NFL Draft 2011: 10 Rookies Who Will Have the Browns Thinking "Playoffs" in 2011
After the magnificent 2010 NFL Draft put together by GM Tom Heckert and team president Mike Holmgren, might the Browns be headed for the playoffs in 2011 with another solid April?
The Browns are probably salivating about the idea of acquiring Georgia star receiver A.J. Green, because if he can take Cleveland's passing game from 29th in 2010 to top-20 or beyond in 2011, they will seriously compete in the AFC North.
The Browns showed shades of a stifling and ferocious pass defense in 2010, as rookies Joe Haden and T.J. Ward looked more like veterans.
With the secondary finally aligning, if Cleveland adds names like Da'Quan Bowers or Steven Paea, the pass rush won't be something to joke about anymore.
For Heckert, the possibilities are endless when considering his team's desperate needs on the defensive line. If Da'Quan Bowers is picked No. 6, and they can grab a wide receiver in round two, we'll be looking at a great draft.
Who else is a big difference maker, and could have the Orange and Brown considering the playoffs for the first time since 2007 (they appeared last in 2001)? Let's take a look...
10. Leonard Hankerson (WR, Miami)
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Leonard Hankerson is almost the complete package at wide receiver, and can almost be considered a bargain if the Browns can grab him in the second round.
Coming from a school renown for its great receiver talent (Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne, Michael Irvin), Hankerson showcases unbelievable speed, and a 6'2", 209-pound build. He set records at Miami in 2010 after exceeding 1,000 yards receiving.
Hankerson's size is what makes him most intriguing in a West Coast offense. The fact that he runs in bursts will allow Colt McCoy to deliver pin-point passes in his direction with enough room for Hankerson to turn up field. He's the kind of receiver who will go up to get the ball, and McCoy would love a big target.
If Hankerson can avoid dropping too many passes on short and intermediate routes, he'll fit great with the Browns.
Hankerson has taken drastic steps forward as a receiver since his freshman and sophomore seasons at Miami, and will continue to grow with the rest of Cleveland's young receivers.
9. Marvin Austin (DT, North Carolina)
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Marvin Austin is part of a long list of North Carolina football players who were suspended for the entire 2010 season.
Austin was formerly the best defensive tackle in the 2006 recruiting class, so the talent is there, but his head may not be. He was suspended in 2010 for accepting improper benefits from an agent.
As for his talent, Austin can be a beast when he wants to, and also addresses a gaping hole in the middle of Cleveland's defensive line. He's the type of lineman who will load up for the big hit, and loves to get after the quarterback.
Austin has tremendous upper body strength and shows a relentless desire to catch the quarterback.
On the rushing end of things, he needs to do a better job shrinking the backfield, but it's nothing that he can't improve on, considering Austin weighs 312 pounds.
Austin's potential could be steal in the middle rounds.
8. Jabaal Sheard (DE, Pittsburgh)
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Jabaal Sheard shares a spotlight with teammate Greg Romeus in this draft, and Sheard might be underrated as a potential second round pick.
He's stronger than his 6'3", 260 pound frame indicates, and plays with outstanding intensity.
Instead of using finesse moves to get to the quarterback, Sheard prefers to get lower, pushing underneath an offensive lineman's pads. It's called a bull rush.
Sheard's effort can't be mentioned enough. He's constantly thirsty to attack the quarterback, and shows solid sideline speed. Athleticism is usually a problem for offensive linemen.
He was a team captain at Pittsburgh, and even with some injuries in 2009, he battled through them and kept the defense playing well. Over the past two seasons, several hustle players have played well for the Browns (David Bowens, Scott Fujita, Ahtyba Rubin).
Cleveland's defense is young, but packed with potential. Sheard fits the build as a guy Browns fans will love, especially if he continues to play until the whistle blows.
7. Martez Wilson (LB, Illinois)
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Martez Wilson is the top inside linebacker on draft boards across the county, and with good reason, too. He's what someone would call an impact player.
At 6'4" and 250 pounds, Wilson has great speed (4.42 40-time), and a nose for the ball. He often played man defense against tight ends in his college career, and has the ability to go downfield (30+ yards) while keeping up with an intended receiver.
Wilson had a whopping 111 tackles with Illinois in 2010. He relies on his athleticism a lot, but at Wilson's position, there are very few NFL players who can run like him.
He has attitude problems, which is probably the reason for his second round projection, but Wilson would be of great value to the Browns.
Andra Davis and D'Qwell Jackson were the last solid linebackers to play in Cleveland, and the defense would thrive with an "X-factor" on the front seven.
The Browns don't necessarily need a linebacker, but Wilson would be a great piece to build around in the new 4-3 defensive scheme.
6. Adrian Clayborn (DE, Iowa)
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Now, Adrian Clayborn has been falling on draft boards because of a medical condition called Erb's Palsy in which his right arm goes numb. However, it's a good thing for the Browns.
If, somehow, Clayborn falls out of the first round, he might end up being the biggest steal in the NFL Draft. Iowa was widely considered to have the best defensive line in the country in 2010, and Clayborn was the biggest reason for it.
At 281 pounds, he's unusually massive for a defensive end. You can't question his heart, considering he almost lost all hope of ever playing sports again in high school.
Clayborn is obviously not a speed lineman, but his strength and violent arms would be indescribably beneficial for this new Browns defensive line.
