As far as off-seasons go, this is a big one for the Browns. As god-awful painful as this last season was to watch, there were glimmers of hope. The defense was, at times, a dominant, physical unit. With new coach Mike Pettine, they’re likely to be better this year. The offense had more problems, but a core of young studs centered around Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron emerged. Where do we go from here? I’m glad you asked.
The Browns needs list, in no particular order:
Wide Receiver (2-5 needed)
Defensive Line (Depth)
Now, let’s look at how we fill out our roster in one off-season.
This is my first full 7 round mock draft for the Browns. I’ll probably update a newer version after the combine, but here’s where I am right now.
1st Round, 4th Overall Pick
Blake Bortles, QB, University of Central Florida
Blake Bortles gives you a lot to like in a future franchise QB. His size is prototypical for a successful NFL Quarterback at 6’3″ tall and 230 pounds. That frame should do well to survive the rigors of the typically aggressive defenses of the AFC North. Outside of that, he has outstanding arm strength and accuracy. He’s shockingly athletic and can make plays with his legs if the pocket collapses. He’s likely to need some work shortening his delivery, and would benefit greatly from a year or so behind an established passer, such as Brian Hoyer. His non-marque name (ie Johnny Manziel) means that sitting him behind Hoyer for a couple of years isn’t likely to be a dramatic media circus, and so that’s why at 4, I’m taking Bortles.
1st Round, 26th Overall Pick
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State University
Kelvin Benjamin should remind you a lot of Josh Gordon. He’s massive, at 6’5″ tall, 235 pounds. For his frame, he’s got an excellent speed. His combination of size, speed and strength make him a nightmare for defensive backs at the next level, and would provide a ridiculous tandem to guard opposite Josh Gordon. Very few NFL defenses are equipped to deal with two towering, blazing fast wide outs. Benjamin would thrive with the other weapons the Browns have on offense.
2nd Round, 35th Overall Pick
Carlos Hyde, RB, The Ohio State University
I usually hate the homer’s who call for the Browns to draft Ohio State players, or hire Ohio State coaches. It usually doesn’t make any sense, and is based on nothing but homerism. That said, Carlos Hyde is too perfect a match for the Browns to ignore. With the Browns existing backfield speed of Dion Lewis and Edwin Baker, Hyde gives you the bruiser you need to beat up opposing defenses and to succeed in short yardage or red zone situations. The Thunder (Hyde) and Lightning (Lewis) combination is too exciting to miss.
3rd Round, 71st Overall Pick
Jared Abbrederis, WR, Wisconsin
With the power/size combination we’ve built-in Gordon and Kelvin Benjamin, we need a sure handed, capable route runner with great hands to play the slot. James Abbrederis from Wisconsin is the perfect fit, and should be available in the early third round. Abbrederis’ speed is outstanding, and his size makes him elusive. He has great hands and would be an outstanding slot receiver.
3rd Round, 83rd Overall Pick
Christian Jones, ILB, Florida State University
The Browns had a serious defensive hole at the Inside Linebacker Position opposite D’Qwell Jackson. DQ was his normal reliable self, but Craig Robertson and Tank Carder were serious liabilities in coverage against running backs and tight ends. They effectively cost the Browns multiple games. Christian Jones from FSU is the perfect upgrade, and even though he’s likely to be available in the third round, he can become an instant starter. He’s tall, long and fast, and has great hip and foot work. He’s known to absolutely smother tight ends and receivers off the line, and has shown year after year to be able to disrupt passing routes across the middle.
4th Round, 102nd Overall Pick
Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
The Browns would do well to follow the Redskins example and take two QB’s to make sure they get their guy. Due to his ACL injury, Zach Mettenberger has plummeted down most draft boards. The former sure-fire 1st round pick is likely to fall to the late third or early fourth round. If he’s available with the Browns 1st 4th round pick, they need to be smart and take him as insurance to Bortles. He’s similar in size, has great arm strength and solid accuracy. He needs some polish and time to heal, but long-term he very well could be a starter in the NFL.
4th Round, 123rd Overall Pick
E.J. Gaines, CB, Florida State University
The Browns were lucky last year. Buster Skrine improved greatly as a corner opposite Joe Haden. That said, Skrine is still far better and more comfortable covering the slot. Drafting Gaines long-term will allow Skrine to move back where he’s meant to play, and provide stable coverage opposite Haden.
5th Round, 133rd Overall Pick
Bryan Stork, C, Florida State
Bryan Stork is an athletic Center who played Tight End in high school. 6’4″ tall, 306 pounds. This is a depth pick to put behind Alex Mack.
6th Round, 164th Overall Pick
De’Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
De’Anthony Thomas is small (5’9″ tall, 170 pounds) but stupid fast (4.34 40 time). He’s got good hands, incredible speed, and is extremely elusive. He’s a poor man’s Darren Sproles, and would be a good late pick to round out our RB stable.
7th Round, 195th Overall Pick
Christian Bryant, FS, The Ohio State University
Ohio State fans know why this is a safe pick. Christian Bryant would have had a great senior year if not for injury. He was probably the 3rd best player on Ohio State’s defense, and though injured, he’ll likely be ready to play at some point next year. He’ll provide outstanding depth behind Ward and Gipson.
Now that we’ve wrapped up the draft, let’s take a look at how I would handle free agency. For the record, I don’t want to make a ton of noise, but rather aggressively target a couple of key players to fill key needs. First and foremost however, the Browns need to work out long-term deals with free agents Alex Mack and T.J. Ward. They have the money, and there’s no reason to avoid paying two of their best players. Outside of that, the Browns need to hammer out a long-term deal with Joe Haden, who will be a free agent next year. Let’s look at who else they should target to round out the roster.
Jon Asamoah, OG, Kansas City Chiefs
Asamoah would be a great upgrade over any of the Guard the Browns presently have on the roster, and would be a stable starter. He’s shown in his 4 pro years that he is well capable of anchoring his portion of the line. His price tag is likely to be a little high, but it’s worth it to stabilize the weak links on the Browns line.
Chad Rinehart, OG, San Deigo Chargers
If the Browns can’t get a workable deal with Asamoah, the next best bet is Chad Rinehart. Rinehart is a little older (28 years old), but is a known quantity in the NFL. He’s a work horse, and will provide consistent play at what has been an inconsistent position.
Shaun Phillips, OLB, Denver Broncos
Phillips recorded 10 sacks in 2013, and with the Browns outside pass rush noticeably absent after week 7 last year, it would do well to have someone capable to start opposite Paul Kruger. I haven’t given up on last years 6th overall pick Barkevious Mingo just yet, but while he develops the Browns need another viable outside pass rusher. Phillips would provide that, for what should be a reasonable price tag.
Hakeem Nicks, WR, New York Giants
Hakeem Nicks saw his production slide last year, but that was par for the course for the entire Giants offense. That said, his off year likely means he’ll come at a cheaper price tag, and he’s worth adding to fill out or WR core.
With the new roster gains, there are some guys who just need to go away. Some of these cuts are free agents that we should not re-sign, others are players we should outright cut.
And there you have it Browns fans. The Complete Guide to the Cleveland Browns off-season. Leave your thoughts in the comments!
Shawn is an Army Sergeant, husband to the beautiful @MrsStarr, dad to three and lead writer/publisher for Dawg Pound Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @ShawnMStarr or @DawgPounded.