With the NFL Combine underway, here is a break down my Top Ten NFL Draft Prospects and how each could potentially fit with the Cleveland Browns.
1. Star Lotulelei (DT/NT-Utah) 6'3 320lbs - Senior
A monster plug in the middle of the Utes defense, Lotulelei's elite draft grade dates back to the early portions of the 2011 season. His true impact on the game doesn't show up on the stats sheet, though he registered 10 tackles for loss and 5 sacks in 2012. What Star does better than any draft prospect since Ndamukong Suh is swallow up offensive lineman, often times two or three at a time, creating opportunistic mismatches for his fellow defensive lineman while keeping his interior linebackers clean.
As a sophomore in 2010, Lotulelei spent time at offensive guard, subbing in for snaps in multiple games. It speaks to Star's true athleticism, as his size, exceptional strength and violent hands tend to pigeonhole him, unfairly, as a run stuffer only. The reality is, Lotulelei has the burst and bend to easily push the A gap on passing downs, and he's got the versatility to even kick outside to a 5 technique along 3 man fronts.
Is he a good fit for the Browns? In all likelihood, Star will be off the board by the time the Browns pick. If he is still on the board, he could be too enticing to pass up as a defensive end along their 3 man front. If the comparisons to Haloti Ngata hold true, he will be an elite talent wherever he's plugged in.
Many would balk at the notion that an offensive guard could be valued as the 2nd best prospect in any draft class, but Warmack isn't your typical interior lineman. Chance is viewed by many evaluators as a complete guard, a phenom capable of manhandling defensive tackles at the line of scrimmage with his sensational strength and an athletic road grader possessing the footwork to fluidly hit the second level and easily wipe out linebackers and defensive backs.
According to Alabama record keepers, Warmack was credited with missing 7 assignments on 728 snaps played in 2012, allowing 3.5 sacks on 287 pass attempts. Chance has started every game at left guard the past three seasons, helping to pave the way for individual rushing performances exceeding 100 yards in 23 of those 39 games.
Is he a good fit for the Browns? Many would argue the biggest holes in the Browns offense are the guards on each side of center Alex Mack. Chance would be an immediate starter between Joe Thomas and Mack and would help solidify an offensive line matched by few teams in the NFL. His market value will be debated fiercely leading into the draft, as guards simply do not get picked in the Top Ten.
3. Matt Barkley (QB-Southern Cal) 6'2 230lbs - Senior
Is Matt Barkley just another USC quarterback? It's the most hotly debated topic of this year's draft season. Barkley measured a full 6'2" at the Manning Passing Academy this past fall and certainly has the girth for the position, so concerns about his size have somewhat diminished. However, concerns about his arm strength remain, though the velocity of his passes were noticeably improved in 2012. What shows up on tape is a confident, smart quarterback completely in charge of his offense. His most elite attribute is his vision, something he showcased well in his final two years at USC, resembling a professional with his ability to move off receivers, zoning in on 2nd, 3rd, even 4th options in his passing tree.
A lingering right shoulder sprain caused him to miss his final two collegiate games, as well as an important date at the Senior Bowl. On February 11th, Barkley told the Pensacola News Journal that he plans on participating in every drill at the NFL Combine. It's almost a certainty that he will master the interview process with his high intellect on the blackboard and laid back personality. If he throws well and shows that he's near 100%, it could secure his spot in the Top 10, and potentially, the 1st overall pick in the NFL Draft.
Is he a good fit for the Browns? Word out of Berea seems to indicate that the new front office and coaching staff are not sold on last season's rookie starter, Brandon Weeden. While most feel the Browns will look for a veteran through free agency or trade, the possibility of drafting a quarterback in the 1st round, for two consecutive years, remains a possibility. If so, Barkley could win over Norv Turner, who has plenty of clout with Head Coach Rob Chudzinski.
No evaluation of Jones can begin without first investigating a major medical red flag, his battle with cervical spinal stenosis, an ailment that recently forced Chargers left tackle, All-Pro Marcus McNeil, into early retirement. In 2009, as a freshman playing meaningful snaps at Southern Cal, Jones injured his neck against Oregon and was forced to sit out the remainder of the year. Following the season, the USC medical staff failed to clear Jones to resume football activities, telling him he would never play again.
He found a home in Athens, where the Georgia medical staff worked with him and ultimately cleared him to resume his career. It didn't take Jones long to get back to his old form, posting 13.5 sacks as a sophomore in 2011. He followed that up with a monster 2012 season, which included 24.5 tackles for loss, 14.5 sacks, 20 hurries and 7 forced fumbles… just two years removed from being told that he would never play football again.
Is he a good fit for the Browns? The injury is scary, and its long-term effects are an unknown, but no other defensive player in this year's class has the resume of Jones, who is easily the best pass rushing talent available. His medicals at the NFL Combine will likely determine his market value more than any other prospect in this class.
5. Luke Joeckel (OT-Texas A&M) 6'6 310lbs - Junior
An athletic boulder that's nearly impossible to get around, Joeckel is the type of left tackle prospect that immediately gives their quarterback piece of mind, as he simply doesn't allow any disturbance in the passing game from the blind side. He has elite height and athleticism and has been battle-tested by top notch collegiate pass rushers since he started as a true freshman in 2010, never missing a game in that span.
