Five 2014 NFL Draft Prospects Guaranteed to Interest Cleveland Browns
We know their needs: quarterback, wide receiver, running back, offensive linemen, linebacker, and I could keep going, but I'll stop there. You get the picture: It looks bleak.
But there is talent on their roster, and there are some reasons to be optimistic about the future.
General manager Michael Lombardi and his scouting staff—more commonly known as Jimmy Haslam and Joe Banner's staff—have 10 draft picks to work with once May comes around.
With those picks, the tide of the hapless Browns could be changed forever. Or they could set the team back another five years, especially if they get them wrong, and Haslam decides they haven't shown enough progress and cans the lot of them.
That would be a disaster.
Instead of thinking about the worst, let's hope for the best and hope the following prospects are beeping loudly on the Browns brain trust's radar.
Cyril Richardson, OG, Baylor
It doesn't matter what the Cleveland Browns do to improve their offense if they don't improve along their offensive line. One thing was apparent in 2013: Individual battles were being lost, especially at the guard positions.
Enter Baylor's Cyril Richardson, a massive specimen of a man who is projected as a late first-round to second-round pick in May's draft, per CBS Sports' prospect rankings.
At 6'5", 340 pounds, Richardson has the size and versatility to play both tackle and guard. He did that already in college, anchoring Robert Griffin III's line at left tackle in 2011 before sliding to left guard to finish his collegiate career.
The redshirt senior is the type of presence on the interior the Browns desperately need. Improving a rushing attack that averaged a poor 4.0 yards per carry in 2013—23rd in the NFL—with just four scores—last in the league—has to be a priority.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Forget the selfies with cash, the off-field flash and everything that doesn't include playing football. Then, picture Johnny Manziel wearing Brown and Orange colors on Sundays and leading the Cleveland Browns to victories.
You see what I did there? Victories, plural—not something many Browns fans have been used to in recent years.
Manziel may be a lot of things, but among them is an outstanding football player. The persona doesn't come without success on the football field, something he has achieved and has proved to be passionate about sustaining.
Imagine how many autographs he can sign for cash once it's legal?
Back to business. Although Manziel is small, his frame isn't for his size. He's well-built and durable, and he has outstanding field vision and awareness that help him find holes in defenses with his arm and legs.
Hands are often brought up when smaller quarterbacks are being evaluated. Johnny's got some mitts on him, apparently.
"Having those big hands not only helps tote the ball in traffic, but he can basically go all through his motion and still pull the ball back," said George Whitfield, a private QB coach who helps train Manziel, per CBS Sports' Bruce Feldman.
Let's also not forget that Browns assistant GM Ray Farmer started scouting Johnny Football as early as Week 2 of the 2013 college football season, per Sports Illustrated's Peter King. Manziel torched Alabama's top-flight defense on that day with 464 yards passing and 98 more on the ground.
He's a confident, accurate, aware and mobile quarterback that could be the spark Cleveland's offense needs to finally ignite.
Obviously, in Browns fashion, he'll probably be drafted No. 3 overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Dynamic is the best way to describe former Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins. He's a great pass-catcher with the speed and playmaking ability to be a registered lethal weapon at the NFL level.
Unfortunately, the Cleveland Browns may not be able to land their potential top-ranked wide receiver if they plan on drafting a quarterback with their first pick—and they need one, bad.
Watkins will likely be off the board before they pick again in the bottom of the first round, but don't discount them trying to trade back into the upper or middle half of the round to snag him if he falls. With 10 draft picks, general manager Michael Lombardi has that flexibility.
Josh Gordon's emergence also makes selecting Watkins early in the draft a luxury pick, not necessarily a need. Although, it would be unreal to see two players of their caliber on the field together.
That's a big leap from suffering through Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi headlining their passing game a couple of years ago, am I right?
Christian Jones, ILB, Florida State
An athletically gifted insider linebacker, who can stick with running backs and tight ends, would be nice for a change in Cleveland.
The Browns need to find a player sooner rather than later in the 2014 NFL draft who meets that description. Otherwise, another year of being abused over the middle is in store for a defensive unit that was, for the most part, pretty stellar on the perimeter.
Christian Jones is a prospect many are probably familiar with given Florida State's run to a national championship. And talented players like Jones are a big reason for that title.
The Browns being interested in Jones, while not confirmed, is a bit of a no-brainer. He has the size, speed, strength and instincts necessary to compete at a high level. Check, check, check and check.
If the Browns could land Cyril Richardson and Jones with their second first-round pick and second-rounder, who wouldn't be ecstatic?
Now, the Browns may be in for a scheme change on defense, but Jones' versatility and athleticism will allow him to play multiple positions in multiple fronts. Don't be too worried about how he'll fit. They'll find a spot, if someone doesn't get to him first.
James White, RB, Wisconsin
Adding road graders along their offensive line would be for nothing if the Cleveland Browns didn't address the running back position in the 2014 NFL draft.
Tate rumors surfaced again recently, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. If they do pick up Tate, it would be an excellent move, but that doesn't mean the Browns are done with upgrading the position.
Lane Adkins of The Orange and Brown Report (subscription required) said the team's scouting department was keen on finding backfield talent:
The Browns have been scouting running backs, nearly as heavily as they have quarterbacks and offensive linemen and the likelihood of seeing a running back, lineman and quarterback coming to Cleveland via the draft remains high.
And it wouldn't really hurt to have an explosive youngster like James White to give defenses different looks. White and sophomore Melvin Gordon rushed for over 3,000 yards combined for Wisconsin in 2013, a new NCAA record.
White is being projected as a fifth- or sixth-round pick in May's draft, per CBS Sports' prospect rankings. His size (5'10", 195 lbs) may scare some, but he has proved to be durable and able to handle carries through the tackles as well as being used on the perimeter.
Not only can he provide steady yards, but White also has a second gear that he turns on after breaking the initial level of defense. And catching passes out of the backfield is a breeze for the former Badger standout.
He really reminds me of Giovani Bernard, which is why I'd love to see the Browns pick him ahead of schedule, if necessary, with one of their two fourth-round selections.