2011 NFL Draft: 5 Players Worth Targeting For Cleveland Browns
While the 2010 NFL season saw the Cleveland Browns make some strides toward becoming a better ball club, at the end of the day, their 5-11 record looked a lot like the 2009 version of the team.
And while there has been much debate as to whether a coaching change was necessary in order to make the Browns better in 2011, the general consensus is that Cleveland just doesn't have the talent yet to compete with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens for supremacy in the AFC North.
The Browns will look to team president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert to help them acquire the correct personnel either via the 2011 draft or free agency.
And while the list of available free agents is still somewhat of an uncertainty at this point, with the NFL playoffs just now getting underway, here are five potential college prospects I think the Browns should target in this year's draft in April:
Round 1: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
Many people believe that the Browns should take a wide receiver with their first pick, number six overall. The name that is being thrown out most often is Georgia wideout A.J. Green.
Getting a number one wide receiver should be a priority for Holmgren and Heckert this offseason, but there seems to be enough depth at this position that they can afford to wait until the second round to pick up a receiver.
Peterson is regarded by many to be the top shutdown corner this season. And it is widely known that Peterson is pretty good in the return game, making him a dual threat.
With the emergence of rookie Joe Haden at one corner, and veteran Sheldon Brown at the other, Cleveland would have the luxury of easing Peterson into the rotation in the nickel defense, while at the same time keeping him fresh for kick returns, possibly easing the burden currently placed on Joshua Cribbs.
The downside here is that with Andrew Luck returning to Stanford to complete his degree, Peterson might not be available at number six. If that is the case, I believe the Browns should then draft Prince Amukamara, cornerback out of Nebraska.
Round 2: Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State
One of the biggest concerns for the Browns heading into the 2010 offseason was the lack of a legitimate pass rusher. The Browns did little to address that need via the draft, waiting until the sixth round to finally select Clifton Geathers, eventually cutting Geathers before the end of the season.
Heyward has been a beast for Ohio State all season, and, even though he may not have the numbers to prove it, he was enough of a factor to warrant double teams all season. Many scouts have labeled him a bit undersized to play the position in the NFL. I am sure that is something that the Browns' strength and conditioning coach can work on him with.
If Heyward is not available in the second round, my choice would be to select someone like a JJ Watt of Wisconsin or Jared Crick of Nebraska.
Round 2b: Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami
Leonard Hankerson might not be as flashy as Green or Jones, but he did finish the season with over 1000 yards and 12 TDs. He would be a nice addition to Cleveland's wide receiver corps, as Cleveland fans could no longer complain that Colt McCoy has no one to throw to.
The Browns currently have only one pick in the second round, but I am confident that Holmgren & Heckert could find a way to trade back into the second round just like they did last year to get Montario Hardesty.
Round 4: Casey Matthews, LB, Oregon
One of the biggest disappointments I had in the 2008 draft was the Mangini traded all the way down from the fifth pick to the 21st, only to select a center. In the process he passed over the USC linebacker triumvirate of Clay Matthews, Rey Maualuga, and Brian Cushing.
It was no secret that linebacker was a position that the Browns lacked depth on last season, with D'Qwell Jackson being placed on injured reserve at the beginning of the year, and Scott Fujita going down more than halfway through the season.
Casey Matthews may not be as highly touted as his older brother, but he still plays with a tenacity that should endear him to Browns fans and make him a valued backup at the very least.
Note: In this mock draft the Browns trade away their third round pick as part of a package to draft Hankerson in the second.
Round 5: Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State
Sherrod may not fall this far, but if he does, the Browns definitely need to take him, as they are still searching for a right tackle who plays as well as Thomas does on the left side.
Sherrod may also be a left tackle, not really sure, but if so, he shouldn't have a problem making the switch.