If a team builds through the draft ... If the building superintendent has a clue ...
If Tom Heckert’s three offseasons of rounding up a new roster is to bear fruit ...
It’s just about time for the Browns to catch up to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
It has been time.
On Sept. 17, 2000, rookie No. 1 overall pick Courtney Brown sacked Steelers quarterback Kent Graham on the last play of the game to seal a 23-20 Browns win.
Since then, Cleveland’s record in the Pittsburgh series is 2-22.
Some things are half past pathetic — 2-22 is much worse than that.
The concept of catching up to Pittsburgh began turning into a manifestation within the last half year.
On Dec. 8 at Pittsburgh, the Browns had a first-and-goal late in the fourth quarter, trailing 7-3.
On Jan. 1 in Cleveland, they led Pittsburgh 6-3 at halftime and lost 13-9.
Defeats, yes. But this wasn’t the same as getting their ears boxed on Christmas Eve, 2006, the day no Browns fans were left to see James Harrison spike a drunken fan who staggered across the field.
This wasn’t like Eric Mangini’s last hurrah, a 41-9 home shellacking Jan. 2, 2011.
Yes, there were extenuating circumstances behind the two close losses last season.
Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger played more than half of one game and all of the other one with a mangled ankle.
But then, Cleveland played all of both games without Trent Richardson, Brandon Weeden and Mitchell Schwartz.
If Heckert is as good as Boss Holmgren says he is, the three high draft picks should make a quick difference.
Plus, the Steelers have some leaks:
• Their last game was a playoff loss at Denver.
• Linebacker James Farrior, a mainstay on the defense for years, has been cut.
• Harrison, 34, Casey Hampton, 34, Brett Keisel, 33, Ike Taylor, 32, Ryan Clark, 32, Larry Foote, 31, and Troy Polamalu, 31, are projected starters on an aging defense.
• Running back Rashard Mendenhall might lose 2012 to a knee injury.
• Roethlisberger’s new blind-side protector, Mike Adams, enters the league amid checkered reviews that made him available late in Round 2.
• Whereas Pittsburgh was one of those established teams that could get by without a 2011 offseason, developing teams such as Cleveland won’t be crippled by a lockout in 2012.
THE DRAFT LINEUP
If a team builds through the draft, and the building superintendent has a clue ...
Picking higher in drafts should make a difference.
The overall draft position of the Browns’ projected starters on offense and the Steelers’ projected starters on defense (by original overall draft position; asterisk denotes a Heckert acquisition):
No. 3: Browns LT Joe Thomas
No. 3: Browns RB Trent Richardson*
No. 16: Steelers SS Troy Polamalu
No. 15: Steelers ILB Lawrence Timmons
No. 19: Steelers NT Casey Hampton
No. 21: Browns C Alex Mack
No. 22: Browns QB Brandon Weeden*
No. 32: Browns TE Ben Watson*
No. 32: Steelers DE Ziggy Hood
No. 37: Browns RT Mitchell Schwartz*
No. 46: Steelers OLB LaMarr Woodley
No. 50: Browns WR Mohamed Massaquoi
No. 59: Browns WR Greg Little*
No. 92: Browns RG Shawn Lauvao*
No. 96: Steelers CB Keenan Lewis
No. 124: Browns FB Owen Marecic*
No. 125: Steelers CB Ike Taylor
No. 128: Steelers ILB Larry Foote
No. 150: Browns LG Jason Pinkston*
No. 242: Steelers DE Brett Keisel
Undrafted: Steelers OLB James Harrison
Undrafted: Steelers FS Ryan Clark
Push the button on the calculator: Of the 14 highest picks, nine are Browns; five are Steelers.
FLIPPING THE ORDER
Let’s do the same exercise the other way around.
The original draft position of the projected Browns’ starting defense and Pittsburgh’s No. 1 offense (asterisk denotes a player acquired by Heckert):
No. 7: Browns CB Joe Haden*
No. 11: Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger
No. 18: Steelers C Maurkice Pouncey
No. 24: Steelers RG David DeCastro
No. 30: Steelers TE Heath Miller
No. 34: Browns LB D’Qwell Jackson
No. 37: Browns DE Jabaal Sheard*
No. 38: Browns SS T.J. Ward*
No. 56: Steelers LT Mike Adams
No. 59: Browns CB Sheldon Brown*
No. 63: Steelers RT Marcus Gilbert
No. 66: Browns FS Usama Young*
No. 71: Browns OLB Chris Gocong*
No. 84: Steelers WR Mike Wallace
No. 87: Browns DT John Hughes*
No. 91: Browns DE Frostee Rucker*
No. 120: Browns OLB James-Michael Johnson*
No. 131: Steelers LG Willie Colon
No. 190: Browns DT Ahtyba Rubin
No. 195: Steelers WR Antonio Brown
No. 241: Steelers FB David Johnson
Undrafted: Steelers RB Isaac Redman
WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
In the case of the defense, the Steelers own four of the five highest picks, most notably Roethlisberger.
Yet, Pittsburgh also has four of the five lowest picks, including the non-pick, Redman, who is a candidate to carry the ball while Rashard Mendenhall’s knee heals.
Obviously, the Browns won’t get very far rolling up their depth chart into a spit wad and throwing it toward Heinz Field.
On the other hand, more and more, Tom Heckert’s picks are showing up at the top of the roster. And there is a certain level of enthusiasm building as to what they might do as they grow up together.
Losing 2011 No. 21 overall pick Phil Taylor hurts the Browns more than losing 2008 No. 23 overall pick Rashard Mendenhall hurts Pittsburgh.
The scouting types question whether Mendenhall even has a future with the Steelers.
Taylor is squarely in the middle of the Browns blueprint for 2013 and ’14.
Fewer Heckert draft picks than one might think — 11 — are projected 2012 starters.
Even an aggressive general manager who moves like a tidal wave can rock the boat only so much in three years.
On the other hand, counting trades and free agency pick-ups, 17 of the 22 projected starters are Heckert acquisitions.
That’s some serious rocking.