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Draft team needs: Cleveland Browns

by | CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist

Bad enough that the Cleveland Browns were awful last season, losing nine of their final 10 games. But they were lifeless, too, eclipsing 14 points in that span just once ... in a 23-20 loss to Cincinnati.

New coach Pat Shurmur was supposed to revitalize the Browns, but they won fewer games and scored fewer points than the 2010 club that got Eric Mangini cashiered. Granted, five of their final seven defeats were by no more than six points, but you don't impress anyone by being close -- not when you haven't made the playoffs in eight years.

So the heat is on Shurmur and the organization to demonstrate they're on the right path; that they know how to make the Browns interesting, complete and successful ... and good luck. They're in a division with three playoff teams, and the only thing that seems for sure there is that Cleveland is fourth-best.


QB: Colt McCoy returns as the starter, with the Browns saying they have complete confidence in him. Not so fast. It was the Browns who pushed Washington in the RG3 Sweepstakes, with St. Louis eventually dealing its first draft choice -- second overall -- to the Redskins. Shurmur says he supports his quarterback, but there better be more progress with McCoy than there was a year ago. He didn't throw many touchdown passes, his completion percentage declined and the Browns couldn't find the end zone with a GPS. That wasn't McCoy's fault. The guy has no playmakers around him. But he should heed the warnings attached to that flirtation with Robert Griffin III. Seneca Wallace returns as the backup, but the Browns could use a young QB to start grooming, and maybe it happens in the middle of this draft.

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RB: Let's get this one out of the way up top: The running game stinks and has stunk for most of the time since the Browns returned to the NFL. Last year was no exception, with Cleveland ranked 28th in rushing and 21st in yards per attempt. Peyton Hillis is gone, which leaves Montario Hardesty and Chris Ogbonnaya as the top two backs -- and, yes, that's a problem. It's the primary reason most mock drafts have Trent Richardson penciled in as the Browns' first choice at the fourth overall spot. Richardson is one of the most gifted players in this draft, and the Browns need gifted running backs like Levi needs Strauss.

WR: People tell me that McCoy isn't the answer at quarterback, but how can anyone make a judgment based on the talent -- or lack of it -- around the poor guy? Receiver is no exception, with Greg Little the best of a mediocre bunch. Mohamed Massaquoi, who suffered a concussion for the second straight season, and special-teams star Josh Cribbs complete the top three, and let's be honest: There's not a franchise wide receiver in there. But there could be with the Browns' second pick, 22nd overall. If there's one thing Cleveland needs as much as someone to carry the ball, it's someone to catch it. It had its chance a year ago but passed on Julio Jones when Atlanta made it an offer it couldn't refuse. Now it needs to find that talented wideout -- and fast.

TE: Some of the most reliable sets of hands are at this position, with Benjamin Watson and Evan Moore two of McCoy's favorite targets. That's the good news. Now the bad: Both finished the season on injured reserve, with Watson's catches dropping from 68 to 37. Alex Smith is a decent reserve, but he's coming off a shoulder injury.

OL: The Browns have three offensive linemen -- Joe Thomas, Alex Mack and Jason Pinkston -- who didn't miss a snap in 2011. In fact, they haven't missed a snap in their pro careers, while guard Shawn Lauvao played 95 percent of the snaps last season. So that's good. But this isn't: Pinkston leaked too often in pass protection, allowing a team-high 10 QB hits, according to Profootballfocus.com, while Lauvao committed a club-high 11 penalties. The right side of the line is the concern, with Oniel Cousins taking over at right tackle -- and now you understand why the Browns are looking at Matt Kalil. Though the Southern California star was at left tackle his final two seasons in college, he has played on the right side -- and coupling him with Thomas would give the Browns bookend tackles capable of protecting McCoy. Cleveland needs depth here, as well as a right tackle.

DL: With the additions of free agents Frostee Rucker and Juqua Parker, the Browns think they're set at defensive end. Rucker would start on the right side, while Jabaal Sheard -- who led the team with 8½ sacks -- starts on the left. Parker would be a backup. The Browns think they're set inside, too, where Philip Taylor was impressive before wearing down in his rookie season, but they ranked 30th vs. the run -- and that must improve. If there's a need here it's for more depth.

LB: D'Qwell Jackson was one of the year's best feel-good stories, with the middle linebacker returning from two lost seasons to lead the team in tackles and finish second to Detroit's Matt Stafford in Comeback Player of the Year voting. Scott Fujita is one outside linebacker, but he finished on IR for the second straight season, and with him turning 33 this month you have to wonder about his durability. Chris Gocong can play either outside spot ... and did last season after Fujita was hurt, with Kaluka Maiava taking over for Gocong. Depth has been an issue here in the past, and it is now -- with Cleveland looking for someone with speed on the outside.

DB: New secondary coach Tim Hauck takes over a unit that excelled last season, with Cleveland the league's second-ranked pass defense. Cornerback Joe Haden is the top defensive back, often locked on the opponent's best receiver, while Sheldon Brown makes up for his lack of speed with experience. Safety T.J. Ward comes off a foot injury that kept him out of most of last season, while Usama Young replaces Mike Adams at free safety. Dimitri Patterson is an effective nickel back, and Buster Skrine, while raw, has so much speed he could one day replace Brown.


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