Ranking the Cleveland Browns' Biggest Needs to Address in the 2014 Draft
The Cleveland Browns were the most aggressive team in free agency this offseason. They successfully added depth around the roster and upgraded a few starting positions. Unfortunately, it takes a lot more than that to turn around a 4-12 football team.
All of the Browns’ needs could not be filled during free agency, but that is why the NFL has a draft. And luckily for the Browns, they are in prime position to address those needs.
With a top-five pick, three picks in the top 35 and 10 overall, the Browns can add a group of talented players to build around in one fell swoop. They could also blow those picks and set themselves back another five years like their fans have grown accustomed to.
No pressure, Ray Farmer.
When a general manager approaches the draft, he should be looking to upgrade any position that he can. Here are five positions on the Browns roster that need the most urgent attention.
5th-Biggest Need: Inside Linebacker
Last year, the Browns had one of the top defensive units in the NFL. It was actually ranked as the overall best for a portion of the early season.
That was before the Browns allowed 28 points per game during their final 11 games. They lost 10 of those.
One of the biggest reasons the defense fell apart was the lack of impact from the inside linebacker position. Teams figured out quickly that attacking the middle of the defense was how to break through.
The Browns parted ways with veteran D’Qwell Jackson and brought in Karlos Dansby from Arizona. This was certainly an upgrade, but it still is not enough.
If they start Craig Robertson next to Dansby, then the Browns will still be vulnerable to short quick passes to running backs over the middle and passes up the seams to tight ends. These decimated the Browns last season.
Finding a young impact player to learn from Dansby and take the torch in a year or so should be a top priority for Ray Farmer.
4th-Biggest Need: Wide Receiver
Last season, the Browns had a one-man show in their receiving corps. All-Pro Josh Gordon led the league in receiving yards despite playing just 14 games. Everyone else was terrible.
The Browns have already upgraded this group through free agency. They snagged Andrew Hawkins from the Cincinnati Bengals, and when he is healthy, he is a dangerous slot receiver.
They also signed Nate Burleson. While he has a ton of talent, he is 32 years old and has been plagued by injury. He could very well end up being nothing more than depth and insurance in case of injuries.
The Browns need a legit second receiving option to complement Gordon. Greg Little is obviously not the answer, so they must find this player through the draft.
Luckily for them, this is a deep draft for pass-catchers, and they can probably find an impact guy all the way into the second round.
3rd-Biggest Need: Cornerback
In 2013, the Browns ranked eighth in the NFL in passing defense. This was because of a Pro Bowl season from Joe Haden and Buster Skrine emerging as a competent cornerback.
Despite the strong showing last year, the Browns are still in need of another starting cornerback. As I have stated many times, Buster Skrine is at his best when playing the nickel.
He should be inside matched up against slot receivers and tight ends. His aggressive style and ability to be around the ball serve him best with underneath routes.
If the Browns can find a good second corner to start across from Joe Haden in the draft, then they can move Skrine back inside. At that point, they would have one of the youngest and most talented cornerback units in the NFL.
They also need to add another starter because of depth. Late last year, when the injures started to mount, the Browns were playing practice-squad players, which resulted in high scores and passing totals for their opponents.
2nd-Biggest Need: Guard
There is an argument to be made that right tackle should be the second-biggest need and not guard. It really just depends on what type of tackle you think Mitchell Schwartz will be.
Is he the solid starter who played well beyond his years in his rookie season, or the guy on roller skates getting beat like a rug last year?
I think he is closer to what we saw in 2012.
If the Browns upgrade their guard positions, then it helps out the tackles with their assignments on the outside. The guards are even more important in new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme.
The Browns signed Paul McQuistan, a veteran journeyman, from the Seattle Seahawks, and he could very well snag one of the starting guard jobs. The Browns should do every thing they can to fill the other spot with a young earthmover whom they can plug in for years.
There are plenty of options available in the third and fourth rounds, where the Browns have four picks. If they have not selected a guard by that point, then they should certainly make a point to take one with those picks.
Biggest Need: Quarterback
This should come as no surprise. The man they have under center defines NFL franchises, and that definition has been more like a joke for the Browns.
Year in and year out, the Browns run out incompetent or underskilled quarterbacks to the detriment of their season. The names Derek Anderson, Charlie Frye, Brady Quinn and Jake Delhomme read like a list of horror films for Browns fans.
At some point, the revolving door has to stop. But will it be this year?
What was once thought to be an elite draft for quarterbacks now seems anything but. If the Browns do not love a guy enough to hand him the keys to the franchise, then they should not pull the trigger early.
They have Brian Hoyer, who proved last year that he could be serviceable. They cannot fool themselves into thinking he is the answer, however. The Browns need to find a long-term solution.
Until they find the guy who can be the leader of the franchise for an extended period of time, the results will always be the same. Super Bowl contenders have elite quarterbacks. The Browns have to find one if they ever want to sniff the biggest game in sports.