The Cleveland Browns have the sixth overall pick in this year's NFL draft as well as a number of clear needs to meet. That gives them a lot of options in the first round, which is on one hand, a good thing—the Browns are almost certain to get an impact player with the pick—but it's also a burden, because with increased options comes the potential to make the wrong decision.
At first glance, it looks like the Browns would be best off using the pick to bolster their defensive ranks. Though the Browns do have players who can easily transition from the 4-3 defense to the 3-4 system of new coordinator Ray Horton, getting young 3-4 specialists will still be a priority this year.
With the scouting combine nearly wrapped up, we now have a better picture of who's worthy of a top-10 pick and who has dropped down the board.
For example, pass-rusher Damontre Moore was considered one of the best players at his position at the combine, but his poor showing—just 12 bench press reps and a 40-yard dash time of 4.95 seconds thanks to a tweaked hamstring—raises enough red flags that he's no longer in play for the Browns at No. 6 unless he turns things around at his pro day in March.
Conversely, Oregon's Dion Jordan managed to turn heads at the combine despite having a torn labrum. (The injury will require surgery and will keep him from participating in any team activities until probably training camp.) Jordan ran a 4.6 second 40-yard dash and NFL Network's Mike Mayock compares him to the San Francisco 49ers' Aldon Smith, except with better coverage skills.
A pass-rushing talent who can also drop into coverage when asked would be a perfect addition to the Browns' new-look defense. However, Jordan would also be a good fit for the two teams picking ahead of the Cleveland in this year's draft—the Philadelphia Eagles (whose head coach, Chip Kelly, was Jordan's coach at Oregon) and the Detroit Lions. The Browns may love Jordan, but there's no guarantee they'll be able to draft him.
Barkevious Mingo, who has already been linked to the Browns with the sixth overall pick, also kept his draft stock high with his combine performance. Mingo led the defensive tackles (with whom he was lumped) in the 40-yard dash with a 4.58 official time and excelled at both the broad jump and vertical leaping drills. His size makes him a better fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker, which is just what the Browns need, and his speed only solidifies it.
However, pass-rusher isn't the only defensive position the Browns could be considering in the first round. They certainly need to find a top-tier cornerback to pair with Joe Haden, and though this draft class seems to have more depth rather than obvious first-rounders, there are at least a pair of corners Cleveland could think about taking with its first pick.
First, of course, is Alabama's Dee Milliner. Already a top-10 prospect before the combine, Milliner lived up to his billing in Indianapolis, with a 4.37 second 40-yard dash. Like Jordan, Milliner participated in the combine with a torn labrum, which he will get surgically repaired in March, though he expects to be fully healthy by the time training camps begin.
Milliner's toughness—he suffered the injury in November but didn't miss a single game—certainly helps mitigate any concerns that the tear means he's a risky pick, and his collegiate performance in concert with his impressive combine certainly puts him in play for the Browns in the first round.
Another corner whose stock is on the rise—potentially all the way into the top 10 once we hit April—is Washington's Desmond Trufant. Trufant ran his 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds and had an impressive 16 bench press reps, proving that he's both fast and strong. If Milliner's labrum surgery has the Browns nervous, then the presently healthier Trufant could be an option. It doesn't seem like a reach, despite the cornerback talent the Browns could potentially if they wait until the third round.
But the Browns don't necessarily need to find an impact player with their first pick. Depending on whom they are looking at most closely and what position they want to fill first, they could be better off trading down and getting more picks out of it.
Mayock said that 2013 isn't the best year to have a top-10 pick: "I think the fifth pick in the draft and the 25th pick in this draft are very similar. The top 10 picks, I don't see the difference-makers that we've had the last several years."
Depth is the hallmark of this draft class, which means that there's less pressure on the Browns to stay at No. 6.
Trading down would also likely net the Browns a second-round selection, which they presently don't have after taking wide receiver Josh Gordon in last year's supplemental draft. The Browns have many needs, from linebacker to defensive line, offensive line to the secondary, that would certainly benefit from having an additional pick in an early round.
For example, if the Browns are eyeing safety Kenny Vaccaro and think he's worth first-round attention but don't grade him high enough to warrant using the sixth overall pick on him, perhaps they could trade down to the middle of the round and nab him and then get a pass-rusher in the second. This wouldn't be a bad year for Cleveland to pursue a trade-down scenario—they could still get a major contributor later on without sacrificing much.
One option that seems to be off the table is the Browns taking a quarterback sixth overall. CEO Joe Banner gave a rather nebulous (via CBS Cleveland) answer to the question of whether they'd do so at the combine, saying, "I don’t mean to be stupid with the answer (but) if we thought there was a QB at No. 6 that we thought was going to be a top player we would have to consider that."
Reading between the lines—and based on Banner's other comments regarding the quarterback position during the press conference—it doesn't look like the Browns see any quarterback in this year's draft worthy of that high of a pick. Further, the Browns are very committed to having Brandon Weeden compete to keep his job and taking a quarterback within the top 10 certainly puts Weeden's job security in jeopardy—a scenario that doesn't add up to what Banner said over the weekend.
This year's draft is less cut-and-dry for the Browns. Last year, it seemed they were locked into taking Trent Richardson with the third overall pick by the beginning of March (or at least once the Washington Redskins had completed their trade with the St. Louis Rams to get the second overall pick and, with it, Robert Griffin III).
Now, the Browns have many different needs and almost twice as many options. Whittling down those needs and options and getting clearer pictures of a number of players will be the focus of their next two months. Bolstering the pass rush, strengthening the secondary and trading down are but three ways they could handle the first round of the draft, but with so much time remaining until they make their first draft selection, nearly anything remains possible.
All Scouting Combine results courtesy NFL.com