The Cleveland Browns are setting themselves up to be a pivotal player in next Thursday night’s first round of the NFL Draft. After actively addressing several holes in free agency, the Browns have positioned themselves to go in a variety of different directions on draft weekend. Whether they stay at #6 and select the best available player or move down in a trade remains to be seen, but the list of potential fits is a growing one.
The “Logical” selections:
#1. Dee Milliner CB Alabama
The most glaring hole the Browns currently have is at the cornerback position opposite of defensive cornerstone Joe Haden. This need also coincides with what may be the best player available at #6, if Dee Milliner does actually fall out of the top 5. Milliner is a complete player at the position, with the skills to develop into a shutdown corner while being a strong and willing run defender. Besides being an obvious fit as the draft’s top corner, Milliner also recently endeared himself to Cleveland fans in an interview with the Cleveland plain dealer. In the article, Milliner claimed that if drafted by Cleveland, he and Joe Haden would form the premier cornerback duo in the NFL and that “I definitely think we’d be a playoff contender”. Playoff talk, while foreign, is music to any Browns fans ears. New Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton prefers defensive backs who can hit and runs a pressure heavy system which requires a lot of man to man coverage. Milliner and Haden are both very strong tacklers, while possessing elite athleticism and cover skills. Their ability to lock down the outside will make life miserable for opposing Quarterbacks and receivers while a vastly improved front 7 pins its ears back and attacks. With Cleveland failing to land a starting caliber corner in free agency, they seemingly must look to the position early on draft day.
#2. Jarvis Jones LB Georgia
Jarvis Jones is one of the highest profile draft prospects who has been “dinged” the most throughout the draft process. From his spinal stenosis condition, which varies in severity depending on which report you read, to his 4.9 forty during a lackluster pro day. Jones has seemingly fallen from grace, going from a top 5 lock to somewhere in the mid to late teens. An inconsistent February/March/April can not and should not erase the fact that Jones was the most prolific front 7 defender this past college football season. Leading the country in quarterback sacks(14.5), tackles for loss(24.5), and fumbles forced(7), Jones fit in perfectly to Todd Grantham’s aggressive and attacking 3-4 defense which conceptually is very similar to what Ray Horton will be running in Cleveland. Horton is a former Steelers defensive backs coach who at one time was the heir apparent to Dick LeBeau’s “Blitzburgh” defense. With a style of play that mirrors former Steeler’s All-Pro James Harrison, Jarvis Jones would be an excellent plug and play candidate at outside linebacker and give the Browns terrific depth on the edge with Jabaal Sheard and free agent addition Paul Kruger. In the NFL, you can never have too many pass rushers and Jones did that better than anyone else in college football. Jones is only considered a sleeper because of the depth that Cleveland has at outside linebacker, but the addition of Jones could be the pre-cursor to a trade involving Jabaal Sheard who is making the transition from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker.
The “Sleeper” selection:
Barkevious Mingo LB LSU
While having a player with “Bark” in his first name playing in front of the “Dawg Pound” is a marketing match made in heaven, Barkevious Mingo brings a unique skillset that has yet to be unleashed on opposing offenses. After a promising sophomore season in which Mingo accumulated over 15 tackles for loss and 7 sacks, he seemed poised to take the SEC by storm. Things did not go quite as planned as Mingo struggled to top 50% of his Sophomore production and wasn’t nearly the factor he was supposed to be. When looking more closely at the situation, you will find that Mingo was grossly misused as a strong side contain defensive end and was rarely put into a position to utilize his talents. Combine workouts showed Mingo to be a smooth and incredibly explosive athlete who will be able to thrive in space. Undersized as an in-line DE, Mingo seems like a perfect fit as an outside rush linebacker in a 3-4. The type of quick twitch athlete with an explosive first step that could be unleashed in Ray Horton’s blitz happy scheme. Mingo still has some physical developing to do, but with Paul Kruger, Jabaal Sheard, and Quinton Groves at OLB the Browns could bring Mingo along slowly similar to the way the 49ers developed Aldon Smith. Mingo would be the most explosive edge presence Cleveland has had on its defense since the team returned in 1999.
