Tom Heckert’s film study of draft prospects inevitably trumps their ability to run, jump or do anything else at the NFL Scouting Combine.
After all, a player’s production on the football field is far more important than the way he shuffles through drills in shorts.
Still, the combine is a useful tool for Heckert, the Browns’ general manager, and his scouts because it gives them chances to cross-check their findings. Every bit of information helps, and the ability to sort it out and view it in the proper context is crucial for the Browns, an organization devoted to building through the draft.
The Browns have nine draft selections this year, including Nos. 4 and 22 overall, and the list will grow if they’re awarded any compensatory picks.
Meanwhile, they have plenty of weak spots on their roster. Some of them will be addressed in free agency, which begins March 13, but Heckert has said the heavy lifting will be done in late April during the draft.
Using prospect rankings from NFLDraftScout.com, I broke down the Browns’ top needs and listed whom they might watch closely at the combine, which runs Wednesday through Feb. 28 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis:
Analysis: The Browns won’t be able to reverse their fortunes until they find their quarterback of the future, and Colt McCoy hasn’t convinced the organization’s bigwigs that he’s the guy. If the Browns don’t secure a quarterback in free agency — Green Bay Packers backup Matt Flynn would be a logical candidate — all signs will point to them pursuing one early in the draft. In a perfect world, they would be able to pick Baylor’s Robert Griffin III fourth overall, but the possibility of another quarterback-hungry team, perhaps the Washington Redskins or the Miami Dolphins, trading up to the No. 2 slot and nabbing Griffin looms large. If the Browns don’t trade up for Griffin and he’s no longer available when they’re on the clock at No. 4, Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill might be an option later in the first round, especially because his college coach was Mike Sherman, a practitioner of the West Coast offense and a disciple of Browns President Mike Holmgren.
Potential first-round targets: Griffin and Tannehill.
Analysis: Last season, Josh Cribbs improved as a pass-catching threat, and Greg Little showed promise as a rookie, despite tying for second in the league with 12 drops. However, the Browns still don’t have a legitimate No. 1 receiver. A deep class of free-agent receivers could help solve the problem, but there are plenty of options in the draft, too.
Potential first-round targets: Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon, Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd, Baylor’s Kendall Wright and Rutgers’ Mohamed Sanu. Potential second- and third-round targets: South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffery, LSU’s Rueben Randle, Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill, Wisconsin’s Nick Toon, Arizona’s Juron Criner, North Carolina’s Dwight Jones, Appalachian State’s Brian Quick, Miami’s Tommy Streeter, Arkansas’ Joe Adams and Wake Forest’s Chris Givens.
Analysis: If the Browns don’t re-sign Peyton Hillis or acquire another starting-caliber back in free agency, this will become an urgent need. Montario Hardesty has been plagued by knee and calf injuries in his first two NFL seasons, and Brandon Jackson missed all of last season with an injured toe. Chris Ogbonnaya is the only running back on the roster without major health concerns, and he hadn’t played in more than two NFL games until last season.
Potential first-round target: Alabama’s Trent Richardson. Potential second- and third-round targets: Virginia Tech’s David Wilson, Miami’s Lamar Miller, Boise State’s Doug Martin, Washington’s Chris Polk, Cincinnati’s Isaiah Pead, Temple’s Bernard Pierce, Oregon’s LaMichael James, Texas A&M’s Cyrus Gray, San Diego State’s Ronnie Hillman and Florida’s Chris Rainey. Potential middle-round targets: Tennessee’s Tauren Poole, Ohio State’s Dan Herron, Utah State’s Robert Turbin, Mississippi State’s Vick Ballard, Baylor’s Terrance Ganaway, Maryland’s Davin Meggett and Mississippi’s Brandon Bolden.
Analysis: Starting right tackle Tony Pashos has had problems with injuries and opposing pass rushers since he joined the Browns in 2010. His backups, Artis Hicks, Oniel Cousins and John Greco, are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents. It would make sense to move Jason Pinkston, who started every game at left guard last season as a rookie because Eric Steinbach suffered a season-ending back injury in training camp, to tackle because he played tackle in college. But the Browns want to keep Pinkston at guard, even though Steinbach is expected to make a comeback, so they’ll need a developmental right tackle to succeed Pashos.
Potential second- and third-round targets: Florida State’s Zebrie Sanders, Mississippi’s Bobby Massie, California’s Mitchell Schwartz, UAB’s Matt McCants and Auburn’s Brandon Mosley. Potential middle-round targets: Utah’s Tony Bergstrom, Troy’s James Brown, Illinois’ Jeff Allen, Boise State’s Nate Potter, BYU’s Matt Reynolds, Iowa’s Markus Zusevics and South Dakota’s Tom Compton. Potential late-round targets: Florida State’s Andrew Datko, Southern Mississippi’s Lamar Holmes, Nebraska’s Marcel Jones and Utah’s John Cullen.
