With football season on the horizon and the 2010 NFL draft fading into the past, a new crop of players will be playing their hearts out in the NCAA to try and impress NFL scouts. With three divisions and 630 teams, it's physically impossible to catch every single game.
So to make it easier I asked the question: As a Cleveland Browns fan, which players should the fanbase start getting familiar with this coming season?
To determine that, first you would look at the front office's draft history.
Browns' GM Tom Heckert's past draft history shows a strong tendency to draft defense in the first round. The theory being that impact defensive linemen are rarely there in the later rounds. This year proved no differently as once again Heckert chose another defenseman in the first round, cornerback Joe Haden.
Secondly, you must determine Cleveland's biggest needs. Trading for Sheldon Brown, and adding three new pieces to the secondary this draft, means it's pretty unlikely the first round next year will be a cornerback or safety, leaving the linebackers and defensive ends as the likely targets.
Since Cleveland's starting defensive line has all been injured in the last two seasons, and are all over the age of 30—besides the possibility of a standout offensive playmaker—it's almost a given that Heckert will target linemen next season.
Besides Georgia's AJ Green, who may very well be the No. 1 overall pick next year, Jones is the best receiver in the draft. Jones is an amazing physical specimen and could be a Top Five pick, but he dropped a lot of passes last year.
If he can prove he can hang onto the ball, he could be an incredible wideout at the next level. Otherwise, the comparisons to Braylon Edwards will be right on the horizon.
Mark Ingram is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and if he's available when the Browns pick, he'll definitely be mentioned in the Browns' war room. The Browns drafted Montario Hardesty this year in the second round, but he does have his share of injury problems.
Jerome Harrison is rapidly approaching the age of 30 and isn't looked at as the future of the franchise, while James Davis is coming off an injury that kept him out all of last year. Ingram would be that explosive back Heckert may be looking for if Hardesty doesn't work out.
Lewis is 6'2", 232 lbs and a monster when rushing the passer. He is a great athlete who is stout against the run. He has the ability to stand up a fullback and crash the running back with ease, finishing with perfect tackle technique.
Lewis is one of the most fundamentally sound linebackers to come out of college in years and would fill a huge need on the Browns with the departure of Kamerion Wimbley.
Finally stepping out of the enormous shadow of Ndamukong Suh, Crick is expected to shoot up draft boards next year as a dominating lineman, as well as the new leader of Nebraska's defense. He's quietly been a stout defender, owning single game records at Nebraska for sacks with five, and tackles for loss with seven, and being named to the First Team All-Big 12.
While Crick no longer has the advantage of Suh taking two offensive linemen, he should continue to get better, and would be a welcome addition to Cleveland's line.
Romeus has a style very much like a player the Browns targeted this past draft, Jared Odrick. He finished last season with 40 tackles, 10.5 for a loss, and eight sacks.
His biggest knock is inexperience, he has only been playing football since his senior year of high school, but has continuously gotten better each season. He has very long arms, blocking three extra point attempts last year, a trait shared by current Browns' lineman Shaun Rogers.
With a good 2010 season, Romeus has the potential to be a Top 20 selection.
Adrian Clayborn notched an impressive 11.5 sacks, 20 tackles for a loss, and four forced fumbles as a junior last year. He's 6'3", 285 pounds and absolutely dominant at the line of scrimmage. He uses his hands well and pursues well laterally, as well as down the field.
Clayborn has a high motor, a good repertoire of rushing moves, and would project well as a left defensive end in Cleveland's 3-4 scheme. This may be THE prospect to watch.
Bailey stands at 6'4", 288 pounds and is a terror on the Hurricane's line. Expected to come out in the 2010 draft, he opted to return for his senior season this year. He led the Hurricanes in sacks with seven, tackles for a loss with eleven, and added 34 tackles as well. He was also named First Team All-ACC at defensive tackle.
His versatility is something NFL scouts will drool over. He has played special teams, defensive end, linebacker, and defensive tackle effectively. It's expected he'd best be served as a defensive tackle at the NFL level, now he just needs to show he can add strength and weight.
This is the first year since 1995, when Cleveland took LB Craig Powell, that they could legitimately take an Ohio State Buckeye in the first round. At 6'6", 287 pounds and the son of former NFL running back Craig Heyward, Cameron has been a punishing force for the Buckeyes, grabbing six sacks and 10 tackles for a loss last season.
Heyward has a big, athletic frame with room to bulk up even more next year. He's versatile, able to play the three or five technique, and is hard to control at the line of scrimmage. He's smart and has a very high motor, two things that Eric Mangini regularly covets in the draft.
Another first round Quinn in Cleveland? Don't worry, you won't have to fear a bust here. The defensive leader of North Carolina, Quinn lines up at right end, facing off against the left tackle and making his stats that much more impressive. Robert Quinn is a Top 10 projection, raking in 52 tackles, 19 tackles for a loss, 11 sacks, three passes defensed, and six forced fumbles last season.
Quinn has a lightning first step to the outside, routinely beating his opposition, and is punishing with his raw power. Much like Suh last season, if Quinn performs to his abilities he could likely be the winner of both the Lombardi and Nagurski defensive trophies.
Marcell Dareus is the 2011 Draft's answer to Gerald McCoy. Since Shaun Rogers will be 32 in 2011, is facing jail time for a gun charge, and is due $6.9 million this season and $5.5 million next year, it's likely he will not be on the roster in 2011. At 280 pounds, Dareus would be the ideal replacement as a natural 3-4 defensive end.
Last season as a sophomore, Dareus racked up 6.5 sacks in just four starts, and then knocked Cleveland's new franchise quarterback prospect out of the national championship game. He's projected to wreak havoc in the SEC this year, and if he does so, he could be the No. 1 overall pick, but if not he'll still be a solid Top 10 pick.