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Published: Wednesday, 4/21/2010

Safety should top Browns' list of many needs

Before we dive into what the Cleveland Browns might attempt to accomplish in this week's NFL Draft, let's first dispel some myths and tell you what they are unlikely to do.

It is unlikely the Browns will trade up to No. 1 to snag Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford.

It is unlikely Cleveland will select Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen with its No. 7 pick in the first round.

It is unlikely the Browns would reach for running back C.J. Spiller of Clemson with that first pick.

Bradford? Mike Holmgren, the Browns' president, said: "I don't want to pull the rug out from everybody in our first draft here. [Bradford is] a coveted young man. To be able to go up and change somebody's mind ahead of us, you would have to mortgage the ranch. Absolutely, we love the player, as do a lot of people, but in the real world we are probably going to go in a different direction there."

Translation: Probably means definitely. The Browns have 10 selections, five of them in the first three rounds and eight in the first five rounds. They have some flexibility to trade, but will not part with a multitude of those picks to move up six spots when they could get a value pick at quarterback later in the draft. They have too many needs. Also, in the 17 years during which Holmgren either oversaw or affected the draft for Green Bay and Seattle neither of those teams ever took a quarterback in the first round.

Clausen? See the last sentence of the previous paragraph. Also, in March Holmgren said: "I wish I liked [Clausen] more. He'll go high. But it would be hard for me [to draft him]." The Browns' president said recently he has since mended fences with Clausen and cautioned the media not to always take his comments so seriously. Of course, there's another possibility: He meant it.

Spiller? He is by far the best of a so-so group of running backs. But Jerome Harrison held a coming out party late last season and the Browns picked up Peyton Hillis in the Brady Quinn trade with Denver to improve depth. The club thinks it's OK at running back entering the 2010 season and considering all its needs Spiller makes no sense with the first pick.

So, what are the needs?

Most teams shy away from using first-round selections on safeties, but the Browns should pull the trigger on a centerfielder. Eric Berry of Tennessee is touted as a potential Ed Reed or Troy Polamalu-type standout, but Earl Thomas, who left Texas early, is rising on many draft boards and may be even better against the run. One or both will be there at No. 7 and the Browns would be foolish not to fill a major hole on their roster.

"They are both very good players," Cleveland general manager Tom Heckert said. "I think both of these guys are safeties that can play in the slot. They can both cover. They can both tackle. They both can run. Obviously, safety is a position of need."

The Browns do need a quarterback for the future - the Jake Delhomme/Seneca Wallace duo has the position covered for the next year or two - and Holmgren has always had the coach's mentality that down-the-line prospects can be developed in the NFL.

If the Browns do trade up for a quarterback, it would more likely happen at the start of the second round with Texas' Colt

McCoy, who Holmgren rates as "excellent," in their sights. Or they could shoot for Jonathan Crompton of Tennessee in the third round. That's earlier than he is projected to go, but Cleveland has three third-round picks and none in the fourth.

Other needs are at wide receiver and at defensive end/outside linebacker after the trade of Kamerion Wimbley.

A recent trade with Philadelphia for outside linebacker Chris Gocong (the same deal that brought veteran cornerback Sheldon Brown) helps, but he's just an average pass rusher. Cleveland also has to be aware of its aging defensive line while drafting in the later rounds.

The Browns, like many teams, are hesitant to consider Oklahoma State receiver Dez Bryant, whose character issues will likely see him falling to the second round, where Cleveland has the 38th overall pick. But who knows? The team does like receivers Taylor Price of Ohio and Jacoby Ford of Clemson and both should still be on the board in the third round. Eric Decker of Minnesota would likely be available later.

"We have five picks in the first three rounds, so hopefully we pick five good players," Heckert said. "After that, obviously, your percentage goes down. It becomes a long shot if the guys we have targeted are going to be there.

"But as long as you stick with the philosophy of taking the best available player I think you can't go wrong. If you have two guys at almost the same grade, you are going to go for a position of need. That's just logical and that's what we will do."

Logic … now there's a novel approach for the Browns, whose draft day history over the past decade doesn't even merit being dredged up.

Contact Blade sports columnist

Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398.

Tomorrow: The Detroit Lions have the No. 2 pick, and while it looks like a no-brainer, it may not be that simple.



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