In what Browns owner Jimmy Haslam called “the crucial offseason” via Nate Ulrich of The Akron Beacon Journal, they possess the ability to select a franchise quarterback, a litany of offensive weapons to surround him with and add those to a core of six Pro Bowl players already on the team.
When looking at players who are entering the NFL draft you have to try to imagine their projection. In other words, what player could they most be like at the next level?
Sometimes it is easier to envision than others, but it is the task that NFL scouts and front-office personnel get paid handsomely to do.
The Browns have the ability to set themselves up for five years of legitimate contention in this offseason. The talent is available, and they have the ammunition to make it happen.
The real question is whether or not the Browns front office is capable of hitting a home run when the bases are loaded. This is the same group who botched their first head coaching hire and selected just two semi-productive players in the entire 2013 draft.
Only time will tell if they can find the players who will fit this roster best. Luckily for you, we can pontificate all we want in the media, so let’s do it.
Here are some players who would fill the Browns' biggest needs in the 2014 draft.
Whether you love or hate Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, there is no denying he is an exciting player. He was the first freshman to win the Heisman trophy and threw for 7,820 yards and 63 touchdowns in his collegiate career.
In the video above, Bleacher Report’s lead NFL draft analyst Matt Miller compares Manziel to Washington Redskin’s quarterback Robert Griffin III. He has the ability to run but also praises the way Manziel gets through his progressions before deciding to use his feet.
The Browns do not need a quarterback who creates excitement in the fanbase; they need a quarterback who will win. If the Browns surround Manziel with weapons, he can be successful immediately and change the outlook of this downtrodden franchise.
Blake Bortles and Jimmy Garoppolo
If the Browns are looking for a quarterback in the mold of Ben Roethlisberger, then UCF quarterback Blake Bortles is their guy. At 6’4”, 230 pounds, he has a huge frame and can run too.
Miller compares him to Jake Locker because of some accuracy issues and says whoever selects Bortles will need to shorten his delivery.
If Bortles is the guy the Browns peg as their franchise quarterback, then they better have a solid offensive coaching staff to develop him.
If the Browns elect to stay away from quarterback at the top of the draft, however, Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo would be a nice fit and could be selected in the second round.
He put up video game-like numbers in 2013 with 5,050 yards and 53 touchdowns. He threw just nine interceptions in 583 attempts. He also impressed this past week at the Senior Bowl, garnering rave reviews from guys like Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScout.com:
While Carr is the top quarterback on the South roster, Eastern Illinois QB Jimmy Garoppolo has been the next-most-impressive at the position and, in my opinion, is the second-best quarterback in Mobile.
The Browns finished 27th in the NFL in rushing yards per game with a measly 86.4 average. There were many contributing factors, but one of the main components was a lack of talent at the running back position.
After the Browns traded away Trent Richardson, the front office failed to supply adequate replacements. The Browns can add a workhorse-type weapon in this draft by selecting Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde.
Hyde’s power would be a great complement to the smaller, shiftier backs the Browns already have on the roster. A stable that contains Hyde along side Dion Lewis and Edwin Baker could be very intriguing.
While the Browns would probably have to spend a second-round draft choice on Hyde, there are other options in the later rounds.
One of those options who impressed during Senior Bowl week was Western Kentucky’s Antonio Andrews. Not only did he rush for 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2013, but he could be had in the third, fourth or even fifth round. The Browns have five picks through that stretch.
Eric Galko from OptimumScouting.com was very impressed with Andrews during his time at the Senior Bowl:
Keep an eye on Western Kentucky’s Antonio Andrews as a back who could have an early impact for an NFL team. He was easily the best back from both squads during blitz pickup drills, showing the strength to absorb contact and riding defenders away from the quarterback. He caught the ball well again today and showed patience and burst in the team session. The Hilltopper does all the little things but he must continue prove to teams that he’s beyond the fumbling issues he had in college.
The Browns were a one-man show at wide receiver last season. Josh Gordon led the NFL with 1,646 receiving yards and made the Pro Bowl. The next-highest receiving total from a Browns receiver was 465 yards from Greg Little.
The front office needs to find a big-time weapon who can take some focus off of Gordon next season, and that weapon should be Penn State wide receiver Allen Robinson.
