By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
The NFL Draft doesn’t start until May 8, the pre-draft process is in its infancy and the Browns don’t even have a head coach yet.
Still, no one needs to wait for postseason college all-star games, the NFL Scouting Combine or a lengthy coaching search to unfold to become convinced that the Browns will target a quarterback with their top pick.
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. certainly reflects that line of thinking in his first mock draft of the year, which was published online Wednesday.
Kiper predicted that the Browns will select Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles fourth overall. He has Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel going to the Houston Texans at No. 1, Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews heading to the St. Louis Rams at No. 2 and South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney going to the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 3. He also has Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, who some draft gurus consider the top-rated quarterback, heading to the Minnesota Vikings at No. 8.
“While there’s plenty of debate in NFL circles regarding which QB in this class has the most upside in terms of overall ability, from a physical standpoint Bortles is at the top of the list,” Kiper wrote. “At 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, with not elite but good arm strength, and the ability to move both in the pocket and to make plays down the field as a runner, he has a chance to add value and eliminate negative plays with his mobility as he develops as a passer.
“It goes without saying that Cleveland will look to address its QB situation through the draft or via a trade, and this is potentially a good fit for Bortles. He’s still somewhat limited as a progression passer and struggles with ball placement, and can also be rigid with his mechanics, but the presence of [wide receiver] Josh Gordon and [tight end] Jordan Cameron gives any new QB here matchup threats to exploit. Cleveland is, for the first time in a while, a really attractive environment for a young QB to grow and succeed.”
The Browns also own the 26th overall pick as a result of trading running back Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts in September. In that slot, Kiper has them picking Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde.
“Hyde is certainly no lock here,” Kiper wrote. “But this does reflect where I think the league will value him.”
The Minnesota Vikings requested and received permission to interview Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner for the same position, a league source confirmed Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the situation.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter first reported the news. Turner was not expected to return to the Browns once they fired coach Rob Chudzinski on Dec. 29 after his lone season on the job. Turner also has been mentioned as a candidate for the Baltimore Ravens’ offensive coordinator job, but they have yet to request an interview with him, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reported.
The Vikings hired former Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer as their head coach Wednesday, and he’s targeting Turner as a possible top lieutenant. The hiring of Zimmer means a couple of other things for the Browns, aside from them becoming the only NFL team left without a head coach.
The Vikings and Browns were the only teams that requested an interview with Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase, a perceived favorite to fill the Browns’ opening. With the Vikings officially out of the running for Gase, the Browns represent his only opportunity to become a head coach this year. The Browns are expected to interview Gase once he’s done with the playoffs, a league source confirmed.
Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton interviewed for the Vikings’ head-coaching gig last week before losing out to Zimmer. Regardless, like Turner, Horton won’t be back with the Browns after spending just one season with the team.
The Browns have given Horton permission to interview for any available coaching job, not just head-coaching positions, and ESPN’s Chris Mortensen labeled him a leading candidate to become the defensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans. New Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt had Horton as his defensive coordinator for two seasons (2011-12) when they led the Arizona Cardinals together.
USA Football named Browns inside linebacker and defensive captain D’Qwell Jackson to its all-fundamentals team, which honors 26 NFL players each year who exhibit exemplary football techniques for youth players to emulate. … The Washington Redskins announced their previously reported hire of Browns outside linebackers coach Brian Baker.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com.