As the Cleveland Browns once again enter another off-season after a woe-begotten regular season, their fans turn optimistically to the draft process. Hopes hinge upon exactly who should be the right pick. The Shrine All Star Game comes first on the calendar, but the Senior Bowl is arguably the single most important off season event for future National Football League talent. It allows top prospects to compete on the football field under NFL coaching supervision, seeing how each player responds to these same coaches and situations. Plus, there is the added bonus of personal interviews and interaction when not on the field. Each year certain players rise and fall based on one weeks' overall performance.
So who exactly are this year's top rated participants and who may be under the radar but deserves a little attention? Below are some highlighted names to keep a close eye on as the week progresses.
Michael Oher OT Mississippi
-- The Rebel product can be found highly rated throughout the community of draftniks. This blindside protector might be slightly overrated at this point. Oher has been inconsistent throughout his career in both technique and play. Specifically, the offensive lineman plays a little stiff in the hips, does not always display good knee bend, and has never dominated at a level consistent with his overall talent. He is a very good athlete and has very strong hands giving glimpses of elite status, but this week will go a long way determining if Oher is a legit top ten talent or slides slightly in the first round.
-- A fierce inside linebacker whose highlight reel is as impressive as any prospect in this draft class. Unfortunately those same highlights do not always reflect Maualuga's play on the field. A team leader and impact defender, this middle linebacker must show the ability to read and react quickly, drop back into pass coverage effectively, as well as getting off of blocks and working through trash. There is certainly some discrepancy as to where Maualuga should be rated, but the bottom line is this linebacker is a player whose competitiveness can be an asset this week.
Brian Cushing LB USC
-- Another Trojan enters the list as one of the weeks' top talents. Cushing has been a jack of all trades while at Southern California. Equally adept dropping back in coverage as he is rushing the passer, Cushing is a well rounded defender who can work in any defensive scheme. The two downfalls of this prospect's game would certainly be his injury history first and foremost, as well as being overwhelmed at the point of attack by bigger blockers. Often overshadowed by bigger names on the Trojan defense, Brian Cushing is a legit impact NFL linebacker and could hear his name in April's first round.
BJ Raji DT Boston College
-- After a year away from football due to academic ineligibility last season, Raji had the talent to enter the NFL draft. Instead he went back for his senior campaign and continued a level of dominance seen two years prior. Raji has shown the ability to be a complete disruptive threat to all opposing offenses. Big and strong at the point of attack at 320 pounds plus, this defensive tackle's technique is what separates him from the rest of the crop. Raji uses his hands extremely well to get off blocks and displays multiple pass rush moves to get to the quarterback. Once scouts realized this defender's work ethic was not in question, his stock rose very very quickly.
Alex Mack C Cal
-- Combining intelligence with physical talent, Alex Mack is one of the more impressive pivot prospects to enter the draft in recent memory. California did not have the year they expected on the field, but this center certainly played up to his billing. Strong at the point of attack, along with a good pass set; he has all the makings of a tone setter in the trenches. Often the interior offensive linemen are overlooked slightly throughout the draft process and this week can showcase their abilities. In the case of an Alex Mack, it would not be a surprise to see him rise quickly back into first round conversation.
Ramses Barden WR Cal Poly
-- Simply an impressive physical specimen at a listed 6 feet 6 inches tall and 227 pounds. Even more impressive were his stats last year at the Division IAA level: 67 receptions, 1257 yards receiving, and 18 touchdown catches. The Mustang quarterback only threw for a total of 23 touchdowns the entire season. Barden's combination of size and talent will certainly make him an enticing prospect, and with a good week against top talent this receiver will be skyrocketing up draft boards.
-- Another lower level prospect whose play just lights up the stat sheet. In Sidbury's biggest game of his career, this year's Division II National Championship, the defensive lineman stood tall recording four sacks. A fantastic athlete off the edge, the end will likely make the transition to linebacker because of size and strength limitation at a listed 6 feet 4 inches tall and 265 pounds. Rarely do prospects get to change positions during Senior Bowl week, but scouts will looks to his athleticism and fluidity off the edge. Performing well a week ago in the Shrine Game, Lawrence Sidbury will look to build on his late season momentum.
Also Watch Closely: Conner Barwin (DE Cincinnati), Larry English (DE Northern Illinois), Moise Fokou (LB Maryland), Louis Delmas (S Western Michigan), Rashad Jennings (RB Liberty), William Beatty (OT UConn), Scott McKillop (ILB Pitt), and Cedric Peerman (RB Virginia)