While I feel Mike Evans from Texas A&M may be slightly more talented, the Browns would have to trade up to get Evans, who is expected to be selected well before the Browns make their second selection at 26.
Robinson, however, should be available with the 26th pick and is the perfect complement to Gordon. At 6’3”, 210 pounds, Miller says in the video above that he has Pro Bowl potential.
His production in college certainly lends itself to that theory as well. Facing Big Ten competition, he caught 97 passes for 1,432 yards and six touchdowns.
Miller compares Robinson to Green Bay Packers receiver Jordy Nelson.
Mike Evans and Jordan Matthews
As I mentioned above, the Browns would have to trade up if they wanted Evans in the 2014 draft. As I also mentioned above, I feel he is slightly more talented than Robinson.
If the Browns decided to package picks and move up to select Evans, it would cost them a little less than the value of their second-round draft pick, according to the NFL Draft Pick Value Chart on WalterFootball.com.
Essentially, the Browns would have to get creative and offer up some of their picks in this year's draft to make a move of that magnitude up in the first round.
If the Browns decide to wait on drafting a receiver until the second round, they could target Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews. The 6’3”, 206-pound tough guy is not afraid to take a hit across the middle. Miller compares him to Green Bay’s James Jones.
As I said in the slide about Hyde, the Browns rushing offense had many issues. Not only was there a lack of talent at running back, but there was also no help from the guard position.
Shawn Lauvao, John Greco and Jason Pinkston combined for a below-average year at the two guard positions. The Browns averaged just four yards per carry and got the ball in the end zone just four times on the ground.
The Browns can fix their lack of toughness by selecting Notre Dame lineman Zack Martin. Miller compares him to Josh Sitton of the Packers. Sitton made the Pro Bowl in 2012.
If the Browns want Martin’s services, they will probably have to use a first-round selection on him. But as Miller states in the video, he has less-than-ideal arm length for a tackle. If no one takes a chance on him in the first round, he could potentially be there for the Browns in the second.
If the Browns prefer to wait until late in the draft to select a guard, then Florida’s Jon Halapio would be a very good choice. Remember, Sitton was a fourth-round selection, and that is around the area Halapio would be selected.
He had a great week at the Senior Bowl as well. While the rest of the offensive linemen on the South’s roster struggled, Halapio did what he had to do to stand out, according to Galko of OptimumScouting.com:
The best of the bunch was Florida OG Jon Halapio, who was the only lineman to slow Daniel McCullers during drills today. With powerful hip thrust upfield and working hard to keep his hands inside, Halapio had ample success working as a power blocker and generating push upfield.
After the Browns were shredded by tight ends and running backs in the passing game last season it was very evident they needed an upgrade at inside linebacker. That was before the Browns hired Mike Pettine as their new head coach.
In Buffalo, where he was defensive coordinator in 2013, he had a stud inside linebacker in Kiko Alonso. Alonso was a beast and finished third in the NFL with 159 tackles. If the Browns want their beast inside linebacker, then they need to select Wisconsin’s Chris Borland.
Miller compares him to Redskins linebacker London Fletcher in the video above because he is smaller but very impactful.
His skill set between the tackles fits perfectly if the Browns decide to keep the 4-3 defense that they were running last season. If they switch to a 3-4, however, then anything can happen.
He was another guy who shined during Senior Bowl week. Galko of OptimumScouting.com said media and scouts alike were taking notice:
Chris Borland is really taking advantage of the week with another strong performance. He has a real feel for the game and minimizes his size limitations by using leverage and short area explosiveness to his advantage and disengaging quickly from blockers. Scouts have also been impressed with his pursuit effort as he’s been flying to the football all week.
The best part about Borland is he can probably be selected in the third or fourth round where the Browns hold four draft picks.
Stanford’s Shayne Skov is a big man who makes big plays. He is 6’3”, 245 pounds and hits like a freight train.
Miller compares him to New York Giants linebacker Jon Beason. Injuries are a concern for Skov as Miller points out. In 2012, he was injured and had a very poor season.
Skov is also expected to be selected in the third or fourth round, which plays right into the Browns’ hands.