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Browns Mailbag: Is it out of the question to take an O-lineman at No. 4?

Posted Feb 16, 2018

Senior Writer Andrew Gribble answers your questions every week

Happy Friday. It’s a four-question kind of day before we head into the weekend.

Would the Browns shake up the mock drafts and draft an offensive lineman such as Quenton Nelson at No. 4? -- Brent H., Cambridge

While perhaps a longshot when you consider the makeup of Cleveland’s current roster, this might not be completely far-fetched, especially when you consider the kind of rave reviews Nelson is receiving from draft analysts. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein compares Nelson to Larry Allen, the 11-time Pro Bowl, seven-time All-Pro guard who is a member of both the NFL’s 1990s and 2000s All-Decade Team. Daniel Jeremiah ranks Nelson second overall on his list of top 50 draft prospects and called him the “easiest player to evaluate” in the entire draft class. It’s safe to say Nelson is really, really, really good.

So, too, are Browns guards Joel Bitonio and Kevin Zeitler. The Browns have invested a large amount of years and money into the two players and would be seemingly adding to an area that doesn’t need a ton of help if they used one of their first-round picks on Nelson. The conversation changes a bit if future Hall of Fame left tackle Joe Thomas opts to retire, but the need, then, shifts to the tackle position. Bitonio played some left tackle in college, but there’s been no indication he’d be in line to replace Thomas -- or shift to right tackle and let Shon Coleman take over on the left side -- over the long haul. Could one of the pair play center, allowing a group of four -- Bitonio, Zeitler, Nelson and JC Tretter -- to battle it out for three spots? That’d seem like a longshot, too.

Still, nothing can be ruled out at this time of year.

Browns general manager John Dorsey has said he’ll take the best player available, no matter the spot in the draft. In his first season as Kansas City’s general manager, he surprised a few folks when he selected tackle Eric Fisher of Central Michigan. The Browns, following an 0-16 season, are in no position to believe any area of the team is “set,” even a unit as solid as the offensive line is perceived to be.

Duke Johnson Jr. is a good player. Which of the top running backs in the draft augment his skills best? -- Joe P., Columbus, Georgia

Working under the assumption Isaiah Crowell opts to sign elsewhere this offseason, the ideal running back to replace him would continue to allow Johnson to thrive in the role he’s occupied for the past three seasons. Johnson was one of the few bright spots on Cleveland’s offense, racking up 74 catches for 693 yards to go along with the 348 yards and four touchdowns he accumulated on the ground. Players like Johnson are popping up all across the NFL -- perhaps no one played the role better than rookie of the year Alvin Kamara -- and Johnson will enter his fourth season looking to do even more from that do-it-all capacity.

So that would mean Cleveland would be in the market for a bell cow type of running back. There’s plenty of them in this year’s class of running backs, which is arguably the deepest position group of any. It’d likely take the first or fourth overall pick to land Penn State’s Saquon Barkley but the second-best running back could very well be available when Cleveland picks at the start of the second round. That could get you a player such as LSU’s Derrius Guice, Georgia’s Sony Michel, USC’s Ronald Jones II or whichever one is viewed as the best fit by the Browns front office. There’s certainly no shortage of potential options, even when the focus shifts to the Day 3 rounds. Even undrafted free agents such as Crowell seemingly find somewhere to thrive on an annual basis.

Is there an easy answer to why the Browns have the fifth toughest schedule for 2018 and the other teams in our division have schedules rated in the 20s? I understand that they cannot have the easiest of schedules based on records only, as other factors have to be ushered in, but how do the Steelers, Bengals, and Ravens get better schedules? -- Ronald H., Phoenix

This is a simple answer I wish I didn’t have to give. The reason why Cleveland’s schedule is ranked the fifth-toughest and the Steelers (T-25th), Bengals (29th) and Ravens (21st) are way down the rankings is because the Browns’ 0-16 record is counted -- twice, at that -- in determining the respective schedule strength of Cleveland’s division rivals while the Browns’ strength of schedule counts the 2017 record of the Bengals, Ravens and Steelers twice. The Browns share all but two common opponents with the rest of their division foes, and those teams actually have a hand in diminishing Cleveland’s strength of schedule. While Pittsburgh draws the first-place teams from the AFC East and South (New England and Jacksonville), the Browns will play the teams that finished fourth (New York Jets and Houston).

Where does Kevin Hogan stand with the Browns? It's not like they have given him many opportunities to prove himself. -- TC, Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina

Hogan, who was the only Browns quarterback not named DeShone Kizer to start a game last season and appeared in a handful of others, currently remains a part of a Browns quarterback room that could take on a completely different look in the coming months. It’s likely Cleveland adds to that group both through free agency and the draft as it looks to get better overall performance by instilling more competition at the most important position in football. At this time last year, Hogan appeared to be a longshot to make the 53-man roster. He not only did that, but he also took on an important role as the team’s backup. A lot can happen between now and the start of the season, and Hogan has proven he can rise to the challenge of a competition.

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