Editor’s note: Browns beat writer Nate Ulrich analyzes the team’s needs heading into the NFL Draft, which runs Thursday through next Saturday.
On the roster: Guards — Dominic Alford, 25; John Greco, 28; Shawn Lauvao, 25; Jason Pinkston, 25; Jarrod Shaw, 25. Fullback — Owen Marecic, 24.
Outlook: Lauvao has started the past 32 games at right guard and is positioned to return to that role. However, the situation at left guard isn’t as clear because of Pinkston’s status. Pinkston started all 16 games at left guard as a rookie in 2011 and then started the first six games this past season until a blood clot was discovered in his lung. Pinkston’s second season was cut short as a result. Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said the team has medically cleared Pinkston to return to football, but it's going to take a while for him to work his way back to the field. Pinkston and wide receiver David Nelson, who is rehabilitating from a torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered last season, were the only two players who missed all three of the team's minicamp practices this week. Greco, a versatile veteran, proved to be an adequate replacement while filling in for Pinkston last season. Nevertheless, the new regime might want an upgrade at the position — or at least more depth. “Certainly we’re going to probably add some depth in the draft or free agency still, especially if Pinkston can’t [come back] for whatever reason, because we could use some more depth on the offensive line,” Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas said Thursday. The team’s fullback situation is also shaky. Marecic, a fourth-round draft pick in 2011, is the only pure fullback on the roster, and the previous coaching staff demoted him last season partly because he dropped the only four passes thrown his way. Whether he can convince the new decision makers that he is the type of lead blocker they want to spark Trent Richardson in a power running game remains to be seen. If the Browns want to replace him, they could target a fullback in the late rounds. They have the sixth overall selection, but it’s highly unlikely they would spend it on a guard, even though many draft analysts believe there are two in this year’s class who could crack the top 10 picks.
Prospects to watch: A guard hasn’t garnered a top 10 selection since the New Orleans Saints took Chris Naeole 10th overall in 1997, but Alabama’s Chance Warmack and North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper have a chance to buck the trend this year. The Browns talked to Warmack in February at the NFL Scouting Combine, and Cooper had a pre-draft visit with the organization at its headquarters in Berea. But Warmack and Cooper would probably only become realistic options for the Browns if they traded down from No. 6. The Browns conducted a private workout with Kentucky’s Larry Warford and hosted Oregon’s Kyle Long for a pre-draft visit. NFLDraftScout.com projects Warford as a second-round pick and Long as a second- or third-round choice. The Browns don’t have a second-round selection this year. Kent State’s Brian Winters, a Hudson High School graduate, is a projected second- or third-round pick who met with the Browns at the combine. Arkansas’ Alvin Bailey, Cornell’s J.C. Tretter, Illinois’ Hugh Thornton, Virginia’s Oday Aboushi and James Madison’s Earl Watford are among the prospects to consider in the middle rounds. Harvard’s Kyle Juszczyk, a Cloverleaf High School graduate, Florida State’s Lonnie Pryor, Southern Methodist’s Zach Line, Wake Forest’s Tommy Bohanon, Nebraska’s Kyler Wilson, Ohio State’s Zach Boren and Kansas State’s Braden Wilson are the fullbacks projected to be drafted this year, all in the late rounds.