BEREA: After months of evaluating prospects, Browns General Manager Tom Heckert said Thursday the organization knows whom it plans to draft fourth overall on April 26.
The Indianapolis Colts are expected to select Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck first, and the Washington Redskins are penciled in to take Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III second. Minnesota Vikings GM Rick Spielman told the St. Paul Pioneer Press his team has narrowed its choices for the No. 3 pick down to Southern California offensive tackle Matt Kalil, Louisiana State cornerback Morris Claiborne and Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon.
No matter what the Vikings do, the Browns know they’ll end up with one of their two top choices as long as they don’t trade down. There are no ties atop Heckert’s draft board.
“I think we would like to stay there [at No. 4],” Heckert said during his pre-draft news conference at the team’s headquarters. “Wherever you’re picking, you usually think you’re going to stay there, and then if something else happens, that’s the secondary thing. I do think we would be able to trade out. I don’t know that for sure. I think so. But we hope we stay there [at No. 4] and take a good player.
“I know who that four is going to be if we stay there, but we’re all on the same page. We know we’re getting a really good player no matter what happens at three. … We know there’s only two possibilities. There might be five guys we’re considering, but we know we’re gonna get one out of the two guys. Our top two guys, we’re going to get one of them.”
Heckert wouldn’t divulge the identities of those prime targets, but Alabama running back Trent Richardson, Blackmon and Claiborne are the presumed front-runners. Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill and Kalil might be in the mix, too.
Here’s a rundown of what Heckert said about them:
Heckert said he would not hesitate to take a running back at No. 4. He drafted Montario Hardesty in the second round two years ago and signed Brandon Jackson last year, but that would not necessarily stop him from picking Richardson.
“Montario, we do think he’s going to be a lot better this year,” Heckert said. “We think Brandon Jackson is going to be good. All that stuff plays into it, but you’re talking about a really good player [Richardson]. So I wouldn’t say it would affect who we take, but it’s there.”
Heckert said he felt comfortable evaluating Richardson because he played in a pro-style offense at Alabama.
“You get to see him catch the ball and in pass protection,” Heckert said. “Some guys you never get to see catch the ball.”
Heckert said Blackmon is comparable to wide receivers A.J. Green of the Cincinnati Bengals and Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions, both of whom were top-five picks.
“From a college standpoint, they stack up,” he said. “Those guys have had great careers. A.J. had a great rookie year, so it’s tough to compare them. But from a college standpoint, yeah, [Blackmon is] a good player.”
Heckert said the 6-foot-1, 207-pound Blackmon’s less-than-ideal size doesn’t matter.
“It’s how you play,” Heckert said. “Size doesn’t mean a whole lot [for receivers]. I mean if the guy was 5-9, maybe. But, no, zero.”
The players the Browns have in their sights at No. 4 don’t have character issues, Heckert said, and he praised Blackmon and Richardson in that department.
“Those two guys are class, class guys and hopefully we can get those type of guys,” Heckert said.
Heckert seemed to indicate Richardson and Blackmon have a leg up on Claiborne when he said, “I think we’re on our way with the defense, and do we need more help there? Yes. But offensively I think — and everybody knows, it’s not a secret — we need guys that can score points and hopefully we can add to that.”
But Heckert also said: “You have to have three legit corners to survive in this league. So that’s why corners are such a big deal, and he’s a really, really good one.”
He also said he won’t guarantee that the Browns will pick offensive players with each of their first three picks (Nos. 4, 22 and 37).
Tannehill had only 19 collegiate starts at quarterback after converting from receiver, so many draft gurus believe he will need a year or two to develop. Heckert does not agree, pointing out that Tannehill played in a West Coast offense.
“He knows our system, so it probably would be easier for him to play in our system, I guess,” Heckert said. “I don’t buy that [he wouldn’t be able to start as a rookie]. If you draft a kid early, you’re probably going to play him. In my opinion, if you draft a kid early, first round, you’re probably going to want to start him.”
Kalil might be a long shot because he plays the same position as Browns Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas. The Browns need a starting right tackle and theoretically could move Kalil to that spot, but using a top-five pick on a right tackle seems like a stretch.
Still, when Heckert was asked to explain the thinking behind the private workout the Browns had with Kalil on Wednesday, he said: “Anybody that we’re thinking about taking at four, we want to know the most we can about them. We’ve always done that. … When we’re talking about the fourth [pick], we want to try to do our homework obviously on everybody.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/browns.abj.