By the time the NFL Scouting Combine began Wednesday in Indianapolis, the Browns had already done their homework on prospects and formed opinions about them.
A player’s performance in college, not the combine, is usually what makes or breaks his draft stock. So Browns coach Rob Chudzinski, CEO Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi, vice president of player personnel, will use the combine, which runs through Tuesday, to cross-check information.
“Fast guys run fast, slow guys run slow,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said this week during a conference call. “It’s not a story until the opposite happens. So you’ve got a guy all of a sudden that runs slower than you expect or faster than you expect. You have to go back and watch his tape.”
As the Browns continue their fact-finding mission in preparation for the draft, which will be held April 25-27, here are some questions they’ll likely ask themselves while thinking about whom they want to target with the sixth overall pick:
1. Should the medical history of Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones be a deal breaker?
Mayock believes Jones would thrive as a pass-rushing outside linebacker in the 3-4 multifront scheme of new Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton.
He led the nation in sacks (14½), tackles for loss (24½) and forced fumbles (seven) last season. He also compiled 13½ sacks in 2011.
No one can deny Jones’ talent and production. But the results of medical testing he’ll undergo at the combine — and how teams view those results — will ultimately determine whether he becomes a top-10 selection.
In 2009, Jones was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column, after he suffered a neck injury while playing for Southern California. USC’s team doctors would not clear him to return. But in 2010, he transferred to Georgia, where his comeback was approved.
“I’m not a doctor, and basically what I do is I wait to have NFL teams tell me how they evaluate a particular diagnosis,” Mayock said. “So a month from now, I’ll talk to eight or 10 teams, and I’ll get different feels from teams about how important that medical evaluation is and what it means. All 32 teams are privy to the same information, but how they evaluate it is different. Some teams might say, ‘Hey, if I can get a good four years out of the kid, what does that mean? Will I take him in the top 10? Will I drop him down lower?’ And every team’s a little different. All I can tell you as a football player, I think he’s a top-10 pick. I think he’s explosive and tough and warrants a top-10 pick. I can’t tell you how the medical is going to fall for quite a while.”
If the tests come back clean, Mayock said he thinks Jones is the man for the Browns at No. 6.
2. Are any of the quarterbacks worth the No. 6 overall pick?
Mayock and his counterparts from ESPN, Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay, believe spending a top-10 pick on a quarterback this year would be a reach. The Browns want to either replace incumbent starter Brandon Weeden or at least acquire someone to compete with him for the top spot on the depth chart, so they’ll do their due diligence when it comes to the quarterback class.
“The wheels came off for all the quarterbacks for this year,” Kiper said last week during a conference call. “Things just didn’t fall right with these quarterbacks, allowing them to maximize their ability. That’s why I think the teams right now are in the predicament they are in trying to figure this whole quarterback thing out and not overdraft or push a guy up when he’s not deserving.”
Geno Smith of West Virginia and Matt Barkley of USC are the top-rated quarterbacks.
Kiper and Mayock said Smith should be picked anywhere from Nos. 20-32. McShay doesn’t have a first-round grade on any quarterbacks.
“With Geno Smith, I see flashes of everything you want in a top-10 quarterback,” Mayock said. “I see a lot more inconsistency, though, than I see those flashes.”
Kiper labeled Barkley as a late first-round or second-round selection. Mayock said Barkley, like Smith, belongs somewhere in the Nos. 20-32 range.
“I think [Barkley is] very intelligent,” McShay said last week during a conference call. “He has good mechanics. Touch and accuracy are outstanding. But he doesn’t have any elite physical tools. He’s below average size. He’s not a great athlete and doesn’t have good arm strength, and his accuracy struggles down the field because of the lack of ideal arm strength.”
That doesn’t sound like the description of a quarterback who would operate well in the vertical, downfield passing attack of Chudzinski and new Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner. Barkley reportedly won’t throw at the combine because he’s recovering from a shoulder injury.
“I’m not a proponent of any quarterback at No. 6 for Cleveland,” Mayock said. “I think you get the best player you can get, and it’s probably going to be one of those defensive ends or outside linebackers.”
3. Which of those defensive ends or outside linebackers are contenders and which are pretenders?
The Browns must solidify their views on the draft’s top pass rushers, because they’re in dire need of one.
