The football world will be focused on Indianapolis, Indiana for the next week as the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine begins on Tuesday. Although the on field workouts don’t begin until Friday, players have begun arriving in Indy.
Offensive lineman and running backs arrived on Tuesday. Quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends arrive on Wednesday. Defensive linemen and linebackers arrive Thursday and defensive backs will report on Friday.
This is where teams get their hands on 300+ of the best prospects in this April’s NFL Draft. Medical evaluations, psychological tests, on the field workouts as well those very important fifteen minutes teams can get with the prospects are a small piece of the process towards the NFL Draft.
The Cleveland Browns are heading towards once again another very important draft for the organization. With ten picks or more for the fourth time since 2012 and five of the top 65 picks, it’s time for Sashi Brown and company to really hit a home run to send this organization on the right track.
In a draft that’s deep in talent on the defensive side of the ball as well as tight end and running back, the Browns can really add some major pieces to go along with some of the picks they made in last year’s draft to continue building the foundation of this franchise for the future.
Deep class for pass rushers
The Browns defense in 2016 was one of, if not the worst defense in franchise history. It played a major role in the team’s 1-15 record and head coach Hue Jackson made the changes necessary to make it better.
He relieved defensive coordinator Ray Horton and quickly hired former Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. The veteran defensive guru brings his toughness and aggressive defense to Cleveland but it’s lacking the talent Williams needs to make it one of the best in the NFL. Some pieces are in place with defensive tackle Danny Shelton, defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah and linebackers Christian Kirksey and Jamie Collins.
The Browns need that Von Miller impact pass rusher and they get that at the top of the draft. Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett is the consensus top prospect in the draft and has drawn comparisons to 2014 #1 pick Jadeveon Clowney.
Garrett had 47 tackles for a loss and 31 sacks in three years with the Aggies. Many soured on him after he made comments begging the Dallas Cowboys to trade up to draft him but he also said he’ll play for whoever drafts him, including the Browns.
At 6’5 and 262 pounds, he is an explosive athlete who’s got a great work ethic based on everything I’ve read about him. As of now, he’s the odds on favorite to be the top pick for the Browns.
His competition comes in the form of Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen.
At 6’3 and 291 pounds, Allen led the top ranked Crimson Tide defense all the way to the College Football National Championship game. His numbers match up almost identical with Garrett with 44.5 tackles for a loss and 28 sacks in four years at Alabama (3 as a starter).
He can play inside or outside on the defensive line but more than likely will mostly line up alongside Danny Shelton in Williams’ defense although I’m sure he’ll be moving in and out.
If the Browns somehow don’t take either one of those two with the top pick, they’ll possibly still get a top pass rusher in the first round with the 12th overall pick. Stanford’s Solomon Thomas and Tennessee’s Derek Barnett are highly touted prospects and could very likely be gone by the time the Browns pick at 12.
Thomas, only a redshirt sophomore caught a lot of people’s eyes with his performance against North Carolina in the bowl game but he had been dominating all season long with 15 tackles for a loss and 8 sacks en route to winning PAC-12 Defensive Player of the Year.
Barnett broke Reggie White’s sack record with 32 over his three year career at Tennessee. He’s also been compared to White for his ability to stop the run which is something the Browns desperately need after consecutive years of having the worst run defense in the league.
Some of the draft “experts” have called this draft class deep with pass rushers. NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said, “This draft at edge is outstanding.” With Garrett, Allen, Thomas and Barnett at the top as well as Michigan’s Taco Charlton, those are the top names to watch but there’s depth at that position throughout the draft.
Secondary is also deep
The Browns secondary went through a lot of ups and downs throughout the 2016 season.
Joe Haden had a successful comeback season earning a spot as a Pro Bowl alternate and undrafted rookie Briean Boddy-Calhoun was a surprise with three interceptions.
However, Tramon Williams continued to struggle which ultimately led to his release earlier this month and the safety play was horrific at times.
The draft can help the team address these things as it deep with talent at both the cornerback and safety positions. Two prospects of which just happen to be right down the road in Columbus.
Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore and safety Malik Hooker are two of the top 20 prospects by many of the draft experts. They could both very well be top ten picks by the time we get to April’s draft.
Lattimore, while only a redshirt sophomore showed he can fight back from injuries that hampered his first year as a starter and bounce back to make an impact. He recorded four interceptions as well as nine pass breakups and was named to the All-Big Ten team for his success.
Lance Zierlein from NFL.com says Lattimore has the feet, hips and agility to be a top corner in the league and while he doesn’t have as much playing time as other prospects might have, Lattimore’s confidence will help overcome that. He could be a player to watch for the 12th overall pick for the Browns.
If it wasn’t for Garrett and Allen, I’d be demanding the Browns take Malik Hooker number one overall.
He’s a special player and from the first game of the 2016 season for Ohio State, I could tell he was going to be special. He’s a ballhawk and his range to get after the football is unbelievable. His speed is dynamic and he just knows how to cause havoc for receivers.
His seven interceptions were second in the nation and he originally told everyone he was going to stay at Ohio State, he ended up declaring for the draft. He won’t be participating at the combine due to surgery on his shoulder and a hernia but I believe this kid will be a top ten and maybe even a top five pick come April.
LSU’s Jamal Adams and Washington’s Sidney Jones are right up there in terms of talent and will be competing with the Buckeye duo to be the first player selected at their respective positions.
Adams is more physical than Hooker and was the leader of the Tigers defense. He’s also pretty good in coverage with five interceptions in two seasons.
Jones was a two time first team All Pac-12 with the Huskies and had nine interceptions during his time in Washington. He’s got the tools to be a successful corner at the next level but scouts and executives might be nervous about his small frame at 170 pounds.
Add some more playmakers?
The Browns addressed the wide receiver position in last year’s draft by drafting four of them (Corey Coleman, Ricardo Louis, Jordan Payton, Rashard Higgins).
Coleman made a small impact but was hampered by injuries and poor quarterback play and the others never showed any hope. The Browns need to get more playmakers for any potential quarterback they bring in this offseason.
While he’s not a wide receiver, there’s a big time playmaker that should be on the Browns radar at 12: Alabama’s OJ Howard.
The team got a up close look at Howard when they coached him at the Senior Bowl. Howard is the complete package at tight end. He can catch and he can block and was very dominant in both matchups against Clemson for the national championship the last two seasons. Howard has been projected anywhere from the top ten to the bottom of the first round.
It’s a stacked tight end class so teams might not want to spend a first round pick when they can get one in the mid rounds. I think Howard will be in strong consideration at 12 for the Browns.
One tight end to watch that’s catching scouts and experts eyes: Ashland’s Adam Shaheen. At 6’6 and 277 pounds, Shaheen set records at Ashland including 16 touchdowns last year which actually led all of the NCAA for tight ends. NFLDraftScout.com has him ranked as the fourth tight end in the draft class.
At wide receiver, I don’t see the Browns spending another first round pick on a wide receiver although Clemson’s Mike Williams and Central Michigan’s Corey Davis are nice prospects. I would watch the mid rounds for the team to potentially draft one.
Prospects to watch this weekend include
- USC’s JuJu Smith-Schuster
- Ohio State’s Noah Brown
- LSU’s Malachi Dupre
- Alabama’s ArDarius Stewart
- Akron’s Jerome Lane
I know people will ask why I didn’t write about the quarterbacks. It’s the most important position in football and the Browns haven’t had one in forever.
That’ll be coming later this week.