Cleveland Browns 2014 Mock Draft: Predictions After the Start of Free Agency

Andy McNamaraCorrespondent IIMarch 13, 2014

Cleveland Browns 2014 Mock Draft: Predictions After the Start of Free Agency

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    Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

    NFL free agency kicked off on Tuesday, which means we can now get a better idea of team needs that still need addressing in this latest Cleveland Browns 2014 mock draft.

     

    Browns' Free-Agent Signings (as of March 18) 

    Key Departed Players (as of March 18)

    • D'Qwell Jackson (LB)
    • T.J. Ward (S)
    • Brandon Weeden (QB)
    • Jason Campbell (QB)
    • Shawn Lauvao (G) 

     

    The Browns own 10 total draft picks including five within the first three rounds. It's a good thing they do with the number of holes that need to be filled.

    Quarterback, offensive line, wide receiver, running back, cornerback and inside linebacker are the positions that require the most attention when it comes to upgrades.

    Let's flash forward to New York City on May 8 and begin Cleveland's ideal draft.

7th-Round Pick: L'Damian Washington (WR)

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    L'Damian Washington at the February scouting combine
    L'Damian Washington at the February scouting combineMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    Missouri's L'Damian Washington could be the steal of this wide receiver draft class.

    He shouldn't be looked upon as an immediate savior, but he has all the raw tools to be a future star.

    The 6'4" senior ran an impressive 4.46 in the 40-yard dash at February's scouting combine, which complements the big-play ability that he showcased in college. He contributed 10 touchdowns for 893 yards and 50 catches in 2013.

    His size allows him to potentially dominate on the outside or lined up inside at the slot. A bonus is that Washington is also a willing blocker.

    The 205-pound speedster is criticized for rounding off routes and not coming back for the ball.

    If he demonstrates a positive attitude, the increased player accountability talked about during the press conference welcoming new Cleveland head coach Mike Pettine should break those bad habits.

    His shortcomings are similar to those of Cleveland's Pro Bowl receiver Josh Gordon when he was a rookie. Washington can look to Gordon as a perfect example of what hard work and natural talent can turn into.

    On a franchise that is screaming for playmakers on offense, Washington is a definite must-have.

6th-Round Pick: J.C. Copeland (FB)

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    J.C. Copeland at February's scouting combine
    J.C. Copeland at February's scouting combineMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    Meet Lawrence Vickers 2.0, Browns fans. The bonus is that J.C. Copeland adds catching out of the backfield to his smashmouth lead blocking and explosive short-distance running.

    Not adding a true fullback to a nonexistent rushing game was one of the more puzzling decisions by the former Joe Banner and Michael Lombardi regime in 2013. Hopefully new general manager Ray Farmer effectively addresses the position.

    The former LSU Tiger plowed in seven touchdowns on the ground over the past two seasons, mostly from the goal line.

    The bruising No. 44 also turned some heads at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl on Jan. 18 by earning MVP honors. He showcased his offensive prowess by scoring a pair of touchdowns.

    This converted defensive tackle is tough and durable, loves contact and seems perfectly built to thrive in the AFC North.

5th-Round Pick: Bennett Jackson (CB)

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    Bennett Jackson's physicality and aggressiveness toward hunting down ball-carriers may allow him to double as a safety if need be.

    At 6'0", the former high school wide receiver came into his own as a solid contributor in the secondary for Notre Dame. Durability is also a strong suit, as he played in all 52 collegiate games.

    This senior isn't afraid to go up for the ball and possesses great hands to go along with above-average speed. Jackson is still learning the finer positional techniques as he allows too much separation and needs to become more fluid on his transition. 

    The Fighting Irishman had to wait two years to become a starter, and during that time he developed into a reliable special teams contributor. The Browns are thin in their defensive backfield and could always use extra assistance on the kicking/punting coverage units.

    Jackson fared well at the scouting combine, running 4.51 in the 40 yard-dash. He also was a top performer in the vertical jump, leaping 38".

4th-Round Pick (from Indianapolis): Jerick McKinnon (RB)

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    Jerick McKinnon at February's scouting combine
    Jerick McKinnon at February's scouting combineMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    (Updated March 16) The Browns' signing of free-agent running back Ben Tate is a definite positive, but they'll still need an explosive rusher in this draft in case Tate's injury history comes back to haunt the club.

    Former head coach Rob Chudzinski was given nothing to work with in the backfield following the preseason leg injury to Dion Lewis and the trade of Trent Richardson following Week 2.

