Cleveland Browns Big Board: Final Pre-Draft Update

Mike HoagCorrespondent IIApril 25, 2013

Cleveland Browns Big Board: Final Pre-Draft Update

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    The Cleveland Browns have multiple holes to fill in the 2013 draft. The team’s offseason transition to the 3-4 defense requires multiple picks on their defensive front seven.

    Without a second-round pick, the Browns may also be looking to trade down from the No. 6 overall selection. The only problem is that there may or may not be a team willing to move up.

    It all depends, really, on what happens before Cleveland is on the clock.

    If offensive tackles Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher are both off of the board, teams like San Diego or Miami may be willing to trade up for OT Lane Johnson. Even then, there are no guarantees the Browns could find a willing trade partner.

    To begin, we’ll take a look at the top 10 players the Browns will be choosing from in the 2013 draft.

    Then, in descending order of need, we’ll break down a ranking for each position of need for the Browns. Cleveland may end up selecting a player outside of these need areas, but these are the positions that it should focus its efforts on.

Top 10 Big Board

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    If locked into the sixth overall pick in the draft, the Cleveland Browns may find themselves in a position where they will have to draft the best player available. That is of course, if they are unable to find a willing trade-down partner.

    Dion Jordan projects to be the best player in the draft at both need and value for the Cleveland Browns. There is a good chance that he will not be available when the clock begins to tick for the team on Thursday night.

    Looking down the list there are several other intriguing options, but none more intriguing than Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. The 300-plus pound big man is a dominant lineman who could play multiple positions in the Browns' 3-4 front.

    Cleveland may have talented players along their d-line, but we aren't sure it would allow Lotulelei to slide if available at No. 6 overall.

    Beyond that, Alabama CB Dee Milliner is another logical choice and is likely near the top of the team's big board. Milliner is widely regarded as the top cornerback in the draft after a successful college career and impressive showing at the NFL Scouting Combine.

    In the end, the Browns will have to make a difficult decision. Do they spend a top draft pick on a cornerback to pair with Joe Haden? Or do they add another big man or explosive pass rusher to help new defensive coordinator Ray Horton create an imposing front seven?

     

    Projected Cleveland Browns 2013 NFL Draft Big Board

    1. Dion Jordan, OLB, Oregon

    2. Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah

    3. Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama

    4. Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia

    5. Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina

    6. Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU

    7. Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU

    8. Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame

    9. Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama

    10. Sheldon Richardson, DE, Missouri

Positions Not Being Addressed

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    The Cleveland Browns currently have multiple top draft picks invested in the running back and offensive tackle positions. 

    Last year the team traded up to select Alabama RB Trent Richardson with the third selection of the draft. They went on to select OT Mitchell Schwartz in the second round to solidify their offensive line and bookend perennial Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas.

    A scenario could develop later in the draft that opens the team up to adding depth at these positions, but they won't likely be gunning to improve in these areas.

Middle Linebacker

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    At middle linebacker, the Cleveland Browns could definitely end up adding a mid- or late-round selection. D'Qwell Jackson is expected to start at SILB but has an extensive injury history.

    James-Michael Johnson and Craig Robertson appear to be favorites and will compete to start opposite of Jackson in the middle of the Browns' new 3-4 front.

    While still a possibility, it is unlikely that they would bring in an early-round prospect at the position. However, nothing is impossible given the uncertainty surrounding the Browns' draft plans.

    Former Georgia ILB Alec Ogletree projects as the top middle linebacker in this class due to his combination of speed and power. He's the best athlete of the group and could provide a viable option for the Browns as an anchor next to Jackson.

    There are others who could be had later in the first round or early in the second, such as enigmatic LB Manti Te'o and Kevin Minter from LSU.

    None of these guys will likely be drafted by the Browns, but the faint potential is there if the team trades far enough down in the first round.

     

    1. Alec Ogletree, Georgia

    2. Manti Te'o, Notre Dame

    3. Kevin Minter, LSU

    4. Arthur Brown, Kansas State

    5. Kiko Alonso, Oregon

3-4 Defensive End

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    An offseason transition to the 3-4 defense will force transitions along the Cleveland Browns' front seven.

    How will DT Phil Taylor and newly acquired DT Desmond Bryant handle the transition to 3-4 defensive end? It could end up working out well, but as we've seen in the past, it's never a bad thing to have quality depth at key positions.

    Last year, the Browns shocked us all by selecting DT John Hughes in the third round of the draft. Never deny a team's reliance on depth and quality rotational players in the trenches.

    Utah's Star Lotulelei and Missouri's Sheldon Richardson appear to be the best fits in this draft class for the team's new scheme. Both are explosive off the ball and can move blockers and clog running lanes—key characteristics of a 3-4 end.

    Sharrif Floyd is another intriguing prospect for a conversion to 3-4 end. He might actually be better suited for the position than on the interior in a 4-3 scheme. Floyd's ability to engage blockers with power and separate quickly makes him a viable run stopper on the edge for the Browns.