One concern in his game is his overall strength, as Joeckel was put on the ground at an alarming rate last season, mostly a result of losing the leverage battle with defensive ends like LSU's Sam Montgomery, who consistently bull rushed him in their matchup, recording two hurries on the quarterback in that game. However, his consistency is hard to overlook, as he allowed only 10 pressures and 2 sacks for the entire 2012 season and seems to be getting better each year.
Is he a good fit for the Browns? With Joe Thomas and Mitchell Schwartz set in stone as bookend starters, the Browns are all but certain to bypass on the left tackle product.
6. Eric Fisher (OT-Central Michigan) 6'7 305lbs – Senior
Fisher is a versatile lineman with nimble feet and a good knack for winning the angle battle. He's started at right tackle and right guard earlier in his collegiate career, but has owned the left tackle position for the Chippewas the past two seasons, minus his final two games in 2011, which he missed due to a knee injury. His senior season was spectacular, as he was credited with allowing only 1 sack throughout the 2012 campaign, continuing his rise through the Senior Bowl, where he was regarded by many as the best talent there, regardless of position.
Fisher can be quite physical at times, but on film he has a bad tendency to allow defenders first contact, something he was able to absorb and work with in MAC play, but a nasty habit that could hamper his career early if it's not corrected. There isn't a prospect in this class who has improved their stock as much as Fisher has over the past six months, and that momentum will likely make him a Top 8 selection come April.
Is he a good fit for the Browns? See Luke Joeckel.
7. Damontre Moore (DE/OLB-Texas A&M) 6'4 250lbs – Junior
Perhaps the most versatile pass rusher in this year's class, Damontre accumulated 21 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks this past season, doing it from both sides of the line, sometimes standing up and other times from a 3 point stance. Moore possesses violent hands and exceptional lower body strength, allowing him to consistently win leverage battles with bigger offensive lineman. If there is a knock on Damontre, it's his lack of bend when turning the corner, a trait that is vital for a pass rusher to be successful at the next level.
Moore looked terrific in his biggest SEC matchups of the season, dominating the Florida offensive line, giving fits to LSU's and Alabama's. One potential character red flag is his arrest in Brazos County, Texas in 2010, when he was pulled over with more than two ounces of marijuana in his possession.
Is he a good fit for the Browns? With his ability to stand up or drop to a 3 point stance, Moore is likely slotted near the top of the Browns Big Board, as he seems like an ideal talent for Defensive Coordinator Ray Horton. Moore's timing and interviews at the NFL Combine will be critical, though it's not likely Moore will slip out of the Top 10 even if he performs average in the drills.
The best man-to-man corner in the class, Rhodes uses a suffocating combination of size, quickness and physicality to deflate and defeat wide receivers over the course of a game. His nickname should be glue, as he seems to stick to the waist of his assignments, thanks in large part to very fluid hips and natural instincts that simply cannot be taught.
One downside to Rhodes may be his numbers, picking off 3 passes this year after managing only 1 in 2011. There are questions about his true downfield speed, yet the film shows a fast corner capable of going step-for-step with speedsters like Clemson's Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins, Miami's Phillip Dorsett and Virginia Tech's Marcus Davis. None of the above managed much against Rhodes, nor did any other receiver in 2012.
Is he a good fit for the Browns? Cleveland will explore every possibility in the draft and free agency as they attempt to find a #2 corner to pair with perennial Pro-Bowler Joe Haden. Rhodes has the size and physicality to flourish in Horton's aggressive scheme, and may remind Horton of one of his former corners, the 5th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, Patrick Peterson.
9. Bjoern Werner (DE-Florida State) 6'4 255lbs – Junior
The impressive German entered the 2012 season with incredibly high expectations after a stellar 2011 sophomore campaign where he notched 11 tackles for loss and 7 sacks. He nearly doubled his sack output as a junior, notching 13 of them, in addition to 18 tackles for loss and 7 passes batted or tipped at the line of scrimmage. Werner uses a combination of brute strength and above-average quickness to toy with offensive lineman, though he must develop more speed moves to succeed at the next level.
Werner made a wise decision to sign with Jimmy Sexton of Creative Artists Agency, a well-respected agent with plenty of pull in NFL circles. With a strong performance at the NFL Combine, and Sexton marketing his services, Werner will likely be a Top 10 draft selection in April.
Is he a good fit for the Browns? Werner's body and preferred style of play may relegate him to a base 43 end, working primarily out of a 3 point stance. Though it's not completely out of question, the Browns are likely looking for a little more athleticism out of their pass rushers as the team transitions to a 34.
10. Dion Jordan (DE/OLB-Oregon) 6'6 240lbs – Redshirt Senior
A converted tight end with elite athleticism, Jordan pushed his way onto draft boards following a breakout 2011 campaign, his first season as a starting drop end in the Ducks defense, a season which included 13 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. He started the 2012 season strong, notching 5 sacks in his first seven games before tearing his labrum against Colorado in late October. Jordan played through the injury for the remainder of the season, showing true grit and outstanding leadership qualities that pro personnel managers salivate over.
Jordan's size and overall attributes make him an ideal candidate for an outside linebacker in a 34 scheme or a weak side end in a 43 scheme. He has experience dropping back into coverage, an aspect of his game which he improved on as a senior. His outstanding bend and flexibility, when attacking the line of scrimmage, suggests he will be a very effective pass rusher at the next level.Is he a good fit for the Browns? Jordan is likely a top target on the Browns draft board, whether they stay at #6 or attempt to trade down into the low teens. His market value is volatile going into the NFL Combine, with many experts pegging him as a Top 10 pick and others sliding him into the late 1st round.