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Rebuilding Browns looking for help
BEREA, OHIO (AP) - Let’s see, a game-changing wide receiver for quarterback Colt McCoy. A get-after-the-quarterback pass rusher for new coach Pat Shurmur’s defensive front. A right tackle. A linebacker or two. A few special team-types with upside. Maybe a kicker or a cornerback.
The Cleveland Browns have a lengthy shopping list for the NFL draft. In fact, there isn’t much they don’t need.
“We have some holes to fill all over the place,” general manager Tom Heckert said. “We still have holes on offense and defense.”
The question is: which ones to fill first?
With the No. 6 overall selection on Thursday night and three picks in the Top 70, the Browns, who have spent the past decade in rebuilding mode and again changed coaches this winter, hope to plug some of those openings and address shortcomings they’ve yet to fix.
Uncertainty at the top of the draft board makes it hard to guess who may be available when the Browns’ turn arrives in Round One. Heckert intends to abide by the team’s philosophy of taking the best player available _ regardless of position or need.
“Everybody says that, but we are going to try to do that,” said Heckert, who had a strong draft last year. “We are probably in a better position to do that than some teams. Some teams may be one or two positions away from being really good, so I think it’s probably a positive for us that we can sit there and take the best available player.”
There’s certainly enough quality atop Cleveland’s draft board to get help. LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson, Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green, Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers, Texas A&M linebacker Vonn Miller, North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn, Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones and Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley could all be in play for the Browns.
Publicly, at least, the Browns have been saying they don’t need a quarterback. McCoy showed enough promise last season _ and not with a lot of help _ to convince Heckert and team president Mike Holmgren that it’s worth investing another full season into his development.
Still, they’ll likely pick a quarterback at some point.
Beyond that, it’s vital that Cleveland upgrades its wide receiving corps for McCoy, who will be running Shurmur’s West Coast offense, a passing heavy attack that requires receivers to run crisp routes _ and over the middle.
With size, speed and strength, Green and Jones are ideal fits. Heckert said both are suited for the Browns’ new system.
Heckert was particularly effusive during a pre-draft news conference in praising Jones, who caught 78 passes for 1,133 yards last season. Jones played through injuries and put his toughness on display at the NFL Combine, where he ran a 4.34 40-yard dash, two days after learning he had a stress fracture in his foot.
“It shows how tough the kid is,” Heckert said. “He’s obviously a good player. He is a big, fast kid. He is a great kid and I think he is a really good player.”
Heckert, though, could be reluctant to use a Top 10 pick on a wide receiver. He’s seen that patience can pay handsomely.
When he was GM of the Philadelphia Eagles, Heckert waited until the second round in 2008 before drafting speed-burner DeSean Jackson at No. 49. Jackson, who dropped from the first round because of his small frame, was the seventh wide receiver taken. He’s now a Pro Bowler and one of the league’s most electrifying players.
“That’s what you kind of hope for in the draft is you get guys in the second round that you have rated way up in the first round,” Heckert said. “That’s what happened with DeSean. That’s the best case scenario, you are thinking about guys in the second round and somebody you had in the first round falls to you.
“That’s great if you can do it, and I hope we can.”
If the Browns wait until the second round for a receiver, Boise State’s Titus Young or Miami’s Leonard Hankerson could be options.
Heckert wouldn’t identify the Browns’ biggest need, sidestepping the question. But defensive line is either Priority 1 or 1a.
Cleveland’s front seven is being reshaped under Shurmur from a 3-4 to a 4-3 alignment, and there’s currently a sizable void in the Browns’ roster of capable defensive ends _ a position that many experts believe is the deepest in this year’s draft.
Bowers, Quinn and Fairley are regarded as the best defensive linemen of a stellar class, but each comes with major question marks.
Bowers led the nation with 15.5 sacks as a junior last season, but his stock has dropped because of concerns over a surgically repaired knee. Quinn served an NCAA-imposed suspension for accepting gifts from an agent and didn’t play a down in 2010. Fairley, once considered a possible No. 1 overall pick, has been fending off critics of his work ethic and character.
Heckert doesn’t view any of them as risky, and said he’ll base his choices on what he knows about a player.
“You watch the tape, you make your decision and you go from there,” he said. “We’ve looked at it all and we’ll make the organizational decision on all these guys that have issues.”
The Browns don’t have quite as many issues after Heckert scored big in his first draft with Cleveland. Last April, he selected cornerback Joe Haden, who led the club with six interceptions, hard-hitting safety T.J. Ward and McCoy with his first three picks.
Those picks have the Browns headed in the right direction.
It’s up to Heckert to keep them going that way.
By Tom Fitton
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