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Browns draft needs: Running back

Apr 16, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Third in a series analyzing the Browns’ draft needs.

Position: Running back.

Roster: Edwin Baker, Jamain Cook, Dion Lewis, Chris Ogbonnaya, Chris Pressley, Ben Tate, Fozzy Whittaker.

The trade of Trent Richardson in Week 3 last season for the Colts’ first-round pick now is viewed as a heist by the former Browns management regime. But the fact is, Richardson was never replaced, and the offense suffered immensely because of it. Five other backs received carries; Baker was the last man standing. The additions of Tate and Pressley, a traditional lead-blocking fullback, solidified the position group heading into the draft. Lewis, 5-8 and 195 pounds, was going to be a specialty backfield weapon before he broke a leg in preseason. He should be close to 100 percent for the beginning of OTAs, but the coaching changes will force him to prove himself all over again. Ogbonnaya could be returning to the roles of reserve tailback and special teams core player. Whittaker is still on the roster after failing to secure the onside kick in the waning moments of a loss to the Patriots.  

Needs: If he stays healthy, Tate should prosper in the Kyle Shanahan offense. But Tate’s injury history makes it risky not to have an able complement, or replacement, on hand. The need is for another back with that one cut-and-go, downhill running style to fit Shanahan’s run system.

Top 5 prospects

1. Carlos Hyde, Ohio State

His size (5-11 7/8, 230) place him on top of a class that may not see a player taken until the second round. Hamstring problems hurt his ability to post a solid 40 time in the draft season, but his game tape shows a powerful, at times explosive, runner.

2. Bishop Sankey, Washington

He can be an all-purpose threat, but he doesn’t appear built strong enough (5-9 ½, 209) to withstand the physical rigors of an NFL feature back. Still, he never missed a game in three seasons at Washington.

3. Tre Mason, Auburn

A fantastic finish in Gus Malzahn’s spread offense resulted in breaking Bo Jackson’s season record with 1,816 yards. He plays bigger than his smallish frame (5-8 ½, 207).

4. Jeremy Hill, Louisiana State

A powerful downhill runner with quick feet who carries some baggage along with his 233 pounds.

5. Andre Williams, Boston College

Led the nation with 2,177 rushing yards – fifth-most in major college history. At 5-11 3/8 and 230, he’s a strong runner but his 10 career catches probably reduces his value in the NFL and moves him to the bench on third downs.

Under radar

Charles Sims, West Virginia

Probably the best pass catcher out of the backfield, he is a complementary back who will appeal to creative offensive coordinators.

Last word

This year’s crop of backs plays to the trend of teams finding specialized runners in the middle rounds of the draft. There is no superstar, no consensus first-round pick, but plenty who could emerge from later in the draft. The Browns should have no trouble finding a complement to Tate.

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

Browns draft needs: Wide receiver

Apr 15, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Reid

Second in a series analyzing the Browns’ draft needs.

Position: Wide receiver.

Roster: Travis Benjamin, Nate Burleson, Josh Cooper, Josh Gordon, Tori Gurley, Andrew Hawkins, Greg Little, Charles Johnson, Conner Vernon.

After Gordon stunningly emerged as an elite playmaker – leading the NFL in receiving yards, setting one league record and shattering four pertinent team records – the question became if he could handle success. So far, so good. Gordon, who just turned 23, traversed the gauntlet of offseason honors and awards as easily as he did Bill Belichick’s defensive secondary. Gordon’s achievements were even more eye-opening when you consider his team’s shaky quarterback situation in 2013 and also the lack of a reliable outside complement or a dependable veteran receiver to show him the ropes. Towards that end, the Browns added Hawkins, a darting, lightning-quick slot receiver from the Bengals, and Burleson, a 32-year-old “professional” pass catcher from the Lions. Together, they should challenge Little to produce more in his contract year. Of the others, Benjamin and Johnson are coming back from ACL surgeries; Cooper and Gurley were seldom-used; and Vernon was a late-season practice squad pickup.

Needs: Burleson will be 33 in August and has missed 17 games the past two seasons, so a young, No. 2-caliber wideout with speed is still needed as defenses surely will concentrate on Gordon in 2014.

Top 5 prospects

1. Sammy Watkins, Clemson.

His 16-catch, 227-yard final game in the Orange Bowl against Ohio State solidified his spot atop the position rankings. Doesn’t possess elite size (6-0 ¾, 211), but his passion jumps off the game film. Mike Pettine says he plays the position “violently.”

