Cleveland Browns: 7 Prospects the Browns Must Target in 2011 NFL Draft
Despite bright spots including wins over New Orleans and New England, the 2010 season revealed glaring holes in the Cleveland Browns roster and a talent gap in the AFC North.
If the Browns hope to compete on a consistent level with the Steelers and Ravens, president Mike Holmgren and GM Tom Heckert must work this offseason to close the gap in talent. For this to happen, Holmgren and Heckert must accept that quick fixes through free agency will not bring sustained success and will leave the team back where it started three to four down the road.
The way to develop a winning tradition is through the draft. Browns management laid the foundation with a strong draft last year, including Joe Haden, T.J. Ward and Colt McCoy. Another strong draft will be a huge step toward credibility for the team.
Glaring issues with the Browns are the lack of a No. 1 receiver and consistent pass rusher. Infusion of youth into the linebacking corps would help to shore up the defense. The team also could use a running back to ease the load of Peyton Hillis and help in the secondary as well.
Most of these needs can begin to be satisfied through the following seven players, who would fill holes and help bring the new Browns sustained success for the first time.
Scouting Sources: CBS Sports and Scouts.Inc
Round 1: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
Although new Cleveland Browns head coach Pat Shurmer comes from a strictly offensive background, look for Tom Heckert to select the best player overall on the board when the team selects at No. 6.
Many names like Alabama teammates Julio Jones and Marcell Dareus will be mentioned for the Browns, but Heckert loves to pull the most talented player on the board, and Amukamara should be the pick.
With names like Bowers, Green and Peterson gone, management would love to pair Joe Haden with another young and talented corner. At 6'1'' and 205 lbs., Amukamara has the size and physical tools to succeed at the next level.
At Nebraska, Amukamara showed promise as a back who has strong anticipatory ability and a knack for reading the quarterback's eyes. He possesses great closing speed and fantastic strength for his size, which helps him to break down in space and wrap up ball carriers.
The one knock on Amukamura is his caliber of opposition in the Big 12, but when you dominate an entire conference of receivers, it doesn't matter where it is. Big 12 dominance could equal lockdown corner potential in the NFL.
Round 2: Casey Matthews, MLB, Oregon
"Starting at middle linebacker, No. 57, Claaaaaaaaayyy, er, Casey Matthews!"
It isn't hard to confuse Oregon linebacker Casey Matthews with his famous father (and former Brown) Clay Matthews, Jr. Both men have a nose for the football and a knack for being in on every play, something that endears them to football fans everywhere.
In 2009, the Cleveland Browns traded down in the first round multiple times, even passing up Casey's brother Clay III. Fans of the team need to hope they don't make the same mistake again.
At 6'2'', 235, Matthews is a handful for offenses to contain. While he may not have the same hype as his brother, he showed considerable promise this season, culminating in the BCS Championship Game. Matthews, while he did not fill up the stat sheet, consistently pressured Auburn's Cam Newton and made solid open-field tackles.
While the second round may be a reach for Matthews, his brother was able to use the combine to shoot into the first round. It isn't unreasonable to think Casey could use his workouts to jump up teams' boards.
Round 3: Marcus Gilbert, T, Florida
As a four-year starter at Florida, tackle Marcus Gilbert saw action against some of the best programs in the nation. He also gained experience in two national championship games.
At Florida, Gilbert learned to hone his run blocking skills against the speedy defenses of the SEC. His quick hands help him to sustain his blocks against the run and pass. Gilbert is able to attack linemen quickly, which helps him overcome his inconsistencies against 3-4 fronts.
What stands out about Gilbert is the quality of his competition and his durability. The main cause of Cleveland's inconsistency on the right side of the O-line was due to injuries and weak play. Gilbert could at the very least provide depth and a good presence on run blocking.
Round 4: Terrence Toliver, WR, LSU
Although the Browns need a stud receiver to help Colt McCoy's development, reaching for a player like Julio Jones at No. 6 would be irresponsible.
There will be receivers on the open market for the team to pick up, and pairing young talent with a veteran would be a good scenario. Drafting a receiver like Terrence Toliver of LSU would give the Browns a young wideout with the talent to develop into the top-shelf receiver they've been missing.
In the Cotton Bowl, Toliver's hands and speed were on display against Texas A&M, where he caught five passes for 112 yards and three scores.
At 6'5'', Toliver has the size to become a threat in the West Coast offense Pat Shurmur is sure to enact. It may be a stretch to think he'll be there in the fourth round, but if he is, the team needs to target him.
Round 5: Evan Royster, RB, Penn State
For the Browns to succeed in the West Coast scheme, they need to have a strong running game to complement the passing attack.
In Peyton Hillis, the team has a force to be reckoned with, however, he will not survive taking the full load himself. Because of his injury, the team doesn't know what it has in Montario Hardesty. Drafting a running back in the late rounds to complement the other two backs will give the Browns other options in the backfield.
By picking Royster, the Browns will get a fifth-year senior with experience in a run-first conference. At 6'1'', 212, Royster is big enough to compete at the next level and would be a good fit in the new Browns offense.
Round 6: Alex Henery, K, Nebraska
While it wouldn't be the most popular pick of the draft, the Browns need to consider what to do about their kicking game. Chances are, Holmgren and Heckert will not pay Phil Dawson the close to $3 million annually it will cost to keep him.
At this point in the draft, selecting Nebraska kicker Alex Henery would not be unwise. In 2010, Henery was 18-of-19 on field goals, making him 68-of-76 for his career. That impressive 89 percent on field goals would make him a welcome addition to the Browns' special teams unit.
At 23, Henery would be a good young addition to the team and a reasonable risk in the sixth round.
Round 7: Dane Sanzenbacher, WR, Ohio State
The seventh round is the point in the draft where risks can be taken and pay off substantially.
With their final pick, the Browns need to take a risk on a receiver like Ohio State's Dane Sanzenbacher. He fits the mold of a speedy slot receiver like Julian Edelman. As a senior in 2010, Sanzenbacher caught 55 passes for 948 yards and 11 touchdowns.
At 5'11'', 182, Sanzenbacher is undersized for an NFL receiver, but his speed cannot be denied. As an All-State sprinter in high school, he developed the downfield speed that helped him to become a deep threat at OSU.
What cannot be underestimated about Sanzenbacher are his intangibles. He was widely considered a team leader at Ohio State, and was named the team MVP and most inspirational player in 2010. Cleveland would be making a huge mistake if they passed him up with their final pick.
"With the sixth overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns select..." Those words are the equivalent of the Super Bowl for Browns fans and have been for years.
If Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert hope to change the culture in Cleveland and get the team to an actual Super Bowl, they need to use this draft to infuse the roster with young playmakers.
The preceding seven players by no means will fix the Browns totally, but will be a good start towards finally rebuilding the team.