Cleveland Browns: Matching Players from 'Bama & AFC North Needs in the NFL Draft

Will Lomas@@jlomas72Correspondent IApril 7, 2012

Cleveland Browns: Matching Players from 'Bama & AFC North Needs in the NFL Draft

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    The AFC North is a harsh place. From its weather to its punishing defenses, the AFC North is a tough division to beat especially for if you are a team without a top-tier offense. The defenses will smother weaker teams, and they will pound the ball down your throat until your defense just lays down.

    Hmmm...that sounds familiar, sounds a lot like the way teams describe the punishing Alabama Crimson Tide. Trent Richardson is the sledgehammer on offense, while defenses struggle to get passes off versus Hightower and Upshaw.

    When they do get it off receivers beware of the thumping safety Mark Barron. With that being said, lets play matchmaker with the NFL draft and see which Crimson Tide player would look good in an AFC North uniform.

1. The Cleveland Browns and Trent Richardson

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    Earlier, I likened RB Trent Richardson to a sledgehammer. Maybe that wasn't fair because while he hits like a sledgehammer, he has the speed to take the ball 100 yards every time he touches a ball. So a more apt reference may be a freight train. So I would be shocked if someone with his skill set and his production fell below the Cleveland Browns at fourth overall.

    In college, Richardson proved he could run with the best of them. While his stats say he only rushed for 1,679 yards he could have cleared 2000 in my opinion if he wasn't rotated with Eddie Lacey.

    Also, since he was so dominating in the first half of games Alabama was often so far ahead by halftime that he could be used sparingly (or be taken out of the game completely) in the fourth quarter.

    With a stud RB like that, and the left side of that offensive line, the Browns could do some serious damage in the running game. Monterio Hardesty is a nice change of pace guy, but he doesn't have the explosion of Richardson.

    Additionally, I believe that Richardson would help incumbent starting QB Colt McCoy keep his job based on what he could do as a check-down target in the passing game.

    The Browns should seriously take a look at T.R. if someone doesn't trade up to three to get him. He could be a building block for the team for the next 5-8 years. And if I were the HC I would pull for him because drafting a rookie QB (especially Tannehill) could end up getting you fired if he under-performs.

2. The Cincinnati Bengals and Dre Kirkpatrick + Mark Barron

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    The Bengals don't have a lot of needs, and in fact I could see them moving up to take Richardson if they can find a trade partner. However, the needs they do have are in the secondary and luckily, there is a DB tandem coming out that are worth first-round picks.

    Alabama CB Dre Kirkpatrick will be the first of the two chosen, because he is the more versatile prospect. While teams primarily see him as a corner, I believe that he also has the skill set to play at the safety as well as corner. He is tall, quick, and has good arm length to break up passes.

    In the young Cincinnati defense, he could do well playing behind that talented defensive line. Also, the only major WR threat in the division is the Steelers' Mike Wallace. I think that he will do well in man and zone coverage and will be able to contribute in the run game as well. 

    Barron is a thumper, plain and simple. It is my belief that he has limitations in coverage that teams will see, and he will likely fall past the safety-needy teams like the Jets, Cowboys, and Titans. However in the AFC North, his first priority will be to make plays at the line of scrimmage against RBs like Ray Rice, Mendenhall, and now Trent Richardson.

    He may not be the perfect safety, but he can definitely be everything they need him to be. If they want to bring him on slowly, he could be an excellent fifth defensive back and if not, he has the talent to start immediately.

3. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Josh Chapman

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    Josh Chapman is one of THE most underrated prospects in the 2012 NFL draft and should be the top nose tackle taken. He is gritty, tough, and great at holding the center of the line in the run game.

    Not only that, but he can come in and be a starter at a position with a huge question mark on it. With Casey Hampton often injured, this will give Chapman a solid chance to start by the middle of the season while also learning under a master of his craft.

    For those of you unfamiliar with Josh Chapman's epic story, let me tell you something that demands a bit of respect. This monster of a man played SEVEN GAMES in the middle of a championship season with a torn ACL and meniscus. What other player in history can say anything close to that?

    Not only did he play, but he was a key cog in the nation's best defense which borderlines on one of the best college defenses of all time (at least in my mind).

    With him at nose tackle, expect continuity and exceptional production from both him and the linebackers he will shield behind him. While I was tempted to take Hightower here, Chapman is just too tantalizing.

4. The Baltimore Ravens and Dont'a Hightower

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    Another great fit for both player and team. The Ravens love when value meets need and Hightower is a great value here. Hightower is not only a solid MLB, but can play SLB in a 4-3. I have said this for a while now, but I liken his instincts to Ray Lewis. They aren't as sharpened as the stellar veteran LB, but they could be identical after a year or two of film study with Ray-Ray.

    Hightower has experience leading men under times of duress. He basically played in two bowl championship games in one year. In LSU vs Alabama parts 1 & 2 he led a defense that REFUSED to be beaten. In fact, in the eight-plus quarters of play that his defense was on the field, the 'Bama defense allowed only nine points. That is a point per quarter!

    Through his leadership, defensive audibles, and the outstanding play of him and his teammates they were able to dominate team after team until they had a championship ring on their fingers. I don't know about you but to me that sounds very similar to what some people could say about the 2000 Baltimore Ravens defense that featured a young Ray Lewis.

    You know what they say, history is cyclical and there is no reason why Hightower couldn't lead the Ravens on a repeat trip once Ray retires.