The 2012 draft produced several key defensive players that have helped the Cleveland Browns. The front office did a great job signing several key undrafted rookie free agents that look promising as well. But more is needed in some key positions.
The key needs for the draft are corner backs and free safeties. Cleveland saw how vulnerable it was without Joe Haden over the last four games. The team needs a young starter to pair with Haden. While DC Dick Jauron did well covering for the starters who were injured or suspended, the Browns gave up a lot of yardage through the air.
Sheldon Brown, the incumbent starter opposite Haden, is no longer fast enough to be effective as a starter. Some suggest he be moved to free safety, but in my opinion he would be a nickel or dime guy next year at best.
Dimitri Patterson has struggled filling in for Haden and is at best a stopgap guy. He is most comfortable in zone coverage and has never had the fluid hips or speed to be a man-to-man cover guy.
Buster Skrine has the speed to play man coverage but is short. He also lacks the instincts and experience to be a starter. Too often he loses contact with his guy and allows a critical catch.
Trevin Wade is just beginning to understand the NFL. He has potential and was a good value in the seventh round in 2012. He will need a lot of time and may never develop into a starting quality CB.
I have not seen enough of Johnson Bademosi to tell if he is even a regular roster guy, let alone a contributor.
The team may decide to bring in a veteran CB, but I expect them to select someone in the early rounds of the 2013 draft. The depth of the CB crop will depend on how many juniors enter the 2013 draft. Right now, there are only three seniors I have ranked in the top 100 picks.
Pass-rushing defensive end
At the start of the season, I had this position much higher on my wish list than I do now. DE Frostee Rucker has played better than expected, but he is not a pass-rusher. He only has eight sacks in six and a quarter seasons.
The team needs a pass-rushing DE opposite Jabaal Sheard to pressure the QB and take the heat off of the back seven.
Juqua Parker is past his expiration date. He was a very good pass rush specialist several years ago, but he is now 34 and is beginning to play like it. He has one sack in five games.
Emmanuel Stephens is not a factor in the pass rush and I don’t think he deserves to be on the roster.
Auston English showed some pass-rush ability in the preseason and has just been activated from the practice squad. He has yet to prove he can be successful against first-team offensive linemen.
As I said yesterday, I would much prefer a vet UFA to a rookie in this position. The Browns have been giving up a lot of long plays due to slow safeties taking bad angles to the play. The Giants game was a perfect example; the Browns allowed the Giants several big plays on both runs and passes.
Usama Young has started 11 games in the last two seasons for the Browns, but has only two interceptions. Young has also cost the team TDs because of bad angles of pursuit.
Eric Hagg has started only two games out of the 13 for which he has been active, and has three picks. He was the starter early in the season, but is too inexperienced to be effective. He does not have the speed or hips to cover man-to-man. He is more suited to SS than FS.
Tashaun Gipson is an undrafted rookie who is a special teams player. I have no idea if he will ever become a potential starter because we have not seen enough of him on the field.
Part of the reason I would prefer a vet FS is that the 2013 draft does not look very deep at FS. Right now, I have only two senior FSs in the top 100 rated players. There are a couple of interesting juniors that may come out and significantly improve this position in the draft.
What do you think are the biggest D needs?
Reserve outside linebacker
I am impressed with the play of undrafted rookie OLB Craig Robertson and fourth-round pick James-Michael Johnson. I would start both of these players to get them game experience. There is nothing of quality behind either.
Scott Fujita is too slow to play effectively. As I said in an earlier article, I would cut him. I never want to see No. 99 chasing a TE down the field ever again.
Chris Gocong got an extension, and that was a mistake. He is not fast enough to be a starter on a good team. He does show decent timing, with 9.5 sacks in his career, but has been on the IR all season.
Kaluka Maiava is a good special teams player who is not a starting OLB. The issue is that he stands beside a lot of piles. I want a LB that is on the bottom of the pile. He just doesn’t make enough plays.
Craig Robertson has shown FB instincts beyond his years. His interception in the end zone was a perfect example; he recognized the pattern and had the speed to get to the ball. He also had the hands to bring the ball down.
James-Michael Johnson showed me a lot in Nevada. He has the speed to play any LB position and has experience both inside and out. He has been hurt in the regular season, but I saw enough in college to start him when he gets healthy.
Tank Carder is not ready for the regular roster, but has shown enough to be on the practice squad.
That’s what I think. Tell us what you think.
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