The “Shocker” selection:
Tavon Austin WR West Virginia
When looking at the blueprint for building an NFL team, a 5’8 175 lb. wide receiver is never very high on the list, but Tavon Austin could be an exception to that rule. Austin was used in a variety of ways at West Virginia, terrorizing defenses as a runner, receiver, and return man. Austin would line up all over the field, in the backfield, the slot, split out wide, in motion, you name it. There wasn’t a single offensive player who posed more of a threat in space than Austin. When looking at the Browns skill players on offense, size is not an issue. Running back Trent Richardson is a rocked out 230 lbs. Wide receivers Josh Gordon, Greg Little, and David Nelson are all above 6’2 and 220 lbs. Even Tight ends Jordan Cameron and Kellen Davis are each over 6’5 250 lbs. What the Browns skill players lack is elite speed, dynamic open field ability, the ability to create something out of nothing, or to put it more simply a “homerun hitter”. Tavon Austin is electric, the type of guy that every coach and every defender has to keep tabs on. Adding an explosive element like Austin to their young and talented offensive unit could be the boost needed to make them dangerous. Both Head Coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner have handled players of similar talents and playing style before. Chudzinski saw the re-birth of Steve Smith as an elite run after the catch weapon in Carolina and Norv Turner got terrific production out of the diminutive Darren Sproles in San Diego. Tavon Austin might not fill a hole or even be anything more than a #3 WR and gadget player, but his impact would be felt from day 1.
The “Don’t be surprised” selection:
The Quarterback position
The Cleveland Browns and their Quarterback situation is a tough one to figure out. They spent the 22nd pick in the 2012 draft on Brandon Weeden who had a rough year a season ago. On the surface, Weeden has a very good skillset which seems to fit the new offensive coaches to a “T” and he’s under contract for 3 more years on a very modest contract. Unfortunately for Weeden, the Browns new general manager Mike Lombardi has been very critical of him in the past and is believed to not think very highly of the 2nd year player. Weeden’s age should not be ignored either. He’ll turn 30 in October, and while that’s not a terrible number for an established QB it’s far from ideal when considering how far Weeden still has to go in his development. Journeyman Jason Campbell was brought in to “challenge” for a starting position, but he’s merely a stop gap until the team settles on a QB of the future. As for what QB’s the Browns will look at, I think that depends on what offense Chudzinski and Turner ultimately decide to run. The offensive scheme will directly impact the style of player they look for.
System #1: Chudzinski’s 2007 Cleveland offense.
In 2007 Rob Chudzinski had a power running game with Jamal Lewis that was supported by a big play vertical passing attack led by the strong armed Derek Anderson and big play receiving threats Braylon Edwards and TE Kellen Winslow jr. This offense would work well with the current personel, especially RB Trent Richardson and WR Josh Gordon. It remains to be seen exactly what type of player Jordan Cameron can become, but the talent is there. If this is indeed the type of offense Chud and Norv look to employ, Weeden or NC State QB Mike Glennon would be excellent fits. Glennon wouldn’t likely be an option at #6, but in the event of a trade down he shouldn’t be discounted. Glennon had an up and down Senior season for the wolfpack. The 6’7 230 lber threw for over 4,000 yards and 31 Td’s but was maddeningly inconsistent and killed his team with 17 costly interceptions. 14 of which came in 5 of NC State’s losses. Glennon may have the most impressive “arm talent” in this years draft, but his inability to protect the football is pushing him out of the first round.
System #2: Chudzinski’s 2011-12 Carolina offense.
When Carolina drafted Cam Newton #1 overall in 2011, Rob Chudzinski designed the offense around the talented Auburn QB. He implemented elements of the read option and heavy usage of 2 TE sets with Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen. It was a power running offense which featured Newton and the RB duo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, while gaining “chunk” yardage in the passing game with the TE’s and Steve Smith who re-emerged as a deep threat. Jason Campbell is a better fit in this type of offense than Weeden(which he alluded to in a conference call after his signing), but that’s not saying much. West Virginia’s Geno Smith or Florida States E.J. Manuel both possess the necessary running and throwing talents to run this style of offense. Both players have been brought into Cleveland for private visits and candidates for the Browns first round pick. E.J. Manuel was a far more willing and effective runner in college than Geno Smith, Manuel also has a build that is far similar to Cam Newton and could help him hold up much better against contact than Smith. Smith was a far more productive player though and a more prolific passer. Both players are intelligent and hard working, while possessing near ideal arm strength the rip the ball through the late season wind off of the Cleveland lake front.
