ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. predicted Wednesday the Browns will draft a pass rusher with the No. 6 pick in April to fill an obvious need. His early top choices are Florida State’s Bjoern Werner and Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore.
Kiper said the Browns must also figure out their quarterback situation, but isn’t sure there’s an upgrade to incumbent Brandon Weeden. Kiper doesn’t see West Virginia’s Geno Smith or USC’s Matt Barkley as clearly better than Weeden, who was the No. 22 pick last year and started 15 games.
“It’s possible he could’ve been the first quarterback taken this year,” Kiper said on a conference call. “You look at Geno Smith and Matt Barkley and Brandon Weeden, it would’ve been a tough, tough call. There’s no quarterback that screams out, ‘Take me, even though you have Weeden because I’m that much better.’ There’s nobody.
“So I don’t think Cleveland’s going to be able to find that guy. I don’t think there’s another quarterback that you can say, boy, coming in as a rookie he’s going to be better than Weeden, who already had one year on the pro level. I don’t see that.”
Owner Jimmy Haslam has said Weeden will have competition in 2013, while CEO Joe Banner and vice president of player personnel Michael Lombardi have chosen not to praise the incumbent and reportedly are eager to upgrade the position.
Replacing, or challenging, Weeden may be more difficult than the Browns would like. Especially through the draft, which is how the brain trust wants to build the team.
The draft experts are all over the map on when the quarterbacks will be picked in April. Chris Steuber of Ourlands Scouting Services has Barkley going No. 1 to the Chiefs and Smith eighth to the Bills. ESPN’s Todd McShay has Smith to the Bills but no other quarterbacks in the first round. Kiper doesn’t have a quarterback in the first round in his latest mock draft.
The Browns have the sixth pick, then don’t draft again until the third round after forfeiting the second-round pick with the selection of receiver Josh Gordon in the supplemental draft last year.
Barkley was No. 1 on Kiper’s list before the season, but a poor year and shoulder injury sent him tumbling. Kiper believes if Barkley would’ve come out in 2012 he would’ve gone to the Browns at No. 4. Instead, they traded up a spot to draft running back Trent Richardson, then grabbed Weeden later in the round.
“History would’ve been rewritten completely,” Kiper said. “He would’ve gone fourth to Cleveland and certainly Trent Richardson wouldn’t have been a Brown. Now all of a sudden, you’re looking at late first, early second (round) for him.
“He’s not going to be physically imposing when they go through the numbers and the measurements. He’s not the type of kid that’s going to wow you over in a workout. You just have to go back and look at him and evaluate him and I tell you, he’s a pure passer, he’s an accurate passer. He doesn’t have a great arm, but he’s got certainly good enough arm strength in the right situation, which wouldn’t be Buffalo, it certainly wouldn’t be a cold-weather environment.”
Kiper scoffed at the idea of finding a Russell Wilson-type gem later in the draft. The Seahawks drafted Wilson in the third round last year and he led them to the playoffs.
“Russell Wilson was almost one of those once-in-a-lifetime type of players,” he said. “How many 5-10½ quarterbacks have been successful in this league? You’re not going to find Russell Wilsons every year. You’re not going to find Russell Wilsons every 20 years.”
The Browns may like one of the quarterbacks in the draft as a rival to Weeden, or they could go after a veteran. But the pickings are slim there, too.
With Joe Flacco expected to re-sign with the Ravens, the top names in the free-agent pool are Matt Moore, Chase Daniel and Derek Anderson, who seem better suited as backups. San Francisco’s Alex Smith could be cut or available in a trade, but ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported Wednesday Smith landing with the Browns is a “long shot.”
The Browns must define their quarterback situation, but they arguably have bigger needs. Pass rusher and cornerback top the list, and Kiper focused there with the team’s first selection.
“I would think you look at the pass rusher, be it Moore or Werner. I think one of those two will be there at six,” he said. “If Dee Milliner, the cornerback from Alabama, were there, he would be very intriguing.”
Werner may not be a perfect fit with Cleveland going to a base 3-4 scheme that will use multiple fronts under new coordinator Ray Horton.
“I think Bjoern Werner’s a 4-3 end,” Kiper said. “I wouldn’t want him playing on his feet.
“Damontre Moore played on his feet. He could be a guy who fits the Browns. Werner could if you look at him that way.”
The Browns signed punter Spencer Lanning (5-11, 200 pounds), a candidate to replace free agent Reggie Hodges, who struggled in 2012.
Lanning, 24, spent the 2012 training camp with Cleveland before being waived. He’s also spent time with Chicago, Jacksonville and the Jets but hasn’t kicked in a regular-season game.
The Browns also worked out punter Brian Stahovich, according to multiple reports.