I have run through several mock drafts on fanspeak.com and first-pick.com, in an attempt to sort out how I’d rank some guys. Something about being on the clock and having to actually make a choice brings clarity to some debates that may otherwise be very difficult. So, here is how my draft came out. This will no doubt be subject to change as rankings keep getting adjusted in the months (gah, why does it have to be in May?!) leading up to the draft.
Round 1, Pick 4
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
After doing much more research and watching as much video of all of the top few quarterbacks in this draft as I’ve had time for to this point, it has become clear to me that Teddy is my first choice by a significant margin. I’m not 100% sure I’d want any of the others at #26, let alone #4.
Bridgewater has a strong, though not “elite”, arm. He has a good feel in the pocket, moving effectively, and while not a true dual-threat quarterback in the vein of Colin Kaepernick or Russell Wilson, he is mobile enough to make plays with his feet when he has to. Despite a slight frame that has raised concerns, he has taken some shots in college and popped right back up. He has a passion for the game, evidenced in his obvious understanding of how to succeed against his opponents and the attention to detail that can be seen in his play – although some have questioned his passion in the wake of him shying away from fully competing at the combine. His mechanics are excellent, making him a very accurate passer. He also played in a pro-style offense, and though the competition he faced was generally weak, he did show well in big games against tougher defenses. While there are areas in which he can improve, I believe that Teddy Bridgewater represents the best opportunity to find a franchise quarterback high in the draft. Bridgewater has been picked apart a bit, but to me it seems like he is being brushed aside because he’s, for lack of a better word, simply a little boring compared to Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles. Manziel has the Johnny Football hype and the big personality, while Bortles has prototypical size and every Cleveland fan’s favorite word going for him: “upside.” Meanwhile, all Teddy Bridgewater has done is play consistently impressive football, finishing 2013 with 3,970 yards while completing 71% of his passes for 31 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions. If he falls to the Browns at 4, I would be happy to see them grab him.
Round 1, Pick 26
C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
This was a position of need even before the Browns released D’Qwell Jackson. Hopefully they can find a starter in free agency to fill one of the middle linebacker spots. If so, Mosley would look good in the orange and brown next to him.
Mosley is an ideal replacement for DQ52. He has shown the ability to stop the run, blitz the passer, and drop into coverage – a true 3-down linebacker. In addition, Mosley is a very consistent player who didn’t really have a bad game in 2013. He possesses a high football IQ and drives through his target to finish plays. In 2013, Mosley finished with 103 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble and 5 pass break-ups. With continued coaching to become a more consistent tackler, this is someone who can truly be an impact player for the Browns. In my opinion, this is a no-brainer at 26 if he’s there.
Round 2, Pick 12 (From St. Louis)
David Yankey, G, Stanford
St. Louis came calling with an offer of the 12th pick in round 2 and the 11th pick in round 3 in exchange for the 3rd pick in round 2. I accepted it and came away with an extra day 2 pick in this deep draft. And really, it couldn’t have worked out better, as a player that many have ranked as the #1 guard and one of the 30 best players in the draft ends up sliding to the 44th pick.
The 6’6″, 315-pound Yankey should be able to step in as an immediate starter for the Browns. There are some areas of his game that he can work on, but there is little question that he’ll put in the work. He’s already shown that he’ll hit the weight room, adding 75 pounds to his frame since he was a high school junior. Yankey moves well, flashing the ability to be a dominant force when pulling to his right. His blend of strength and athleticism, combined with terrific mobility, give him the opportunity to be an excellent interior lineman in the NFL. His signature moment last year was Stanford’s big matchup against Oregon, where Yankey put on an impressive display of his power and agility. With help to refine his technique, he could become another young stalwart on the Browns offensive line and find a home in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s zone blocking scheme.
Round 3, Pick 7
Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
The Browns will have Dion Lewis back from injury this year, giving them some lightning in their backfield. Carlos Hyde will provide the thunder.
Rated by some as the top running back available in this year’s draft, Hyde showed last year that he has game-changing ability. He didn’t help himself at the combine, running a 4.66 40-yard dash on his first attempt and then bowing out of further running with a hamstring injury. His pro day may re-establish his value, but at this point it wouldn’t be that shocking if he was available at this spot. And he’d be hard to pass on.
