2014 Browns schedule

The Browns released the 2014 schedule yesterday and it leaves some interesting match ups. Here is the Full schedule:
Week 1 @Pittsburgh Steelers
Week 2 New Orleans Saints
Week 3 Baltimore Ravens
Week 4 Bye
Week 5 @Tennessee Titans
Week 6 Pittsburgh Steelers
Week 7 @Jacksonville Jaguars
Week 8 Oakland Raiders
Week 9 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Week 10 TNF @Cincinnati Bengals
Week 11 Houston Texans
Week 12 @Atlanta Falcons
Week 13 @Buffalo Bills
Week 14 Indianapolis Colts
Week 15 Cincinnati Bengals
Week 16 @Carolina Panthers
Week 17 @Baltimore Ravens

The season opener at Pittsburgh has the potential to be a great one with a young Browns offense with Josh Gordon, Jordan Cameron and Ben Tate going up against an aging Steelers defense with Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor and Jason Worilds.

Another key period in my opinion is the five weeks after the bye week as I feel that if the Browns are after getting off to a bad start it may the perfect time to fix it. Starting off with the game away to Tennessee, I feel these teams are fairly even but with an extra week of rest I feel the Browns take them. Then its back to Cleveland where after the win the previous week I believe they are high on confidence and beat the Steelers. Its away to Jacksonville next and I feel there will extra motivation for this game after they threw away a lead in the last minute last time they played each other. Then its a two game homestead against Raiders and the Buccaneers both very beatable at home. Even if the lost their first three games this would bring them back to 5-3 and keep them in the playoff hunt.

The Browns drew the short straw with end to the season though, having to play a talented Carolina team and a tough Baltimore team away to end the regular season which may decisive to the playoff dreams.

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Teddy Bridgewater (This year’s faller)

Last year, Geno Smith was considered to be the consensus number one QB in the draft despite some concerns about his accuracy and how good he actually was after playing with two top WR prospect at West Virginia in Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. Although there were concerns about Smith most expected him to still be picked first and many tipped the Jets with their #13 pick to be the most likely landing spot. Yet when the draft rolled around in the middle of May everyone was surprised to see EJ Manuel picked at #16 by the Bills after the traded back from #8 in a deal with the Rams(The Rams picked Tavon Austin at #8). The Jets passed on Smith and picked rookie sensation Sheldon Richardson and Dee Milliner instead in the first round and then got a steal in the second round getting who the wanted all along and an elite DE in Sheldon Richardson. Yet as the draft went on you couldn’t help but feel sorry for him as he sat there watching as team after team passed on him and he was forced to watch it all there in the green room. Eventually when the first day was over and the first round in the books and with journalists hounding him for answers a deflated Smith admitted he wouldn’t be showing up the next day which raised some serious concerns over his maturity. Despite ultimately showing up the next day it shows how hard it can be for draft prospects who have been constantly told how great they’re by agents and scouts and have their hopes risen to astronomical levels only for the fall to be set up as team after team passes on them. Before Geno Smith there was All-American Brady Quinn who we saw forced to wait backstage in the green room as team after team passed on him and having watched the second biggest bust of all time in JaMarcus Russell  go number one overall(Ryan Leaf was the biggest bust of all time in my opinion).  The law of averages says that will be a faller each year and the rumours going around the league at the moment is that it could be Teddy Bridgewater.

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Images like this of an emotional Geno Smith last year made the draft hard watching at times.

Coming into the year he was the consensus #1 QB prospect in the country after finishing in the top 10 in completion percentage, yards per attempt and passing efficiency and throwing 25TD on the way to BCS berth and beating a Florida team as major underdogs. Bridgewater was named Sugar bowl MVP after he shredded Florida defence through the air after they had led the league in passing efficiency with 266 and 2TDs. On the back of his performance there were even rumours around Louisville of a possible National championship. However since Louisville lost their first game of the year and with it their BCS hopes to UCF and Blake Bortles his stock has been on the decline. As scouts became enamoured with Bortles’ size, Manziel’s playmaking ability and Carr as a natural thrower it has been like musical chairs with Bridgewater standing as the music stops. It certainly didn’t help that he didn’t throw at the combine and when did at his Proday he wasn’t as accurate and didn’t throw with as much zip as he did during the regular season which raised some questions. There are also concerns about the level of completion he played against in the AAC but if such questions are raised for him then the same must be done for Blake Bortles who also played in the AAC and played against 8 of the same opponents.  Although, with Bridgewater it is not really about showing that he can throw the ball 70+ yards down the pitch, it’s just not his game. Bridgewater made his name at Louisville by running a pro-style offence which calls for him to make a lot of adjustments at the line of scrimmage and to make good decisions.

