As the Browns prepare for a busy offseason, they face plenty of questions about how to upgrade the quarterback position, or at least find competition for Brandon Weeden, and how to aid their conversion to new defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s 3-4 multifront scheme.
Will they use free agency, which begins March 12, or the sixth overall pick in the draft, which runs April 25-27?
The NFL Scouting Combine, which runs Feb. 20-26 in Indianapolis, might help the Browns sort through it, but ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. is confident he already knows the answer. Kiper is not convinced West Virginia’s Geno Smith, Southern California’s Matt Barkley or any other quarterback in this year’s draft is better than Weeden or worthy of a top-10 selection, and he thinks the Browns will instead target a defender — likely a pass rusher — at No. 6.
“It’s possible [Weeden] could’ve been the first quarterback taken this year,” Kiper said Wednesday during a conference call. “You look at Geno Smith and Matt Barkley and Brandon Weeden, it would’ve been a tough call. Nobody right now is in this draft saying, ‘If I’m Cleveland, I’ve got to take this quarterback even though I have Brandon Weeden.’ There’s no quarterback that screams out, saying, ‘Take me, even though you have Weeden because I’m that much better.’ There’s nobody. So I don’t think Cleveland’s going to be able to find that guy.”
Kiper doesn’t share the same view as some of his peers who believe Smith could crack the top 10 and even be a candidate for the No. 1 overall pick of the Kansas City Chiefs.
“Some think top 10, and it’s possible,” Kiper said. “I just think he’s going to go 20-32. We’ll see how that all moves along as we go through pro days and combines.”
Kiper is convinced the Browns would have picked Barkley fourth overall last year if he hadn’t stayed at USC. But after a disappointing season in which he was plagued by an injured shoulder, Barkley is no longer considered a top prospect.
“He would’ve gone fourth to Cleveland maybe ahead of those other quarterbacks and certainly [running back] Trent Richardson wouldn’t have been a Brown,” Kiper said. “They traded up one spot to get [Richardson last year]. History would’ve been rewritten completely. Then all of the sudden, [Barkley] would’ve been ahead of [Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan] Tannehill and maybe have been the fourth pick. Now all the sudden, you’re looking at late first, early second for him. So the year didn’t go the way Barkley and the USC Trojans hoped.”
By the time the draft rolls around, the Browns might have already acquired a quarterback anyway. Alex Smith of the San Francisco 49ers, Chase Daniel of the New Orleans Saints and Brian Hoyer of the Arizona Cardinals have been linked to the Browns and are expected to be available.
So Kiper has identified Florida State’s Bjoern Werner and Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore as pass rushers the Browns could pursue in the draft. Although Kiper has the Browns taking Werner in each of his first two mock drafts, he conceded he views Werner as a 4-3 defensive end, not a 3-4 outside linebacker. On the other hand, Moore would probably be an ideal fit as a rush linebacker in Horton’s system. Kiper also lists Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner as a possibility for the Browns, but he also thinks Milliner could be taken at Nos. 4 or 5 overall.
“I would think you look at the pass rusher,” Kiper said. “Be it Moore or Werner, I think one of those two will be there at [No.] 6.”
Two other linebacker/defensive ends, Barkevious Mingo of Louisiana State and Dion Jordan of Oregon, could also be in play for the Browns at No. 6, Kiper said.
Diamond in rough?
The Seattle Seahawks drafted quarterback Russell Wilson in the third round (75th overall) last year, and he led them to the playoffs as a rookie. Kiper, though, said any thought of the Browns hitting the jackpot in a similar fashion in the third or fourth round is fantasy.
“You’re not going to find Russell Wilsons every year,” Kiper said. “You’re not going to find Russell Wilsons every 20 years, 5-[foot]-10½ quarterbacks that can play at the level, you’re just not going to find. We haven’t had them before. … So at the end of the day, don’t try to find that guy. He’s not there.”
The Browns signed punter Spencer Lanning on Wednesday, the team announced. Lanning, who signed with the Chicago Bears in 2011 as an undrafted free agent from the University of South Carolina, spent training camp with the Browns last season before being waived Aug. 26. He also spent time with the Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets.
Browns punter Reggie Hodges is scheduled to become a free agent next month.
Punter Brian Stahovich also worked out for the Browns on Wednesday, a league source confirmed for the Beacon Journal. The source spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
With tight ends Benjamin Watson and Alex Smith set to become free agents, the Browns will be in the market for reinforcements. Kiper said this year’s draft features “a pretty good tight-end group.” … Kiper projects Michigan State’s Johnny Adams, a Buchtel High School graduate, as a fourth-round pick and a nickel cornerback in the NFL. He projects Kent State offensive lineman Brian Winters, a Hudson High School graduate, as a third-round selection and a guard or right tackle in the NFL. … Kiper mentioned Mount Union wide receiver Jasper Collins as an “under-the-radar” player who he expects will be drafted. Collins was not invited to the combine. … Nick Sorensen will serve as a special teams coach for the Seahawks, his agent, Ron Del Duca, announced Wednesday via Twitter. Sorensen was a special-teams ace for the Browns from 2007-10.
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.