2. Mike Evans, Texas A&M

The most imposing, physical receiver in the draft. Classically big (6-4 3/4 , 231) and strong, he plucked many a Johnny Manziel pass from places most receivers could not reach. His body control, sure hands, leaping ability and hand-eye coordination make him a fearsome target in the red zone.

3. Odell Beckham, Louisiana State

Very smooth receiver whose dynamic moves make him dangerous after the catch. His size (5-11 ¼, 198) and lack of elite speed may keep him from being a No. 1. He should help immediately as a punt returner.

4. Marqise Lee, Southern California

A natural playmaker whose sub-par 2013 season knocked him down a couple notches. Questions about durability arose because of his size (5-11 ¾, 196) and nagging leg injuries that cut his production in half his last season.

5. Brandin Cooks, Oregon State

Electric with the ball, his quickness, speed, toughness and return ability make him a blue-chip prospect despite undesirable size (5-9 ¾, 189).

Under radar

Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt

Dropped passes at the Senior Bowl hurt his momentum, but ideal size (6-3 1/8, 212) and consistent production are hard to ignore.

Last word

This is arguably the deepest position in the draft, with as many as 15 expected to be selected in the top 100 picks. If the Browns pass on a receiver early, they still could find one capable of competing for the No. 2 position in the second or third rounds.

 

Other Draft Needs:

Quarterback

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

With business behind him, Alex Mack goes back to work

Apr 14, 2014 -- 2:00pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Grossi

It’s all business. Don’t take it personally.

That’s the message from Browns center Alex Mack, who was back at work in the team’s offseason program on Monday, determined to put the business of a huge, new contract behind him.

Reports of Mack wanting out of Cleveland and the revolving door of Browns management regimes was termed by Mack as “positioning.”

“It’s business to business. All I can say is I’m happy to be here, excited to play football and I’m ready to work,” Mack said.

But Mack did not deny he is tired of all the change. Mike Pettine is his fourth head coach in six years. Kyle Shanahan will be his fifth offensive coordinator. But Andy Moeller will be only his second offensive line coach.

“Absolutely, you don’t want to see change and turnover,” Mack said. “There’s a lot going on. Jimmy Haslam did a great job of taking a lot of heat and changing around the building and making some moves. But it shows that he cares. It shows that he’s ready to take some heat to make decisions he thinks he needs to make. That’s exciting.”

Haslam led a large contingent of Browns officials to Mack’s home in southern California to try to avert a protracted contract negotiation. When it failed, the Browns slapped him with the transition tag to strategically reserve their chance at securing him to a long-term contract.

“It was interesting,” Mack said. “I think everyone had to go to Wikipedia and start looking up what that was. After I realized what it was, it was an interesting time and definitely made it a long and interesting offseason.”

While Mack said there were other teams that showed interest, only the Jacksonville Jaguars made an offer, which the Browns matched. The five-year contract for $42 million guarantees Mack $18 million the first two years and allows him to opt out and become an unrestricted free agent in 2016. It makes Mack the highest-paid center in the NFL.

“I’m excited for that. I work hard. I’m going to continue to do that,” he said.

What would it take for the Browns to keep him beyond the first two years?

“I want to win games,” Mack said. “That’s what we’re all about. That’s a question for two years from now.”

Stop the presses: The Browns have signed a fullback who specializes in old-fashioned lead blocking.

He’s Chris Pressley, who is 5-10 and 249 pounds, a former Wisconsin teammate of Joe Thomas who was last with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Pressley missed most of last season with a knee injury. Prior to that, he started for the Bengals in 2011 and 2012 as their lead-blocking fullback. In 2012, Bengals back BenJarvus Green-Ellis led the NFL by converting 14 of 15 third-and-1 situations.

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

Browns draft needs: Quarterback

Apr 14, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/SI

First in a series analyzing the Browns’ draft needs.

Position: Quarterback.

Roster: Brian Hoyer, Alex Tanney.