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Bridgewater changes the play call at the line scrimmage during last year’s sugar win over Florida

Things have gotten so bad for Bridgewater this week that some on NFL Network had heard from some teams that they expected him to be still there in the second round. It was hardly a good sign either that he had a workout with the Patriots recently who aren’t selecting until #30 in the draft. The Patriots view him as one of a couple possible replacements for Tom Brady who doesn’t have too many years left although he does have two years left on three deal he signed last season. Current backup Ryan Mallet is reported to want to go elsewhere to compete for a starting this year which means New England may look at Bridgewater as plan B if Mallet leaves as expected. While New England may be an ideal landing spot for Bridgewater it seems unlikely that he would available at #30 as both the Cardinals at #20 and the Browns #26. The Cardinals are in similar position to Pats with their eyes on a long term replacement for Carson Palmer and reported to be willing to take a QB in the first round. If he did end up in the desert it wouldn’t be a bad thing, learning from QB guru Bruce Arians who has worked with Peyton Manning, Phillip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck. Meanwhile the Browns got the #26 pick in exchange for Trent Richardson and reported want take a non QB (most likely Sammy Watkins) at #4 and a QB at #26 or #36 instead. If Bridgewater were brought in it would be to compete for the starting job in his rookie year or possibly sit behind Brian Hoyer for a year before taking over. Regardless of how good he was during his time in Louisville I believe that Teddy Bridgewater could join the ranks of Geno Smith and Brady Quinn and become the faller of this years draft.

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The emergence of Josh Gordon

Last season despite only playing 14 games Josh Gordon sensationally emerged to lead the league in yards and yards per reception. Now I am going to look back at his career so far and how he got to leading the NFL.

Gordon attended school at Lamar HS in Houston and was a two year starter.Coming off a 523yd and 11TD seasons in his senior year in high school he was considered to be a 2-star player by Scout and 3-star player by Rivals. He received just two scholarship offers both from instate Texas A&M and Baylor and he signed his letter of intent with Baylor on 12/12/2008.
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Gordon played sparingly his first season in Baylor appearing in 9 games but only making one reception for nine yards. He played a bigger role in sophomore season, playing in 13 games and gaining 714 yards while serving as Robert Griffin’s second option in Baylor’s up tempo offense. However during October of that year Gordon and fellow teammate Willie Jefferson were found passed out at a local Taco Bell and Marijuana was found in Jefferson’s car. Jefferson was kicked off the team as it was his second offense but Gordon got a warning as it was first time, this was the start of a worrying trend of Marijuana and substance abuse. Despite this Gordon had his most successful year in college and appear to be focused.
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However during an off-season drug test in July 2011 he tested positive for Marijuana and was kicked off the team by Art Briles for a second violation of Baylor’s drug policy.Gordon then transferred to the Utah Utes but he had to sit out the year due to NCAA transfer rules. He continued training with training with the Utes but due to financial problems he decided to declare for NFL supplemental draft a year early.

Considered by many to be an intriguing prospect with good hand, ideal height and strong at gaining yards after the catch, there were still questions surrounding his rawness and his Marijuana use. Despite this he was selected by Cleveland in the second round at what many felt was a reach but necessary as it was likely that Miami would have selected him with their second round pick otherwise. He was part of a core of rookies in Trent Richardson, Brandon Weeden and Mitchell Schwartz who were supposed to setup Cleveland’s offence for years to come but like every Cleveland sports team’s plan, something had to go wrong.

