Despite Browns CEO Joe Banner repeatedly saying he doesn’t expect the organization to draft a quarterback in the first round and insisting incumbent starter Brandon Weeden will receive every chance to succeed, ESPN analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay are touting the possibility of West Virginia’s Geno Smith landing in Cleveland on April 25.
The Browns are scheduled to hold a private workout with Smith on Saturday, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported earlier this week, and coach Rob Chudzinski has said he’ll be in attendance. But unless Banner’s recent statements about the quarterback situation are smokescreens, the organization is probably just doing its due diligence with Smith, the top-rated quarterback in this year’s class.
Still, virtually nothing can be ruled out — another point Banner has made over and over. And the Browns, who own the sixth overall pick, have thoroughly studied the crop of incoming rookie quarterbacks by hosting Southern California’s Matt Barkley and Arizona’s Matt Scott during pre-draft visits this week and working out Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib and Florida State’s EJ Manuel last week.
With the draft only two weeks away, the Browns’ most glaring need is at cornerback, where they have a hole in the starting lineup opposite Joe Haden. Alabama’s Dee Milliner, the top-rated corner in the draft, would seemingly be a no-brainer at No. 6, but another team could take him before the Browns are on the clock.
In that case, Kiper believes the Browns could either trade down or pick Smith or Oregon outside linebacker Dion Jordan, provided they’re available. Kiper thinks the San Diego Chargers, who have the No. 11 pick, might want to trade up to No. 6, so they could pick Oklahoma offensive left tackle Lane Johnson. The Miami Dolphins, at No. 12, are another team many believe could move up the board for an offensive tackle — Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel, Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher and Johnson all could go in the top 10.
But here’s the really interesting part: Kiper and McShay believe the Browns could trade down and still have a chance to get the 6-foot-2, 218-pound Smith. The Browns don’t have a second-round pick this year, so it would not be a surprise if they move down to gain more selections. Kiper outlined the scenario Wednesday during a conference call, and McShay wrote about it in his most recent mock draft, which pairs the Browns with Smith.
“For a team picking where they are, the big issue is going to be quarterback,” Kiper said. “If they don’t feel Brandon Weeden’s the guy — [recently signed] Jason Campbell is a journeyman backup now — do you look at Geno Smith? And that depends on their feelings about Geno Smith and how they feel about Weeden.
“But if they’re not high on Weeden and they like Geno Smith, I think you can move down off of six — you’re going to get offers because it’s going to represent a left tackle, that sixth pick will — and then you could end up getting maybe Geno Smith at a more palatable spot in the first round.
“If they want to take Geno Smith, maybe they can move down from six to 11 and take Geno Smith there. That would allow San Diego to go up and get Lane Johnson.”
But it’s a stretch to think the No. 1 quarterback in the draft will last till No. 6, let alone No. 11, right? Even if Smith isn’t on the same level as Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, the elite quarterbacks in last year’s draft, teams covet the position and usually nab the best prospect very early.
“Well, you don’t know,” Kiper said. “Philadelphia is the pivotal team there [at No. 4]. They could take Geno Smith. They could pass on Smith and then look at a quarterback like EJ Manuel in the early second round, which would put [Smith] there for Cleveland at six.”
Although Pro Football Weekly analyst Nolan Nawrocki ripped Smith’s work ethic, football intelligence and leadership in a scouting report, Kiper believes Smith has everything it takes to succeed in the NFL.
“I think he has the right kind of work ethic, and that’s going to be obviously critical because you’re coming out of a system at West Virginia, transitioning to the NFL,” Kiper said. “People say, ‘Well, he’s going to have to make an adjustment.’ Well, the bottom line is he saw the whole field. He read the whole field. So he’s not limited in that area.
“He was pressured a lot. That offensive line let him down time and time again at West Virginia. He had some fumbles. He’s got to take better care of the football in the pocket. So he has to work on some things. There’s some concern.
“But he’s got the arm. He looked taller than 6-2 because he has the long arms. He’s mobile. He made a lot of plays with his feet. He can beat you running with the football. I think if it all comes together for Geno Smith, he can be a very good quarterback in this league.”
The question is, which team will benefit if he proves Kiper right?
Oklahoma wide receiver Kenny Stills flew to Cleveland on Wednesday and will have a pre-draft visit with the Browns today, a league source said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the team is not publicizing visits.
In addition to Scott, Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and Louisiana State outside linebacker/defensive end Barkevious Mingo visited the Browns on Wednesday, sources confirmed. Mingo’s visit with the Browns is scheduled to continue today. In addition to Barkley, Milliner visited the Browns on Tuesday, sources confirmed.
Big Show’s new gig
Sports Radio KJR has hired former Browns President Mike Holmgren as “a regular contributor and NFL expert,” the Seattle station announced Wednesday.
Holmgren took control of the Browns in January 2010 and left the organization in November after essentially being replaced by new CEO Joe Banner. He flirted with a return to coaching on his way out, and ESPN reported in February that the Oakland Raiders had talked to him about taking a front-office position.
Holmgren, 64, coached the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks to the Super Bowl. The Browns went 12-31 on his watch. During his tenure in Cleveland, Holmgren maintained a relationship with KJR and repeatedly conducted interviews on its airwaves, drawing criticism from local sports talk stations.
Flocking to Oakland
Former Browns quarterback Seneca Wallace will sign with the Oakland Raiders, Jason La Canfora of CBS reported. The Raiders have already signed two former Browns players this offseason, linebacker Kaluka Maiava and safety Usama Young.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.