The next step in the process that is the NFL Draft has officially begun as the NFL Scouting Combine has taken over the city of Indianapolis, Indiana for the next week. Over 300 players have been invited to show their skills through a number of on the field drills, to get medically checked out and to sit down and talk to the 32 teams in the National Football League. The Cleveland Browns once again are one of the teams to watch leading up to the draft. With the 2nd overall selection, the Browns can go in a number of directions: they can take the franchise quarterback they desperately need, they can draft a pass rusher to get after the likes of Joe Flacco, Andy Dalton and Ben Roethlisberger or they can trade down and stockpile draft picks for the future. Here are the positions and prospects I’ll be watching closely during the combine.
1) Quarterback-the Browns know more than ever that they have to get the franchise quarterback they’ve been desperately coveting since the return of the Browns in 1999. Tim Couch, Brady Quinn, Brandon Weeden and Johnny Manziel have been the franchise’s first round quarterback selections and they haven’t been great. With the 2nd pick, it’s been widely speculated that the team will select either Cal’s Jared Goff or North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz. Head coach Hue Jackson didn’t guarantee we’d take a QB in that spot but I think they have to take one of those two in that spot. They both have the size, arm strength and the ability to move in and out of the pocket that you’d want in a franchise quarterback. If the Browns elect to pass on a QB in the first round, watch out for these prospects in the other rounds: Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg, Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott, Ohio State’s Cardale Jones, Oregon’s Vernon Adams, Stanford’s Kevin Hogan.
2) Offensive Line-If the Browns elect to draft a quarterback, they’ve got to have a solid offensive line to protect that quarterback. Tim Couch’s career was cut short and we never saw his true potential due his numerous times being sacked which led to shoulder injuries. Right Tackle Mitchell Schwartz and Center Alex Mack are set to be free agents and strong chance they won’t be back with the Browns. 2015 first round pick Cam Erving will likely take Mack’s spot if he leaves so the center spot won’t be in question. I don’t see the Browns taking an offensive lineman in the first round with Ole Miss tackle Laremy Tunsil projected to go first overall to Tennessee. Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley and Ohio State’s Taylor Decker are projected first round picks. Guys I’ll be looking at this weekend include projected 2nd round picks Jason Spriggs from Indiana, Germain Ifedi from Texas A&M, projected 3rd round picks Kyle Murphy from Stanford and Joe Haeg from North Dakota State.
3) Defensive Back-In 2014, the Browns secondary was the strongest unit on the field with three Pro Bowlers in Joe Haden, Donte Whitner, and Tashaun Gipson. In 2015, they struggled greatly. Haden missed the majority of the season with a concussion, Whitner and Gipson underwhelmed and free agent acquisition Tramon Williams didn’t live up to expectations as well as 2014 first round pick Justin Gilbert who didn’t see much time on the field. Gipson will be a free agent and is unlikely to return to the Browns. The top defensive back in the draft is Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey who can play either cornerback or safety. Mel Kiper of ESPN said the Browns could look at Ramsey if the Browns elect to not take a QB with the 2nd pick. Ohio State’s Eli Apple could be a target with the 32nd pick at the top of the 2nd round or via a trade up into the late first round. Other prospects I’ll be looking at include Xavien Howard from Baylor, James Bradberry from Samford and Vonn Bell from Ohio State.
4) Wide Receiver-One thing a franchise quarterback needs is weapons and the Browns lack in weapons for their quarterbacks. Although tight end Gary Barnidge and wide receiver Travis Benjamin had breakout seasons in 2015, Benjamin’s talks for a new contract broke down and he will test free agency. Josh Gordon is awaiting word on whether or not he’ll be reinstated after his suspension for violating the substance abusers policy. There isn’t a receiver worthy of the Browns first round pick but there’s options in the other rounds. Michael Thomas from Ohio State could be there for the Browns at the top of the second round as well as his teammate Braxton Miller. Notre Dame’s Will Fuller and Pittsburgh’s Tyler Boyd could also be an option at 32. One guy I’d like to see in the on the field drills is Illinois receiver Geronimo Allison, at 6’3, 200 lbs. and a 4.4 40 yard dash time, the Browns could find a red zone threat in the mid rounds.
5) Middle Linebacker-Karlos Dansby is 34 years old and even though he had a great 2015 season with 108 tackles and 3 interceptions (2 of which he returned for a touchdown), he’s on the downside of his career. Craig Robertson has been solid throughout his tenure but not an impact player. Third year player Christian Kirksey has yet to make an impact although he’s good in coverage but can’t seem to jump Robertson on the depth chart. Jaylon Smith out of Notre Dame who was once to be a for sure top 10 pick may slip due to his injury he suffered in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State. If his injuries force him out for the entire 2016 NFL season, he may slip all the way to 32 for the Browns in the 2nd round. Scooby Wright III out of Arizona State is projected in the 2nd or 3rd round right now due to his injury plagued 2015 season but a successful combine could bring his stock back up from what it was coming into the 2015 season. Other linebackers to watch include Alabama’s Reggie Ragland, Missouri’s Kentrell Brothers and Kentucky’s Josh Forrest.