Clayborn likes to knock his counterparts backward, and he probably won't have any problems against a running back or fullback whose designated as blocker.
Adding to Clayborn's remarkable story is the fact that he was a unanimous All-American selection in 2010, and was named a permanent captain by Iowa coaches. He's another player who'll capture the hearts of Cleveland fans because of his emotion. Clayborn has the fire and intensity to be an immediate star in the NFL, but only if his health permits.
5. Stephen Paea (DT, Oregon State)
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Stephen Paea addresses an urgent need for a big man in the middle of Cleveland's line. He's only 6'1", but at 300+ pounds, Paea will probably be doubled-teamed with time.
He's not going to rack up sacks, but if the Browns end up drafting a defensive end in the first round, Paea will play a perfect role with Cleveland.
In a way, you can compare Paea's build to that of Casey Hampton, a Pro Bowl lineman for Pittsburgh.
Like Shaun Rogers used to be for the Browns, Paea will be a difference maker because of his brute strength, and initial burst off the line.
At the combine, Paea pumped a 225-pound weight 49 times, and can squat 600 pounds. His 49 repetitions is now an NFL combine record.
Paea is projected to be drafted in the second round, close to where the Browns pick (38). He will most-likely start immediately if drafted by Cleveland, and will be a stopper in the middle for years to come.
4. Da'Quan Bowers (DE, Clemson)
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If the Browns were to draft Da'Quan Bowers, he'd become the centerpiece up front in the team's new 4-3 defensive scheme.
Scouts from CBS Sports and ESPN say Bowers is a ready-made NFL defensive end with ridiculous strength. He's 280 pounds, and haunts offensive tackles from the strong side of the line.
Defensive end is one of many needs for the Browns, who haven't gotten any pressure off the edge since Kamerion Wimbley's decent 2009 campaign.
Mike Holmgren cleaned house this offseason, letting go of several veteran linemen as well.
Bowers loves to use his upper body, and he's excellent in both the pass rush and as a run stopper. He has great closing speed and the ability to get to the sideline and make a play.
He was hampered by some injuries in 2010, but Bowers is worthy being a top-six pick.
He recorded 16 sacks with Clemson in 2010. Bowers' former mentor Gaines Adams, who passed away recently, will be motivating him to be successful in the NFL.
The Browns need his energy and passion, and Bowers would be a solid selection in the first round for Cleveland.
3. Patrick Peterson (CB, LSU)
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You're probably thinking: "even if Patrick Peterson was available at No. 6, why would the Browns take him?" Well, if Peterson is indeed the uniquely-gifted athlete he's been pronounced to be, Cleveland will benefit greatly from his presence.
With Peterson, the Browns can actually be labeled "elite" at the cornerback position. Cleveland hasn't had an elite position since returning to the league in 1999.
Sheldon Brown would then become a tremendous third option in the nickel and dime packages, and the Browns will be locking receivers down since Joe Haden is already outstanding.
Peterson is rated No. 1 on CBS Sports' talent board. In 2010, he won both the Bednarik Award as the nation's top defender and the Thorpe Award as the top defensive back.
Cornerback is by no means a need for the Browns aside from a replacement for Eric Wright, but Cleveland can't go wrong if somehow Peterson falls outside of the top five draftees.
2. Julio Jones (WR, Alabama)
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Julio Jones was a top talent in the SEC, and now, he has a chance to revive a Cleveland passing offense that hasn't done well since Derek Anderson's surprising 2007 season.
Jones ran a 4.34 40-time at the combine, but it was with a broken leg! He's got great speed for a guy whose 6'3" and 220 pounds.
Initially, because of his size, the impression on Jones as an NFL receiver was that he'd be more of a T.J. Houshmandzadeh-type player. Now, we know he has the ability to burn a defender down field and make the big play.
Perhaps Jones' best quality is his ability to improvise with the football, as he piled up 1,133 yards in 2010, and caught 78 passes. Those great stats don't display Jones' full potential though, because once he cuts down on dropped passes, he'll be elite.
He will be highly considered by the Browns if A.J. Green is taken before pick No. 6, and quite frankly, there's not a large talent discrepancy between the two stars.
A.J. Green will make more spectacular plays, but Jones will move the chains. Colt McCoy would love the idea of a 6'3" receiver to throw to as well.
1. A.J. Green (WR, Georgia)
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With comparisons to Calvin Johnson, there isn't a chance that Cleveland would pass on A.J. Green if he was available at pick No. 6.
Granted, wide receiver is probably the most difficult position to succeed at as a rookie, but Green has all the tools to do so. He is taller than Julio Jones, and jumps higher. In 2010, Green had nine touchdowns despite missing four regular season games.
He's also been put through the ultimate test of playing in the SEC, and has succeeded in becoming one of the conference's all-time great receivers.
Drafting Green would be the best possible solution to Cleveland's passing problems. He'd grow and progress at the same time as Colt McCoy, who's expected to play his first full season as a starting quarterback.
Green's mentor and former Georgia teammate Mohamed Massaquoi is currently Cleveland's No. 1 receiver. Both of these guys can establish ultimate chemistry once again, and take the passing game to new heights.
Since Colt McCoy is already so accurate, once he establishes a comfort level throwing long, Green will optimize his potential.
It doesn't happen very often that a player as special as Green will be on the board at No. 6, but if the Browns get him, there's no telling how good the team will be in the future.
Green would give Cleveland an automatic A+ for the draft.