We are now just 14 days away from the 2011 NFL Draft, but like always, the way it appears the draft will shake out is still changing on a daily basis.
I published my first mock draft for the 2011 Browns last week, and even as I wrote it, I knew that some of my picks could prompt readers to hammer me. And hammer me they did.
After taking their comments under advisement, I've made some changes to my original seven-round predictions for the Browns. My choices for the third, fourth, sixth and seventh-round picks remain the same, but I've decided to go in a different direction for the first, second and fifth rounds.
As always, please share your thoughts on these picks or suggestions for picks you think would be better in the comments below!
In the first rollout of my 2011 mock draft, I chose DE Da'Quan Bowers in the first round. Readers hated the pick because of questions surrounding Bowers' injury status, and sure enough, the news on Bowers' knee gets worse by the day. Obviously, an adjustment to my mock was in order for this round.
The reason I chose Bowers in the first place was because I felt strongly that the Browns needed to prioritize the DE position early in the draft. I still feel that way, but given the way the draft appears to be shaping up, the sixth overall slot in the draft may not be a good place to take a DE. Marcell Dareus will surely be gone by this point, and it's too early to take Robert Quinn.
I still think the best scenario for the Browns in round one is to trade down, but I also still think that's unlikely. If it were to happen, I could see the Browns trading down for Quinn.
But assuming it won't, I think the no. 6 pick is best spent on the best player on the board, and that will probably be CB Patrick Peterson.
CB is not a position where the Browns needs are strongest, but I feel that taking the best player on the board is never a bad move, even if it ultimately isn't the ideal one. To me, this is the safest pick for the Browns in the first round; a way to come as close as possible to guaranteeing the first round pick won't be a bust, and to minimize the risk that would result from taking a player who should not be drafted that high just because he fits the Browns most pressing needs, at DE or anywhere else.
Peterson is a shutdown corner who would be an outstanding complement to Joe Haden and yet another huge boost to an already formidable secondary. While he doesn't fill any of the team's most desperate needs, he would definitely be a top-notch contributor to the Cleveland defense with immediate impact.
It's exceptionally important for the Browns to draft a DE in the second round if they don't go that route in the first round. Even in my original mock draft, when taking Bowers in round one I still had a DE/DT as my second-round pick as insurance.
Now, with the Browns going with a CB in round one, it's even more important that they get a serviceable, immediate impact DE in round two. I originally had DE/DT Allen Bailey in this slot, but have revised the pick in this version of my mock draft, thanks to helpful suggestions from some very knowledgeable readers and fellow Browns writers.
My top target in round two is DE Brooks Reed out of Arizona. Reed is definitely a superior player to Bailey, and would not have to be converted from DT to DE. Reed finished his college career with 107 tackles and 17 sacks.
Unfortunately, there is a good chance that Reed will be gone by the time the Browns make their second-round selection (many mocks have the Patriots taking Reed in the first round). A good alternative might be Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt. Watt posted comparable numbers to Reed in college (106 tackles, one interception, and two fumbles forced), and is projected to still be on the board in the second round more often than Reed is. Either one would be a good choice for the Browns in round two.
Assuming the Browns don't take Green or another receiver before this point, they absolutely have to take one now.
I know, I know—like the rest of North Carolina's team, Greg Little has character issues. Still, I don't see the incident he was involved in as a reason not to draft him.
The big draw of Little is that he possesses two important qualities for a wide receiver that the Browns current receiving corps seriously lacks. The first is that he has great hands. The second is his ability to maximize yardage after a catch.
In 2010, the Browns receivers were absolutely horrible when it came to yards after reception. Stuckey (because he appeared to be afraid of getting hit) and Massaquoi (because he didn't have the agility and seemed to hesitate after making the grab before hitting the gas pedal) both didn't do enough in this category. Little, on the other hand, is notably good at picking up extra yards after getting a hold of the ball.
Obviously, if there was a comparable receiver available at this point with no black marks on his record in terms of character, he'd probably be the better choice. However, I don't imagine we'll see a receiver with skills and potential comparable to Little's still on the board here, and I think the character concerns for Little are minor enough that I wouldn't consider taking a less-talented receiver in this slot because of them.
At this point in the draft, the Browns will need to focus on solidifying their offensive line and drafting a right tackle.
The Browns have the foundation for a great O-line in Eric Steinbach, Alex Mack and Joe Thomas, but they need serious help on the right side.
