Four weeks ago I began the trend of updating the draft board for the Browns, and my how things have changed since the beginning of week 15 in the NFL season. Finishing the season on a roll with a four-game winning streak, Cleveland avoided the top of the draft slot yet again this year. It looks like the Browns will be drafting seventh this coming April and with the arrival of new team president Mike Holmgren, it will be interesting to see what direction the team will take with said selection.
As has been written many times, the Browns have
10 picks (Update: 11 picks) in the upcoming draft including two in the third round and three in the fifth round. This will be a huge opportunity for the new head man in charge to make a statement with some bold selections that actually contribute on the team next season. The lack of production from Cleveland’s second-rounders in 2009 gives me a sense of pessimism as always, but with 10 picks it will be fairly difficult not to get a few solid starters early on in the proceedings.
Last time when I wrote about the draft where the Browns projected to be within the top three picks, the main question was whether or not the team would go in the direction of a brand new quarterback. This time, after looking more thoroughly at the draft board and some of the mock draft Web sites, the question is now where on the defensive side of the ball is most important? Does Cleveland need another big lineman to make it one of the best in the business or should they find a tackle-monster to work alongside a healthy D’Qwell Jackson? Does a corner back alongside Eric Wright mean more than an play making safety in the image of Ed Reed? There are many ways the team can go but it is definitely looking like defense will be that first pick.
Once again, I am going to trim down the selection board to several picks and analyze them to see who you might like the best for the Browns in this position. Certainly it looks like between St. Louis, Washington, Kansas City and Seattle at the top, many teams will now be looking for a new franchise quarterback. That could possibly leave some of the key defensive stars of the draft to fall all the way into Cleveland’s lap. Just for the reason, I am going to include all of the best defensive prospects starting from the top of the draft board.
When looking at what players will be taken in the first eight or so selections three months from now, it is clear as day that Eric Berry from Tennessee and Ndamukong Suh from Nebraska will hear their names called. When the Browns were looking forward to a top three selection, it was definitely a possibility that the team would end up with either one of these two players. With their hot play at the end of the season however, it remains unlikely although still plausible that one of those two immediate impact players could be a member of the Cleveland Browns organization.
There are then a trio of Florida players that excelled on the field this season and look to be high first round draft picks. Junior corner back Joe Haden leads the bunch and is sure to be the first player at his position selected this coming April. DE Carlos Dunlap and LB Brandon Spikes, who both faced disciplinary issues durin their time in school, are big hitters that figure to be explosive play makers in college. The scenario here has been seen all over the NFL recently with players entering the league with various issues but working harder to improve their play at the next level.
Also on the list are safeties Taylor Mays from USC and Earl Thomas from Texas, along with defensive lineman Gerald McCoy and Derrick Morgan and finally, LB Rolando McClain. Mays was supposed to be in the upper class with Berry before a mediocre senior season while the junior Thomas recently declared for the draft the other day. McCoy was the key in the middle for the Oklahoma defense ever since the loss of current Chicago Bear Tommie Harris while Morgan has made quite the impression on his local newspaper. Finally, McClain is one of the two players listed below who has yet to declare for the draft and still could possibly return to the defending national champions for his senior season.
So there is my list of 10 defensive players among which the Browns will likely make their first selection in the upcoming NFL Draft. In the second round or beyond, the team will probably look to strengthen all of these defensive problems along with more offensive skill players and help for the right side of the line. There are plenty of intriguing prospects during these rounds but the draft update today focuses simply on the defensive players likely to be around with the seventh pick in this year’s process.
Here once again are the stats for those 10 players this season, their current schools and where they are currently slotted in ESPN’s Scouts Inc. Big Board (players who have yet to declare for the draft have an asterisk next to their name):
1. S Eric Berry, Tennessee, 83 tackles and two INT’s
2. DT Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska, 82 tackles, 12 sacks and one INT
3. DT Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma, 32 tackles and six sacks
4. CB Joe Haden, Florida, 57 tackles, three sacks and four INT’s
5. DE Derrick Morgan, Georgia Tech, 52 tackles and 12 sacks
7. *LB Rolando McClain*, Alabama, 101 tackles, four sacks and three INT’s
12. S Earl Thomas, Texas, 63 tackles and eight INT’s
18. S Taylor Mays, Southern Cal, 88 tackles and one INT
20. LB Brandon Spikes, Florida, 52 tackles, three sacks and two INT’s
21. *DE Carlos Dunlap*, Florida, 34 tackles and nine sacks
What all do you say out there? Do you think we will be able to grab Berry or Suh while sitting at the 7th spot in the draft? Who is your favorite selection after the big two defensive players? Will it be more important to pick simply the best player available or is there a glaring need that needs to be filled first? Share your thoughts below.
[Thanks to reader Jason for updating the number of picks in the draft for me. There are actually 11 picks, as he points out below, including a conditional sixth round draft pick from the Carolina Panthers.]
(The photo of Eric Berry above is via Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images.)