System #3: Norv Turner’s San Diego offense.
Despite struggling due to protection problems the previous two seasons, Norv Turner was very successful in San Diego with QB Philip Rivers. While possessing a good, not great arm, Rivers accuracy and anticipation was put to excellent use in Turners timing based vertical offense. Rivers is a rhythm passer who regularly throws his receivers open and puts them in position to make plays on the ball and move downfield methodically while taking the occasional shot deep. USC’s Matt Barkley and Syracuse QB Ryan Nassib both fit as this style of Quarterback and both have had private visits with Cleveland brass. Nassib is the more athletic of the two, and is a good candidate to run some elements of the read option. Barkley is slightly ahead of Nassib as a thrower and has shown the ability to throw his receivers open and has the most consistent deep ball in the draft. Both players are gym rats and film junkies who represent what every teams wants out of a young QB.
The “Trade Down” selection:
While in most cases every NFL team would love to trade down and acquire additional selections, it takes two to tango and teams rarely love a prospect enough to give up multiple selections. Luckily for the Cleveland Browns, they’re positioned directly in front of the Arizona Cardinals whose desire for a franchise left tackle is currently the drafts worst kept secret. With 3 top 10 worthy offensive tackles available, it is very likely that Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher and Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel are gone within top 5, which would leave Oklahoma LT Lane Johnson at #6 as the last elite tackle prospect available for tackle needy teams like Arizona, Buffalo, San Diego, Miami, and New Orleans. With as many as 5 teams jockeying to secure Lane Johnson’s services, Mike Lombardi could be living a GM’s dream, having his #6 pick in the middle of a bidding war. If the Browns wind up drafting somewhere in the 7-15 range and acquire additional picks in the process, there is no telling which direction they will look. Some prospects ranked in that range who fit what Cleveland is looking to do schematically and have also visited the Browns facility include UNC G Jonathan Cooper and Alabama’s Chance Warmack. Wide Receiver Tavon Austin from West Virginia. Defensive Tackles Sheldon Richardson from Missouri, Florida’s Sharrif Floyd, Utah’s Star Lotulelei, and UCLA DE Datone Jones. Rush Linebackers Dion Jordan from Oregon, LSU’s Barkevious Mingo, Ziggy Ansah from BYU, and Georgia Bulldog Jarvis Jones. Defensive backs Xavier Rhodes from Florida State, Washington Huskie Desmond Trufant, and Texas Longhorn safety Kenny Vaccaro. And don’t forget USC’s Matt Barkley, Florida State Seminole EJ Manuel, Geno Smith from West Virginia, and Ryan Nassib of Syracuse at QB.
Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi inherited a young and talented Cleveland roster this off-season and have already improved it a great deal. What they do at the #6 pick and beyond could be the difference from being a team on the rise to a team in contention. Whether they go with a quarterback, a playmaker, a pass rusher, or a shutdown corner, the Browns are in a position to add the best player available or make a blockbuster trade that will alter the drafts first round. This will be the first test for the new regime and a strong indicator as to what the Cleveland’s blueprint for winning is going to look like.
Topics: 2013 Nfl Draft, Alabama Crimson Tide Football, Barkevious Mingo, Carolina Panthers, Chance Warmack, Cleveland Browns, Dee Milliner, Dion Jordan, EJ Manuel, Florida State Seminoles Football, Geno Smith, Georgia Bulldogs Football, Jarvis Jones, LSU Tigers Football, Matt Barkley, Mike Glennon, North Carolina State Wolfpack, North Carolina Tarheels, Oregon Ducks Football, Ryan Nassib, Syracuse Orange Football, Tavon Austin, USC Trojans Football, West Virginia Mountaineers Football, Xavier Rhodes