Evaluating the Browns’ prospects for 2014 NFL Draft

Arun Murugesan, Contributing Reporter

It feels like every year in Cleveland we say this is going to be the biggest draft for the Browns, but this year that statement rings truer than in past years. The Browns have stockpiled picks in this draft, and more importantly, picks in the value rounds of the draft (seven picks in the first four rounds). Ray Farmer now has the great responsibility of leading the Browns back to relevance after Jimmy Haslam’s dismissal of Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi. We do not truly know what Farmer’s approach to the draft is, so it’s hard to speculate this early what he plans on doing, whether that be trading up, staying put or trading down. What can be looked at is the talent pool and how certain players may fit the Browns if they do indeed stay at pick number four.

Johnny Manziel: Quarterback, Texas A&M University
Arguably the most controversial player in this year’s draft, he presents a rare skillset to NFL teams, but at the same time comes with some baggage off the field. Some scouts rave he’s the next Brett Favre while others say he will have a career similar to Doug Flutie. What is clear is that he is a very special player who almost singlehandedly led Texas A&M University to a win over Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl when his teammates looked unmotivated and unhappy to be there. In addition, he gave Alabama’s defense nightmares in his two seasons and torched their future NFL talent consistently, even when they had another year to prepare for him. His infectious winning mentality would be greatly embraced in Cleveland, and his swagger is something we haven’t seen at the QB position in a very long time. Size will be his greatest question mark, but if he can stay on the field there is no telling where his talent could take him. Regardless of what opposing players or the media thought of him, his own teammates embraced him, and that is the true sign of a great leader and a potential franchise quarterback.

Sammy Watkins: Wide Receiver, Clemson University
This would a luxury pick, but one that would arguably give the Browns the best set of weapons on offense in the NFL. Pairing Watkins with Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron would give defenses nightmares: The size and speed would result in mismatches all over the field, and this trio could make just about any quarterback look at least competent. If the Browns do indeed make this pick they would likely be saying that they don’t see any of the quarterbacks in this draft as a franchise guy. In many scouts’ eyes, Watkins is the best wide receiver prospect to come out since A.J. Green and Julio Jones; this would not at all be a wasted pick, but it would likely ensure that the Browns would have the best one-two wide receiver punch in the NFL for at least the next decade.

Teddy Bridgewater/Blake Bortles: Quarterbacks, Louisville/University of Central Florida
Bridgewater and Bortles are two different quarterbacks with distinct pros and cons. While Bridgewater brings more polish, Bortles brings size. These two quarterbacks are both products of the newly founded American Conference, and questions can be raised about the level of competition. We saw Bridgewater tear apart a talented Florida team in the Sugar Bowl his sophomore year, but then not really stand out that much his junior year at Louisville. Bortles, on the other hand, has been solid, but didn’t look so good in UCF’s Fiesta Bowl victory over Baylor. While Bortles has drawn Roethlisberger comparisons, they seem quite premature. He does not look that fluid on the field, but he does have the valuable size that NFL teams look for. At the combine, Bortles had a mechanical release and his deep ball was poor to average at best. Neither of these traits are great when you attribute them to a player in consideration for the Top Five of the draft.

If Bridgewater was an inch or two taller and 30 pounds heavier, he would likely be the consensus number one pick, but in this draft, all quarterbacks have their own question marks. At the end of the day, Bridgewater is probably the better fit in Cleveland, as the Browns learned with Brandon Weeden that size and arm strength mean nothing if there is no accuracy. However, look for the Texans and Bill O’Brien’s old school mentality to gravitate towards Bridgewater, who is likely the frontrunner to go number one overall at this point, even with Clowney’s impressive combine.

There is no telling what the Browns will do, but given the names listed above, quarterback is clearly the biggest priority. If they believe they have their guy in this draft, look for them to use their flexibility in picks to move up and acquire the player. This team is talented enough to compete for a playoff spot next year; it just lacks the quarterback play to get them there. Regardless of what the Browns do in the draft, expect an even more significant talent upgrade of the roster this offseason as they still have a ton of salary cap space. That is a scary thought for all the other teams in the AFC North.