Coming into the year Gordon was competing for number one receiver job with Greg Little and Mohamed Massaqoui. Gordon’s season began quietly before he burst on to the scene in week getting 2TDs and 82 yards on only two receptions including a 62 yard bomb. He followed it up the following week with a 99 yard performance against Bengals and sealed his position as the Browns leading receiver for the rest of the season and coupled with Little’s issues with drops and Massaqoui’s with consistency. He recorded his first 100 yard appearance that year against the Raiders and finished the year with 812 receiving on the year.
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Josh Gordon wearing the no.13 jersey he wore during his rookie season before switching to no.12 he wore in college at the start of his sophomore season after Colt McCoy was traded to San Francisco

Coming into his second year in the league he was the Browns undisputed no.1 receiver and was expected to make a leap forward and become a true playmaker on the outside. Unfortunately he was facing some trouble regarding a failed drug test which showed Codine in his system and he received a four game suspension which was brought down to two games on appeal as it was his first transgression. Gordon claimed the Codine was only his system because of a cough syrup he had been prescribed and he didn’t know it violated NFL rules but any further failed drug tests would likely result in either an 8 or 16 game suspension. With Gordon the Browns struggled in their opening two games losing to the Dolphins and the Ravens but when he returned he made a big difference together with promoted QB Brian Hoyer and the Browns won the game 31-27 and a Gordon got 146 yards and touchdown. He was solid for the rest of the season getting another 3 100+yd games before he really started to get going. In week 12 contest between the Browns and the Steelers with the Browns on fourth change in QB and their season over, Josh Gordon didn’t miss a beat and broke the Browns single game record for receiving yards breaking Ozzie Newsome’s record with 237 yards. He took advantage of the aging Steelers secondary which was past its 2010 prime and showed Ikea Taylor that the NFL really is a young man’s game. It didn’t end there as he followed it up the following week with another record breaking performance torching Gus Bradley’s much improved defence despite the warning he had given the week before against the Steelers. He broke the record he set the week before by getting 261 yards and broke the record for two games with 498 yards and was the first receiver to post back to back 200 yard games. This included a 20 yard dig route on his 5 yard line which he turned into a 95 yard TD and despite the fact he missed two offensive series with a concussion. He posted another impressive performance against the Patriots getting 151 yards although the Browns lost the game on a blown pass interference call. He set a NFL record for receiving yards in a four game period with 774 yards but towards the end of the season he started to cool down and didn’t post another 100 yard game.
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Gordon in his strong start to the season against Minnesota

Despite his disappointing finish and the fact that he missed the first two games he was the league leader in yards with 1646 yards and was named Pro Football Writers Association Player of the Year. He was also voted to the Probowl and was named first team All-Pro along with Calvin Johnson. So long as he can keep his contain his substance abuse, Josh Gordon has a bright future in the NFL.

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The end of the Alex Mack saga

When Ray Farmer decided to place the transition tag on Alex Mack rather than the the franchise tag it left a lot of people including myself scratching their heads wondering why for the sake of a million dollars out of fifty they let him negotiate with other teams. It’s a good thing I’m not the GM of the Browns as only now are we seeing the true reasons behind Ray Farmer’s decision. Farmer knowing that his predecessors Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi had made a mess of Mack’s contract extension, decided to let another team do the negotiating for him as he could match any offer with the most cap room in the NFL. If he had used the franchise tag not only would the number have been higher he may still have been in the same position as the year before only with a 25% increase in the tag price and other deals needing to be done. Those deals would be for the main young core of the Browns in CB Joe Haden, WR Josh Gordon and NT Phil Taylor who will all be looking for new deals in the next two years. The best part was he knew no one could give Mack an offer that he couldn’t match despite the Jags best efforts. One of the clauses is a player option after two years but hopefully by then Mack will have changed his mind about wanting to be in Cleveland and he would a lot less attractive as Free Agent having just hit the magic age of 30. Since the offer sheet was matched Mack has come and said he never wanted to leave Cleveland but was just trying to get the best deal for himself which may bode well for the player option on the contract in two years. By retaining Mack they have kept a vital leader in the locker room and have helped to keep the line as one of the best in the league.
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Mack was a first team All-Pro and Probowler this past year.

The contract is reported to be 5yr/$42m with $18m due in the first two years before the player option at year two. The $8m he is guaranteed the next is likely to be more than a 30 year old center would get in Free Agency which should hopefully keep him in Cleveland although that may depend on how much the Browns improve between now and then as he may wish to bailout if doesn’t see much improvement.

