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Browns may be in market for QB at No. 6

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Peter Schrager

Peter Schrager is the Senior NFL Writer for FOXSports.com and the national sports correspondent for FOX News Channel's "FOX Report Weekend." He's the co-author of Victor Cruz's New York Times' best-selling memoir "Out of the Blue" and lives in New York. Feel free to e-mail him at peterschrager@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter.

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Get out your sunglasses, your iPods and your hideous hooded sweatshirts, folks. It’s officially poker season in the NFL.

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We’re less than five weeks from the NFL draft, meaning every head coach, general manager and owner thinks he's Doyle Brunson, Phil Ivey or Phil Hellmuth. Yes, everyone’s a riverboat gambler these days — sending out smoke screens when necessary, causing diversions on the flop, and bluffing to everyone at the table so they can eventually steal the pot.

This WSOP (World Series of Propaganda) bracelet winner this year? Look no further than the Cleveland Browns.

The Browns' front office brass is doing a masterful job right now, manipulating the media and confusing fans with a bluff job on par with Johnny Chan's performance vs. Erik Seidel in the '88 World Series of Poker.

Throughout the past two weeks, we’ve heard about the Browns' significant interest in both of this year’s draft’s top quarterback prospects — Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert. GM Tom Heckert, coach Pat Shurmur, quarterback coach Mark Whipple and senior adviser Gil Haskell all were in attendance at Newton’s Pro Day at Auburn on March 8, and the Browns are spending one of their 30 on-site player visits on the Heisman winner. Though Shurmur didn’t attend Gabbert’s Pro Day last week, the coach is well aware of the Missouri quarterback’s skills, having served as offensive coordinator in St. Louis the past two seasons. Shurmur told the Cleveland Plain Dealer this week that he’d watched several of Gabbert’s games on TV over the past two years, including last season’s Saturday night upset of Oklahoma.

Could the Browns — they've expressed since the 2010 season concluded that Colt McCoy is their quarterback of the future — be genuinely interested in either Newton or Gabbert if either prospect slips to the sixth pick?

Or are all the visits, all the perceived interest and all the positive chatter about the two gunslingers just the Browns putting up appearances, doing all they can to give off the impression they’d be interested if that opportunity arose?

The results of such a dedicated bluff?

First, it’d cause the four teams with evident quarterback needs behind Cleveland — San Francisco at No. 7, Tennessee at No. 8, Washington at No. 10 and Minnesota at No. 12 — to consider pressing the panic button when Cleveland was on the clock at No. 6. If the Browns give off the impression they’d consider drafting Gabbert or Newton, San Francisco — with the prospect of missing out on the two prized gunslingers by one pick — might feel compelled to offer its second-round selection, the 45th overall, along with their first-round pick. Or, perhaps, Minnesota or Washington offer similar deals. If Cleveland shows absolutely zero interest in Gabbert and Newton, the Niners have no reason to move up.

What's a few plane tickets to Alabama on a March afternoon if it could mean an extra pick come draft day?

In truth, Cleveland's most pressing needs are at wide receiver and its defensive front seven. At the six spot, the Browns are sitting pretty with a shot at A.J. Green, or at least one of the big front seven — Marcell Dareus, Da’Quan Bowers, Robert Quinn, Nick Fairley and Von Miller. If Green’s off the board, Julio Jones could be an intriguing option.

But even if you know, going in, that it’s in Cleveland’s best interest to look intrigued by both Newton and Gabbert — regardless of whether they are — at least a small part of you has to wonder whether they’d go that way.

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Sure, McCoy had a decent rookie season, and the win over New England was inspired. And, yes, both Shurmur and Mike Holmgren are West Coast offense guys, perfectly suited for McCoy’s abilities. But he’s still the same undersized quarterback he was last year when he slipped to the third round, he did get banged up with injuries down the stretch last season, and he’s not making all that much money. In two games vs. division leaders Pittsburgh and Baltimore, McCoy threw a combined six interceptions.

"I don't know how they could be (sold on McCoy)," former NFL executive and current NFL Network analyst Michael Lombardi said in an interview with Colin Cowherd.

"He doesn't have an NFL body yet, he lacks the power and strength . . . you cannot allow a great quarterback like a (Gabbert or Newton) to pass you by because you think you have a hope in Colt McCoy."

If the Browns think McCoy is a nice enough, but not great, quarterback and have an opportunity to grab a guy they deem a can’t-miss prospect like Gabbert or Newton — maybe they make that move, after all.

The only people who know the real deal right now are in Berea, Ohio, and even there at the Browns’ facilities I’m sure there are some opposing opinions.

Ah, poker season.

There’s no better time of the year.

Remember when: forgettable moments in NFL draft history

Each April, you’ll hear draft pundits coming out of the woodwork and knocking the 49ers for drafting Alex Smith over Aaron Rodgers in 2005, the Chiefs for taking Ryan Sims over Albert Haynesworth in 2002 and the Jets for taking Blair Thomas over Emmitt Smith in 1990. The same teams — Jets, Bengals and Lions — seem to catch the wrath of the media’s burn come draft weekend.

But, for whatever reason, the Bears seem to avoid getting placed in that conversation, despite three of the worst top-10 picks of all time — all within a four-year span.

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Consider this:

In 1998, the Bears selected Penn State running back Curtis Enis with the fifth overall pick. Running backs they passed on that year? Fred Taylor, Ahman Green and Michael Pittman. Enis was out of football within four years.

