INDIANAPOLIS: The Browns have formed opinions about more than 300 draft prospects who will be on display today through Tuesday at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
However, several important questions remain unanswered. Here are five the Browns should explore at the combine:
1. Can quarterback Robert Griffin III fit into the Browns’ offense?
For the Browns to use the fourth overall pick — or trade up to the No. 2 slot — to select Griffin, they must first be convinced he can convert from the spread offense he ran at Baylor to coach Pat Shurmur’s version of the West Coast offense.
Earlier this week, Griffin told reporters in Fort Worth, Texas, he plans to run the 40-yard dash and participate in other drills at the combine, but he probably won’t throw until Baylor’s Pro Day, which has been rescheduled for March 21 so it wouldn’t conflict with the March 22 Pro Day of Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, the presumed No. 1 overall pick.
Either way, the Browns will benefit from testing the aptitude of Griffin, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.
“They’ll sit him down on the board, and they’ll go through their offense,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said. “They’ll have him learn, install a certain number of plays and have him regurgitate it and basically pick his brain for football intelligence.
“I think that’s where ultimately a team like Washington or Cleveland is going to make the decision of whether they’re going to move up and get him. … I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t floor both of those teams with his intelligence and his understanding of the game, and I think it’s going to be a competition between the two to see who can get up [to the No. 2 slot] when it’s all said and done.”
2. What is Griffin’s size?
NFL teams must wait until the combine to get official measurements of juniors who declare for the draft, and Griffin is one of those underclassmen. Baylor lists him as 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds.
“The height, you want to nitpick,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. “He’s not 6-3, 6-4. He’s listed as 6-2. When we interviewed him at the Heisman [ceremony], he said he’s a little over 6-2. Hopefully he is because if he’s 6-1, then there won’t be that buzz. That’s just the way it is.”
NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said Griffin has the unusual ability to compensate for his less-than-ideal height by moving in the pocket and finding throwing lanes. Still, if Griffin is shorter than advertised, it might turn some teams off.
“All you have to do is look around the league,” Mayock said. “There are 32 starting quarterbacks and outside of [New Orleans Saints quarterback] Drew Brees, how many 6-foot quarterbacks are playing at a high level? And the answer is what? Probably none.”
Griffin’s weight and build will also be scrutinized. The Browns should consider whether he is able to endure the grind of an entire NFL season, including six games a year in the ultra-violent AFC North.
3. Is Ryan Tannehill capable of overcoming his inexperience as a quarterback?
Tannehill played wide receiver for the first 30 games of his career at Texas A&M before starting the final 19 at quarterback. He’s now considered the third-best quarterback prospect in the draft behind Luck and Griffin.
If the Browns want to draft a quarterback and they don’t nab Griffin early in the first round, they’ll need to decide whether to target Tannehill, who ran the West Coast offense in college and is listed at 6-4 and 222 pounds. In addition to the fourth pick, the Browns also have the 22nd-overall selection.
“He hasn’t started as many games as I’d like to see from a typical first-round NFL quarterback,” Mayock said. “You’d typically like to see at least 25 minimum starting assignments in college, but I think he’s going to be a first-round guy.”
Tannehill suffered a broken foot that kept him out of the Senior Bowl and had surgery to repair it about four weeks ago. He won’t work out until his Pro Day in late March, though his meetings with teams at the combine will be important because they’ll indicate how much of a learning curve he’ll have as an inexperienced quarterback.
“When you’re 22 years old, the more you can look a 50-year-old man in the eye and answer the question and shake his hand and spit something back out to him — tell him this is what you did with pass protection, but you can’t wait to learn about how they do it in the NFL — the more you can show that eagerness to learn and the aptitude to learn, I think the more it’s going to help you,” Mayock said.
4. Is wide receiver Justin Blackmon worthy of a top-five pick?
The Browns know they desperately need playmakers, and most draft gurus predict they’ll target Blackmon of Oklahoma State with the fourth pick if they don’t take Griffin. But the Browns traded down last year when they had a chance to select wide receiver Julio Jones sixth overall, so would they really deem Blackmon worthy of a top-five pick?
“I think in the last five years, Calvin Johnson and, to me, A.J. Green were in that elite category,” McShay said. “You can’t really give a wide receiver a higher grade than I gave those two. Kind of the second tier, if you will, would be Julio Jones and Dez Bryant in terms of physical tools. Obviously, [they] had some of the off-the-field baggage that came along with it [and] Michael Crabtree as well. But I think when you look at Blackmon, he’s in that second tier.”
Blackmon’s performance in the 40-yard dash could affect his draft stock.
“If you run a slower 40, it’s a red flag,” Kiper said. “You can cost yourself from being the second, third, fourth pick to the eighth, ninth or 10th pick by not running the 40 time that’s attractive to teams.”
5. Which pass rushers would fit as a right end in the Browns’ 4-3 defense?
The Browns’ decision-makers have conceded offense is their top priority, but they also won’t rule out the possibility of using early draft picks to bolster the other side of the ball. They certainly could take their defense to another level by adding a stellar pass rusher to play opposite left end Jabaal Sheard, who led the team with 8› sacks last season as a rookie.
The combine can help the Browns determine which prospects are better suited as 4-3 defensive ends and which ones are more inclined to excel as rush linebackers. South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram, Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw and Illinois’ Whitney Mercilus are among the high-profile pass rushers being viewed as hybrid defenders.
Of the three aforementioned players, Mercilus is projected to have the best chance to be available when the Browns are on the clock with the 22nd pick. Mercilus, who grew up in Akron and graduated from Garfield High School, decided to enter the draft early after leading the nation with 16 sacks and nine forced fumbles last season.
“He’s a fairly gifted kid,” Mayock said. “He’s got some natural pass-rush ability. Because he’s an underclassman, we have no official measurements of him. That’s No. 1. We need to see how big the kid is when you start talking about 3-4 versus 4-3 or what position. What’s he weigh? How long is he? What’s his arm length? All those things we’ll find out.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.