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The long and winding road of Zach Mettenberger

Zach Mettenberger has come a long way to be where he is today, as potential late first round or early second round pick. Here is the story of how he got there.

Coming out of high school he was considered a four star recruit by both Rivals and Scouts being Rivals #11 QB and Scouts. He threw for 19 TDs and 6 Ints his senior year at Oconee County HS,Georgia and was offered scholarships by Boston College, Florida St and Georgia. He ultimately decided to stay in state and commit to Georgia.

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Zach Mettenberger in High School

Once he reached Athens he was immediately thrust into battle with fellow recruit Aaron Murray for the starting job. This competition came to an end when Mettenberger was kicked off the team for no apparent reason at the time but it subsequently emerged that he was involved in a sexual battery case and received twelve months probation for it.

After being kicked off the team he spent the year you have to sit out of the FBS due to NCAA rules in Butler Community college where he threw 32 TDs and 4 INTs with 2678 yards. After the season he was considered the no.1 junior college prospect and got offers from Alabama, Texas A&M, Louisville, Arkansas, Arizona and others before ultimately deciding to settle in Baton Rouge with the LSU Tigers. In the two years previously LSU had struggled with interceptions from starting QB Jarrett Lee and was near the nation’s bottom in total offence and passing offence.

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Mettenberger leading the offense at Butler community college during his time there

Mettenberger lost out to Jordan Jefferson for the starting job in that famous season as Tigers played Alabama in the game of the century and went undefeated and reached the National Championship where they were shutout by the same Bama team.

Coming into the next year expectations were high in Baton Rouge with the talented Mettenberger taking over and some believing they could return to BCS National championship game. Although LSU relied a lot on the run game throughout the year Mettenberger had mediocre year throwing for 12TDs and 7NITs. He struggled at times particularly against Texas A&M where missed wide open receivers but also showed promise in games like the ‘Bama game throwing for 298 yards on Nick Saban’s feared defence. The Tigers finished the regular season 10-2 and lost to Clemson in the Chick-Fil-A in Atlanta by a point 25-24.

His final season with LSU was a marked improvement as the culture in Baton Rouge changed from a defensive one the year before to offensive one as eight defensive starters leaving for the NFL most notably Barkevious Lingo and Eric Reid. 2013 was also QB guru Cam Cameron first year in LSU and he worked wonders with Mettenberger as he looked a more improved and rejuvenated player when he returned. LSU started out strong winning their first four games in a row including handing national championship game runners up their only regular season loss. Then the stage was set as Mettenberger, the prodigal son returned to play Georgia in his last year in college in Athens to face Aaron Murray who had beat out for the starting job 5 years previously. The game lived up to billing as a shootout and went down to the wire with Georgia prevailing 44-41 in the end but Mettenberger still gave glimpses of what might have been in Athens. After that it was a mixed season with Mettenberger and receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry flourishing under Cam Cameron new system with both ending up with more than 1100 yards on the season but losses in conference to Alabama and Ole Miss hampered any BCS thoughts. Mettenberger draft stock rose considerably throughout the season until he was ranked the 3rd best QB heading into LSU final regular season game.
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LSU had lead Arkansas for most of the game and looked to be cruising to victory when with 6:40 left on the clock Byran Jones sacked Mettenberger and he caught his leg in the process. Mettenberger was unable to continue and turned out later he had torn his ACL and that his college career was over. He went under the knife straight away and his draft stock took a serious hit with him falling to a 2nd/3rd round pick. That was until his recent appearance at LSU’s pro day where he showed off his surgically repaired knee throwing in full pads. This was remarkable recovery coming back after only 132 days and throwing a full workout with 125 passes and showed his mobility on Play-Action passes and Bootlegs. Although he did appear a little bit rusty and had 15 incompletions that is to be expected with 4 months out but he was under no illusions saying:

“I’m three months out of surgery and not in playing shape,” he said. “My legs are kind of tired so that’s something to expect. I’m doing everything I can to work through that and be ready for rookie camp.”
“I’m not going to start the season on the PUP list. I think I showed I’m healthy enough to go through practice and compete for a job. By the time the season rolls around in September I’ll be fully healed.”

