This is the sixth of a team-by-team series, analyzing five prospects whom each team should consider in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Since the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999, wins have been few and far between and the term “rebuilding” has been the franchise's slogan. But with new owner Jimmy Haslam calling the shots, he has hired several smart business and football minds to give Cleveland fans hope for the future, both short and long term.
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The first order of business for Haslam and newly appointed CEO Joe Banner was to find the best head coach to lead the Browns in the right direction. That search ended with Ohio native Rob Chudzinski, who had two previous stints as an assistant coach in Cleveland and is considered one of the brightest offensive minds in the NFL. Besides his prowess calling plays, Chudzinski also has an eye for talent.
“From an overall standpoint, we're looking for good people, good athletes and good players,” Chudzinski said at last month's NFL Combine in response to the type of players whom he wants. “Guys that are tough, guys that won't be outworked by anybody. I want guys that want to be Cleveland Browns and want to be in Cleveland want to be part of something special."
First-year general manager Michael Lombardi will likely have final say when it comes to the roster and the draft, but Chudzinski will also have a strong voice in the evaluation process. Cleveland has needs at linebacker, offensive guard and in the secondary at cornerback and free safety. With the sixth overall pick, will they look to address one of those needs or select the best player available?
“You're always looking to address the needs that you have whether it's in the draft or free agency,” Chudzinski said. “But, you want to get the best players possible and sometimes you have to be careful about forcing something that's not there so you find the best players. We have enough needs and enough openings that we need to find the best players and bring the best players to Cleveland and let them compete for starting job and to help us get better to win.”
Despite five wins or less in each of the past five seasons, the Browns have stockpiled some of the best young talent in the league. There are still some obvious needs and depth issues, but Cleveland's roster is a few players away from competing for the top spot in the AFC North.
Cleveland Browns 2013 draft picks: 6, 68, 104, 139, 173, 175
Primary needs: CB, OLB, FS, OG
General manager: Michael Lombardi, first season
Five draft picks that clicked:
-- WR Josh Gordon, 2012 Supplemental Draft
-- OT Mitchell Schwartz, 37th overall, 2012
-- DE Jabaal Sheard, 37th overall, 2011
-- SS T.J. Ward, 38th overall, 2010
-- DT Ahtyba Rubin, 190th overall, 2008
Five players who should be on the Cleveland Browns draft radar:
Player, school (overall rating, position rating)
CB Dee Milliner, Alabama (5, 1)
Despite one of the best young cornerbacks in the league already on the roster (Joe Haden), the Browns finished near the bottom of the league in pass defense last season. And with incumbent starter Sheldon Brown currently a free agent, Cleveland has a need to fill opposite Haden. Millliner has above-average speed, aggressiveness and collegiate resume, but his most impressive attribute might be his instincts, allowing him to play tight coverage up and down the field. Pairing Milliner with Haden would give the Browns two former SEC standouts and the best young cornerback duo in the league.
OLB Sio Moore, Connecticut (66, 6)
As the Browns transition to a 3-4 defensive scheme under coordinator Ray Horton, the front office will look to draft depth in the front seven, especially at linebacker. Moore lined up as a “SAM” linebacker spot in college, showing the versatility to drop in space and cover or put his hand on the ground and bend the edge as a pass rusher. He still has room to grow in certain areas, especially if he transitions to a 3-4 scheme, but his versatility will allow him to add depth and play several roles in the Browns' new defense.
FS Josh Evans, USC (132, 7)
While Matt Elam receives the headlines as Florida's top safety prospect, Evans had a strong 2012 season himself and catapulted himself up draft boards. Although he has room to improve his anticipation in coverage, he displays the rangy speed and overall athleticism to hold up in the deep half of the field. Evans will attack plays in the box as a physical striker but also play man or zone and get his hands on the ball, finishing last season with a team-best three interceptions. Evans will have the chance to fight for a starting job, especially in Cleveland, where the free safety position is a question mark.
TE Nick Kasa, Colorado (149, 8)
This is one of those “connecting the dots” picks. The Browns added a few free-agent tight ends (Kellen Davis, Gary Barnidge), and there is still hope that Jordan Cameron sheds the “project” label. However, it wouldn't be shocking to see Cleveland add another tight end in the draft. Kasa makes a lot of sense due to fit in the offense and pro upside. Jon Embree, his head coach at Colorado, moved him from defensive end to tight end late in the 2011 season. So, understandably, Kasa still has a lot of work to do, but the potential is tough to ignore. Oh, and did I mention Embree is now the Browns' tight ends coach?
QB Ryan Griffin, Tulane (275, 14)
While the book on Brandon Weeden's tenure in Cleveland remains a work in progress, it wouldn't be a shock to see the Browns add a developmental quarterback in the later stages of the draft. Tulane managed just 11 wins the past four seasons with Griffin at the helm, but he showed steady improvement each year and has the tools and smarts to develop at the next level. He doesn't stand out in any one area, but he has enough size, arm strength and pocket mobility to earn a roster spot.