The 2013 NFL draft is fast-approaching, and the Cleveland Browns front office is hard at work scouting college standouts and building their draft boards. In addition to the work being done in Berea, many NFL experts around the media world are working to predict what the Browns will do when they are on the clock at the end of April.
Most mock drafts around the web have a combination of four players going to Cleveland with the sixth overall pick. Dee Milliner, Bjoern Werner, Manti Te’o, and Damontre Moore all have the ability to become quality players in the NFL but will each be criticized heavily throughout the coming months. Te’o may very well get the worst of that criticism because of his off-field issues stemming from his highly publicized “girlfriend hoax” that has consumed the sports media world.
However, despite Te’o’s off-field problems, the Browns should really be intrigued when it comes to the former Notre Dame star and his potential to become a leader on Cleveland’s defense.
The Browns announced early last week that the team will switch to a 3-4 defense for the 2013 season under the direction of newly appointed defensive coordinator Ray Horton. That decision has the potential to cripple the team’s defense that spent a great amount of draft value on two defensive tackles last season.
The Browns would have to be concerned with the personnel on the defensive side of the ball because of the talent level at key positions and the fact that the health history of the current roster does not show that they have what it takes to make this transition.
I have previously posted on the record as saying that Milliner would be the ideal choice for the Browns because of the hole they face due to Dimitri Patterson’s release and the impending free agency of Sheldon Brown. However, now that this announcement has been made, linebacker is another position that will almost certainly warrant attention.
In its first mock draft of the 2013 season, Drafttek’s Mike Sudds reported: “We have to take a hard look at the Browns LB corps, where there's some depth, but question marks galore. Chris Gocong (Achilles) and 4th round rookie Emmanuel Acho (leg) missed the entire season. Scott Fujita's career is in jeopardy after a serious neck injury sidelined the 10-year veteran. Talented James-Michael Thomas missed 8 games (ribs, oblique, finger, thigh) before going on IR (knee). Surprise UDFA Craig Robertson won Kaluka Maiava's job, and L.J. Fort looks like quality depth.”
These concerns clearly spell a need for a linebacker, and Te’o is really the only highly rated linebacker who will be available at this stage of the draft (assuming Jarvis Jones is selected in the Top Five).
Te’o’s critics are quick to point out how ineffective he was in the BCS National Championship game against Alabama, and many say that game is an indicator of how unsuccessful he will be at the NFL level. Te’o recorded three solo tackles in that game and assisted on seven more. He did not have any forced fumbles, sacks or interceptions.
Over the course of the season, Te’o recorded 55 solo tackles, 58 assisted tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and only 1.5 sacks.
These numbers indicate that Te’o’s specialty will be against the run in the NFL. The Browns ranked 19th in the NFL against the run in 2012 but ranked 25th against the pass. Te'o is deceptively good in coverage and also recorded seven interceptions over the course of the 2012 season.
The sack numbers from this past year have to be the biggest concern for the Browns. Cleveland does not currently have a quality pass-rusher on the active roster, and Te’o simply does not fit that mold that many believe the Browns are coveting.
Te’o will certainly be on the Browns' radar over the course of the next few months, and fans who believe the Browns will attempt to trade down in the first round in order to secure a second-round pick can see Te’o as a potential fit.
Cleveland is also one of the top franchises in the NFL in terms of cap space for the upcoming season, and it is very likely the Browns can lure a key player at linebacker or corner to help fill one of their needs.