Cleveland Browns Final 2014 NFL Mock Draft Roundup
The wait is nearly over, as the 2014 NFL draft is only a day away. I've compiled a mock draft roundup that provides different media perspectives on whom the Cleveland Browns should select with their pair of first-round picks.
I will provide my opinion on these different choices and also deliver my final decision for the Browns' fourth and 26th overall picks.
Although trading up or down in the opening round is a possibility, for the purposes of this article, I'll keep Cleveland in its current slots.
The Browns need top-tier talent at cornerback, inside linebacker, wide receiver, offensive line and, of course, quarterback.
With 10 total trips to the podium beginning on May 8, they'll have a chance to address all of these needs. Let's dig into some of the possible names that will be called on Thursday.
CBS Sports: Pat Kirwan's Picks
Pat Kirwan is a national NFL insider for CBS Sports.
4th Overall Pick: Sammy Watkins, Clemson, WR
No one in this draft changes field position like Watkins. He is terrific after the catch, can run deep routes well, and after watching the Ohio State game again I'm convinced he's the right guy for the Browns.
If Watkins is still available at fourth overall, then this is absolutely where I go if I'm the Cleveland Browns. It all depends on the strategy of general manager Ray Farmer and who is ranked higher on his board.
In addition to Kirwan's breakdown above, Watkins is impressively physical for a wide receiver at 6'1" and 211 pounds.
The junior out of Clemson can do it all.
He muscles through press coverage and can line up on the outside or in the slot. Watkins' combination of pure blazing speed (4.43 40-yard dash time at the scouting combine), reliable hands and yards-after-the-catch production makes him the clear-cut best receiver in this draft.
26th Overall Pick: Derek Carr, Fresno State, QB
Phil Simms and Jon Gruden both told me Carr is their No. 1 QB in the draft. I like quarterbacks with experience and this guy has 45 starts, 113 touchdown passes and 12,843 yards.
Which quarterback is taken where remains one of the biggest mysteries in this 2014 NFL draft.
When the Browns take a QB really depends on if the collective minds are in love with a single player or value multiple options similarly.
I personally believe that every quarterback in this draft could benefit from a year or more of holding a clipboard and learning the pro game.
Derek Carr 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 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 former 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, which 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.
Bleacher Report: Matt Miller's Picks
Matt Miller is Bleacher Report's lead NFL Draft Analyst and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.
4th Overall Pick: Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M, QB
Johnny Football isn't ranked inside my top 10 players, but his potential is too good to ignore when you're a quarterback-starved team. And the Browns are definitely that.
The Browns have the ideal setup for Manziel too, with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan in place, a good offensive line and some dynamic threats at receiver and tight end. This isn't a finished offense, but Manziel thrives in chaos and could be the spark plug this team needs.
Manziel does thrive in chaos, but why would Cleveland reach for Johnny Football if it has other players rated higher and isn't passionate about a quarterback?
For the Browns to take Manziel with the fourth overall selection just because they need a QB would come off as a panicked move. The team has a nearly recovered Brian Hoyer, who looked tremendous over a small sample size last season before going down with a torn ACL.
GM Ray Farmer also signed Vince Young and Tyler Thigpen as veteran insurance policies in case Hoyer goes down to injury.
Those two are far from world beaters. However, this team now has some experienced depth under center, which makes it far less desperate to have to gamble on a wild card like Manziel.
The former Texas A&M Aggie is no doubt the most polarizing figure in this draft.
I believe he's more sizzle than steak. His diminutive size, reckless running and freelance approach to the position don't add up to success in the pro ranks.
No way do I take Johnny fourth overall with all the talent that will still be on the board. I'd be more inclined to take a chance on Manziel if he somehow slipped to the Browns at No. 26.
26th Overall Pick: Cody Latimer, Indiana, WR
Cody Latimer may seem like a late riser in this predraft process, but he's been slowed by a broken toe since January and was only able to run within the last few weeks. Once he was healthy, teams took notice. When watching his film, you see flashes of brilliance with super-strong hands. Coaches feel like they can round out Latimer's raw tools and turn him into a star.
With Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron there to keep defenses honest, Latimer could have a very big first season in Cleveland.
Cleveland needs to come out of this draft with a starting-caliber cornerback, wide receiver, offensive lineman, inside linebacker and a strong quarterback prospect.
I favor going with the highest-ranked CB on the board at No. 26 out of Justin Gilbert, Darqueze Dennard, Kyle Fuller and Bradley Roby. All of these prospects have the combination of size, aggressiveness and speed to match up well against today's large receivers.
While finding a complement to Pro Bowl receiver Josh Gordon is important, this draft is deep enough at the position to find a potential starter in the second or third rounds.
If Sammy Watkins is not in an orange helmet with the club's first pick then Cleveland is better off addressing one of their other requirements here.
