DraftBrowns.com Editor: Brendan Leister
With the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine underway, this looks to be an appropriate time to look at the Cleveland Browns’ team needs. I won’t hit on every single position that could be upgraded, but I will look at the top positions that the team should address during this offseason. If you disagree with my takes, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of the page.
The only proven NFL player that is sure to make the transition to outside linebacker in Ray Horton’s new 3-4 defense is Jabaal Sheard. An elite rushing presence on the other side would do wonders for Sheard and the entire defense. With that being said, the team may not be able to find an elite rusher. Regardless, the position needs to be addressed by adding a player capable of starting along with adding one or two other solid depth players. Expect the position to be addressed through free agency and early in the draft.
Although Tashaun Gipson and Usama Young weren’t bad in 2012, the free safety position could certainly be upgraded and should be. Young always seems to be dealing with injuries and has trouble staying on the field for any extended period of time. Gipson is probably best served as a backup at the position, although I feel he could hold his own as a starter. A free safety with excellent ball skills, instincts, and range would be an ideal fit beside TJ Ward as he mans the strong safety position. The Browns could look for a free safety in free agency, but I personally expect the team to select one at some time during the first four rounds of the draft.
Sheldon Brown had a good 2012 season starting across from Joe Haden, but he is now a free agent. I would like to see the Browns re-sign Brown, but I don’t expect it to happen. Regardless of Brown’s future with the team, the cornerback position needs to be addressed. A corner with the ability to start early on and for the foreseeable future would be ideal. I expect the Browns to dip into the free agent crop of cornerbacks, but don’t be surprised if the team selects one in the draft along with signing one in free agency. As we all know, you can never have too many quality cornerbacks.
Ben Watson and Alex Smith are each free agents this offseason and it is hard to tell if either will be re-signed. If they aren’t, I fully expect the Browns to draft a tight end that possesses the ability to succeed as an in-line tight end. Whatever tight end the Browns pick up, whether it is in free agency or the draft, needs to be a good blocker along with being a threat in the passing game. Third year tight end Jordan Cameron is young, talented, and has loads of potential. However, Cameron is still developing as a blocker. Although he shows flashes and blocks really well at times, he just isn’t consistent enough to be counted on playing in-line on and every down basis at this stage of his career. Expect a lot of production from the tight end position for years to come with Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner now running the Browns’ offense.
In 2012, Reggie Hodges was 34th amongst all punters in gross yards per punt with a 41.8 yard average. He placed 33rd amongst all punters in net yards per punt with an average of 37.1 yards per punt. After missing the entire 2011 season with an achilles tendon tear, it is safe to say Hodges didn’t enjoy the same success he had during the 2010 season. Hodges is a free agent and I don’t expect him to be brought back. Whether it be through free agency or on the third day of the draft, the Browns will most likely bring in a new punter. (The Browns signed Spencer Lanning earlier this offseason, but it would be a stretch to expect him to be handed the starting punter position on opening day in 2013.)
Depth in the front seven
In making the transition to Ray Horton’s 3-4 defense, depth needs to be added at nearly every position in the team’s defensive front seven. Expect depth players to be drafted, traded for, and signed.
Starting right guard Shawn Lauvao has not shown to be a consistent fixture at the position up to this point in his 3-year career. Although he’s shown some good at times, the bad (especially in the run game), is an issue. Lauvao may be better served as a career backup on the interior offensive line than as a starter. Second year left guard Jason Pinkston showed huge improvements in his performance early on in the 2012 season, but his future may be in question after a blood clot in his lung cut his season short. Pinkston isn’t expected to miss any more time, but you just never know with conditions of that severity. John Greco replaced Pinkston at left guard after he went down and showed that he may have what it takes to be a solid starting guard in the NFL. I personally expect the Browns to sign a guard to come in and compete with Pinskton, Lauvao, and Greco for one of the two starting positions. However, I would not be surprised in the least if the team decided to draft a player at the position.
After Phil Dawson’s well-deserved Pro Bowl season in 2012, the longest tenured Cleveland Brown is now a free agent. Amongst all kickers with 300 or more field goal attempts throughout NFL history, Dawson owns the highest success rate with a percentage of 84.034% (converted 300/357 attempts). This feat is even more impressive when you consider the fact that Dawson has played in Cleveland’s weather conditions throughout his entire career. At this point, it is extremely difficult to get a read on if the Browns will be able (or even try) to convince Dawson to finish his career in the brown and orange. If he’s not retained, the team will need to draft or sign a kicker to replace him.
Another season has gone by, but the story remains the same in Cleveland. Brandon Weeden had a very inconsistent rookie season and it is hard to tell what the Browns’ front office thinks of him. However, Weeden’s skill set undoubtedly fits the new coaching staff’s offensive philosophy much better than he did the previous coaching staff’s. I expect the Browns to add competition at the quarterback position through free agency. It probably won’t be a big name player, but it will be a hungry quarterback that has the talent and work ethic to push Weeden throughout the offseason to keep him from becoming complacent. I do not expect the team to draft a quarterback early in the draft. With that being said, the team could target a developmental quarterback on the third day of the draft. I also do not expect the team to give up valuable assets in the form of draft picks in a trade for a signal caller.
Thank you for reading and enjoy watching the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine on NFL Network!