The rapid-fire releases of Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell – 35 minutes apart -- on March 12 cleared the decks for the team to enter their next quarterback era. This one will start with Hoyer as the senior member. And he has all of three starts in a Browns uniform. Although his time was short due to a torn ACL in his third start, Hoyer’s impact on the 2013 season was profound. First, he rescued the front office from losing the locker room. Remember, Hoyer took over in Game 3 just as the 0-2 team was reeling from the stunning trade of running back Trent Richardson. In the raucous Metrodome, Hoyer overcame three Vikings interceptions and led the Browns to their first victory. Suddenly, talk shifted away from whether CEO Joe Banner had given up on the season. Then Hoyer put together two 90-plus-yard touchdown drives in a home victory over playoff-bound Cincinnati. In the first quarter of his third start, Hoyer ripped his right ACL scrambling for an 11-yard gain. It happened right in front of new coach Mike Pettine, who was Buffalo’s defensive coordinator on that Thursday evening. Hoyer was seen as former GM Mike Lombardi’s “boy” among the former coaches at the start, but quickly won their respect. It sounds as if he has Pettine’s from Day One. The question about Hoyer is his ability to play through a full season – something he has never done because of lack of opportunity and, last year, injury. Tanney was signed off the Dallas practice squad on Nov. 26 after the QB depth chart unraveled. He was recommended by now-GM Ray Farmer, who was pro personnel director in Kansas City in 2012 when Tanney spent the season on Chiefs injured reserve list.

Needs: A top-flight prospect to challenge Hoyer immediately and ultimately take over at the appropriate time. Another down-the-draft prospect could challenge Tanney as a developmental third quarterback.

Top 5 prospects

1. Blake Bortles, Central Florida.

Big size and a career against mid-level college competition brings to mind Ben Roethlisberger. A seeming meteoric rise out of college obscurity conjures Blaine Gabbert. Figuring out which he will be presents great risk and reward.

2. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M.

No player in the draft has his star power. A giant-slayer of mighty Alabama as a redshirt freshman, he parlayed an historic Heisman Trophy season into a mythic figure on and off the field. His size (5-11 ¾, 207 pounds) and undisciplined, schoolyard-style of quarterbacking, along with concerns about his off-field marketing endeavors, make him a polarizing prospect with no consensus on his pro potential. Still, he oozes charisma and he easily is the most mentally tough player at his position.

3. Derek Carr, Fresno State.

Arguably the purest passer, he passes the eye test in controlled situations like workouts and 7-on-7 drills. Can he carry the weight of a franchise on his shoulders is a real question. His older brother, David, succumbed to the enormous challenge of being the first-ever draft pick of a start-up expansion franchise.

4. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville.

Heralded as the most pro-ready after a scintillating four-year college career, he has tumbled the furthest among the QBs in the pre-draft season. An unfortunate performance at his pro day raised concerns about his light frame (6-2 1/8, 214) and his ability to spin the ball without the aid of a glove.

5. Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois.

A record-breaking passer at the former Division I-AA level, he climbed into the ranks of the big boys with impressive performances at the Shrine Bowl and Senior Bowl. Two assets make him a serious prospect – a natural, quick release and quick decision-making.

Under radar

Tom Savage, Pittsburgh.

Excellent size (6-3 7/8, 228) and a strong arm belie the spotty college career of this classic dropback passer. He transferred from Rutgers and Arizona before settling in for one season at Pitt, where he was battered behind a bad offensive line. He’s not really under radar but clearly will need time to coach up.

Last word

Hoyer’s ahead-of-schedule rehab from ACL surgery lessens the urgency to rush in a drafted quarterback to start immediately. Hoyer conceivably could maintain the starting job indefinitely – as long as he wins. A veteran QB definitely will be added before the draft (Rex Grossman?), but he is unlikely to be considered a legit competitor for the starting job.

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

Browns waste no time in matching five-year deal for center Alex Mack

Apr 11, 2014 -- 5:47pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

All’s well that ends well in the Alex Mack saga.

The Browns took barely a few hours to match the five-year offer sheet given to the Pro Bowl center by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

It means that Mack -- who played through an appendicitis attack in a 2011 game and never missed an offensive snap in his five seasons, much less a game – will have the opportunity to extend that streak at least for two more seasons with the Browns.

The five-year deal for a total of $42 million includes a clause for Mack to opt-out of the deal after two years. If he chooses not to, the contract prohibits the Browns from applying the franchise or transition tag to him. Mack also would have his 2016 salary of $8 million guaranteed. The remaining two years of the contract keep Mack’s salary at $8 million per season.

There is also a no-trade clause in the deal, so there is no chance of a future trade with Jacksonville or any other team.

The contract ends speculation about whether or not Mack wanted to stay in Cleveland. He signed it knowing the Browns likely would match.

And the ending affirms the unconventional strategy used by General Manager Ray Farmer.

Mack’s visit with and subsequent offer from the Jaguars was his right under terms of the seldom-used transition tag, which guaranteed Mack a one-year salary of $10.039 million. Had Farmer given Mack the franchise tag, at a cost of only $1.6 million more, Mack wouldn’t have had any leverage to negotiate a longer-term contract and the Browns would have secured two first-round draft picks in compensation if Mack left.

