This is the first of a two-part segment on the 2011 NFL Draft: This first edition analyzes the current draft forecast and matches up general options at the No. 6 pick to the current Browns roster. The next article will analyze the stories of the individual players likely to be available.
Just like last year, it is now time to start analyzing the top prospects available for the Cleveland Browns in the upcoming NFL Draft. The franchise is in a different position than 12 months ago, as despite the success of quarterback Colt McCoy and running back Peyton Hillis, the team finished with another 5-11 record and is now hunting for a new head coach.
This April, the Browns will look to add more pieces to compliment star rookies McCoy, cornerback Joe Haden and safety T.J. Ward. An improved defense shined throughout 2010, but more playmakers are necessary on both sides of the ball to take the next step. Stay tuned below the jump for a look at where things stand right now.
Getting (Not So) Lucky
Ultimately, one of the biggest changes in the 2011 NFL Draft scene arrived when Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck announced that he will be remaining in school. Foregoing an opportunity to be the top pick in the draft much like Matt Leinart before him, Luck changed the spectrum of the entire first half of the first round.
For the Carolina Panthers and other top teams searching for a quarterback, well, you might just be over-reaching within those first 10 picks. Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert, Arkansas’ Ryan Mallet, Washington’s Jake Locker and Auburn’s Cam Newton don’t have the same upside, poise, pocket presence and NFL-readiness as Luck, and thus it could lead to some trades to move down to find those franchise stars.
Either way, it actually hurts the Browns chances at landing their top chance at the sixth position in the first round. With the Panthers and potentially other teams now left suddenly scrambling, all of the other top players now are ripe for the picking for teams that might also have been in the market for Luck. Some draft sites are even projecting a wide receiver to potentially be the first pick in the draft, but ultimately, no one really knows what Carolina might do, let alone the next four teams before Cleveland.
From that storyline, it seems appropriate to begin analyzing the top first round prospects for this year’s draft. With Luck off the board, the majority of options boil down to defensive line, cornerback or wide receiver. While the Browns will certainly have other holes to fill throughout the offseason, but these are the clear strengths of this year’s first round.
Bolstering the defensive line, the most densely populated of these three areas in the draft, would continue to boost one of the strong points already for Cleveland. Ahytba Rubin had another impressive year despite the back-and-forth injuries to Shaun Rogers, the rush defense was much improved, and one more playmaker could be the difference for an elite defensive unit overall.
Meanwhile, a cornerback could be an intriguing alternative option to reach that goal. Joe Haden didn’t start until Eric Wright’s injury in Week 11, but he still managed to lead the team in passes defended and interceptions. That speaks volumes to Wright’s regression this season, and the need for another shutdown corner in the secondary. This would be adding to the team’s primary defensive weakness with the means available at this selection.
Finally, there is no doubt that McCoy requires additional offensive weapons in the passing game. Ben Watson was his usual target all season, and the combination of Mohammed Massaquoi, Brian Robiskie and Josh Cribbs just won’t cut it for very long. The first round options here are slightly more limited than the previous two positions, so this could be difficult to fill with this pick too.
Here is the current ESPN.com/Scouts, Inc. Big Board:
1. QB Andrew Luck*, Stanford, 3,338 pass (70.7%), 32 TD/8 INT, 453 rush and 3 TD’s
2. DE Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson, 67 tackles, 16 sacks and one INT
3. DT Nick Fairley, Auburn, 55 tackles, 11 sacks and one INT
4. CB Patrick Peterson, LSU, 42 tackles and four INT’s
5. WR A.J. Green, Georgia, 57 catch, 848 rec and 9 TD’s (in 9 games)
6. DE Robert Quinn, North Carolina, 52 tackles and 11 sacks (from 2009)
7. CB Prince Amukamara, Nebraska, 59 tackles and one sack
8. DT Marcell Dareus, Alabama, 33 tackles and five sacks (in 11 games)
9. DE Adrian Clayborn, Iowa, 52 tackles and four sacks
10. DT Stephen Paea, Oregon State, 45 tackles and six sacks (in 11 games)
17. WR Julio Jones, Alabama, 78 catch, 1,133 rec and 7 TD’s
25. WR Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State, 111 catch, 1,782 rec and 20 TD’s
* Luck announced that he will be returning to Stanford next season.
Mock Drafts Du Jour
Dareus – “The Browns would love to land a top-tier weapon for the impressive Colt McCoy like A.J. Green. But if Green isn’t available, Cleveland will almost certainly beef up its front seven. The worst player on Cleveland’s stop unit is defensive end Brian Schaefering. He has to be upgraded.” [WalterFootball.com]
Amukamara – “The Browns get a great cover corner with this pick. They have struggled defensively over the last couple years especially by giving up big plays. Amukamara is a shut down corner and should start right away as a rookie.” [NewNFLDraft.com]
Amukamara – “Not a huge need, but put this guy opposite youngster Joe Haden and the Browns secondary becomes one of the best young group in the NFL.” [DraftSeason.com]
Blackmon – “Blackmon, a redshirt sophomore, led the country in receiving in 2010. If he declares for the 2011 draft, his mixture of his great hands, great route-running, and great production should cause him to jump off the board quickly.” [NFL Fanhouse]
(Photo above via Richard Shiro, Associated Press and Rusty Costanza/The Times-Picayune)