Hairston was a left tackle for most of his time with the Clemson Tigers, but he did play some right tackle as a redshirt sophomore, and his size and run-blocking ability seem to suggest that he could do the same for the Browns.
Also important is the fact that Hairston is so durable that his injury risk is practically nil, which would be a welcome thing for the Browns after all the trouble they had keeping RT Tony Pashos healthy and on the field in 2010.
In my original mock draft, I had the Browns taking ILB Casey Matthews in this spot. Matthews is still a tempting pick here from the fan perspective, as he is the son of beloved former Browns OLB Clay Matthews, Jr.
But unfortunately, Casey Matthews just doesn't have the size or the talent to be a viable fifth-round pick at the linebacker position. So it was back to the drawing board for the Browns' fifth-round pick in this version of my mock draft.
I've revised the pick here to Pittsburgh DE Greg Romeus. With the Browns not going with a DE in the first round in this version of my mock draft, I think it's important to get another DE (in addition to the DE taken in the second round) as an insurance policy or, hopefully, as an additional piece to strengthen the Browns' front seven.
It's possible that Romeus could go in the fourth round, but if he's still around here in the fifth, the Browns would be incredibly foolish not to take him. Romeus originally projected as a first-round pick before his final season with the Pitt Panthers, but had back problems that caused his projected draft slot to plummet.
While the back problems are supposedly fixed, there's no guarantee of that. Because of that issue, Romeus would have been far too great a risk as a first-rounder or even as a second- or third-rounder, but if the Browns could get him in round five, it would most certainly be worth taking the chance.
With more pressing needs (hopefully) already filled at this point in the draft, the sixth round is a good time for the Browns to go after a safety to play opposite TJ Ward, particularly if they decide to part ways with Abe Elam.
Boise State SS Jeron Johnson may be a good choice for the job.
Johnson projects as a possible late fifth rounder, so he may be off the board by now. If not, the Browns would be wise to grab him here. Johnson excels against the run, has great ball instincts and is a tough player and leader. The concerning issue for Johnson is mostly size.
While he does have a lot of positives to balance out the size concerns—as was the case with Matthews—we have to acknowledge the fact that it may be enough of an issue that the Browns should think very carefully before drafting him.
Some scouts see Johnson as being so small for the job that they fear he'll miss tackles entirely because of it, though others have made a point of noting that he wraps up opposing ball carriers very well despite often being physically overmatched.
If Johnson is off the board at this point or the size concerns loom too large to ignore, then the Browns may want to look at CB Marcus Gilchrist, S Eric Hagg or S Da'Norris Searcy here.
Marshall ILB Mario Harvey shows up on far more draft boards in Cleveland than he does across the whole mock-draft universe due to his status as a standout on an Ohio-area team that doesn't garner much notice outside the state.
Fans always like the idea of drafting the local players, especially the long-shot types who don't get much attention from the rest of the country on draft day.
In the interest of being totally objective, it has to be said that Harvey isn't this far down the board just because no one outside of Ohio/West Virginia had the chance to discover him. While Harvey has good strength and blitzes well, his size (6'0", 250 pounds) slows him down to the point where he can't react quickly enough to opponents and may struggle with producing as a pass rusher.
Still, Harvey is a hard worker, intensely enthusiastic and about as coachable a player as you can get. With some good instruction and practice, he might be able to develop into at least a passable inside linebacker for the Browns, making him well worth gambling a late-round pick on.
The Browns lost their seventh-round pick to Seattle as compensation for Seneca Wallace, but have another compensatory pick later in the round.
Even if the Browns have taken a top-notch receiver earlier in the draft, I'd like to see them take another here with their final pick as extra insurance.
Seventh-round picks are always low-risk and high-reward, and while most don't pan out all that well in the NFL, sometimes the last round does contain some buried treasure.
Looking at WRs who might be left on the board late in the game, I like Denarius Moore from Tennessee. Moore probably projects as a late-sixth or early seventh-round choice, but as anyone who has ever tried to project late rounds in a mock draft knows, things get so squirrely by the end of the fifth round that pretty much anything is possible.
I like Moore for his ability to track the ball and time his routes, his intelligence, his good hands and his explosive burst of speed off the line. On the downside, scouts have noted that he doesn't get good separation and doesn't break tackles well. Still, I think he's a steal if he lasts until late in the seventh round.
If Moore is off the board at this point, other receivers who might be a good pick at the end of the draft are Michigan State's Mark Dell, DeAndre Brown from Southern Mississippi or Stanford's Ryan Whalen.