In the end, the deal jointly negotiated by Mack and the Jaguars pays him $10 million in 2014 and $8 million in 2015. So that $9 million average is below what Mack could have received if he had played this season under the transition tag and then gone through the process again and perhaps received the franchise tag (which would be more than $12 million) next year.

Perhaps the biggest favor done by the Jaguars, however, is keeping the contract free of any bonus money. For example, if Mack opts out after two years, the Browns would face no bonus acceleration charge on their salary cap.

A league source monitoring the Mack proceedings intently said of Jacksonville's participation, "Nothing genius happened here. This was a comedy of errors."

Asked what the Jaguars could have done within league rules to get the Browns not to match, the source said, "Guarantee the whole deal for five years."

In a statement from the Browns, Farmer said:

"I'm excited for both Alex and the Browns.         

"We have talked about keeping our own players and this is a positive for us. Alex is a quality person and player that truly brings to life what playing like a Brown means.  

"The ending is positive for everyone. Keeping our young, good nucleus of players is vital for clubs and specifically the Browns, and therefore this is a good step.          

"I'm excited for Alex and our football team as we continue to prepare for the 2014 season. The next step is the upcoming draft."

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

Tony Grossi's Mock Draft 8.0: Two familiar faces return to Browns

Apr 11, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/ESPN

The Alex Mack situation would have an impact on the Browns’ draft plans if they elected not to bring the center back.

But if early reports of Mack’s offer sheet from the Jacksonville Jaguars (5 years/$42 million with $18 million guaranteed over the first two years) are accurate, the Browns most probably would match it.

Full details of the offer sheet may be available on Friday. Until then, we presume the Browns would not have a major need on the offensive line.

Mock draft 8.0 does have some major changes at the top, and a return to a previous pick at No. 4 for the Browns.

Please note: Our final mock draft on draft day, May 8, will run through the Browns’ second round pick, No. 35 overall.

1. Houston: DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina

The tide finally turns to the pass rusher. Trade now possible.

2. St. Louis: OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M

Jeff Fisher sides with the Matthews’ genes. Trade possible.

3. Jacksonville: QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M

This makes the most sense for a sleepy NFL market.

4. Cleveland: QB Blake Bortles, Central Florida

So what if he doesn’t start in 2014? It means Brian Hoyer is winning.

5. Oakland: WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson

Al Davis would approve.

6. Atlanta: OT Greg Robinson, Auburn

Falcons felt they’d have to trade up to get him.

7. Tampa Bay: WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M

This seems like a lock now.

8. Minnesota: LB Khalil Mack, Buffalo

Vikings will come back for a QB later.

9. Buffalo: OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan

Doug Marrone happy to get any of the top three offensive tackles.

10. Detroit: CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State

Yes, eight mocks in a row Lions choose the Spartan corner.

11. Tennessee: LB Anthony Barr, UCLA

Titans resist temptation to take a quarterback here.

12. N.Y. Giants: TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina

Their tight end roster is fairly awful.

13. St. Louis: CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State

Rams choose cornerback over safety.

14. Chicago: DT Timmy Jernigan, Florida State

Bears intent on rebuilding Monsters of the Midway.

15. Pittsburgh: WR Odell Beckham, Louisiana State

All the reports of Steelers taking a cornerback are wrong (says me).

16. Dallas: DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh

Right now, there’s no D in Dallas.

17. Baltimore: S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama

Can’t wait for the commish to announce this name.

18. NY Jets: WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State

Some help for Michael Vick (or Geno Smith).

19. Miami: OT Zack Martin, Notre Dame

Offensive line. Offensive line. Offensive line.

20. Arizona: QB Derek Carr, Fresno State

Surprise switch to quarterback for Bruce Arians.

21. Green Bay: FS Calvin Pryor, Louisville

Anything on defense would help.

22. Philadelphia: WR Marqise Lee, Southern California

Chip Kelly’s system will make him a star.

23. Kansas City: WR Allen Robinson, Penn State

My sixth different receiver going here.

24. Cincinnati: CB Bradley Robey, Ohio State

Typical pick for Bengals.

25. San Diego: DT Louis Nix, Notre Dame

Pretty much narrowed it down to somebody on defense.

26. Cleveland: ILB C.J. Mosley, Alabama

This completes a return to mock 2.0 for the Browns’ two picks.

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

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