     

    1. Star Lotulelei, Utah (DT/DE)

    2. Sheldon Richardson, Missouri (DT/DE)

    3. Sharrif Floyd, Florida (DT/DE)

    4. Datone Jones, UCLA (DT/DE)

    5. Margus Hunt, SMU (DE)

Nose Tackle

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    While defensive tackle Star Lotulelei may be a viable option for the Cleveland Browns at 3-4 defensive end, he's an even bigger possibility to anchor the team's new defense at nose tackle.

    Lotulelei is a powerful lineman that can absorb double teams to help clog up running lanes up the middle. Selecting him early would likely mean an eventual deal to send DT Ahtyba Rubin out of the town.

    Other potential options later in the draft are Georgia's John Jenkins and Alabama's Jesse Williams. Both big men could be available if the Browns acquire a second-round pick through a trade.

     

    1. Star Lotulelei, Utah

    2. John Jenkins, Georgia

    3. Jesse Williams, Alabama

    4. Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State

    5. Sylvester Williams, North Carolina

Wide Receiver

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    The Cleveland Browns have two second-round picks invested at the wide receiver position. That includes this year's second rounder that was spent on Josh Gordon during the supplemental draft.

    Taking a wide receiver early in this draft doesn't seem to make much sense for the Browns, but adding an explosive playmaker in a more pass-oriented offense wouldn't be their worst idea.

    Tavon Austin highlights this draft class. He brings proven explosiveness from multiple positions to the table. He could present severe mismatches while lining up at multiple positions in offensive sets.

    Below him there are several big-play receivers like former Tennessee WRs Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson and DeAndre Hopkins from Clemson.

     

    1. Tavon Austin, West Virginia

    2. Justin Hunter, Tennessee

    3. Keenan Allen, California

    4. Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee

    5. DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson

Tight End

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    The Cleveland Browns and tight end Tyler Eifert may be a match made in heaven. Eifert, easily the top tight-end prospect in this class, could be available to the team if they trade down from the No. 6 overall selection.

    ESPN's Todd McShay mocked Eifert to the Browns in his final mock draft (ESPN Insider required) with that idea in mind. He doesn't include trades in his mock, only who he thinks will end up being selected by each team.

    Jordan Cameron, a converted basketball player while at USC, is slated to be the team's starting tight end this season, according to Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer. A lot of uncertainty still remains about his ability to handle the duties of being an every-down TE in the NFL, though.

    Head coach Rob Chudzinski, a former college tight end, addressed the issue (via Cabot):

    Well he’s not ready right now, we are working through that with him. He is learning the offense obviously. This is an offense that has featured tight ends, and tight ends have always been a big part of it. He has the skill set that fits and he has had a good couple days.

    Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner both like to incorporate tight ends into their offensive game plan. If they are not sold on Cameron's progress they would more than likely take a chance on a dynamic prospect like Eifert.

     

    1. Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame

    2. Gavin Escobar, San Diego State

    3. Vance McDonald, Rice

    4. Travis Kelce, Cincinnati

    5. Zach Ertz, Stanford

Offensive Guard

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    Offensive line doesn't appear to be a pressing need for the Cleveland Browns. Pro Football Focus graded the unit as the fifth-best group in the league last season.

    The lone blemish was at guard. John Greco stepped in and performed well in the absence of starter Jason Pinkston. Pinkston recently tweeted that he was cleared to play after a heart condition sidelined him for all of his sophomore season in 2012.

    Surprisingly, it wasn't Greco who held the team's line back. Youngster Shawn Lauvao struggled at times with penalties and inconsistencies that hurt the ride side of the Browns offensive line.

    Alabama's Chance Warmack was widely regarded as the draft's best guard for much of the pre-draft process. However, Jonathan Cooper has begun to emerge as the leader here.

    One scout gushed about Cooper recently, according to Bob McGinn of JSOnline.com:

    Long arms (33), good power, good strength (35 reps on the bench) and good leverage. Unbelievable puller. Balance and body control," one scout said. "Tough guy. Smart guy (Wonderlic of 34). Great in the locker room. He does it all.

    Despite some positive reviews, one scout seemed to want to avoid Warmack like the plague (via McGinn):

    He kind of reminds me of (Seattle's James) Carpenter. For me, a guard has to be perfect to take in the first round because how much difference is there in that guy and a guy you take in the fourth round? I know everybody loves him, but he scares the hell out of me.

    McGinn's source certainly brings up a valid point about value selecting a guard so high. That's especially true for the Browns, who have Pinkston returning this season.

    Cleveland shouldn't spend a first-round pick on a guard considering the likelihood of finding an adequate player later in the draft and its other pressing needs.

     

    1. Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina

    2. Chance Warmack, Alabama

    3. Justin Pugh, Syracuse

    4. Kyle Long, Oregon

    5. Larry Warford, Kentucky

Quarterback

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    Teams will continue to draft quarterbacks until they find their franchise signal-caller. Have the Cleveland Browns found theirs yet?

