Expecting the Unexpected From Carolina

Veteran journalist Mark Leonard is back to discuss the upcoming NFL draft. You can find the Mark’s other guest pieces here and here. Mark is a Lorain native who loves writing about his favorite teams.

What would the Cleveland Browns end up doing at six if the Carolina Panthers actually chose to do what would be best for themselves—instead of selecting Auburn QB Cam Newton first overall?

If Alabama DT Marcell Dareus rightfully went atop next Thursday’s draft, LSU CB Patrick Peterson, Texas A&M OLB Von Miller, Georgia WR AJ Green and UNC’s Robert Quinn, drafted as an OLB by Arizona, might all expect to promptly drop from the board.

Left prominently available for selection at slot #6 would be Clemson DE Da’Quan Bowers, Alabama WR Julio Jones, Auburn DT Nick Fairley, Nebraska CB Prince Amukamara and less-celebrated pass-rushers like Missouri’s Aldon Smith and Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan, both of whom are DE/OLB hybrids, might re-enter prominence in Cleveland’s conversations. Even Illinois DT Corey Luiget might warrant consideration, as could Iowa DE Adrian Clayborn.

Presumably, each of these thus far mentioned teams have already anticipated precisely this scenario. It is the type of thing for which they’ve been preparing during these many days of pre-draft buildup.

Would the presence of any of these prospects, when factored into the evolving reality of things, inspire heated discussion in other war rooms eager to position themselves in front of SF at 7 and Tenn at 8?

Otherwise, the Browns are left to select from a board now lacking all of its top five players, the cleanest and best-projected of the 2011 draft class. False alarm attached to passer prospects would not have soiled the earliest draft decisions.

Denver would have in Peterson probably the top-rated overall athlete, one able to impact at CB or FS and/or return-specialist, though one would have to wonder how long (if ever) the Broncos would expose a starting DB to ‘teams abuse. Buffalo would have in Miller the edge-rusher they’ve so long needed in their 3-4, much as the Niners would have satisfied a similar appetite later with Quinn. In between, the Bengals would have snagged the process’s foremost offensive playmaker, Green.

Cleveland and its fans would have no opportunity to embrace any of them. Who would their preference then be?

Most area fans would presumably wish for the Browns to snatch Jones. The game-breaking Crimson Tide WR carries the endorsement of his collegiate head coach Nick Saban, a one-time NFL leader who says Jones would’ve been a certain top-ten pick in any of the drafts in which he was involved. Though 6-4 211 and doing so on with a broken foot bone, Jones ran an incredible 4.37 during Combine trials. He is thought ideal for the West Coast system being installed along the North Coast. He might be that “home-run hitter” club president Mike Holmgren is admittedly pursuing.

But Bowers and Fairley entered the post-season at or near the very top of many draft charts, only to have become devalued through hyper analysis. Bowers reportedly has knee issues and doesn’t quite have that explosive first step one finds in elite sack-specialists, something he flashed the potential to become while leading the nation with 15.5 sacks and 25 tackles for loss last fall.

Fairley helped Cam Newton lead the Tigers to that school’s first national championship since 1959 Questions about his commitment and professionalism have dimmed opinions of him. But he, too, made a great many behind-the-line-of-scrimmage stops in his career, though most all of them came in this past season of excellence. Cleveland Head Coach Pat Schumur has been quoted as saying it’s the in-his-face pass rush that most disrupts a QB.

Amukamara may be the Browns’ best shot at a deal-down, as both SF and Tenn have identified CB as a spot they’d like reinforced, as have Dallas, picking ninth, Houston, 11th, Minnesota at 12 and Detroit at 13. Smith, Clayborn and/or Kerrigan might still be found in that range from which to become a pass-rushing candidate in Cleveland’s new 4-3. Same would be true for Luiget, though he’d function from the interior.

At any rate, the contemplation is intriguing and may become quite necessary, if only the Panthers begin to see clearly and recognize 2011 presents a stellar opportunity to improve themselves at their most pressing position with a virtual sure-fire front wall performer.

Dareus is as spotless a prospect as exists this spring and is scheme-versatile, likely to excel in either the 3-4 or the 4-3 utilized in Charlotte. Joining young ends Charles Johnson and Everette Brown, as well as a mobile unit of LBs—consisting of Thomas Davis, Jon Beason, James Anderson and top-reserve Dan Connor—Dareus might propel Ron Rivera’s new outfit into legitimate respectability rather quickly, even in a ferocious division containing three double-figure-win rivals.

As for what might become of Newton, his availability would figure to also lessen urgency for another Missouri Tiger, QB Blaine Gabbert, though it is possible someone out there may want to beat the Niners to the pick of this year’s litter. That, of course, would constitute another opportunity for Browns’ GM Tom Heckert to entertain a deal-down.

The short of it is, should the Panthers come to their senses between now and next Thursday, the Browns may find themselves confronting an interesting list of potentials not necessarily envisioned by most analysts, either in or outside the sport. And what would be done with the Cleveland pick would assume a much more captivating profile than originally imagined, creating fascinating alternatives to Holmgren, Heckert, Schumur and club scouts.

Wouldn’t you agree?

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com DP

    If both the QBs are still there, one would think (hope?) the Browns could target who they want and also move down a few spots to pick up an extra pick or two.

  • bobby

    I agree with DP. It is a dream scenario to move down because a team like Minny, Washington or even Tennessee would probably jump at the chance to get their franchise QB. If the Browns were to stay put in that scenario, I would bet the pick is Fairley. Anchor the middle, have experienced coaches who would be able to get the most out of him (hopefully).

  • sealedhuman

    If this happens, I sincerely hope DP is right about an attempt to move back. I think Fairley is going to be a huge bust.

  • jaymesbawned

    My thoughts are, if PAt Pete and Green are both gone, there will be a QB left, we can trade down with Tennessee and still get Julio, Fairley, or Prince.

  • Jon

    Wouldn’t you love for the Panthers and all these other teams pass on Cam Newton so the Browns can grab him. I call BS.

    All this talk about how bad the Panthers need defense and whatnot..you all have no idea what you are talking about. The Panthers defense played EXCELLENT last year considering how many minutes they were on the field (as a result of the PATHETIC offense led by Jimmy Clausen).

    Panthers are taking Cam Newton.

  • Gren

    Any truth to the rumors of the Browns looking to move back into the 1st round to get 2 1st rounders ? I know it’s a bit out there but, was hoping to get any more into from a more reliable source than WKNR. (not that their not but, I haven’t heard much elsewhere and would like to hear stories confirmed in more than 1 place)

  • Brendon

    Yeah I talked to my buddy Anthony Crispino, And he confirmed to story.

  • Nicky Z

    Any speculation from WKNR personnel as to whom would interest the Browns such as to trade back into the 1st?

  • Joe in Wooster

    Rick… Is that Braylon’s face that you blackedout? :)