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Mettenberger throws at LSU pro day
Mettenberger’s draft stock has rebounded somewhat since his pro day with him now being considered a late 1st/early 2nd round pick. Considered to have the best arm strength in his class he has been linked with the Browns, Cardinals Patriots and Vikings. The Browns appear to leaning towards picking a non QB at #4 which would leave them to pick him at #24 or #34 and let him compete with Brian Hoyer to compete for the starting job and would have the arm to match Josh Gordon’s speed. Minnesota are in a similar situation with him coming to compete with Ponder and Cassell for the starting job. Arizona and New England are in a different position as they’re looking for long-term replacements for Carson Palmer and Tom Brady who both have another year or two left in the tank. He would be particularly interesting in Arizona with their down field scheme and big play receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd suiting his skill set and also with Bruce Arian’s reputation of developing QBs such as Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck. New England will likely be interested in Mettenberger because it appears backup QB and possible Brady replacement Ryan Mallet is considered to want to leave the Pats in order to compete for a starting job elsewhere. Regardless of where he ends up Zach Mettenberger will be well prepared for any adversity that he faces after the long and winding road he took to get here. To quote JRR Tolkien:

“Not all those who wander are lost”

Update- Mettenberger was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in the seventh round and should have plenty of opportunity with Jake Locker is in the final year of his contract and gets to work with QB guru Ken Whisenhunt.

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Alex Mack to sign tender deal with Jaguars

News broke today that Alex Mack is likely to sign a tender with the Jaguars Friday with it likely including a ridiculously large amount in guaranteed money for next year. He would be turned into a signing bonus if he was Jacksonville but he would not do the same in Cleveland. The idea is too create a salary Cleveland just can’t match but within the confines of the CBA. While nothing could be said about the meetings now about any restructuring it doesn’t mean both sides aren’t clearly aware of what’s going on. The idea had been floated earlier in the day in brilliant article on CBS Sports by Jason La Confora (here).

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With the tender offer Cleveland have five days to match it or lose his and receive no compensation. Cleveland may hold call Macks and use the extra year to renegotiate with him on restructuring his deal. If Cleveland had used the Franchise tag instead of the Transition tag all this could have been avoided for the sake of $1m more. While it may seem crazy to pay a center that much(especially with De La Puente and Goodwin bargain replacements with little dropoff) he was the consensus All Pro and Probowler. He was a clear step above everyone else when it came to pass protection and strong in the run game as well. It also seems to be a damming inducement of the Browns as an organization that someone is that desperate to leave although it is better than this

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Brandon Spikes on time with New England

Update the Browns announced they’d match the Jaguars offer

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The ballad of Chris Johnson

News broke over the weekend that Chris Johnson was released after refusing to take a pay cut. Johnson went to school in the small school of East Carolina where he was voted Conference USA First team but didn’t reach national attention until he set a record breaking combine time of 4.24 in the 40 yard dash. This helped his draft stock to dramaticaly rise until he was selected by the Titans in the first round at number 24.

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After that he only continued to blossom gaining 1228 yards and finishing 2nd in Rookie of the year voting behind Matt Ryan. This was nothing compared with his sensational sophomore season as he joined the exclusive 2000 yard club and earned the Moniker “CJ2K” after finishing the season with 2006 rushing yards on the season and record breaking 2509 yards from scrimmage. Known for his breakneck speed and ability to break off any run for a big and a constant threat he was considered to be at the top pantheon of running backs in the league.
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He appeared to have a bright future ahead of him but he never did reach the same heights again but was no scrub either. He never gained more than 1400 yards in season but never rushed for less than a 1000 either. He signed a massive four year $55m deal back in 2011 which gave him a guaranteed $8m this year which when he wouldn’t take a pay cut the Titans felt was too much to pay for someone who got barely more than 1000 yards last year. Now that he has cleared the waivers the New York Jets appear to be the early favorites to sign him. He would be an interesting fit in New York to give Geno Smith to lean on in the run game and give him a good target on screens and out of the backfield. Whether he ends up in New York or not it will interesting to see if he can get back to his CJ2K days.
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Update- Johnson signed a 2yr/$8m with the New York Jets

