The Cleveland Browns may surprise on Saturday.
There is no other way to describe the Browns 2008 season other than to call it a complete disaster. Coming off a 10-6 season, many thought the Browns had turned the corner and were ready to take the next step up the ladder of success. It didn’t happen.
Instead the Browns imploded and the 4-12 debacle cost head coach Romeo Crennel and GM Phil Savage their jobs. Former Jets coach Eric Mangini and new GM George Kokinis were brought on board and immediately signaled their possible desire to overhaul the entire roster by trading away talented but disgruntled TE Kellen Winslow to Tampa Bay. The Browns picked up a much needed draft pick (2nd round, 50th overall) and rid themselves of a clubhouse cancer. 10 free agents have been signed, most notably, former Jets LB’s Eric Barton and David Bowens.
Trade rumors are also swirling around Braylon Edwards and Brady Quinn, with one or both likely to be traded by or on draft day as Mangini and Kokinis try to secure even more picks to fill out a roster that has lots of holes to fill. Let’s take a look at the Browns needs heading into Saturday:
1) LB – The Browns installed their current 3-4 defense under Romeo Crennel, but the inability to generate any semblance of a pass rush from the linebacker position has made the transition bumpy to say the least. Add in the fact that the Steelers and Ravens are in the same division fielding ferocious versions and you can see that this is an area the Browns have to address to compete in the AFC North. Kamerion Wimbley has basically proven that he is not going to become an elite pass rusher and the Browns need to bolster this position. Barton and Bowens are stopgap players who may cause the Browns to look at other positions in Round 1.
Possible Targets: I think the Browns ideal scenario would have Aaron Curry somehow fall into their lap at #5. Many think the Browns will tab Texas’ Brian Orakpo if Curry is off the board. It is quite possible the Browns will look to the 36th pick and take the best available LB left from a group including Ohio State’s James Laurinaitis, USC’s Clay Matthews Jr. and Utah’s Paul Kruger.
2) WR – It seemed almost certain that the much rumored trade of Braylon Edwards to the NY Giants would happen. With the release of Joe Jurevicius and the pending legal problems for Donte Stallworth, an Edwards trade would leave 34 year-old David Patten as the teams #1 WR. However reports out today seem to indicate that the talks between the Browns and Giants have fallen apart. In any case, this is an area that needs help. The Browns need to get some more playmakers into this offense, fast.
Possible Targets: If Edwards is traded the Browns will have to draft someone to throw the ball too in 2009, and Michael Crabtree would be hard to pass up at #5. If the Browns/Giants trade goes through, that would give the Browns a second 1st rd pick (29th) and they could always wait and choose from Kenny Britt, Hakeem Nicks or Percy Harvin. If Brian Robiske somehow were to slide to them at pick 50, I think the Browns would pounce.
3) S/CB – The Browns decided to let S Sean Jones go as a free agent and he signed on with the Eagles. The will have to address the secondary at some point in this draft. There was a lot of early buzz about Ohio State’s Malcolm Jenkins, but don’t expect the Browns to grab him at #5. He might be a possibility if the Browns trade down in the 1st rd.
Possible Targets: Jenkins and Vontae Davis will be tempting in the 1st rd, but with two picks in the 2nd rd (36, 50) don’t be surprised to see the team bolster their secondary at pick 50. Oregon’s Patrick Chung would be a nice fit for this team but William Moore out a Missouri is a possibility as well.
4) RB – Jamal Lewis is 30 years old and the Browns need to start thinking about a replacement soon. Jerome Harrison is a nice scat back option, but not an every down player. The Browns could use a physical between the tackles runner who can learn on the job and take over for Lewis when the time is right.
Possible Targets: Chris “Beanie” Wells was talked about early, but too many questions about his ability to stay healthy to take him at #5. Like Jenkins, he would be more of a possibility if the Browns trade down. If the Browns land the Giants pick, then Connecticut’s Donald Brown becomes a player the Browns will have to consider. Pitt’s Leshaun McCoy has emerged as a possible second round steal and if Chung is off the board the Browns might gamble on him instead. Syracuse’s Tony Fiammetta is the top FB in this draft and he is a guy I could see the Browns grabbing late in this draft.
5) DL – The Browns could still use a little help on the line as they like to use a rotation of players in their 3-4 setup. The depth chart can definitely use an infusion of talent.
Possible Targets: BJ Raji has suddenly emerged as a real possibility for the Browns at #5. His selection would likely be a case of the Browns grabbing the “Best” player on the board at that point. He is a bruising NT and would provide a stout presence in the 3-4 for the Browns. Again, if the Browns obtain another 1st rd pick, then Larry English from Nothern Illinois is the type of “hybrid” DE/OLB type this defense desperately needs.
Saturday should be an exciting and exhausting day for the Mangini/Kokinis regime, but the Browns seem poised again to at the very least be involved in a draft day trade or two and will be one of the teams to keep an eye on.
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Written by Ryan Carey