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NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper, Jr. forecasts Browns' draft


ESPN's Mel Kiper, Jr. shares his thoughts on the Browns' draft strategy

ESPN's Mel Kiper, Jr., the godfather of NFL draft coverage, joined Vic Carucci and Nathan Zegura Thursday on "Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford."

With seven selections in the first four rounds, the Cleveland Browns' front office has plenty of ammo to add to an already young core and developing roster that includes six players who were in the Pro Bowl last season.

"This is an opportunity for Cleveland to really jump right up into the mix," Kiper said. "This is probably as critical of three days for this Cleveland Browns organization as any draft day has been in a long time."

The fixation on drafting quarterbacks has amped up over the past several years. As recently as when Michael Vick entered the NFL as the top overall pick in 2001, first-round quarterbacks tended to ride the bench most of their rookie season. Teams like the Ravens and Buccaneers were winning Super Bowls with defense. The draft market for taking passers was depressed.

Then, beginning in the mid-2000s, young quarterbacks who were selected in the first round started leading teams to Super Bowls. Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, and Aaron Rodgers were bucking a trend. Although not Lombardi Trophy winners, microwave successes such as Matt Ryan, Andrew Luck, and Robert Griffin III build intrigue into selecting a quarterback early in the draft.

But for every playoff win for those quarterbacks, there's been a quarterback bust. Even in a draft with no clear-cut quarterback prospect, Kiper reiterates the attraction exists to pull the trigger on one.

"For Cleveland, the one that would be most tempting would be Johnny Manziel, because he has that 'it' factor," Kiper told Carucci and Zegura. "There's no question the kid is a competitor. He wins."

Kiper later added: "All the quarterback issues they've had, it's tough for Cleveland to sit there and say, 'We aren't going to take [a quarterback]. But there's so much polarization on these quarterbacks, it's incredible."

There are other approaches the Browns could take when selecting a quarterback. A popular one with growing appeal is waiting until the 26th overall pick, where Fresno State's Derek Carr, Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo, or even Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater could still be available. A poor pro-day showing and concerns about his frame have Bridgewater free falling down draft boards, according to Kiper.

"He could drop down into the twenties," Kiper said. "Because after pick number eight with Minnesota, find me a team – barring any trade ups – that could remotely consider a quarterback?"

Other clubs, such as the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks, have built their teams first, and then added a quarterback in the second or third round as a finishing piece. A.J. McCarron, from Alabama, or Tom Savage, from Pittsburgh, should still be on the board then. If that's the case, Kiper explained why the Browns should strongly consider Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins.

"If Watkins is there, he's a tough guy to pass up," Kiper said. "Put him opposite Josh Gordon, Jordan Cameron – to me, all of a sudden, you've got some things going."

Kiper sees the draft as having a tremendous influence on the balance of power in the AFC North. "Baltimore is at a crossroads," he said. "Pittsburgh, same thing: they're at a crossroads. Cincinnati, they don't know if they have the right quarterback to win a playoff game. It's certainly a draft that's going to determine [Cleveland's] fate."

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