Hope Springs Eternal NFL Draft Preview: Cleveland Browns

#4 Pick in 2012 NFL Draft, held on April 26-28

New regimes usually mean bad football and that is exactly what happened with the 2011 Browns.  Eric Mangini and his 3-4 defense were canned in favor of Pat Shumur’s offensive mind and Dick Jauron’s 4-3.  The Browns had built up a lot of promising play towards the end of the 2010 season but that did not carry over to the 2011 squad.  Sure they had some key injuries, mainly to their running game with perennially top guard Eric Steinbach sidelined for the year in addition to the injury riddled RB corps (Peyton Hillis and Montario Hardesty).  Their defensive scheme change required an influx of new, younger talent as well which of course takes time to mature.  And then there is the question of Colt McCoy and his ability to be an every week starter in this league.

The Browns have needs on both sides of the ball but the offense is in more dire need of talent.  Their biggest needs are: QB as McCoy has yet to proven himself to be the “franchise” type player at the position, WR where there really is a dearth of actual receiving talent (Josh Cribbs is a nice piece and a great return man but only a mediocre receiver), RB where Hardesty never took the reins when Hillis was hurt and of course the ongoing contract disputes between Hillis and the organization, and LB as their best player is the oft-injured D’Qwell Jackson and the rest are basically fillers.  The Browns are at a very interesting spot in the draft though where there may not be a player worthy of a high pick at three of their positions of need (basically if Griffin and Blackmon are picked before #4 and there are no OLBs near close to being top ten picks, let alone top five).

However the Browns will still probably be targeting WR Justin Blackmon and QB Robert Griffin III (unless they decide to make a play for Green Bay Packers’ back-up QB Matt Flynn) as well as RB Trent Richardson.  There aren’t really any LBs that deserve such a high pick.  In Blackmon they would be getting a true #1 WR who is a good route runner in addition to being able to stretch the field, something the Browns have lacked for quite some time.  Griffin is a very interesting prospect as his stock could not be any higher at the moment.  He showed marked improvement this past college season en route to him becoming the latest Heisman Trophy winner, however there is still a lot to improve upon.  Nonetheless Griffin can do it with both his arm and feet and could become a better Donovan McNabb if he continues to improve.  Richardson on the other hand, who many regard as perhaps one of the best prospects this year, could end up being the solution to the RB woes of the Browns.  The question there would be whether an RB is worth a top five pick.  I also might not be surprised to see a trade down later into the round, especially if Griffin is still on the board.  It wouldn’t be the first time in the past few years the Browns have traded down in the first round (they made a few trades in the 2009 draft, trading out of the fifth overall pick so the Jets could select Mark Sanchez.  I think Blackmon ends up being the pick if he is available though, he along with Greg Little (a 2011 rookie WR) could give the Browns a very nice, young receiving corps.

Best Case Scenario

There are two here for me.  The first would be if both Griffin or Blackmon were still available.  Then they would get their choice between their top three positions of need.  More choices are usually better than fewer choices.

The second and perhaps more intriguing scenario would be if the Browns sign Matt Flynn as a free agent and Blackmon had already been taken while Griffin was still on the board.  Clearly they could still use the pick to draft Richardson but the more enticing proposal would be a trade down.  There will be many teams that are in dire need of a QB that would most likely be willing to trade up before the Redskins (who pick at 6) in order to get their QB of the future.  With Flynn already pegged as the starter the Browns could end up getting some nice value and trading down just a few spots (the Dolphins, Bills, Chiefs, and Seahawks pick 8-12) and still may be able to draft Richardson while also gaining a few picks.

Sleeper Prospects for the Browns

Ronnell Lewis, OLB Oklahoma, 2nd – The Browns are getting old at LB, which doesn’t really matter anyways since none of their OLBs are anything to write home about.  Lewis’s greatest attribute is tackling which has almost become a lost artform in today’s game.  He also is very effective as a pass rusher and has pretty good size and speed for his position.  His coverage skills may be a bit of a concern but those can be taught over time.

Brian Quick, WR Appalachian State, 3rd/4th – If the Browns can’t draft Blackmon in the first and fail to address the position within the first three rounds Quick could be a guy they target.  He’s got great size, hovering around 6’3″ and 220 lbs.  He doesn’t offer much big play ability but he isn’t afraid to go over the middle and a guy with his height would be a real asset over the middle.  He is a small school prospect (FCS division to be exact) so he may take a little time to develop but his size alone will most likely open eyes.

Brandon Mosley, OT Auburn, Mid-round – The left side of the Browns line is set with Joe Thomas and Eric Steinbach, however everything to the right of their center Alex Mack isn’t set in stone.  Mosley has fairly good size and is still capable of putting more muscle/weight on his frame.  He also did not play OL until he got to Auburn (he had a few years in military academy and JC before finally settling in at Auburn) so he might not be as polished as some of the prospects.  However he is a pretty good run blocker and will continue to improve with more time at the position.  He is known as being a tough guy and you can never have too much toughness on the OL.  Mosley could end up becoming a very solid RT prospect if he continues to improve.

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