Browns Need To Corner The Market At Many Spots
By Steven King
The cornerback position exemplifies the overall roster of the Cleveland Browns. That is, it is about halfway to being where it needs to be for the team to become a real player in the rugged AFC North. And nobody knows that better than the Browns themselves, especially in the case of GM Ray Farmer and coach Mike Pettine as they prepare for the 2014 NFL Draft in mere hours.
The Browns have one viable cornerback — a very good one, in fact — in Joe Haden. He’s the lockdown cover man every club needs on the edge.
The problem, though, is that two cornerbacks are required in the base defense and Cleveland doesn’t have another one who is even mediocre. Buster Skrine, the next-best option, is only a third or fourth cornerback on most teams. If he ends up as the starter this season for any length of time, then Cleveland is in big trouble in this pass-happy league.
And Leon McFadden, a third-round draft pick last year in the ill-fated (but thankfully short-lived) reign of terror of former CEO Joe Banner and former GM Mike Lombardi, was an unmitigated disaster. Maybe he’ll get better, but it probably won’t be enough for him to make an impact on the team, at least anytime soon.
The Browns have been looking for a solid, long-term answer at the other corner spot for some time now. With the bevy of picks they have – two first-rounders at Nos. 4 and 26, three in the top 35, five in the first three rounds and 10 overall – there is ample opportunity for them to find their guy.
OK, maybe they’re not going to get one of the top-rated corners such as Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard or Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert. They will no doubt be gobbled up quickly, and Cleveland has other needs that that are considered more pressing. But there is a deep pool of talent in this draft and should be another cornerback, or maybe even two, in the upper portion of the draft who can come in and help right away.
But who? And at what place in the draft? Those are the big questions – not just at cornerback but, as mentioned, throughout much of the rest of the team – as the Browns try to complete the other 50 percent or so at a number of other spots.
Offensive tackle: Joe Thomas, who is well on his way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame someday, is the best in the game on the left side. But RT Mitchell Schwartz, who fell off precipitously last season after a good rookie year, will need to buy a ticket if he wants to see Canton anytime soon.
Guard: John Greco, who can play both sides, is dependable. But there is no one opposite him that is a long-term solution.
Wide receiver: Josh Gordon set team records last season and led the NFL in receiving yards. But a gamebreaker is sorely lacking at the other spot.
Running back: Free agent Ben Tate is a great addition to what was a historically woeful group last season. But he has a history of injuries, so a young player to complement him — at the very least – is really needed.
Inside linebacker: Another free agent, Karlos Dansby, will fill one spot for a while, but Craig Robertson is not good enough to play beside him.
Quarterback: Ah, yes, you knew we were going here eventually, didn’t you? We’re saving the best – or, as it were, much more important – for last. Brian Hoyer will open the season after doing very well in a brief stint in 2013. But there is no guarantee he will – or won’t – continue it, which means the club has to have its franchise player waiting in the wings.
Let’s see how many of these holes, especially at quarterback and wide receiver, the Browns can fill in the draft.