Editor’s note: Browns beat writer Nate Ulrich analyzes the team’s needs heading into the draft, which runs Thursday-Saturday.
On the roster: Gary Barnidge, 27, Jordan Cameron, 24, Kellen Davis, 27, Dan Gronkowski, 28, and Brad Smelley, 24.
Outlook: The Browns are counting on Cameron, a fourth-round draft pick in 2011, to become their starter next season. So far, he has started eight of the 22 games in which he has appeared and caught 26 passes for 259 yards and a touchdown. In other words, Cameron has a long way to go to prove he can be reliable and productive for an entire 16-game season. In March, the Browns signed Davis to become a key role player and Barnidge to provide depth. Davis, a full-time starter for the Chicago Bears the past two seasons, is a solid blocker with suspect hands. Barnidge has started just 11 games since he entered the league in 2008 and has only 18 career receptions, but he knows the system of Browns coach Rob Chudzinski. Barnidge played for the Carolina Panthers last season while Chudzinski served as offensive coordinator. Despite the additions of Davis and Barnidge, the Browns could still use another tight end, considering they lost Benjamin Watson and Alex Smith in free agency and Cameron has struggled to stay healthy in his first two seasons. Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner have a history of prominently featuring the position, so it’s not a stretch to think the Browns hope to add to their stable via the draft.
Prospects to watch: The Browns have the sixth overall pick, but even the top-rated tight end in this year’s class — Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert — isn’t projected to be picked until the second half of the opening round. NFLDraftScout.com projects Stanford’s Zach Ertz as a first- or second-round pick and Rice’s Vance McDonald as a second- or third-round selection. San Diego State’s Gavin Escobar is a projected second- or third-round pick who had a pre-draft visit with the Browns. The Browns don’t have a second-round selection this year, so the top-tier players would probably only be realistic options if the team traded down. Other prospects to consider in the middle rounds are Cincinnati’s Travis Kelce, a Cleveland Heights native, Florida’s Jordan Reed, Michigan State’s Dion Sims, Colorado’s Nick Kasa and Arkansas’ Chris Gragg. The Browns might be particularly interested in Kasa because he played for their new tight ends coach, Jon Embree, at Colorado. Ohio State’s Jake Stoneburner met with the Browns in February at the NFL Scouting Combine. He’s among the tight ends projected to be picked in the late rounds.