The first round of the NFL draft should be stress free for the Cleveland Browns if - ah, yes, there's always an if - Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry is still on the board.
Of course, waiting out the first four picks to see if that becomes a reality could be plenty stressful.
Many analysts feel Curry could be the safest pick of the draft. And an outside linebacker who is equally capable of getting after the quarterback or dropping into coverage has to be at the top of Cleveland's wish list.
The problem for the Browns is that Curry was far from a secret to begin with, and after the show he put on Monday at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis any number of teams, including the Kansas City Chiefs with the No. 3 pick, are drooling.
The 254-pounder, who stands a shade taller than 6-foot-1, posted a 4.56-second clocking in the 40, faster than running back Beanie Wells' 4.59 time. He also finished No. 1 among linebackers with a 37-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot, 4-inch broad jump.
The former regime of Phil Savage-Romeo Crennel may not have paid big dividends for the Browns in the win-loss column, but Mel Kiper Jr., set for his 26th year of covering the draft for ESPN, feels "the talent level was improved considerably. Cleveland still has some definite needs, though. They have to find a pass rusher, that's the most important thing. They need a running back, but can find one later in the draft. An
offensive tackle and a cornerback are keys, too."
That's a big wish list, but the Browns own two of the first 36 picks, including No. 5, and can take some definite strides. Kiper, who feels both the linebacker and tackle pools are deep, wouldn't be shocked if the Browns moved off No. 5, trading down for extra picks.
"They could probably go as far as they like," said Kiper, who pointed out USC's Brian Cushing and ex-Northern Illinois star Larry English among numerous linebacker types who would likely be available much later in the first round. Cushing was an inside linebacker at USC and English played defensive end at NIU, but either might move outside in the 3-4 scheme.
"If the Browns stay at No. 5, though, and if you put a gun to my head, I'd say Curry," Kiper said. "He's certainly not going to be a bust."
No kidding. But he also might not last five picks, which could force the Browns to explore other options.
Although the sentiment is for the Browns to focus on defense, picking another talented offensive tackle to play opposite Joe Thomas might not be a bad idea either. Eugene Monroe of Virginia and Baylor's Jason Smith have jumped to the head of the list, although the Detroit Lions, if wary of pulling the trigger on an expensive franchise quarterback with the No. 1 pick, might thin the herd by going the tackle route.
Also, after previously overlooking running backs LaDainian Tomlinson and Adrian Peterson, to name a couple, Cleveland might decide to not overlook Ohio State's Wells this time. His 40 time may have been so-so, but it's in line with a player his size (6-1, 235) and Beanie has never been one to outrun cornerbacks. He's more likely to run through them.
Aaron Curry is the prize, though. He was barely recruited out of high school and was projected as no better than a third-round pick if he had left Wake a year ago as a junior. Now, his time has come. But will it come before the Browns' No. 5 pick?
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