    Veteran NFL scribe Peter King (via CantonRep.com) recently stated he fully believes the Browns will select a quarterback as early as No. 11 overall following a trade down. His selection was former West Virginia QB Geno Smith.

    However, that doesn't seem like the most likely scenario. While King's inside knowledge of the league may help him figure out the direction Cleveland may go in, it may be a different QB atop their pre-draft rankings.

    Former Florida State QB E.J. Manuel has the instincts, arm and true dual-threat ability that head coach Rob Chudzinski had in Carolina with Cam Newton.

    Manuel said Chudzinski even compared him to Newton during a recent private workout with the team, according to Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer.

    While it may be considered a reach for the team to select Manuel in the upper half of the first round, teams have been known to go out on a limb for a QB prospect when they really covet his skills.

    The only question remains is whether or not the team's new staff is comfortable allowing Brandon Weeden a chance to develop in Chudzinski and Norv Turner's vertical offense.

    Former NFL.com analyst and new GM Michael Lombardi may not be on board. After all, he called the Browns' selection of Weeden in 2012 as a "panicked disaster" after taking the QB with the 21st overall selection.

     

    1. E.J. Manuel, Florida State

    2. Geno Smith, West Virginia

    3. Ryan Nassib, Syracuse

    4. Mike Glennon, North Carolina State

    5. Tyler Bray, Tennessee

Safety

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    The Cleveland Browns have lacked a playmaker in their secondary for some time. Undrafted free agent Tashaun Gipson played well after being thrust into a starting position in 2012, but the team could still look for an upgrade in the 2013 NFL draft.

    It isn't that Gipson wasn't a solid performer, quite the contrary. But the Browns need someone who is going to better complement hard-hitting safety T.J. Ward.

    An ideal fit would be former Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro. His ball skills, recognition and instincts, and ability to stick with tight ends and receivers in coverage makes him an ideal deep-coverage man for the Browns.

    There are others who might be available later, but none offer the tremendous playmaking and versatile ability that Vaccaro brings to the table.

     

    1. Kenny Vaccaro, Texas

    2. Eric Reid, LSU

    3. John Cyprien, Florida International

    4. Matt Elam, Florida

    5. Baccari Rambo, Georgia

Pass Rusher/3-4 Outside Linebacker

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    The 3-4 defense requires athletic, explosive and long-armed athletes to blow by offensive tackles to wreak havoc in opposing backfields. 

    During the offseason the Cleveland Browns acquired former Baltimore Ravens pass rusher Paul Kruger to help aid the team's transition to that front.

    In addition to Kruger, the team plans to transition former defensive end Jabaal Sheard to the opposite outside linebacker position. Interestingly, he will also begin as the team's right outside linebacker (primary pass rusher).

    Sheard was also worked out by several teams prior to being selected by the Cleveland Browns in the second round to play defensive end in their then 4-3 defense.

    Beyond those two, though, the Browns seem to be lacking in quality players to rotate in and out with their two projected starters. Does that mean they will invest a first-round pick on a player in order to attempt to assure pass-rushing success?

    The Browns could end up adding multiple players of this mold to the fold during this draft. While their players may not be added atop the draft, they will more than likely do so at some point.

     

    1. Dion Jordan, Oregon

    2. Jarvis Jones, Georgia

    3. Barkevious Mingo, LSU

    4. Ezekiel Ansah, BYU

    5. Damontre Moore, Texas A&M

Cornerback

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    The necessity to have multiple talented cornerbacks in today's NFL can't be overstated enough. Today's game features high-profile passing attacks that employ three-receiver sets with top athletes.

    While having standout cornerback Joe Haden may seem comforting, he is only one man. Having another cornerback to lock down the opposite side of the field is a luxury the Cleveland Browns do not currently have.

    That brings us to the most glaring hole on the team's roster.

    Will the Browns use a first-round pick to fill the void left by departed veteran Sheldon Brown? Say what you want about Brown's merits, the aging CB was toasted frequently in 2012 despite making some key plays at others. 

    Cleveland added some depth to its defensive backfield by signing CB Chris Owens during free agency, but it still lacks a competent No. 2 cornerback.

    Dee Milliner projects as potentially the best CB of this class. The only question is whether or not Cleveland feels it should invest another Top 10 pick on the position.

    If they pass early, they will have to wait until the third round or later to add a quality player. A run on CBs in the second round, where they have no current draft picks, could hamper those plans.

    They will have to weigh that possibility once on the clock on Thursday night.

    While CB is certainly a big need for the team, there is still a lot of uncertainty as to what they will do with their first pick in the 2013 draft.

    1. Dee Milliner, Alabama

    2. D.J. Hayden, Houston

    3. Xavier Rhodes, Florida State

    4. Desmond Trufant, Washington

    5. Jamar Taylor, Boise State

     

    Mike is a league-wide NFL featured columnist and Breaking News Team writer with Bleacher Report. He also covers the Cleveland Browns for The OBR and B/R. Follow him on Twitter for NFL analysis, insight and breaking sports news updates: