New general manager Ray Farmer’s crew in Berea, Ohio have already done all the research and leg work, although the man signing off on the picks has changed.
They have already seen the tape, done their analysis and narrowed their two precious first-round picks. Their needs are apparent, it’s just a matter of what happens before they pick and who they value most.
Before we get through the weekend, let’s take a look at what those needs and evaluations could look like in Farmer’s notebook.
Cleveland Browns’ Top 25 Big Board
1. QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater is easily the safest and most NFL-ready quarterback in the 2014 NFL draft. There isn’t much not to like when reviewing the tape; there really isn’t.
If you haven’t seen it already, Greg Peshek of Rotoworld.com perfectly broke down and compared the top QB prospects of this class. Bridgewater was above average, statistically supporting a common claim that he can make every throw on the field.
But Bridgewater doesn’t just look the part.
Greg A. Bedard did some fantastic and in-depth reporting over at MMQB.SI.com, giving us a look at the man behind the finely tuned performer we saw on Saturdays. His work ethic and football I.Q. have prepared him for the challenges of the NFL.
“Teddy’s been taught from day one that I want him to be the coordinator at the line of scrimmage because he can be far better than me,” Louisville offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said.
Bridgewater appears to be your guy if you’re looking for a franchise centerpiece who can make all the throws, lead and be an extension of the coaching staff on the field.
2. DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
Forget about where he fits, Mike Pettine can find a way to work gifted pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney into his hybrid defense.
Clowney had a down year in 2013, registering just three sacks—some speculated he was preserving himself for the NFL by playing not to get hurt, and some even suggested he should sit out the entire 2013 season.
Whatever happened in 2013 is irrelevant because college production isn’t always an indicator of future success in the NFL. The 6’6”, 274-pounder is without a doubt the top non-QB prospect available, and any team with the chance to draft him will do so.
3. QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
The buzz in Cleveland has centered around Johnny Manziel since the beginning of the 2013 season. Then assistant GM, Farmer was seen scouting the polarizing mobile QB as early as September.
And since the previous campaign has started winding down we’ve heard the Browns were enamored with Johnny Football, so much so to even be willing to trade up from the No. 4 pick in order to ensure they land him.
Manziel has supporters, so there’s no doubt there could be some credibility to those reports. He’s shifty, instinctive and an incredible athlete. His personality is flashy, but his persona screams confidence.
Farmer will have to be “sold” on Manziel the person this weekend in Indianapolis to match up what he saw on the field before making up his mind.
4. QB Blake Bortles, UCF
The importance of a franchise quarterback is illustrated here with Blake Bortles coming in at the fourth position. While I see a large gap between Bridgewater and everyone else, there’s not a whole lot that separates Bortles and Manziel.
Bortles has ascended throughout the season due to an ideal NFL frame and wild success at UCF’s smaller program. Every once in a while, though, a meteoric rise is warranted.
With Bortles, that’s the case. His mechanics aren’t perfect, but he has the tools and the intangibles needed to develop into an above average signal-caller.
5. WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson
Watkins is a dynamic and fluid athlete who has NFL quickness and an uncanny ability to create yards after the catch.
Flanking Watkins opposite of Josh Gordon would be a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses, no matter who is behind center throwing the football.
6. OLB Khalil Mack, Buffalo
Protecting and pressuring quarterbacks is the name of the game these days, making pass-rushers an undeniable and premium commodity. Why not get the best in the class not named Clowney if your plan is to get even better in that area?
Buffalo’s Khalil Mack is a natural and powerful athlete who has the instincts and ability to be a dominant edge rusher at the next level.
Pettine’s experience at developing defenders in Mack’s mold makes him an attractive fallback option if things don’t go as planned on draft day.
7. OT Greg Robinson, Auburn
Drafting an offensive tackle might not immediately seem like a good call, but it’s not impossible. If the Browns’ top guys are gone at No. 4 they could think about the future at the most important position in the trenches.
Joe Thomas is a Pro Bowler, but he’s not Superman. He will decline eventually, and Cleveland could plan for that by drafting a versatile tackle like Greg Robinson to bolster the right side of the line until that day comes.
It’s not likely, but don’t rule it out completely.
8. OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
In the same line of thinking as Robinson, Jake Matthews is an undeniable talent who could be on the Browns’ radar.
CBS Sports’ Rob Rang labeled him as “stronger and more physical” than former teammate and first-round pick Luke Joeckel. It’s hard to argue with Rang on that one, and even harder to argue that learning and playing with a future Hall-of-Famer like Thomas would hurt his chances at finding success in the NFL.
9. OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA
From a coverage standpoint, Anthony Barr might already be in a better spot than Barkevious Mingo was coming out of college. The long and fast outside linebacker presents another intriguing option for the Browns if they are inclined to go with defense, either with their first pick or if they decide to trade down from the No. 4 spot.
10. ILB C.J. Mosley, Alabama
D’Qwell Jackson is aging and the Cleveland Browns have a bit of a situation developing at the middle linebacker position. Craig Robertson didn’t flourish as expected in his second year at the position, leading us to believe they could address the position multiple times this offseason.
C.J. Mosley is a terrific option if the Browns can find a way to maneuver in the draft and select him. He was always around the ball as the centerpiece of the imposing Alabama Crimson Tide front seven. Rang gave him a shining review, labeling his instincts as the “keenest” he's seen since Lofa Tatupu.
11. CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan St.
Joe Haden is a Pro Bowler, but Cleveland could use a true No. 2 corner to push Buster Skrine into his more natural nickel back position.
Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard is easily the best option to complete a dominant duo at the position, the likes of which Cleveland hasn’t seen since Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield’s Dawg Pound days in the ‘80s.
12. DE Kony Ealy, Missouri
Another pass-rusher who has the ability to step into an already improved Browns front seven is Missouri’s Kony Ealy. The 6’5”, 275-pounder is physically dominant and will only get better with more refinement and coaching at the NFL level.
13. WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M
Mike Evans won’t give the Browns a huge big-play threat, but the massive 6’5”, 225-pounder is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. He likely falls out of reach before they pick at No. 26, but anything is possible.
14. NT Louis Nix III, Notre Dame
Phil Taylor’s contract expires next summer, and it’s never too early to start thinking about the future. Louis Nix is an ideal option if the Browns end up moving around in the first round.
He’s a high-motor tackle who is surprisingly explosive for someone his size—6’2”, 345 pounds.
15. FS Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix, Alabama
Tashaun Gipson has been good for an undrafted free agent from a small school, but he isn’t a game-changer in the mold of superstars like Ed Reed and Earl Thomas.
Alabama’s Ha’Sean "Ha Ha" Clinton-Dix has the full package: a rare blend of instincts, ball skills and athletic ability that make up the perfect recipe for an elite NFL safety. His suddenness and straight-line speed are what seem to separate him from the next prospect…
16. FS Calvin Pryor, Louisville
In addition to bringing it all to the table like Clinton-Dix, Louisville’s Calvin Pryor is a physically imposing defensive back who will make receivers think twice about catching a pass uncontested across the middle of the field.
17. DE Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame
Defensive end Ahtyba Rubin will make $6.6 million in 2014 before hitting the market in free agency next summer. While the Browns do have some depth along the defensive line, Stephon Tuitt’s aggressiveness and big 6’6”, 312-pound frame is an ideal addition to their hybrid front.
18. CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
Dennard may be the top cover corner in this class, but Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert is the biggest playmaker. His seven turnovers were the most in the Big 12, and his ideal size would help the Browns’ shorter secondary grow a couple inches to combat the increasing utilization of dual tight ends that play off the line of scrimmage.
19. WR Marqise Lee, USC
With little—literally—on the Browns’ depth chart behind Gordon, the Browns are going to do their homework on wide receivers this year. Marqise Lee is a guy who is sure to draw their attention.
He doesn’t have the big size of some other prospects in this class, but his fluidity, quickness and soft hands would make him an instant starter in Cleveland and eventual NFL star.
20. TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina
Tight end certainly isn’t a pressing need for Cleveland. It just sent Jordan Cameron to Hawaii last year, after all. But in today’s NFL there’s no substitute for having multiple dynamic options at the position.
Selecting Eric Ebron would be a luxury, not something a team like Cleveland can really afford to do, but it’d be legitimately fun to see him and Cameron on the field together.
21. WR Allen Robinson, Penn State
Want a perfect complement for Gordon late in the first round? Don’t sleep on Penn State’s Allen Robinson. The 6’3” receiver has deceptively fast speed and catches everything thrown in his direction.
The “Anti-Greg Little,” if you will.
22. WR Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State
Another matchup nightmare in this class is Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin. At 6’5” and 235 pounds, Benjamin is a large target who can win contested pass attempts. He isn’t the most polished pass-catcher and doesn’t gain significant separation with his speed, but his size will definitely intrigue the Browns and many other teams.
23. OG David Yankey, Stanford
No matter how they do it, the Browns need to upgrade the interior of their offensive line. Kyle Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme will shake things up, and David Yankey is an ideal option to help improve their new rushing attack.
24. OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan
The last time Cleveland drafted a first-round Michigan Wolverine it ended in Prima donna Braylon Edwards disgracefully leaving town after a skirmish with then-loved LeBron James’ entourage.
Taylor Lewan could be a Browns target, though, especially if the talented offensive lineman falls to the lower half of the first round as he did in this mock draft by CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco.
25. WR Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
Another receiver rounds out the Top 25; no one is surprised.
Like Lee, Odell Beckham Jr. isn’t going to blow away scouts with his size or speed. But he’s not nearly as polished as Lee or Robinson. Although he’s capable of creating yards after the catch, Beckham doesn’t flash breakaway speed, something standout college receivers typically rely too much on against inferior competition in college.
Mike Hoag (@MikeHoagJr) covers the Cleveland Browns for B/R and is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He also hosts the weekly Dawg Pound Central (@DawgPndCentral) podcast on the Pro Football Central network.