Like all teams in the NFL, the Cleveland Browns have invested significant man-hours in the scouting and evaluation of college players throughout the country. In what is described as a bigger crap-shoot than free agency, teams are lining up their lists of players and slotting them according to those evaluations.
What has become a foregone conclusion with many fans and some media alike in Cleveland is the front-runner as the Browns first selection in the draft, the fifth-overall selection. On April 25th, the Browns will be on the clock and poised to potentially make the biggest decision of the early Mangini/Kokinis era in Cleveland.
Outside linebacker Aaron Curry is the favorite amongst Browns fans. The position Curry plays, as well as his natural football instincts and athleticism, makes him a hot commodity for the top-ten teams on draft day, including the Cleveland Browns.
Surely, the Browns coming off a disappointing 2008 season need to secure some blue-chip talent to overcome what has become an endless display of mediocre defensive football in Cleveland. While Curry excites many scouts, there are other players which an organization such as the Browns has invested considerable time and energy in evaluating.
While Curry is definitely a top talent and potentially off the board when the Browns are on the clock, there is quite an interesting stable of opportunities for a team such as Cleveland sitting in the #5 hole.
As when Eric Mangini was the head coach of the New York Jets, that organization wasted little time revamping its offensive line through the draft. In selecting a left tackle and center in the first round, Mangini's Jets were dedicated to building a strong line to enable a strong rushing attack, while also ably protecting the QB in the passing game.
Such a thought comes to mind when looking at this Browns roster. With a questionable rushing attack, which could be blamed both on scheme and personnel, the offensive line of the Browns has been under increased scrutiny, and deservedly so.
The play at center, right guard and right tackle was average at best in 2008, and at times this group was overwhelmed by the opposition. Some within the new regime in Cleveland theorize that the extent of the issue was not simply player-related as the schemes and player expectations were not plausible.
One cannot help but look at right tackle Andre Smith of Alabama to envision the Crimson tide product anchoring, or should we say, simply overpowering the opposition from the RT spot. Smith, a standout performer with the Crimson Tide, has enhanced his game under the direction of former Browns assistant and Alabama head coach Nick Saban.
Saban happens to share a relationship with the new Browns head coach, who, in turn, just so happens to have taken a lengthy look at the offensive line prospect.
As tantalizing as Smith may be, defense continues to be an area where this Browns organization simply cannot afford to stand pat. While interest in Everette Brown of Florida State is not strong, the team has expressed a much stronger interest in University of Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo. A DE at Texas, Orakpo is slated to become a pass-rushing defensive end or outside linebacker at the professional level.
As interested as teams such as the Browns are in Orakpo, some skepticism remains within player evaluation and general manager circles regarding Orakpo's true position and effectiveness at the professional level.
Due to questions about quality and depth at the inside and outside linebacking positions, the Browns have displayed a keen interest in the collegiate ranks. Sitting with the fifth selection in the draft, there is a concern about not gaining a true impact player at the positions of need. The Browns may wind up looking at a potential stable of solid professional prospects, but not players who leap off the film in the evaluation process.
Much of the same could be noted about Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji. Raji is strong, relatively quick and could provide a team with a quality inside presence and some pass rushing ability. The issue for the Browns is that Shaun Rogers presently fills the inside role and is signed to a lengthy contract.
While the team and player are working through some issues, Rogers is almost a guarantee to be a member of the Browns -- unless he forgoes a significant amount of money in a contract negotiation to seek his trade or release. Until that time, Raji remains a talented, solid football player who, while not deemed worthy of the fifth-overall selection in the draft, is a player of interest nonetheless.
Some of the Browns preparation could be attributed to what may occur in the upcoming weeks. What will happen with wide receiver Braylon Edwards? Will the team decide to trade the WR and quarterback Derek Anderson?
Looking at this draft, the most talented player -- and a player that might provide the most immediate impact -- is wide receiver Michael Crabtree of Texas Tech. A broken bone in his foot, which has been surgically repaired, has derailed some of his pre-draft work, but this WR appears to be a solid selection.
Would the Browns consider Crabtree with the fifth-overall selection in the draft? Absolutely, as would a solid number of other organizations; some of who have top-five picks in the draft, and some others who are sitting back further in the first round.
If the Browns WR position changes with a trade of Edwards, most certainly we will see the Browns look long and hard at Crabtree with the fifth-pick if he is available.
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