NFL Draft 2012: 5 Potential Sleeper Picks for the Cleveland Browns
Most of the Browns' draft talks have been surrounded around Trent Richardson, Ryan Tannehill and Justin Blackmon. Even though these players are all prime prospects at the NFL level, there are 31 other teams that are all looking to obtain their services next season.
This slideshow will highlight five players that have not been in the headlines over the past few months, but could still make an impact for the Browns in 2012. The slides will also give an indication as to why the Browns may be a good fit for the prospect moving forward.
5. Travis Lewis, OLB, Oklahoma
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The Browns have a significant need at outside linebacker with Chris Gocong and Scott Fujita nearing the end of their respective careers. Unfortunately, Cleveland has bigger needs to address early in the 2012 NFL Draft and did not sign any linebackers via free agency this spring.
That will leave the door open for Cleveland to draft a linebacker like Travis Lewis in the middle part of the NFL Draft.
Lewis was a typical run-stopping linebacker at Oklahoma, but lacked the ability to create a significant pass rush off the outside. With the Browns running a 4-3 defense, having that presence to rush the quarterback from the outside is vital to the defense's success.
However, Lewis has all the tools to become a successful linebacker in the NFL if he has the proper mentors. According to his CBS Sports' scouting report,
Big 12 coaches named Lewis their Defensive Freshman of the Year and second-team all-conference in 2008 because those record-breaking 144 stops included 11.5 for loss and 3.5 sacks, and he also showed quickly his ability in coverage with four interceptions and three pass break-ups. He earned first-team All-Big 12 accolades with excellent production in 2009 (109 tackles, 8.5 TFL, one sack, one INT, two PBU) and second-team honors in 2010 (109 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, three INT, five PBU).
The one thing that could be more impressive than Lewis' career accomplishments is the fact that he played the 2011 college season after breaking his foot only a short time before Oklahoma's first game. Lewis played in every game after missing the season opener and still finished among the top defenders in the conference in spite of his injury.
That type of toughness along with his 4.88 40-yard dash and 22 bench press repetitions at the NFL Combine could be enough to get scouts talking on the second and third days of the draft.
4. Nick Toon, WR, Wisconsin
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Nick Toon is the son of former NFL Pro Bowl receiver Al Toon and is one of the most interesting breakout players in the entire 2012 NFL Draft class. Toon had an incredible year in 2011 and shot up draft boards all over the country after not really being on the NFL radar following the 2010 season.
The Browns could use Toon to add some depth at a receiver position that has widely underachieved over the past few seasons. Cleveland will likely address the wideout position earlier in the draft, but have double-dipped at positions in the past.
Toon is a physical receiver, but the fact that he only had major production in one season could be a slight cause for concern. Teams may also be concerned with a slight foot injury that hindered him late in the 2011 season and into Bowl season. That same injury has required two surgeries over the course of his college career and will have to be evaluated by a professional medical staff throughout the summer months.
The Browns don't need another player with injury concerns. However, if the foot injury checks out, Toon could be a viable option heading into next season and the future.
3. Nick Foles, QB, Arizona
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The Cleveland Browns front office can claim that they support Colt McCoy for the upcoming football season, but their actions have been louder than words over the course of the drafting process. After failed attempts at Robert Griffin III and a lack of interest in Matt Flynn, many experts believe the Browns will target a quarterback at some point in the draft.
Nick Foles is a quarterback that has flown under the radar in the last few months and is much less of a risk than a player like Ryan Tannehill or Brandon Weeden. Foles would only require a fourth- or fifth-round pick and would not warrant the type of controversy that would overtake the Browns franchise if they picked a player like Tannehill.
Foles had a good college career at the University of Arizona and is rated as a developmental quarterback moving forward. Scouts agree that while he has some issues with decision making, he has shown an increase in productivity over the course of every season and has had experience against big time competition.
Foles probably would have been ranked higher had his team performed better throughout his career. The Wildcats went 4-8 throughout the 2011 college season and had many problems on the defensive side of the ball. That made it more difficult for Foles to manage the football game and eventually forced him into some tough throws.
The Cincinnati Bengals and Philadelphia Eagles are two of the teams that have the biggest interest in Foles, but the Browns have also been mentioned in the conversation as a team that could come out of the woods at some point over the draft weekend.
2. Chris Rainey, RB, Florida
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Chris Rainey has drawn one major comparison when it comes to his skill set at the NFL level—Darren Sproles. Rainey has a low center of gravity and has a great ability to get around defenders in the open field while also working to become a viable receiving threat out of the backfield.
The Browns could use a type of player like Rainey as they look to rebuild their backfield in 2012. Montario Hardesty and Brandon Jackson were huge disappointments for the Browns in 2011 and have not really shown that they can be dependable, healthy backs for the Browns this season.
Rainey was one of the biggest assets to a Florida Gators squad that spent most of the 2011 season trying to find their offensive identity. Rainey also showed up on a big stage for the Gators in the 2011 TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl against Ohio State.
That style of play has scouts talking about his potential at the NFL level, but many question his size and durability against some of the best defenders in the league. According to his profile on ESPN.com, Rainey only stands at 5'9" and weighs near 180 pounds. That could be a cause for concern for a team that would like to use him as a pure runner, but could be a positive for teams looking to use Rainey in the slot or as a receiving option.
1. Ladarius Green, TE, Lousiana-Lafayette
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The Browns don't seem to have a need at the tight end position because of the fact that they currently have four players at that spot on the active roster. Ben Watson, Evan Moore, Alex Smith and Jordan Cameron have the potential to become a strong tight end unit, but have not flourished over the last two seasons like the Browns fans and front office had hoped.
Ladarius Green could be a player that can upgrade the tight end position and even have the flexibility to play wide receiver if Cleveland chooses to do so. Green was the lone weapon on a UL Lafayette team that really did not seem to have a direction without his presence on the field.
Green showed that he has the ability to be a great red zone threat in the college game and has the size to compete with almost any defender in the NFL. At 6'6" and 240 pounds, Green has the size of a talented NFL tight end, but has experience at the wide receiver position and ran a 40-yard dash a little over 4.5 seconds at the NFL Combine. That can give a team options when they are making their offensive game plan and gives Green even more of a case to be drafted.
The Browns have already shown an interest in Green throughout the draft process and according to National Football Authority, they are well aware of his versatility at the NFL level.