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Alex Mack visits the Jags

News broke yesterday that Alex Mack had gotten his first call since having the transition tag was placed on him. The Jaguars who had long time fan favourite Brad Meester retire after 14 seasons in Jacksonville, have the second most cap space in the NFL after the Browns. The Jaguars have been big players in free agency this year with many players coming on the Gus Bradley Seattle-Jacksonville pipeline with Red Bryant and Chris Clemons and key signings like Zane Beadles and Tony Gerhart. Jacksonville was reportedly considering a $22m/3yr offer for Mack thinking it would more than the Browns would willing to pay. This has since changed as with the Browns having more cap room and already down for $10m this year so would have problem matching a deal for $7m on average. While no official offer has been made it is still worrying to see Alex Mack in Florida.
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Mack is considered to be the best center in the NFL and was voted an All-Pro and Probowl last season. The Browns placed the transition tag on Mack after failing to agree a new contract with him during the season. The transition tag guarantees Mack $10m but also allows other teams to negotiate with him and gives the Browns the right to match any offer.

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Browns add Nate Burleson

It was announced yesterday that the Browns had signed Free Agent WR Nate Burleson to one year deal. Burleson who struggled the last two years in Detroit with health will give the Browns a veteran presence on the outside and the mentorship they were hoping to get from Davone Bess last year. This mentorship will be important as he has more years experience than the top receivers have put together. He also gives them a better no.2 receiver to help distract from Gordon and Cameron with new addition Hawkins also helping in the slot. This is also the second time in two seasons that he will be playing opposite the leading receiver from the previous year. Burleson also gained notoriety last year for crash his car while trying to save a pizza which fell off his seat and broke his arm which cost 9 games. Presumably all pizza in training camp will be on him.

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Would the Browns consider taking a tackle at #4?

When the Browns are selecting at #4 in the upcoming draft many expect them to select a QB but recent reports have suggested that may not take a QB but instead choose a non QB at #4 and the select a QB with either their second first round pick (via Indianapolis for Trent Richardson) or instead with their second round pick. When they select with their first pick it is likely that Sammy Watkins and JaDeveon Clowney will be gone off the board so if they were select the best player available it may come down to a choice between Buffalo DE Khalil Mack, Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews and Auburn OT Greg Robinson. Khalil Mack would be an interesting choice and I’ll discuss him at a different time. With Joe Thomas still considered the best LT in the NFL and didn’t show any signs of decline last season being a first team All-Pro and making his seventh straight Probowl, it would mean whoever was selected would have to play on the right side for a couple of years. If a tackle was selected it would be expected that Mitchell Schwartz would slide into the RG position which would suit him better after he regressed last season after a stellar rookie season. This move would be even more logical with Shawn Lauvou signing as a free agent this offseason.

With Joe Thomas on the left and whichever tackle would be selected would be probably be a strong run blocker to complement the pass blocking on the left and to help improve Cleveland 30th ranked rush attack last year. With this in mind if Cleveland were to select a tackle I would lean towards them selecting Greg Robinson. This big mauler was one of the main reasons the Auburn Tigers no-huddle rushing attack got them to NCAA title game in Pasadena. A powerful and strong blocker who really drives defenders back helped Tre Mason lead the SEC in rushing yards, he also has the athleticism to protect well on the left side but is still a bit lacking on technique.
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On the other hand it may be difficult to pass on Jake Matthews who is a more polished player with better technique but without the power and freakish athleticism of Robinson. After blocking for Johnny Manziel is well prepared for a rookie quarterback who might flighty and take whenever he feels pressure. Matthews who was overshadowed last year by fellow tackle Luke Jeokel and this year by fellow Aggies Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans has been talked about as the most complete player of the lot but will probably see his draft stock fall simply by virtue of the fact that there is so many QB needy teams in this draft. Matthews is the son of former Houston Oilers legendary LT and 14 time Probowler Bruce Matthews.
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With either of these tackles the Browns would be set for the future at both tackles with the plan to be a long-term replacement for Joe Thomas. They would also as cover should Thomas ever get injured which has astonishingly never happened in his seven year career with the Browns. If either were to be selected presumably the Browns rushing attack would improve particularly with the signing of free agent running back Ben Tate and the return of Dion Lewis from injury after missing all of last year after suffering a broken leg during the preseason. Whether they do select a tackle at #4 or not it will be an interesting draft for the Browns this year.

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