Editor’s note: Beacon Journal Browns beat writer Nate Ulrich and sports columnist Marla Ridenour were recently in Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine, which wrapped up Tuesday. Below are some of Nate’s thoughts about the Browns and the combine.
1. The Browns should not approach the fourth overall pick with a quarterback-or-bust mindset. I’m starting to believe that we could look back at this year’s draft class in 5-10 years and talk about how the quarterback who went on to have the best career in the NFL wasn’t one of the big three: Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Central Florida’s Blake Bortles. Questions about size and durability have me worried about Bridgewater and Manziel, especially in the AFC North and in Cleveland’s harsh weather. As for Bortles, he supported draft analysts’ claims that he’s underdeveloped and might need to sit on the bench for a while. “I have no problem with that,” Bortles said. “There’s no doubt I need coaching. I need help.” With owner Jimmy Haslam’s quick trigger finger, do you honestly think General Manager Ray Farmer and coach Mike Pettine want to bet on someone who admits he might not be ready to play right away?
2. Some of you will answer, ‘Yes, it makes all the sense in the world to draft Bortles and let him sit behind Brian Hoyer until he’s ready.’ Hoyer is pleased with his rehabilitation from the torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered in his right knee last October, and he expects to be able to participate in the team’s offseason workout program when it begins in April. At the combine, Pettine said Hoyer is “ahead of schedule with his rehab, looking forward to getting him back where he’ll do at least some limited work in the spring.” But this is a fair warning to all Browns fans who fantasize about Hoyer being their savior in 2014: A torn ACL is very difficult to fully bounce back from in less than one year, and no one should count on it. If it does happen, it’s a bonus. Hoyer provided a spark last season and is doing everything in his power to be ready to pick up where he left off, but expectations about his recovery should be managed.
3. I still think the Browns would like to pick a quarterback at No. 4, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they took another route because of the aforementioned concerns about the big three. If available at No. 4, Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins would be a no-brainer alternative to a QB. If I had to a pick from the big three, I’d bet on Bridgewater, but I also won’t blink if the second tier, formed by Fresno State’s Derek Carr, Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo and Alabama’s A.J. McCarron, produces the best selection.
4. South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney could be another option for the Browns at No. 4 if he slips past the top-three picks and Cleveland doesn’t go with a quarterback. Questions about his work ethic might not preclude Farmer and Pettine from drooling over his phenomenal speed and athletic ability, but I’d be cautious. Although Clowney posted an official time of 4.53 seconds in the 40-yard dash, a jaw-dropping performance by a 6-foot-5, 266-pound man, he bench pressed 225 pounds only 21 times. That’s below average for players at his position and only one more rep than Kent State’s Dri Archer, a 5-7, 173-pound running back and wider receiver. It shows a lack of preparation on Clowney’s part.
5. If leadership ability, toughness, people skills and character are valued at quarterback as much as NFL decision makers claim, Carr should not last until the late first round, when the Browns are slated to pick 26th overall. He had the best and most compelling media session I heard at the combine when he explained the life-threatening complications his infant son, Dallas, overcame after he was born in August and the lessons the harrowing experience taught the elder Carr about handling adversity on and off the field. But it wasn’t just the inspiring story that set Carr’s interview apart. His intelligence, savvy and sense of humor were evident in several answers. He was as impressive as Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel was during his media availability at last year’s combine. Manuel was the only QB picked in the first round last year.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.