    Willis McGahee, Fozzy Whittaker, Chris Ogbonnaya and Edwin Baker all collaborated for the 27th-ranked rushing attack in the NFL.

    Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has a history of turning seemingly ordinary-looking backs into stars. Look at Washington's 2012 sixth-round selection Alfred Morris as a perfect example. The key to Shanahan's rushing system is the one-cut ability of the player.

    Georgia Southern's Jerick McKinnon looks to fit that mold. 

    The senior ran an impressive 4.41-second 40-yard dash at the scouting combine and coupled that with an incredible 32 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press. 

    McKinnon doubled as a quarterback for some of his collegiate career and also dabbled at cornerback. He has the required quick decision-making and cut ability while also not being afraid to slam the ball inside.

    The Eagle isn't a great perimeter runner, but his toughness and above-average acceleration make him a valuable addition. He continuously developed his blocking in pass protection and possesses reliable hands as well. 

    As part of a rotation with the likes of Edwin Baker, Dion Lewis and any free-agent signing, McKinnon would be an important piece to Cleveland's ground game.

4th-Round Pick: Ed Reynolds (FS)

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    Ed Reynolds at February's scouting combine
    Ed Reynolds at February's scouting combineMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    The Browns spent good money to bring in free agent Donte Whitner to take over for the departing T.J. Ward and pair up with Tashaun Gipson.

    However, depth at the safety positions is thin, and adding a workhorse like Ed Reynolds in the middle rounds would be a nice insurance policy.

    Out of Stanford, the senior's size and bulk (6'1", 207 lbs) allowed him to neutralize tall, athletic tight ends throughout college. 

    Reynolds was a true ball hawk in his junior year with six interceptions, returning three for touchdowns. Last season didn't produce the same impressive numbers, but that was in large part due to opposing quarterbacks staying away from him.

    The Cardinal still found himself as a first-team All-Pac-12 pick in 2013.

    He also displays good range and is a sure tackler. Having NFL bloodlines through his father Ed doesn't hurt either. The senior Reynolds was a linebacker for the New England Patriots and New York Giants.

    Despite the positives, he doesn't have a lot of elite speed or agility. He struggles to recover when beat on a route and at times can be overpowered by physical ball-carriers. 

    The free safety also missed all of his 2011 season with an ACL knee injury.

3rd-Round Pick (from Pittsburgh): Yawin Smallwood (ILB)

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    Fred Beckham/Associated Press

    Even after the signing of veteran free agent Karlos Dansby, the Browns still have a sizable gap at inside linebacker.

    The issue revolves around Cleveland's inability to defend on passes over the middle in 2013 and in particular against linebacker Craig Robertson. 

    An upgrade to complement Dansby is needed, and UConn's Yawin Smallwood could be the answer. 

    He has the size (6'2", 246 lbs), length and speed to be an instant improvement in pass coverage. 

    This past year he was recognized both at the national level and by his club. He had the honor of being named to the All-American Athletic Conference first team as well as the Huskies' defensive player of the year.

    Last season, Smallwood displayed agility and balance when asked to cover quick slot receivers while still bringing the physicality needed to defend large tight ends. The native of Worcester, Mass., is also an effective blitzer where his fluid movement allows him to get after the quarterback.

    His scouting combine results were efficient, not flashy.

    The junior's 40-yard time was only 5.01 seconds; however, the Browns need more of his quickness to come from side-to-side rather than full-out sprints. His vertical leap was solid at 36.5", which will come in handy when trying to swat down passes.

3rd-Round Pick: Brandon Thomas (OG)

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    It's no secret that Cleveland's offensive line needs help at the guard spots.

    Shawn Lauvao was ineffective and has signed with Washington as a free agent, while Jason Pinkston's health issues bring his availability into question. John Greco is a serviceable veteran who can help in different ways.

    Clemson's Brandon Thomas would be a nice fit and brings the flexibility of successfully playing at both guard and tackle during his collegiate career.

    The 6'3", 317-pound junior appears to mesh with what offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan likes to do in his zone-blocking scheme. Thomas is quick out of his stance, light on his feet and built for the position with big hands and long arms.

    This two-time second-team All-ACC selection is able to pull or step up to the next level effectively as well. He's not a mauler, but that's not what this O-line is going to be about anyway.

    Thomas does need to work on consistently keeping low, as he is susceptible to the bull rush when he stands more upright.

