It does indeed appear that the Niners Nation community is on board with me in regards to the top five picks of the 2011 draft, which starts up tomorrow. The following is how the top five played out according to polls enclosed in the previous five articles.
1. Carolina Panthers: QB- Cameron Newton Auburn
2. Denver Broncos: DL- Marcell Dareus Alabama
3. Buffalo Bills: LB- Von Miller Texas A&M
5. Arizona Cardinals: QB- Blaine Gabbert Missouri
This morning I am going to focus on the #6 pick held by the Cleveland Browns. Cleveland was an extremely interesting team last season. There were signs of hope for this downtrodden franchise, however, those glimmers were short lived. Cleveland does have a lot of holes to fill, and those holes are in important positions.
Cleveland Browns 2010 Stats
Passing Yards: 186.9 (28th NFL)
Rushing Yards: 102.9 (20th NFL)
Passing Defense: 220.7 (18th NFL)
Rushing Defense: 129.4 (27th NFL)
Colt McCoy: 60.8 Comp %, 1576 Yards, 6 TD, 9 INT, 23 Sacks (74.5 Rating)
Peyton Hillis: 270 Attempts, 1177 Yards, 4.4 AVG, 11 TD, 61 Receptions, 477 Yards, 2 TD
Ben Watson: 68 Receptions, 763 Yards, 3 TD
There are a lot of questions that are still unanswered in regards to the Cleveland Browns. Is Colt McCoy their QB of the future? Was Peyton Hillis a one hit wonder? Will any of their receivers step up and become a #1 target? It isn't a coincidence that these three questions are on the offensive side of the ball. Although the Browns do have issues on defense, it does appear that offense needs to be a target this off-season. I am not seeing a true #1 receiver on this team. In fact, they may not even have as much as a #2 receiver on the roster. Peyton Hillis had a breakout 2010 season, but did fumble the ball a lot and doesn't have a track record of success in the NFL. There is a reason that a team picks in the top 10 of the NFL draft, they just didn't play that well last season. That said, the Browns are in much better position than most teams picking in the top third of the 1st round on Thursday.
#1: Wide Receiver: There is a problem when your starting tight end and running back combine for more receptions than your top four wide receivers combined. This is what happened with the Cleveland Browns in 2010. Peyton Hillis and Ben Watson combined for 129 receptions, while the likes of Chansi Stuckey, Mohamed Mossaquoi, Joshua Cribbs and Brian Robiskie had a total of 126. Some of this could be due to the fact that the Browns had a rookie signal caller, Colt McCoy, under center for 8 games; however, you cannot just look at that. None of those four wide receivers I listed are anywhere near #1 material. In fact, some could question whether any of them would be deserving of a #2 spot on a good team. There is no question that the Browns need a play maker on the outside. Additionally, it is extremely important that they get a "go-to guy" for Colt McCoy because I think we can all agree that Ben Watson isn't a real consistent threat. In order for the young QB to succeed he needs to be given the weapons to make plays on the outside; right now the Browns are lacking those weapons.
Top Wide Receivers Available
1. Julio Jones, Alabama
2. Titus Young, Boise State
3. Torrey Smith, Maryland
#2: Defensive Line: The Browns rush defense was extremely weak in 2010. They allowed 100 or more yards rushing 13 times last season, including their final 8 games; that is real bad. What is even worse is the fact that opposing teams averaged 152.8 yards rushing during those final 8 games. Ahtyba Rubin was extremely solid in 2010 with over 80 tackles, but with a 3-4 defense the Browns need to find ends that can play alongside Rubin and help in the run game. Right now they do not have that. The Browns just do not have the personnel to stop the run at this point. I cannot name a single player in the front three with an exception of Rubin that should be getting extended playing time in 2010. Cleveland may have the ability to find this personnel in free agency, but they would be better suited go after younger players via the draft. Shaun Rogers is now on the New Orleans Saints, so he is not an option. Additionally, I do not believe that Kenyon Coleman will be back next season. Even if he was, I don't believe that Coleman fits their 3-4 scheme well. This means that the Browns are not just looking for one player up front, rather they are looking for at least two.
Top Defensive Linemen Available
1. Nick Fairley, Auburn
2. Da'Quan Bowers, Clemson
3. Corey Liuget, Illinois
#3: Outside Linebacker: The Browns had 29 sacks last season, which is not good at all. Marcus Benard did have 7.5 sacks, but after that no player recorded more than 3.5. They desperately need to upgrade the pass rush position and in a 3-4 defense that rush should come from the OLB position. I do understand that the Browns did not have the personnel on the defensive line to open up lanes for their linebackers, but blame is a two way street. Matt Roth, Scott Fujita and David Bowens are not good 3-4 OLBs, and will never be. That said, the Browns do have a nice amount of options at this position in the first two rounds. I can easily see them going for a Justin Houston or Dontay Moch in the 2nd round, and reserving the 6th pick for one of their top two needs.
Top Outside Linebackers Available
1. Robert Quinn, North Carolina (4-3 DE)
2. Aldon Smith, Missour (4-3 DE)
3. Justin Houston, Georgia (4-3 DE)
4. Akeem Ayers, UCLA
My Pick: WR- Julio Jones, Alabama: He is a special talent that will give the Browns the necessary weapon on the outside. With this pick the Browns would be getting solid value at a position of need. The drop off from Julio Jones to the likes of Titus Young, Torrey Smith and Jonathan Baldwin is steep.
The same thing really cannot be said at these other positions. Cleveland would be getting solid value with Justin Houston, Akeem Ayers, Cameron Heyward, Brooks Reed or Dontay Moch in the 2nd round. With Montario Hardesty (2nd round pick in 2010), returning from injury and a full half of season behind Colt mcCoy, the Browns should be extremely improved on that side of the ball in 2011. If they add Julio Jones to the equation the improvement will be that much better.
Listen, it could be said that the Browns have a need at every position other than the secondary, but they have to look at both value and need moving forward. You see the potential on offense with McCoy and Hillis as well as in defense with Joe Haden, Eric Wright and T.J. Ward. If Cleveland is able to fill a few holes this off-season and add the necessary weapon (Jones), you are looking at a dramatically improved team heading into 2011.