Anything can happen in the NFL draft.
Teams want to get as much bang for their buck as they possibly can. You can’t risk letting your No. 1 prospect getting drafted before you get to him, but on the flip side you don’t want to waste an early pick on your man if he is likely to still be there later. It is for this reason that the phones in Radio City Music Hall will be ringing off the hook come April 26 with teams wanting to trade their draft position up and down. This makes the NFL scouting combine that much more important because teams will have to scout two to three players at each position to be amply prepared for draft day.
No one has the NFL draft figured out—not the coaches, not the GM’s or team presidents, not even Mel Kiper, Jr. knows what is going to happen in late April. Last-minute, two-for-one, multi-team trades that take that player that was going to turn your club around off the board, right before you had your hands on him, make sure of this uncertainty. It is because of this draft day mayhem that makes predicting what a certain team will do a headache for any sports writer and a migraine for NFL VIPs.
With that being said, let’s sift through the madness and break down the needs of the Cleveland Browns and whom they should have their eyes on during this week’s NFL scouting combine.
Let's get the obvious one out of the way first. Cleveland has longed for a franchise quarterback ever since rejoining the league in 1999, and who wouldn't be interested in this year's Heisman winner? Robert Griffin III threw for more than 4,000 yards and had an astounding 37-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Weary Browns fans have seen 15 different starting quarterbacks march through Cleveland Stadium in the last 12 years and are ready for someone to make a stand at this position. The coaching staff is just as ready to find someone to anchor the offense and that is why they will have their eyes on RG3 this week at the combine.
Besides the physical attributes, they will be looking for like throwing on the run (Cleveland gave up 39 sacks last year) and intangibles like poise and leadership potential. These are the things that are uncoachable, and if Cleveland wants the carousel of QB's to stop, this is where their focus should be.
If Griffin becomes a Brown, Cleveland will have the only true running threat at quarterback in the AFC North and thus a huge advantage.
The Peyton Hillis drama is not over as some might have thought. Immediately after the season, it sounded as if Browns president Mike Holmgren had seen enough potential out of Hillis to want to keep him around. CBS Sports is reporting that the coaching staff is now split down the middle on the bruising back and there is also that fact that Hillis might not want to stay either.
It is for this reason the Browns will have a close eye on Trent Richardson later this week at the NFL combine. Richardson was a huge part of Alabama's victorious national championship season, amassing more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 24 scores. He did this by both rushing and catching the ball out of the backfield, two qualities Cleveland will lose if Hillis does not stick around. Hillis has exceptional hands for a back of his size and Richardson is no exception when it comes to soft hands. Richardson is a bit smaller than Hillis but no one should question his toughness to run the ball as Hillis does.
Cleveland will not be the only one watching Richardson at this week's combine. It is likely Lucas Oil Stadium will cease all other activities when Richardson steps up to bench press 225 pounds as many times as he can. In an interview with ESPN, Alabama's strength and conditioning coach stated Richardson last maxed out at 475 pounds and said he could have done much more but would not let him go any higher for safety reasons. Cleveland will take a hit if Hillis leaves but if Richardson is his replacement, Browns fans will see the same tough running style on the shores of Lake Erie.
Cleveland obviously needs most work on the offensive side of the ball but the problem may not be at the QB position. Both Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace showed moments last season where they could get the job done. More often than not this happened when the running game was satisfactory or better and Greg Little wasn't dropping the ball an AFC-most 12 times.
Little was only a rookie and he will get better on his own, but the thing that would help both him and his quarterback out next year will be adding another exceptional wide receiver. Drafting Justin Blackmon will help Cleveland's offense in a few crucial ways. First of all, it will take some of the pressure off Little. Instead of getting an opponent's No. 1 cornerback, Little will most likely be getting the second guy or a safety. Secondly, a combo of Little and Blackmon would give the Browns a very realistic downfield threat. This would not only open it it up for the running game but the very talented slot man Joshua Cribbs and tight end Evan Moore could do a lot of damage on the underneath routes with Little and Blackmon stretching the field.
Justin Blackmon was awarded the Biletnikoff Award for the nation's best receiver last year and he did so by totaling more than 1,500 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Obviously, the Browns are only going to be able to grab one of the first three players mentioned with the fourth overall pick; nevertheless, they will still be watching all three very intently at the combine. Cleveland does have a second pick in the opening round at 22nd overall, and this should bring in help for the run defense that gave up the NFL's third-worst 147.4 yards a game last season. There is the chance Cleveland trades up to obtain Robert Griffin III and loses the 22nd pick, but it still would be looking at a defensive lineman early in the second round.
Nick Perry could immediately help Cleveland's defense in stopping the run and producing more sacks, which the Browns only had 32 of last year. He is big enough to play D-line and fast enough to be a linebacker. The Browns defense was the bright spot of the team last year but when you play in the defensive power house of the AFC North, you can always look to improve. With Jabaal Sheard and Phil Taylor making impacts in only their first season, adding Perry could bring the Browns defensive line to the next level.
The Browns need some help opening up holes for the running game, and Zebrie Sanders could be the answer. Cleveland has a decent offensive line as a whole but one weak spot can bring down the group, especially when playing in the very defensively talented AFC North. Cleveland's O-line is anchored by Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas. Center Alex Mack is also a bright spot and is young enough to where he still has time to grow into the star so many thought he could be when he came out of college.
The biggest problem is at right tackle with Tony Pashos, who is a talented veteran but is in his 30s and has battled injuries almost his whole career. Sanders played right tackle most of his collegiate career and also has shown the ability to switch sides if needed. Another rookie offensive lineman would make this bunch very young as a whole but also make the most important and most underrated part of the team loaded with potential.
Sanders will most likely still be around when Cleveland shifts its draft focus to the offensive line. The Browns will definitely be keeping an eye on him later this week at the combine.