Browns Mailbag

Browns Mailbag: Which positions make most sense to target in free agency?

Perhaps the slowest month of Browns news all year will ramp up in a big way early next week when our wall-to-wall Combine coverage begins. [

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Until then, we've got four of your questions to tackle on this balmy Thursday in Berea.

With so many positional needs and this draft being so strong on the defensive side, which positions should the Browns pursue in the draft and which should they pursue via trade or free agency? -- Casey B., Hamilton, Canada

That's a good question that probably doesn't have a definitive answer. It's unlikely the Browns would completely eliminate an entire position group in the draft because that would go against sticking to your board. There was only one major position group -- running backs -- the Browns didn't address with at least one pick in last year's draft. In free agency, a team is typically looking to sign players it hopes can be plugged into the starting lineup. When you're drafting, you're looking for a handful of players in the early rounds who can make an immediate impact while also grooming and developing players for smaller roles that can potentially blossom in the future.

With that in mind, this year's draft class has been regarded as one of the deepest in years, and that's largely because of all the talent on defense. The defensive line and defensive back position groups, in particular, are filled with players who could fall to Day 2 and still find a way into every-down snap workloads with their respective teams. On the offensive side of the ball, tight end and running back are very deep. As many as seven tight ends are projected as Day 1 or 2 picks while the running back class is full of players who will join teams with high expectations even if they're acquired on Day 3.

As for the free agent market, outside linebacker/pass rusher and offensive guard could be the deepest groups, at least among the top-tier players. Granted, that could very much change in the next couple of weeks as teams make their decisions regarding franchise tags and potential re-signings. Melvin Ingram (Chargers) and Chandler Jones (Cardinals) headline the pass rusher group while Kevin Zeitler (Bengals), T.J. Lang (Packers) and Larry Warford (Lions) are among the top guards.

Almost no mock drafts have the Browns taking an offensive lineman in the first or second round. With all our trouble protecting any quarterback, why aren't we looking at drafting a solid offensive lineman? If we can't protect our QB, we can't score and if we can't score, we can't win. -- Tim W., North Baltimore, Ohio

Just because the mock drafts don't project an offensive lineman to the Browns, it doesn't mean the team isn't evaluating them and considering them with one of their five picks in the top 65. You're right about the importance of protecting the quarterback, and the Browns are hoping to see growth from their younger players, a return to full strength from injured guards Joel Bitonio and John Greco and the same old, Pro Bowl-reliability from left tackle Joe Thomas. And if the opportunity presents itself to upgrade the room via free agency or the draft, you can bet the Browns will do just that.

How big of gap is there between the projected No. 1 pick in Myles Garrett and the next defensive edge rusher that would be available at pick No. 12? -- Brent H., Kalida

While Garrett is the near unanimous pick by experts as the top available edge rusher in this year's draft, the jury is out on who is No. 2. NFL Network's Mike Mayock likes Alabama's Tim Williams, but a number of mock drafts don't even include him in the first round. Very few mock drafts peg a pass rusher other than Garrett coming off the board before the No. 12 pick, which could mean a couple of things based on how you assess it. It could mean the gap between Garrett and the next-best is significant or it could mean there are simply a lot of other good players who play different positions who are worthy of a top-10 selection. Stanford's Solomon Thomas, Tennessee's Derek Barnett and Michigan's Taco Charlton are all expected to be first-round selections, but all three could be available when the Browns pick at No. 12.

Do you think the Browns will sign the Crow or draft a running back? -- Dave E., Victoria, Canada

Isaiah Crowell is a restricted free agent this offseason, meaning the Browns can offer him a standard, second-round or first-round tender. Whatever happens wouldn't necessarily preclude the team from drafting a running back. Cleveland didn't address the position in last year's draft, and the franchise hasn't gone consecutive years without drafting at least one running back since 2007-08.

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