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NFL Draft Preview: Browns double up in Round One

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BEREA, Ohio — The Cleveland Browns did just enough in the offseason to not head to the draft in desperation mode at any position.

When the 2014 season ended, blunt-talking head coach Mike Pettine described the quarterback situation as “muddy at best” because Brian Hoyer was heading to free agency and Johnny Manziel played poorly in his only two starts as a rookie. And that was a month before Manziel checked himself into rehab.

One month after Manziel voluntarily entered rehab on Jan. 28, the Browns signed veteran journeyman Josh McCown to a three-year contract. McCown, coming off a 1-10 season as a starter for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, would be the starting quarterback by default if the Browns had to play a game Sunday.

The Browns also signed Thaddeus Lewis in the offseason and now have four quarterbacks on the roster – McCown, Manziel, Lewis and Connor Shaw. And they might not be done. It would be no surprise if they pick a quarterback in the second round or make a pitch for Mariota in the first round.

General manager Ray Farmer made similar moves at wide receiver. Instead of going after one of the big names, such as Jeremy Maclin or Torrey Smith, the Browns added Brian Hartline from the Dolphins and Dwayne Bowe from the Kansas City Chiefs after each player was released. Just as with quarterback, the Browns might not be done at wide receiver.

Overall, the Browns lost more than they gained in free agency, most notably at tight end. Jordan Cameron, who caught 80 passes in 2013, signed with the Miami Dolphins just when it seemed he was going to re-sign with the Browns.

Cameron caught only 24 passes last year but that still is 15 catches more than the tight end signed to replace him. Rob Houser, who caught 39 passes with Arizona in 2013, had only nine catches last season.

Cornerback Buster Skrine signed a four-year contract with the Jets on the first day of free agency.

Skrine started 31 games over the past two seasons. The Browns are replacing him with Tramon Williams, an eight-year veteran who played his entire career with the Green Bay Packers until signing with the Browns in free agency. Williams will compete with second-year player Justin Gilbert to replace Skrine.

The Browns went into the offseason determined to add players that could improve the run defense. Their biggest move in that direction was signing John Hughes to a contract extension. Hughes, plagued by injuries, played only five games in 2014.

The Browns did not lose any key offensive linemen in free agency, but beefing up the right side to improve the running game is a priority of the draft since that wasn’t addressed in free agency. Plus, center Alex Mack can opt out of his contract after the 2015 season. That would put a huge dent in the offensive line as was evident when he missed the last 11 games of 2014 with a broken ankle.

Farmer heads to the draft with 10 draft picks in his pocket. He said he is willing to trade up or trade down to work a deal that will benefit the Browns.

2014 Record: 7-9, 4th in AFC North

First Draft Pick: #12 Overall

BEST FIT: NT Danny Shelton, Washington

Shelton can gobble up blockers so the linebackers can sweep in to make the tackle. The Browns, last in the league in run defense in 2014, should not have to trade up from their 12th spot to get him.

TEAM NEEDS

1. Right tackle: If the Browns don’t use their first pick on an offensive lineman, it doesn’t mean they have bigger needs. Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo wants to run the ball. He could move current right tackle Mitchell Schwartz to guard if they get the right fit at tackle. DeFilippo wants to carry on the zone-blocking used last year by former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, so the Browns will look for an athletic tackle more than a bulldozer.

2. Pass rusher: Jabaal Sheard left through free agency and signed with the New England Patriots. He had only two sacks last year so that was not a major loss. Linebacker Barkevious Mingo is coming off shoulder surgery. He has yet to be the pass rusher former CEO Joe Banner envisioned when Banner drafted Mingo in 2013. Points are going to be hard to come by in 2015. Defense will have to carry the load. Putting pressure on the quarterback will go a long way to make that happen.

3. Defensive tackle: Sticking with the defensive theme, the Browns know they have to dramatically improve their 32nd-ranked run defense. They cannot assume getting defensive lineman Phil Taylor and John Hughes back from injury will solve the problem. General manager Ray Farmer might be able to choose between Danny Shelton of Washington and Malcolm Brown of Texas with the 12th pick. The Browns need a wide receiver, too, but if they stop the run better they won’t wear down in the fourth quarter like they have the last two seasons.


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