5 Late-Round NFL Draft Prospects Perfectly Suited for the Cleveland Browns
The great franchises find gems in the later rounds of the draft and there are five players in particular that are perfectly suited for the Cleveland Browns in this May's class.
Free agency is well underway and the Browns have added some key pieces, but plenty of depth is still needed to help elevate this club out of the AFC North basement.
Seattle has been able to find phenomenal producers for their secondary in late rounds as did the Mike and Kyle Shanahan led Washington Redskins at the running back position. Can Cleveland strike gold from the fourth round and beyond this offseason?
Let's dive into some under-the-radar talent that general manager Ray Farmer and company should pay close attention to.
Marion Grice: Running Back
Projected Draft Round: 6-7
Marion Grice is the dual-threat running back that Cleveland is looking for to eventually share the load with recently signed free-agent Ben Tate.
On the ground and through the air this senior combined for 20 total touchdowns. His 996 rushing yards are respectable, but the fact that Grice also caught 50 passes makes him an intriguing prospect.
The senior from Arizona State needs to add more weight to his 6'0" frame and run lower if he wants to withstand the pounding at the NFL level.
Fantastic cutting ability, good vision and instant acceleration are all reasons why the Sun Devil recorded seven multiscore games in 2013. What's more impressive is that Grice put up those numbers while missing his final three matchups of the season because of an injury to his left leg.
The ailment held him out of participating at the Senior Bowl and scouting combine, which has naturally dipped his draft stock. He's probably best suited as a third down change-of-pace back, at least initially.
Cleveland scouts will certainly like that the Houston, Texas native doubled as a kick returner on occasion during his collegiate career. Over 11 contests last year, he ran back 21 kicks for a total of 507 yards and a long of 44.
James Wilder Jr.: Running Back
Projected Draft Round: 6
The second of two running backs in this article, James Wilder Jr. would be an excellent complement to Ben Tate. He could also be Kyle Shanahan's next hidden gem rusher like Alfred Morris was in Washington.
Wilder is a physical rusher who isn't afraid to use his large 6'3", 232-pound frame to fight for extra yards. He displays excellent balance, has a quick first step and can aggressively explode past (or through) would-be tacklers.
Son of former NFL running back James Sr., the younger Wilder also put up decent numbers at the scouting combine. He sprinted a 40-yard dash time of 4.86 seconds and a shuttle of 4.24 seconds.
The Florida State Seminole split carries with fellow junior Devonta Freeman this past season, which resulted in lower than expected statistics. Wilder also battled through a nagging shoulder injury as well as a concussion in 2013.
Some may criticize his durability or question if he can be an every down back. These potential issues would not be a concern in Cleveland because Wilder would be sharing the workload with Tate, and likely others, in the backfield.
Kevin Norwood: Wide Receiver
Projected Draft Round: 5-6
Lost in the sea of talent that are the Alabama Crimson Tide, Kevin Norwood could be one of the great darkhorse pickups of this draft.
The 6'2" wide receiver is a crisp route runner that can line up outside or in the slot and doesn't shy away from contact. He can be elusive after the catch, displays smooth acceleration and is able to break through tackles for extra yards.
While not showing elite speed on film, Norwood did post an impressive 4.48 second 40-yard dash time at the scouting combine and confirmed his leaping ability with a 33" vertical jump as well.
When Amari Cooper went down for Alabama last season, Norwood stepped up as a clutch performer for quarterback A.J. McCarron. The senior delivered an average of 14.9 yards per reception on 38 catches for seven touchdowns.
If the receiver can bulk up his 198-pound frame then the Browns could have a replacement for Greg Little. Norwood brings the same size and physicality of Little, but adds more quickness and has much more reliable hands.
Christian Jones: Inside Linebacker
Projected Draft Round: 4
It seemed like every Sunday Browns fans were watching opponents dominate their team over the middle and exploit size mismatches against inside linebacker Craig Robertson.
Sliding the 6'3", 240-pound Christian Jones into that spot alongside newly acquired free-agent Karlos Dansby could eliminate the problem.
Playing on national championship winning Florida State, Jones' wingspan makes him a natural stud in pass coverage.
He's able to smother large tight ends, but is also fast enough to chase down receivers on deeper routes. His 40-yard dash time of 4.74 seconds at the scouting combine backs up that speed comment.
The senior Seminole's footwork is phenomenal, as are the angles he takes in pursuit of the ball-carrier. Jones' large frame can help take away middle rushing lanes, and he possesses the explosiveness to shed blockers when blitzing.
This All-ACC second team performer sometimes takes his athleticism for granted as he tends to play high, which then effects his tackling technique. These flaws are coachable and a small price to pay for what looks like an instant upgrade at the position.
Antone Exum: Cornerback
Projected Draft Round: 4-5
Antone Exum should not be looked upon as a savior to solidify the other outside corner spot opposite Joe Haden. Without signing a tested starter at that position during free agency, the Browns must go after an immediate day-one difference maker early in the draft.
However, the Virginia Tech alum does possess the physical tools to add much needed depth to the Cleveland secondary.
At 6'0" and 213 pounds, Exum has the size to potentially double as both a cornerback and a safety.
Loose hips, fluid transition and versatility to handle man or zone coverage make him an intriguing prospect. This Hokies senior is exceptional in jump-ball scenarios and can be a heavy hitter when utilizing his ability to take the correct angles in pursuit.
A giant question mark that any NFL team will need to solve is why Exum did not return to action when he was cleared to play from a knee injury at the end of September. He only participated in three games last season, which is disappointing considering his success in 2012.
An extra plus that the finance degree graduate brings is that he was a stellar defender on special teams kick and punt return units.
Andy McNamara is an international sports broadcaster and journalist.
Follow Andy on Twitter @AndyMc81