When Hyde gets a head of steam and starts rolling downhill he is an all-out lethal runner. While his large 6’0″, 240-pound frame makes him look like a lumbering back and does enable him to gain tough yards, absorbing contact and continuing to power forward, anyone who watched Ohio State this year also saw that Carlos has real top-end speed and is capable of home run plays. After being suspended for the first 3 games of the season, Hyde racked up one impressive workhorse performance after another, including a ridiculous showing against Illinois in which Hyde ran for 246 yards and 4 touchdowns on 24 carries while adding 2 receptions for 26 yards and another touchdown. For the 2013 season he finished with 1,521 yards and 15 touchdowns while averaging a gaudy 7.3 yards per carry and added 16 catches for 147 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Round 3, Pick 11 (From St. Louis)
Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska
While I hope that the Browns will pursue a starting-caliber cornerback to start opposite Joe Haden in free agency (you can see my thoughts on that topic here), the draft is deep at the position and offers some quality options that could potentially challenge for playing time quickly. Jean-Baptiste is one such player.
Standing 6’3″ tall, Jean-Baptiste can match up well with some of the taller receivers in the league. He has shown himself to be proficient in both press and off man coverage, while also answering doubts by showing the ability to play solid zone defense at the Senior Bowl. Jean-Baptiste is very fluid in his hips, especially considering his size, and also possesses excellent ball skills. The biggest question mark with Stanley is his tackling. With his size, he should be expected to step up and show more physicality and make tackles in the open field. If he can do so, he could be a very valuable piece of the Browns defense. Jean-Baptiste led Nebraska with 12 pass break-ups in 2013, while also tying for the team lead with 4 interceptions.
Round 3, Pick 19
Jared Abbrederis, WR, Wisconsin
With the Browns looking for a reliable #2 receiver behind Josh Gordon, the depth at the position in this draft proves to be extremely beneficial as the talented Abbrederis drops all the way to the 83rd pick.
While he may not be the sexiest name in the wide receiver class this year, Abbrederis has the potential to be an extremely productive and reliable player for the Browns offense. He impresses with his outstanding technique at the position, running routes as well as anyone in the draft and executing moves effectively to deceive defensive backs and create separation. While he isn’t going to blow anyone away with his athleticism, he consistently showed the ability to get behind the secondary and flashed more than adequate speed by running a 4.50 40 at the combine. On top of all the other attributes that make him a valuable asset, his hands are excellent.
Abbrederis’ signature game came against the Buckeyes, when he torched potential 1st-round pick Bradley Roby to the tune of 10 receptions for 207 yards and a touchdown. For the season he finished with 78 catches for 1,081 yards and 7 touchdowns, which is all the more impressive when you take into account the poor quarterback play he had to contend with (somewhere Josh Gordon is nodding his head). I think this is a guy that would quickly become a fan favorite here in Cleveland.
Round 4, Pick 6
Dion Bailey, FS, USC
While Tashaun Gipson’s play last season was enough for some to hope that he could be a solution at safety for the Browns, the team would be well-served to add a safety this offseason who can push for a starting spot and at the very least provide depth. Dion Bailey seems the perfect fit, especially in the 4th round.
With background at both safety and linebacker, Bailey has a very intriguing blend of skills. There is no question that he is a playmaker, grabbing 11 interceptions and posting 16.5 tackles for loss and 3 forced fumbles in his 3 years at USC. He rarely gets out of position and plays with intelligence, reading plays and getting to the ball. His experience at linebacker makes him comfortable in traffic, and he will cut through the crowd to make plays near the line of scrimmage. Bailey was a big part of the stellar defensive effort in the Las Vegas Bowl against potential 1st-round pick Derek Carr.
Round 4, Pick 27
Michael Sam, DE/OLB, Missouri
Everyone knows Michael Sam’s name by now, and most are aware of how impressive his play was last season. This late in the draft he could prove to be a steal.
Sam burst onto the scene with Missouri in 2013, posting 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss on his way to winning SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors. Scouts love how he explodes off the line and his ability to close quickly and bring down quarterbacks and ball carriers with excellent technique and power. His size leaves him as a question mark to some. Can he play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense? At this spot in the draft, the Browns can afford to develop him. While Sam can likely contribute immediately as a situational pass rusher and special teamer at the very least, he has shown the ability to diagnose plays and slip blocks against the run. In addition, he occasionally dropped back into coverage in college and showed enough to suggest that he could successfully transition to a starting outside linebacker spot.
