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Looking into the Crystal Ball

Mike is the first of Bernie's Insiders to take on the thankless and near-impossible task of divining what the Browns might do nineteen days from now on Draft Day. Follow-up with Mike in the <A HREF="">Ask the Insiders</A> forum!

What makes the NFL draft exciting to fans is also what makes it frustrating.

People that get caught up in the guessing game of what might transpire during the two-day process are rarely given a clue as to what course their favorite team will take. It could be because most teams are refining their draft boards up until high noon on draft day.

The guessing game is more frustrating this year for Browns fans due to the simple fact that there are several areas that need strengthened. Odds are that when the Browns are on the clock, the best available player will fill a need.

When coach Butch Davis and his staff compare notes in coming weeks, there could be varying opinions. Is landing an offensive tackle (or guard) more important than finding a cover cornerback? And what about placing a mauler in the middle of the defense that can stop the run? Then there's the never-ending quest to land a speed pass rusher on the edge.

If I know anything about Davis, it's that he is a defensive guy, first and foremost. His comments during the offseason ring of disappointment with the defense's poor showing against the run last season. He knows all too well that you can't win consistently when your defense allows an average of 129.9 rushing yards a game.

I believe that Davis will use the first pick on a defender. Not that the offense is in great shape, but it made enough strides last season (particularly on the ground) to think that better days are ahead. The defense can't make the same claim.

My gut tells me that Davis would like to land a cornerback with a high pick. The departure of Corey Fuller sets up a possible starting duo of Daylon McCutcheon and either Anthony Henry or Lewis Sanders on the corners. The potential for disaster in that mix is obvious.

McCutcheon is viewed by many as a perfect candidate as a third cornerback. He plays the run well and is good in coverage, but he's prone to nagging injuries that curtail his effectiveness. Henry is half safety and half cornerback and is best suited in nickel situations. Sanders showed plenty of potential in his rookie season of 2000, but he struggled last year after missing the 2001 campaign because of an injury.

I believe that the Browns would like to see Washington State cornerback Marcus Trufant drop to the 21st spot in the first round, but that's unlikely to happen. If Oregon State's Dennis Weathersby is on the board, he might be tempting.

The key will be how much importance Davis puts on stopping the run in relation the clear need of bringing in a top-flight cornerback. Since neither of the top two corners (Kansas State's Terence Newman or Trufant) will likely be available, look for Davis to go for a middle linebacker or a defensive tackle.

There are two scenarios I could see that might make Davis change his mind and go offensive with the first pick. If a quality lineman (Iowa's Eric Steinbach or Stanford's Kwame Harris) slips, the Browns might be inclined to head in that direction, which would give Davis options with how to use Ross Verba.

Another variable is Tennessee's Jason Witten, who's clearly the best of a weak tight end crop. Witten is by no means in the same class as Jeremy Shockey, but he's better than anyone on the Browns' roster at this point.

I'd be surprised if Davis would select Witten. From what I've heard, Davis believes Darnell Sanders has the ability to start. In addition, Witten has enough holes in his game (he's not a brute as a blocker) to make him a risk as a first-round pick.

Since there will be no promising speed pass rushers available when the Browns select (Georgia linebacker Boss Bailey won't drop to 21), I believe that Davis will target a defensive tackle or a middle linebacker. Two names that jump out are Miami tackle William Joseph and Maryland linebacker E. J. Henderson.

Everyone knows how fond Davis is of his Miami recruits, which might give Joseph an edge. Davis might also be intrigued by the thought of pitting Joseph next to a reportedly slim-and-trim Gerard Warren.

Henderson is solid against the run in pursuit and has excellent instincts. He would be a nice fit, unless Davis thinks that second-year linebacker Andra Davis can replace Earl Holmes.

Joseph looks like the most-likely pick at this point, with Henderson a close second. If Steinbach falls into the Browns' lap, I think that Butch would make him the first offensive lineman drafted in the first round by the Browns since Bill Belichick selected Michigan center Steve Everitt in 1993.

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