2nd-Round Pick: Bradley Roby (CB)

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    Another Ohio State product joins the Browns along with free-agent safety Donte Whitner.

    Bradley Roby's off-field issues are most likely the reason that he'll slip to the second round. They include an arrest for an altercation with a bouncer at a club in 2013.

    If those concerns can be vetted out via predraft interviews, then this cornerback could become a heavy favorite for the outside spot opposite Joe Haden.

    The Buckeye plays bigger than his 5'11" height, and the vertical leap he displayed at the scouting combine (38.5") should allow him to battle for jump balls against taller receivers.

    He is able to mirror his targets due to his tremendous balance, quick feet and loose hips. He's also an effective tackler who clearly loves the physical side of the game. When called upon, he can get to the quarterback and is also an asset on run defense.

    Defending 35 passes over the last two seasons also demonstrates his aggressiveness for making plays in the secondary.

    Inconsistency may be the biggest non-character issue for Roby. He didn't dominate offensive targets on a regular basis last year and was beaten in open space on some one-on-one tackling situations. 

    That being said, a blazing 4.39-second 40-yard time and 4.04-second 20-yard shuttle at the combine showcase the natural athletic talent that the Browns should not miss out on.

    The popular corner free-agent targets of Darrelle Revis, Aqib Talib and Sam Shields are all off the open market. Cleveland did sign 31-year-old Isaiah Trufant, but at 5'8", he is not a viable option to start on the outside and was added for depth purposes.

1st-Round Pick (from Indianapolis): Derek Carr (QB)

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    It was a roller-coaster second half of the season for Derek Carr, as he saw his high first-round draft stock plummet following a disappointing performance in a loss at the Las Vegas Bowl.

    He showed well at the scouting combine, running one of the fastest 40-yard times among quarterbacks at 4.69 seconds. He chose to wait until Fresno State's pro day on March 20 to throw.

    Doubters of Carr cannot deny his phenomenal statistics as a senior. Throwing for 5,082 yards and 50 touchdowns, while also winning back-to-back Mountain West Conference MVP awards, cannot be ignored.

    This three-time team captain has fast feet to evade the blitz, can move in the pocket and can accurately throw on the run or standing still. A strong arm, quick release, maturity and command of the huddle all point to a leader of men who could grow into a solid NFL starter in time.

    Carr's game is not without its flaws. The Bulldog nails short-to-intermediate throws but isn't always the most accurate deep-ball hurler. He sometimes throws off-balance unnecessarily and looked flustered when pressured by USC in this year's bowl game.

    However, he has a knack for putting his throws where only his receivers can get to them, and that limits turnovers when accuracy is an issue. At 6'2" he doesn't possess great size, but his mobility should negate any problems that arise due to blocked sight lines.

    His older brother David was a first overall pick in 2002 by Houston and was a bust. That should have nothing to do with a team's decision (or fan perception) on what Derek can do.

    He is a student of the game with the tools to succeed in the NFL. He would be best served to sit behind Brian Hoyer and develop throughout 2014.

1st-Round Pick: Sammy Watkins (WR)

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    There are no elite-level wide receivers available in free agency this year who could line up opposite Cleveland's Pro Bowler Josh Gordon. Greg Little, and his infuriating habit of dropping passes, is clearly not a viable option.

    That means Cleveland needs to secure a playmaker who can make an instant impact. That man is Sammy Watkins.

    It is a deep receiver draft class, but Watkins is a special talent who should not be overlooked.

    The junior's statistics from 2013 are staggering. He hauled in 101 receptions for 1,464 yards, averaged 14.5 yards per catch and scored 12 touchdowns. 

    Watkins gets up to full speed quickly and has ankle-rolling moves to zip his way through the secondary once he has the ball. His smooth footwork allows him to beat press coverage, and he isn't afraid to punish defenders by initiating contact.

    At 6'1" and 205 pounds, he is average in size but plays like a much bigger man. The Florida native will also have his character questioned throughout predraft interviews, as he was arrested in May 2012 on drug-related charges.

    The 2013 first-team All-ACC selection's scouting combine numbers solidified his already impressive game tape. A 4.43-second 40-yard dash and 34" vertical go nicely with his physical style.

     

    All statistics are courtesy of ESPN.com, and scouting combine results are from NFL.com.

    Andy McNamara is an international sports broadcaster and journalist. Follow Andy on Twitter @AndyMc81