft picks that most armchair GMs couldn't bungle.

Manziel. Gilbert. Barkevious Mingo. Brandon Weeden. Trent Richardson.

Five first-round picks. Three top-10 picks. And the most reliable is Mingo, who has seven career sacks in two years.

Farmer calls his 2014 draft "undetermined" -- that's a nice way of saying he hopes his two prized picks get it together. Rookies need more than a year to be fully assessed, but it's harder to be hopeful without those players selling at least some on-field optimism.

The Browns' draft is looking strong outside of the first round. Those other rounds are conveniently easy to ignore, though, because teams can't miss on top-10 picks and the Browns have been particularly inept in that area over the past decade.

The misses are so painful because Cleveland knows the impact of productive first-rounders. Three of the franchise's biggest first-round picks since 2000 -- corner Joe Haden, left tackle Joe Thomas and center Alex Mack -- contributed greatly to the Browns' seven-win season. The Browns still have defensive lineman Phil Taylor, who was injured this year but has done good things. Otherwise, not a lot to be proud of during that span.

If Farmer doesn't want the first round to negate the good things he's done, he'll leave little doubt with his 12th and 19th picks in this year's draft.

Then hope he's right about Manziel.

"He can be consistently accurate with the football and has desire and competitiveness," Farmer said.