Editor’s note: Browns beat writer Nate Ulrich analyzes the team’s needs heading into the draft, which runs Thursday-Saturday.
On the roster: Travis Benjamin, 23, Josh Cooper, 24, Josh Gordon, 22, Greg Little, 23, David Nelson, 26, and Jordan Norwood, 26.
Outlook: The signing of Nelson on April 8 could lessen the urgency of this need, provided he’s able to bounce back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament and subsequent knee surgery that forced him to miss virtually the entire 2012 season. Nelson did not participate in the team’s three minicamp practices this past week because he’s still rehabilitating. Coach Rob Chudzinski said the Browns expect Nelson to be ready for training camp, which usually begins in late July. The 6-foot-5, 214-pound Nelson played slot receiver for the Buffalo Bills and was their second-leading receiver in 2011. If Nelson is healthy, he should complement the 6-3, 225-pound Gordon and the 6-2, 220-pound Little well and give the Browns exceptional size and versatility in three-receiver sets. Last month at the NFL owners meeting, Chudzinski said he believes Gordon has the tools needed to evolve into a legitimate No. 1 receiver, and he really likes Little’s ability to play on the outside and in the slot. Benjamin, Cooper and Norwood are smaller slot receivers — each one is shorter than 6 feet — who will battle each other this offseason for a job. The bottom line is the receiving corps shouldn’t be considered a top priority with Nelson aboard, but it still might not be complete in the eyes of the new coaching staff and front office.
Prospects to watch: Tennessee’s Cordarrelle Patterson and West Virginia’s Tavon Austin, who the Browns hosted during a pre-draft visit, are widely projected as first-round picks, and some draft analysts believe Southern California’s Robert Woods, California’s Keenan Allen, Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins, Tennessee’s Justin Hunter and Baylor’s Terrance Williams could go in the opening round as well. However, the Browns probably wouldn’t be in serious pursuit of any of the aforementioned prospects unless they traded down from the sixth overall pick. Remember, the Browns don’t have a second-round pick this year because they exercised it by taking Gordon in the supplemental draft last summer. In other words, middle- and late-round receivers are probably more likely to be considered. NFLDraftScout.com projects Oklahoma’s Kenny Stills as a fourth-round pick, and he visited the Browns. Other middle-round prospects to consider are Oregon State’s Markus Wheaton, Marshall’s Aaron Dobson, Tennessee Tech’s Da’Rick Rogers, Texas A&M’s Ryan Swope, Texas’ Marquise Goodwin, West Virginia’s Stedman Bailey, Georgia’s Tavarres King, Arkansas’ Cobi Hamilton, Kansas State’s Chris Harper, Duke’s Conner Vernon and TCU’s Josh Boyce.