Kiper projects Florida State’s Bjoern Werner, Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore and Louisiana State’s Barkevious Mingo as top-10 picks. McShay has Werner and Mingo in the top 10 and Moore just outside it.
Mayock doesn’t think Werner, Moore or Mingo belong in the top 10.
“I’m not seeing elite, quick-twitch ability to get to the quarterback,” Mayock said. “Werner — I like him. I know what I’m going to get with Werner. He’s a tough kid, got a good motor. He’s got a good get-off. He works hard. Especially for a guy who hasn’t played a lot of football, there’s a lot to like about him. But he doesn’t have that quick-twitch Dwight Freeney get off and go, and if you’re going to be a top-five or top-10 defensive end, that’s kind of what you want to see.
“Moore — he’s long. He does everything pretty well in the passing game. But I don’t see that elite quick-twitch burst, and I also don’t see a great run defender. I think he’s average against the run at best. I value [Werner and Moore]. I like them, but I like them later in the first round, not the top 10.
“As far as Mingo is concerned, he’s 230 pounds. He’s got a little stiffness to him. He obviously runs very fast. When the ball goes away from him, he’s fantastic. He’s a run and chase linebacker. He’s got upside as a pass rusher. There is nothing about the kid I don’t like. I just don’t see a top-10 guy today. I’d feel much more comfortable with him as a developmental 3-4 outside linebacker, somebody that would go somewhere between 25 and 40. I know everybody’s got him in the top 10, but I just don’t see it right now.”
All three draft gurus project Jones, provided he checks out medically, and Oregon’s Dion Jordan as top-10 picks. They also project Brigham Young’s Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah as a first-round pick who could make a strong push.
“He’s got as much upside as anybody in this draft,” Mayock said of Ansah. “I couldn’t wait to see him [last month] at the Senior Bowl, and I thought he had a very average week of practice. In the one-on-one pass-rushing drills, defense should dominate, and he didn’t dominate. Here’s a guy who’s so long, so athletic, so gifted, I just think he’s so raw that sometimes it can come out. And then they got in the game, and he might have been the best football player on the field. I don’t think there’s anybody that doesn’t think in the NFL that he’s going to be a real good player, but the question is when? Is it going to be this year, next year or three years from now? And really, what you determine in your building the answer to that question is going to determine what you think the value of the kid is.”
4. Would Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner be a reach at No. 6?
Kiper and McShay project Milliner as a top-five pick. Mayock isn’t convinced, but he thinks a strong performance at the combine could earn Milliner, the No. 1-rated cornerback in the draft, a spot in the top 10.
“Dee Milliner, for me, is a guy that if he runs fast, he can become a top-10 guy,” Mayock said. “And most people think he already is. I don’t. I love him as a player, love him on tape. I think he’s more like the 20th pick in the draft, if I had to put a number on him. However, if he runs sub 4.5 [seconds in the 40-yard dash], I think he’s going to be a top-10 pick.”
The Browns need a starting cornerback opposite Joe Haden, so they must decide if they would be comfortable pulling the trigger on Milliner at No. 6.
“Can Dee Milliner be a heck of a player? Yeah,” Kiper said. “Does he have an elite skill set? No. He wasn’t a starter until this year at Alabama. Where Dee Milliner is right now, it’s the fourth pick overall, where I projected him at to Philadelphia, fifth pick to Detroit, sixth to Cleveland. That’s where he’s going to go, somewhere in that range.”
5. Is Alabama guard Chance Warmack too good to pass?
The Browns have three adequate guards on their roster — Jason Pinkston, Shawn Lauvao and John Greco. But would a chance to upgrade the position with perhaps the best player in the draft be too good to forgo?
It’s a question Mayock believes is worth asking.
“Chance Warmack from Alabama is the best football player I saw on tape this year,” Mayock said. “I would have no hesitation taking Chance Warmack at [No.] 10. And to be honest with you, if I [had picks] one through nine, I wouldn’t have any hesitation of taking him, either. … People will tell me I’m crazy, that a guard can’t go No. 1. I think he’s the best player in the draft, so I would argue that.”
Heading into the combine, Mayock believes Warmack is a virtual lock to be picked in the top 10.
“He just needs to keep dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s and run fast, work hard, be good in the interview room,” Mayock said. “He’s a top-10 pick for me.”
The Browns must decide if they think the same way.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com.