The Browns Knew Josh Gordon Was Getting Suspended, Still Passed on Odell Beckham Twice in 2014 Draft

By Jason McIntyre

After another scintillating performance from the best receiver in the NFL, Odell Beckham, it feels like a good time to take a look back to what happened at the top of the 2014 NFL Draft.

Two months before the draft, on February 11, 2014, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam made a significant move: He fired GM Mike Lombardi (after just one season) and replaced him with assistant GM Ray Farmer. (Also jettisoned: CEO Joe Banner.) Farmer had never been a GM before.

The Browns held the 4th pick, and were in need of … just about everything. They had a new coach, a new GM, and a recent history of truly pathetic draft picks.

The first two players off the board in 2014 were not surprises:

1. Houston, Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
2. St. Louis, Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn

The third pick was a surprise, and one wonders if perhaps it changed Cleveland’s thoughts on the 4th pick. Jacksonville needed everything, but stunned many by taking UCF QB Blake Bortles.

Cleveland followed that pick with another shocker: It traded down to the 8th spot and acquired an extra #1 draft pick in 2015 by swapping with Buffalo so the Bills could move up and grab Clemson star WR Sammy Watkins.

What would the Browns do with the 8th pick?

Here’s how the next three picks went:

5. Oakland, Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo
6. Atlanta, Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
7. Tampa Bay, Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

So two wide receivers were now off the board. Cleveland’s wide receivers in 2013 were Josh Gordon (87 receptions, 1,646 yards, nine TDs) … and a bunch of insignificant guys. The 1st round of the 2014 NFL Draft happened on May 8. The day after the draft, it was reported that Gordon had failed another drug test (marijuana) and would be suspended for the entire 2014 season (it was later reduced to 10 games). ESPN and various outlets reported that the Browns knew this information ahead of the draft. About 10 days earlier, the NFL sent Gordon a letter about it.

With that information in hand – repeat, your best/only receiver was going to be suspended for 2014 – the Browns had a 2nd chance to select LSU’s Odell Beckham, who was widely considered the 2nd or 3rd best receiver in the draft.

Rookie GM Ray Farmar drafted … Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert, who was considered one of the top prospects at his position. At the time, it didn’t seem awful. The Browns also had cornerback Joe Haden, who was rapidly becoming one of the best at his position. They’d have two great cornerbacks in a few years! Surely rookie coach Mike Pettine – who was a defensive guy – had a lot of influence on this decision.

And initially – and for much of the next season – it looked like the Browns “won” the trade with Buffalo. They’d have two #1 picks in the 2015 draft! At one point in November 2014, Cleveland was tied for 1st place in the AFC North! After a win in Atlanta on November 23rd, the Browns were 7-4 and in the playoff mix.

Since that victory, Cleveland has completely cratered. They lost their final five games of 2014. Johnny Manziel partied his way into rehab. Josh Gordon couldn’t stop partying, either, and was suspended for all of 2015. The Browns are now 3-10, Manziel still doesn’t know how to dial back the partying, and Pettine is a goner at season’s end. Farmer is likely gone with him.

Gilbert is a lost cause, and could get released in the offseason if the new regime takes out the trash. Haden has battled injuries and when he has played in 2015, he’s been one of the worst cornerbacks in football.

Those two 1st round picks in 2015?

Defensive tackle Danny Shelton has been hit or miss; offensive lineman Cam Erving keeps getting pancaked. It’s too early to call either player a bust, but there’s plenty of work to do.

Odell Beckham, meanwhile has done OK for himself:

2014: 12 games, 91 catches, 1,305 yards, 12 TDs. Rookie of the Year
2015: 13 games, 85 catches, 1,320 yards, 12 TDs