The Browns entered the offseason with major holes to fill at defensive end and outside linebacker, and quickly pounced on Baltimore pass rusher Paul Kruger, and Oakland lineman Desmond Bryant as soon as the free agency signing period began. Cleveland added several more veteran players to provide depth, but a number of holes remain. The roster currently appears devoid of starters at cornerback and free safety, and could use help at tight end and guard as well. After shipping Colt McCoy to San Francisco the team now has seven draft choices, but there is little question that the front office would like to recoup the second round pick spent last summer on Josh Gordon. A trade with Miami to move back from six to twelve overall, and acquire one of their two second round picks, appears logical for both teams, and is assumed in this seven round mock draft. Armed with eight total draft picks, here is how things might shake out for the Browns…
First Round, 12th overall (From Miami):
Tyler Eifert TE Notre Dame 6’5 1/2” 250
When last year’s starter Benjamin Watson was set free and signed with the Saints, the Browns were left with third year man Jordan Cameron as the lone tight end on the roster. The team did not neglect the position in free agency – they signed Gary Barnidge from Carolina and Kellen Davis from Chicago, and explored a couple of other options – but there is still no sure fire starter in the fold. Eifert is easily the top player at what has become a premium position, and would be likely to start immediately. He would give Cleveland a reliable red zone receiver, and his blocking would give a boost to the running game. There is such little downside to drafting Eifert that the Browns may consider drafting him sixth overall if a trade with the Dolphins does not materialize.
Second Round, 42nd overall (From Miami):
Blidi Wreh-Wilson CB Connecticut 6’0 3/4” 195
As noted above, the Dolphins have two second round draft picks, and the Browns will surely ask for the higher of the two in a trade so that they will have the best possible chance to acquire a defensive back who can start sooner than later. Wreh-Wilson has not yet been connected to Cleveland as far as pre-draft visits are concerned, but his size and physical style of play should be appealing to the defensive coaching staff. The Browns have shown interest in safety Johnathan Cyprien, but he will probably come off the board before they are on the clock with this pick.
Third Round, 68th overall:
Matt Scott QB Arizona 6’2 1/8” 213
The Browns are exploring the possibility of adding an athletic quarterback, and have shown interest in Geno Smith, E.J. Manuel, and Scott. Not only would they have to stay put at six overall to have a shot at Smith, but they would probably even have to trade up. Not likely. Manuel could be a target in round two, but he has received so much positive buzz lately that there is a strong chance he will come off the board by the middle of the first round. Scott would need time to adapt to the pro game, and probably would not see the field as a rookie, but he has reportedly impressed multiple teams with his workouts. It is evident that Head Coach Rob Chudzinski enjoyed his time coaching Cam Newton in Carolina, and would like to bring Cleveland’s offense into the 21st Century. Scott offers a potential, long-term solution if he pans out.
Fourth Round, 104th overall:
Josh Evans FS Florida 6’1 1/8” 207
The Browns have a crying need for a free safety they can team with T.J. Ward. So much in fact, that exploring a stopgap veteran starter (Kerry Rhodes, maybe?) should still be a priority. Evans is not the ideal ball hawk, but he is solid in coverage and a terrific natural athlete. He showed improvement during his senior season and was part of a stingy Florida passing defense. He followed that by impressing onlookers at the East-West Shrine Game, the scouting combine, and his school’s pro day. Evans would compete for early playing time and has the potential to develop into an eventual starter.
Fifth Round, 139th overall:
Hugh Thornton G Illinois 6’3 1/4” 320
Visits with Chance Warmack, Jonathan Cooper and Larry Warford indicate that the Browns have interest in upgrading the guard position. But the team is not likely to spend an early pick on another offensive lineman with former first round picks at left tackle and center – Joe Thomas and Alex Mack, respectively – and 2012 second round pick Mitchell Schwartz at right tackle. Thornton started 35 games for the Illini and saw time at both guard and tackle. He is an excellent athlete with a background in wrestling. Thornton has the potential to start as a rookie, and would be an outstanding value in the fifth round in that case.
Fifth Round, 164th overall (From San Francisco):
Kenjon Barner RB Oregon 5’9 1/4” 196
Running back is not a “need” for the Browns, but teaming a dynamic threat like Barner with Trent Richardson would give Cleveland’s offense another dimension. Barner has terrific speed and would create mismatches in the passing game. He’s a player who the Browns could use both to spell Richardson, and to use in tandem with their budding star back. Montario Hardesty and Chris Ogbonnaya are solid backups, but neither is the homerun threat that Barner is. As an added bonus, Barner has experience returning punts and kickoffs, and would immediately step into the competition to replace the departed Josh Cribbs at both spots. The Browns clearly aspire to score more touchdowns this season, and a playmaker like Barner would be difficult to pass up late in the fifth round.
Sixth Round, 175th overall:
Jonathan Stewart ILB Texas A&M 6’3 1/2” 242
The Browns could stand to add depth at inside linebacker where D’Qwell Jackson and James-Michael Johnson are penciled in as starters. Stewart is a big, tall linebacker with three-down potential. He runs his forty in the 4.6 second range, and his athletic ability is evident on tape. Stewart is a solid run defender with ability to drop into coverage, and he has experience playing in both 3-4 and 4-3 base defenses. His effectiveness spying mobile quarterbacks and occasionally blitzing adds to his appeal. Stewart gets a little high out of his stance at times, so he can be an easy target for blockers. He is also not the hard-hitting thumper his build would suggest. Still, if a player with Stewart’s upside remains on the board at this late stage in the draft, the Browns would be wise to nab him.
Seventh Round, 227th overall (From Cincinnati via San Francisco):
Russell Shepard WR 6’0 7/8” 196
The Browns need both a kicker and a punter, so either could be the pick here instead. But Shepard, once a highly recruited high school quarterback, offers more bang for the buck. Criminally underutilized on a sometimes-unwatchable LSU offense, Shepard almost considered entering the draft last season. He ultimately returned to school for his senior season and touched the ball a whopping 26 times. Despite his modest stats, Shepard is an exceptional athlete. He runs his forty in under 4.5 seconds, has a 38 1/2” inch vertical leap, and broad jumps over ten feet. More importantly, Shepard has indicated that he will do whatever it takes to make an NFL roster. Along those lines, after being added to the Senior Bowl roster as an injury replacement, he worked extensively as a gunner in punt coverage. A player with Shepard’s versatility and potential to contribute immediately on special teams is an ideal seventh round draft pick.