With that being the case, we’re now right around five months away from the 2013 NFL Draft. And while plenty more could happen for the Browns in these final seven games and in the college football world, I thought it’d be helpful to do an overview of what to expect, as of now, when April arrives soon.
The fellow pictured to your right will be the star du jour. Jarvis Jones, a playmaking, ball-hungry outside linebacker from Georgia, has been dominating the SEC of late since returning from early injury issues. He’s also been dominating big boards and as I look toward the best fits for the Browns, he’s the guy that stands tall immediately.
Cleveland needs more playmakers, on both sides of the ball. Josh Gordon helped with the receiving corps, but we could still use more warm bodies catching balls from Brandon Weeden. Offensive guard also is a notable weak spot, but I think after investing so many resources on offense (2 first-rounders in 2012 and Gordon’s supplemental pick for 2013), it’s time to go back to defense.
Joe Haden, D’Qwell Jackson, Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin are likely your four cornerstones in terms of Browns defensive production. T.J. Ward has shown flashes in his young career, but safety depth remains an issue. The biggest weaknesses here are then linebacker and the end skill positions — both defensive end and outside linebacker. We need someone who can apply significant pressure to the quarterback and who can partner with Taylor/Rubin to compose a fearsome front line.
So when you start dreaming of a talented sack master at the top of the draft, it all has to start with Jones. His performance against previously unbeaten Florida three weeks ago could turn out to be one of the best on either side of the ball this season: 13 tackles, four sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He was all over the place and caused nearly every notable big play for UGA on defense.
While I’ve now fully professed my love for Jones, here’s a look at what four major big boards (Scouts Inc., ESPN, CBS Sports and Walter Football) have as your near-consensus top 13 as of yesterday:
The Browns at 2-7 right now are tied with the Carolina Panthers for the third-worst record in the NFL. Kansas City and Jacksonville are both 1-8. there are then four 3-6 teams, St. Louis is 3-5-1 and then there should be several 4-6 teams by the end of the week.
Following Dallas and Pittsburgh, the Browns still do have a very winnable three-game stretch: Oakland, Kansas City and Washington. The season then ends with back-to-back difficult road games against Denver and Pittsburgh.
Right now, I’d put my odds on the Browns finishing with 3-5 wins. I think all of those additional 1-3 victories will come in that middle stretch remaining, while we’ll slump to 2-9 and then finish the year with two more losses. Based on the current NFL standings, I’d expect the Browns to finish no worse then eighth in the draft order for April.
So targeting the top eight or better, let’s analyze some of those key guys from the draft boards:
The Undoubted Early Picks
Jarvis Jones, OLB, 6-2, 242, Georgia (junior)
Great athlete, great pass-rusher and has stood out despite there being several other impressive defensive prospects on the Bulldogs as well. His biggest weakness is obviously durability, as he missed five games in 2009 with USC and then another two games in 2012.
Star Lotulelei, DT, 6-2, 320, Utah
Huge run defender who has sneakily produced big numbers for Utah, he’s also a lock for a top five pick. Unfortunately he’s clearly not a good fit for the Browns because of their existing strength at DT. But he’ll make some team really happy for his elite run-stopping ability up the middle.
Luke Joeckel, OT, 6-5 3/4, 306, Texas A&M (junior)
Your top offensive line prospect for 2013 has been protecting Johnny Football in College Station this year. He might not be a top three pick because of the QBs expected to pass him, but he’s a sure thing for a steady LT for years to come for another bad team in need.
Johnathan Hankins, DT, 6-3, 335, Ohio State (junior)
Hankins has shown flashes of excellent play at OSU during the past three years, and boy, is he one big dude in the middle. Tends to disappear in the pass rush occasionally, but still very, very good against the run. Most mock drafts and big boards have him just slightly behind Lotulelei.
The next-best pass rusher after Jones, Moore could be the Browns’ top target on their draft board if they fall closer to the 5-6 win range. He’s near the top in the nation in tackles for loss and sacks, and has worked his way up after not being a very highly touted recruit.
Manti Te’o, ILB, 6-1, 248, Notre Dame
Finally, the other star top six prospect is the most talked-about linebacker in the nation. Te’o has helped the Fighting Irish ascend to the No. 1 spot as their defensive leader this season. Great tackler with good instincts and run protection, he’ll probably find his way to stay in the top 10.
The Polarizing QBs
Geno Smith, QB, 6-2 3/4, 208, West Virginia
Matt Barkley, QB, 6-1 3/4, 228, Southern Cal
Odds are for now that one of these guys will go No. 1 overall next April. Smith likely will measure out to be the top QB prospect after a much more productive college season and better size/arm strength. Barkley was the early favorite to be No. 1 this season after staying in school, but has been inconsistent to say the least for four-loss USC. His lack of ideal size could drop him farther than expected.
The Next-Best Things
Dee Milliner, CB, 6-0 3/4, 197 Alabama
Barkevious Mingo, DE, 6-5, 240, LSU (junior)
Bjoern Werner, DE, 6-4, 255, Florida State
Chance Warmack, OG, 6-2 3/8, 325, Alabama
Sam Montgomery, DE, 6-4, 245, LSU (junior)
Mingo and Montgomery have composed a deadly, young defensive line for the Tigers this season; both players could conceivably wind up in the top 10. Milliner is the highest-profiled secondary prospect – that’s a huge weakness of this year’s draft class. Werner is one of the highest risers thus far in the 2012 college football season and he’s a big kid.
Other Likely First-Round Picks
Sylvester Williams, DT, 6-2, 320, North Carolina
Alec Ogletree, ILB, 6-3, 237, Georgia
Sheldon Richardson, DT, 6-2 7/8, 290, Missouri
Johnathan Jenkins, DT, 6-4 1/8, 363, Georgia
Taylor Lewan, OT, 6-7, 302, Michigan
Johnthan Banks, CB, 6-2 1/8, 185, Mississippi State
Keenan Allen, WR, 6-3, 206, California
Jonathan Cooper, OG, 6-3, 320, North Carolina
Cornelius Carradine, DE, 6-4 1/2, 255, Florida State
Williams has been climbing up draft boards, while Ogletree is falling. Lots of defensive tackles again mark this list. Lewan-Hankins should be a great battle, if that ever occurs during “The Game” next Saturday. Banks is likely the next-best secondary prospect. The Buckeyes had their problems containing Allen and the Golden Bears earlier this season. Meanwhile, Cooper and Carradine have shined quietly in the ACC.
Overall, this draft is deep with defensive line prospects, but pretty weak on secondary and offensive players. We might not have a RB/WRs go in the top 15 this season, as Keenan Allen is the only one of those type of players that got mentioned here today. But there could be as many as eight DT/DE/OLBs go in the top 15.
For the Browns, it appears for now that targeting Jones, Moore or possible a guy further down like Mingo, Werner or Montgomery will be the way to go. As things get closer, I’m sure we’ll have more here at WFNY breaking down the draft, but this was an early primer to get things started and fans comfortable with analyzing top talent in the final part of the college football season.
(Photos: Daniel Shirey/US Presswire and Thomas Campbell/US Presswire)