Editor’s note: Browns beat writer Nate Ulrich analyzes the team’s needs heading into the draft, which runs Thursday-Saturday.
On the roster: Tank Carder, 24, L.J. Fort, 23, Quentin Groves, 28, D’Qwell Jackson, 29, James-Michael Johnson, 23, Paul Kruger, 27, Adrian Moten, 25, Craig Robertson, 25, and Jabaal Sheard, 23.
Outlook: The Browns signed Kruger (13½ sacks last season, including the playoffs) and Groves (four sacks last season), but they still want to bolster the pass rush in new defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s 3-4, multifront scheme by adding another outside linebacker. Last month at the NFL owners meeting, Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said signing Kruger and Groves would “not necessarily” preclude the organization from drafting a pass rusher. The Browns subsequently courted former Dallas Cowboys rush linebacker Victor Butler, but he signed with the New Orleans Saints. Kruger is a lock to start at one of the outside linebacker spots. Sheard, who will attempt to convert from a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4 outside linebacker, worked on the opposite side with the first-team defense last week during the Browns’ three-day voluntary minicamp. Groves also will be part of the rotation of edge rushers. Jackson is entrenched as one of the inside linebackers, and Robertson is getting the first crack to win the starting job beside him. But even though a projected lineup can be filled out, the Browns could certainly use the draft to upgrade one of their starting linebacker spots or at least add depth. The new regime’s level of faith in Sheard’s transition will likely influence its strategy.
Prospects to watch: The Browns have the sixth overall pick and although there isn’t an inside linebacker in this year’s draft worthy of an early selection, several outside linebackers are. Oregon’s Dion Jordan and Brigham Young’s Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah are projected top-10 picks and could be targeted by the Browns at No. 6. Many draft analysts believe Louisiana State’s Barkevious Mingo also has a shot at cracking the top 10, and Georgia’s Jarvis Jones will be selected in the first half of the opening round. All four prospects had pre-draft visits with the Browns. NFLDraftScout.com projects the top-rated inside linebackers, Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o and Louisiana State’s Kevin Minter, as late first-round or early second-round picks. The Browns don’t have a second-round selection this year, so barring a trade, they would need to wait until the middle rounds to pick a linebacker if they don’t nab one early. Inside linebackers to consider in that range include Oregon’s Kiko Alonso, Florida’s Jon Bostic, Iowa State’s A.J. Klein, Alabama’s Nico Johnson, North Carolina’s Kevin Reddick and Howard’s Keith Pough. Outside linebackers to watch in the middle rounds include Connecticut’s Trevardo Williams, Auburn’s Corey Lemonier, Missouri’s Zaviar Gooden, South Carolina’s DeVonte Holloman, Texas A&M’s Sean Porter, Stanford’s Chase Thomas, Florida’s Jelani Jenkins, Penn State’s Gerald Hodges, Florida’s Lerentee McCray and Harding’s Ty Powell.