For the first time since the Cleveland Browns returned in 1999, the team does not have more holes to fill than a sinking rowboat. Over the past few seasons, the franchise has added young, exciting talent such as Josh Gordon, Trent Richardson and Joe Haden.
Finally, as the 2013 NFL Draft looms nearer, the Browns can draft players needed in key positions rather than the old “best player available” standby.
Now, with new owner Jimmy Haslam and head coach Rob Chudzinski, there is a renewed sense of optimism in the town best known for making John Elway famous.
New defensive coordinator Ray Horton will be switching the Browns' defensive scheme from a 4-3 to a 3-4 style of defense. With this move, there is a glaring need for a difference-making pass-rusher to make his system work. This will likely be where Horton, Chudzinski and Haslam focus with their first-round selection (sixth overall).
So, with this in mind, let’s look at the three likeliest candidates to be selected by Cleveland in the first round.
Before getting a look at the available pass-rushers in the draft, I would like to point out that I strongly feel Cleveland should pursue upcoming Dallas free agent linebacker Anthony Spencer. He would complement D’Qwell Jackson well in the linebacker corps and the Browns have the money to spend. The trick is not to spend too much.
The first possibility for Cleveland in the first round is Florida State DE Bjoern Werner. There are many different takes on Werner’s upside and his ability to transition well to the NFL. However, Werner does have experience in a 3-4 scheme at Florida State. This could make his transition a little easier in Cleveland.
Werner spent three years at Florida State, racking up 99 total tackles and 23.5 sacks, including 13 last season. Plus, at 6'4", 255 pounds, he could make for a flex player from DE to OLB without much difficulty.
Another DE/OLB that the Browns could be considering is BYU’s Ezekiel Ansah. At 6'5", 271 pounds, Ansah possesses blazing speed for a man his size. He has posted a 4.63 40-yard dash. In a 3-4 scheme, Ansah could fit well as a DE or an OLB.
Finally, what would probably be a dream pick for Lombardi and the Browns would be DE/OLB Dion Jordan from Oregon. At 6'5", 241 pounds, Jordan can be both an effective pass-rusher and successful in pass coverage. He is quick with a 4.6 40 and is considered a top-six pick.
Jordan has had some shoulder issues in the past, which may scare off some perspective suitors, but his upside is well worth the risk.
The 2013 NFL Draft will be a defensive one. It is likely we will see more players on that side of the ball taken in the first round than has been the case in many years. And for those of you hoping Cleveland takes Matt Barkley, don’t worry. He will likely still be on the board by the late second or early third round.
But I certainly hope Barkley is nowhere near the Browns' draft board.
All combine results courtesy of NFL.com.