MMQB Sports Illustrated: Greg A. Bedard's Picks
Greg A. Bedard is a senior NFL writer for Sports Illustrated and a contributor to the popular Monday Morning Quarterback on SI.com.
4th Overall Pick: Jake Matthews, Texas A&M, OT
Can’t take a quarterback with the rock solid Matthews on the board.
General manager Ray Farmer would be well served by following the example set by Ozzie Newsome in 1996 when he had the same picks (4th and 26th) as a first-time personnel director of the Ravens after their move from Cleveland.
Newsome took the best player on the board, Jonathan Ogden, and never looked back. Having LT Joe Thomas, C Alex Mack and Matthews at RT is a very solid base for a franchise.
Taking an offensive tackle early in the first round is never a sexy choice. However, providing protection for the quarterback and helping clear lanes for the running game is always a wise investment.
If Jake Matthews or Greg Robinson have not been gobbled up by the time Cleveland selects fourth, then Ray Farmer likely goes O-line here. The Browns would possess the strongest front in the AFC North and have their succession plan for Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas.
If wide receiver Sammy Watkins and linebacker Khalil Mack are off the board, then Matthews or Robinson is a no-brainer.
26th Overall Pick: Derek Carr, Fresno State, QB
He’s not Manziel, and Matthews was too good to pass over for Bridgewater, but Ray Farmer gets his quarterback of the future. Brian Hoyer is a terrific mentor and short-term starter.
I've had the Browns selecting either Derek Carr or Jimmy Garoppolo as the franchise's future quarterback coming out of this draft in all of my Bleacher Report mock drafts or QB-themed articles.
As discussed in the Pat Kirwan slide, Carr's powerful arm, mobility and impressive statistics make him a solid choice.
If given time to learn behind Brian Hoyer, I truly believe that Carr's maturity, football IQ and talent will set him up to be a viable starter down the road.
ESPN Cleveland: Tony Grossi's Picks
Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns beat reporter and analyst on ESPNCleveland.com, ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and SportsTimeOhio.
4th Overall Pick: Khalil Mack, Buffalo, LB
"Mike Pettine would pull a hamstring jumping in glee."
If Ray Farmer selects Mack, then it is because the stud linebacker was the highest-rated player available on his board.
The Buffalo senior has the ability to be an instant-impact contributor in a variety of ways and would complete an already talented front seven. Mack definitely possesses the versatility that head coach Mike Pettine likes in a LB, but can the Browns afford to hold off addressing their slew of offensive needs?
In a scenario where Jadeveon Clowney, Sammy Watkins and either Jake Matthews or Greg Robinson are already gone, then taking a beast like Mack may be the safest bet for the new front office.
26th Overall Pick: Bradley Roby, Ohio State, CB
"Next best cornerback for Browns."
The Browns desperately need a starting-quality outside cornerback to pair with Joe Haden.
Buster Skrine attempted to fill that role in 2013. The effort and speed were there, but his slight 5'9" frame is simply too small to handle the growing number of large receivers.
Bradley Roby 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 wideouts.
He is able to mirror his targets due to his tremendous balance, quick feet and loose hips. The former Buckeye is 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 in 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 40-yard time and 4.04 20-yard shuttle at the combine showcase the natural athletic talent that the Browns should not miss out on.
My 1st-Round Selections
My first-round selections for the Cleveland Browns are as follows.
4th Overall Pick: Sammy Watkins, Clemson, WR
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 whose diverse skills set him apart.
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 211 pounds, he is average in size but plays like a much bigger man. The only negative with the Florida native concerns character questions due to a May 2012 arrest on drug-related charges.
26th Overall Pick: Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech, CB
As long as it is not the 5'9" Jason Verrett, then I'm fine with the Browns taking the highest-rated remaining cornerback between Justin Gilbert, Darqueze Dennard, Kyle Fuller or Bradley Roby.
Size, speed, physicality and athleticism give any one of them an excellent chance at earning a starting job.
Head coach Mike Pettine favors an attacking front seven, which means that cornerbacks will often be left on an island. A CB that can handle today's larger wide receivers is vital for success on defense.
Frank Cooney of The Sports Xchange breaks down Kyle Fuller:
Fuller plays like a natural who has the athleticism to cover and the aggressiveness to play the run. Had sports hernia surgery in November, missed final six games and Senior Bowl. Quiet team leader...A solid player against pass and in run support. Fuller has efficient, functional speed (bests of 4.40 and 4.42 seconds at combine), excellent leaping ability (38.5-inch vertical) and a knack at finding the ball.
To address quarterback I would go after Eastern Illinois senior Jimmy Garoppolo with the 35th overall selection. These three picks would fill a trio of essential holes on the Browns' roster.
Check out my previous complete Cleveland Browns mock draft here.
Combine results are courtesy of NFL.com.
Andy McNamara is an international sports writer and journalist.
Follow on Twitter @AndyMc81