In 1999, the Bears resisted trading up to get either Donovan McNabb (second overall) or Daunte Culpepper (11th overall) and drafted left-handed UCLA quarterback Cade McNown with the 12th overall pick. The list of quarterbacks they passed on includes Shaun King and Aaron Brooks. McNown played just four years in the NFL.

Two years after selecting McNown, in the 2001 draft, Chicago took Michigan wide receiver David Terrell with the eighth overall selection. In doing so, the Bears passed on future Pro Bowl wideouts Koren Robinson, Santana Moss, Reggie Wayne, Chad Ochocinco, Steve Smith, Chris Chambers and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

Knowing these facts and the rash of first-round draft miscues Chicago made during this four-year span, it’s all the more amazing that the 2001 Bears went 13-3, won the NFC North and earned the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs.

The starting quarterback, running back and top wideout on that squad?

It wasn’t McNown-Enis-Terrell but, rather, veteran journeyman Jim Miller, Anthony “A-Train” Thomas and 1999 third-round pick Marty Booker.

The Bears would make it to the Super Bowl just four years later behind an entirely different trio at quarterback, running back and wideout — Rex Grossman, Thomas Jones and Mushin Muhammad.

Though Bears fans probably don’t want to think too much about it now, it’s at least fun to ponder what could have been had Chicago drafted Culpepper, Taylor and Wayne in ’98, ’99 and 2001, respectively.

As for the one defensive player Chicago selected in the first round between ’98-2001? That was another top ten pick: Brian Urlacher, with the ninth pick overall in 2000.

A guy you've never heard of you should probably get to know

Last Week’s Subject: Greg Salas, WR, Hawaii

This Week’s Subject: Blaine Sumner

Who in the world is Blaine Sumner? Well, he’s a defensive tackle out of Colorado School of Mines.

Ah, and what exactly is Colorado School of Mines?

Well, it’s a public research and teaching university dedicated to the “development and stewardship of the Earth’s natural resources.” Located in Golden, Colo., Colorado School of Mines' most notable claim to fame might very well be that, since 1962, it has hosted the annual oil shale symposium — one of the world’s most famous international oil shale conferences.

Yeah, so CSM isn’t exactly known for its athletics, and it certainly hasn’t been a hotbed for NFL talent. But at 6-feet-2, 315 pounds, Sumner might put the school on the NFL fan’s radar. Sumner showed up at Air Force’s Pro Day last week and caused the sports blogosphere to stop and say, “Who?!” With little to no warning, Sumner bench-pressed 225 pounds an eye-popping 52 times.

Nicknamed "The Vanilla Gorilla," Sumner is undoubtedly the strongest player in this draft. Built like something you’ve never seen, he can squat 905 pounds, bench press 635, deadlift 800 and hang clean 425.

But can he play football? That’s the question teams will be working hard to figure out this month. Though he was easily the most physically imposing player on the field every time he stepped on the gridiron in 2010, Sumner recorded only 30 tackles and half a sack. He’s still quite raw when it comes to footwork and technique, and he’s never faced any NFL-sized offensive linemen.

It sounds a bit like Sidd Finch, right?

But, unlike Finch, he's no April Fools' Day hoax. He exists. Whether he gets drafted will be a storyline I’ll be following come April 28-30.

And if his NFL dreams fall short? I think he’ll be OK.

"The Vanilla Gorilla" graduates this spring with a Bachelor of Science degree in petroleum engineering and a Master of Science in engineering and technology management.

There’s always the big oil shale symposium.

Schrager Draft Projection: Seventh Round

 

'On the Clock' Trivia Question of the Week:

Since becoming an NFL franchise in 1995, the Carolina Panthers have had four top 10 picks before this year’s No. 1 selection. Who were those four top-10 choices?

Answer below.

 

Reader e-mail of the week:

Peter,

In last year’s “Live from New York” draft blog, I remember you goofing on a guy wearing a Heath Shuler No. 5 Redskins jersey with a giant piece of masking tape over the name Shuler, with the word “McNabb” over it. I’m sitting here at 11 p.m. at night, staring at my Peter Warrick No. 80 Bengals jersey, and I’m feeling frisky. Tell me if I’m being an idiot if I slap some masking tape over Warrick’s name, Sharpie in the name "Green" and drive the 300 miles to cheer on an A.J. Green selection with that fourth pick next month.

Corey,
Blanchester, Ohio

Corey,

First and foremost, let’s agree to never use the word "frisky" again when describing your mood at 11 p.m. There’s a time and place for that talk, and it’s certainly not in this column. Secondly, you might want to reconsider ruining that precious Peter Warrick jersey of yours. Chase Coffman, the three-year veteran tight end out of Missouri, already sports No. 80 for the Bengals. Though Coffman was on the practice squad until Week 9, he caught three passes in the season finale in Week 17, and should have a good opportunity to make the team in 2011. Finally, what makes you think that Green (if the Bengals were to draft him) would even wear No. 80? He wore No. 8 at Georgia, and both 18 and 88 are currently available. The better bet? Just sporting that Ki-Jana Carter jersey, instead.

 

'On the Clock' Trivia Answer of the Week:

1995: Kerry Collins, fifth overall
1996: Tim Biakabutuka, eighth overall
2002: Julius Peppers, second overall
2003: Jordan Gross, eighth overall
 

Tagged: Bears, Bengals, Browns, Lions, Packers, Chiefs, 49ers, Redskins, Panthers, Daunte Culpepper, Thomas Jones, Steve Smith Sr., Alex Smith, Alex Smith, Colt McCoy

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