With the publicity surrounding Sam after he publicly announced that he is gay, there would no doubt be some concern about the potential for the media frenzy that has followed him since to be a disruption. But the bottom line is that if he plays well, no one will care about the media circus. If he doesn’t play well, the story will likely fade away. The reward is worth the risk with this pick.
Round 5, Pick 5
Ego Ferguson, DT/DE, LSU
I don’t know if the Browns are going to release Ahtyba Rubin or not, but when Ferguson fell to this spot it was too big of an opportunity to pass up.
The 6’3″, 315-pound Ferguson has shown the ability to play all over the defensive line and would add even more depth for the Browns on the line. Most scouting sites have him rated as a 3rd or even 2nd round talent. He possesses good vision and awareness, tracking the play effectively and rarely getting fooled. He is built well and uses his size and strength effectively to hold the point at the line of scrimmage. Ferguson is capable in run defense and also shows the ability to get to the passer. He has the foot speed and agility to get out in space and chase down ball carriers. Fans will also like his aggressive style of play, although he does need to guard against being overly aggressive and committing foolish penalties. He will also need coached up on his technique, but has the talent to develop into a fine player and will have the time to work on his game and improve because of the depth on the Browns d-line.
Of course, I would have thought twice before drafting him if Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi were still with the Browns. But now that they’re gone, there is room for one more Ego in the Browns organization.
Round 6, Pick 4
Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
There are plenty of Browns fans that like the idea of drafting a developmental quarterback at some point in the draft this year, whether the Browns draft a potential franchise QB early on or not. I don’t necessarily think that it’s something they should go out of their way to do, but Mettenberger seemed like too good a value to pass up at this spot, especially considering what else was on the board.
There is a lot to like with Mettenberger’s game. He’s got prototypical size, at 6’5″ and 224 pounds, and possesses a rocket arm. While there was significant doubt about how Mettenberger would translate to the NFL after the 2012 season, he improved exponentially last year under the guidance of Cam Cameron. He displayed better mechanics, improved confidence, and the ability to deliver in the clutch. On the season he completed 65% of his passes while throwing for 3,082 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions. The tools are there for Mettenberger to be a starter at the NFL level, but he still has work to do to get there. In addition to the development still needed with his mechanics, there are other concerns with him.
There are questions about Mettenberger’s confidence and maturity. The perception is that he will need to be handled carefully to help him avoid getting too down when he makes mistakes. Also adding to the concerns: a torn ACL suffered in December, slow-footed in the pocket, struggles at times to feel the rush, needs to improve his pre-snap reads and avoid locking onto his target, and off-field issues which include an arrest for sexual battery and alcohol consumption in 2010 and a history of recreational drug use (although he’s been clean for a couple of years).
There are plenty of projections that have Mettenberger going in the 3rd round. In fact, in a couple of mocks I’ve seen him go in the 2nd. I wouldn’t touch him that high in the draft, but in the 6th round as a developmental project his physical tools and the improvement he showed last year make him worth the pick.
Round 7, Pick 3
Walt Aikens, CB, Liberty
Another tall cornerback, at 6’1″ and 205 pounds, Aikens is an intriguing player who is a nice value in the final round of the draft.
Aikens runs well and plays effectively in press or off man coverage. He has long arms and gets a good jam on receivers when playing press. He has the speed and acceleration to stay with receivers and close on the ball. Aikens is also a competitor who will mix it up in run defense, fighting through blocks and displaying great physicality in wrapping up ballcarriers and bringing them down. He rips at the ball, forcing 6 fumbles during his college career. His willingness to sacrifice his body and make tackles will make him a valuable piece right away on special teams. Aikens impressed at the Senior Bowl, competing with confidence and making it clear that he belonged.
Why does a player with those traits fall to the tail end of the draft? Well, there are character concerns. Aikens ended up playing football for a small school because he was kicked off of the Fighting Illini by head coach Ron Zook after getting arrested for theft in 2010. But as long as Aikens can keep those problems in the past he has a chance to forge a nice career for himself in the NFL.
Rob Magee is a lifelong Browns fan who suffered his most devastating punch to the gut when a friend recorded The Langoliers over his VHS copy of the 1993 Browns vs. Steelers game that featured two Eric Metcalf punt returns for touchdowns. You can follow him on Twitter @robisindy.