Analysis: After one regular-season game, the Browns switched end Jabaal Sheard from the right side to the left side to make him more comfortable. The move paid off because Sheard led the team with 8.5 sacks during his rookie season. On the other hand, the Browns had trouble finding a reliable starter at right end after Sheard swapped sides. Jayme Mitchell did not meet expectations on the right side and was eventually demoted. Emmanuel Stephens replaced Mitchell in the starting lineup for three games, but Stephens strained a pectoral muscle and spent the final five games on injured reserve.
Potential first-round targets: North Carolina’s Quinton Coples, South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram, Southern California’s Nick Perry, Illinois’ Whitney Mercilus and Clemson’s Andre Branch. Potential second- and third-round targets: Marshall’s Vinny Curry, Syracuse’s Chandler Jones, Virginia’s Cam Johnson and Boise State’s Tyrone Crawford. Potential middle-round targets: Tennessee’s Malik Jackson, Penn State’s Jack Crawford and Missouri’s Jacquies Smith.
Analysis: The Browns’ lack of depth at linebacker was a concern last season, especially after starting strongside linebacker Scott Fujita broke his right hand in Week 12 and missed the rest of the season. Starting weakside linebacker Chris Gocong moved to the strong side and thrived while backup Kaluka Maiava took his spot on the weak side. Fujita has not played in 16 regular-season games since 2006. The Browns need to add a couple of linebackers in the offseason, including one who can develop into a starter and help the defense improve against the run.
Potential first-round targets: North Carolina’s Zach Brown and Nebraska’s Lavonte David. Potential second- and third-round targets: Utah State’s Bobby Wagner, Oklahoma’s Ronnell Lewis, Miami’s Sean Spence, Oklahoma’s Travis Lewis, Oregon’s Josh Kaddu, Florida State’s Nigel Bradham, North Carolina State’s Audie Cole, North Carolina State’s Terrell Manning. Potential middle-round targets: Texas’ Keenan Robinson, Wake Forest’s Kyle Wilber, Texas’ Emmanuel Acho and Iowa’s Tyler Nielsen. Potential late-round targets: Kentucky’s Danny Trevathan, Notre Dame’s Darius Fleming, TCU’s Tank Carder, Arkansas State’s Demario Davis, San Diego State’s Miles Burris and Temple’s Tahir Whitehead.
Analysis: The Browns finished with the league’s second-ranked pass defense last season, but nickel cornerback Dimitri Patterson is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent and starting cornerback Sheldon Brown will enter his 11th NFL season. The Browns would be wise to re-sign Patterson after his stellar 2011 season, but even if they do, they still might seek a young corner to pair with Joe Haden. At the very least, they could benefit from adding depth.
Potential first-round targets: LSU’s Morris Claiborne, North Alabama’s Janoris Jenkins, Alabama’s Dre Kirkpatrick and Nebraska’s Alfonzo Dennard. Potential second- and third-round targets: South Carolina’s Stephon Gilmore, Iowa State’s Leonard Johnson, Virginia’s Chase Minnifield, Georgia’s Brandon Boykin, Montana’s Trumaine Johnson, Virginia Tech’s Jayron Hosley, Coastal Carolina’s Josh Norman, Furman’s Ryan Steed, Oklahoma’s Jamell Fleming, Alabama’s DeQuan Menzie, Iowa’s Shaun Prater, Louisiana-Lafayette’s Dwight Bentley. Potential middle-round targets: Texas A&M’s Coryell Judie, Oregon’s Cliff Harris, Central Florida’s Josh Robinson, Florida State’s Mike Harris, Vanderbilt’s Casey Hayward, Hampton’s Micah Pellerin, Arizona State’s Omar Bolden and Presbyterian’s Justin Bethel. Potential late-round targets: Notre Dame’s Robert Blanton, Cal Poly’s Asa Jackson, North Carolina’s Charles Brown, Arizona’s Trevin Wade, Penn State’s D’Anton Lynn, Texas A&M’s Terrence Frederick, Wisconsin’s Antonio Fenelus, LSU’s Ron Brooks and Pittsburgh’s Antwuan Reed.
Analysis: If starting free safety Mike Adams leaves as an unrestricted free agent, the Browns could try to replace him by giving Usama Young another chance to start at the position, move Brown from corner to free safety or ask Eric Hagg to switch from strong safety. If those experiments don’t appeal to the Browns, they might look elsewhere.
Potential second- and third-round targets: Boise State’s George Iloka and Oklahoma State’s Markelle Martin. Potential middle-round targets: McNeese State’s Janzen Jackson and Michigan State’s Trent Robinson. Potential late-round target: South Carolina State’s Christian Thompson.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com Read the Browns blog at http://browns.ohio.com Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/browns.abj.