Rebuilding Browns looking for help

Let’s see, a game-changing wide receiver for quarterback Colt

McCoy. A get-after-the-quarterback pass rusher for new coach Pat

Shurmur’s defensive front. A right tackle. A linebacker or two. A

few special team-types with upside. Maybe a kicker or a

cornerback.

The Cleveland Browns have a lengthy shopping list for the NFL

draft. In fact, there isn’t much they don’t need.

”We have some holes to fill all over the place,” general

manager Tom Heckert said. ”We still have holes on offense and

defense.”

The question is: which ones to fill first?

With the No. 6 overall selection on Thursday night and three

picks in the Top 70, the Browns, who have spent the past decade in

rebuilding mode and again changed coaches this winter, hope to plug

some of those openings and address shortcomings they’ve yet to

fix.

Uncertainty at the top of the draft board makes it hard to guess

who may be available when the Browns’ turn arrives in Round One.

Heckert intends to abide by the team’s philosophy of taking the

best player available – regardless of position or need.

”Everybody says that, but we are going to try to do that,”

said Heckert, who had a strong draft last year. ”We are probably

in a better position to do that than some teams. Some teams may be

one or two positions away from being really good, so I think it’s

probably a positive for us that we can sit there and take the best

available player.”

There’s certainly enough quality atop Cleveland’s draft board to

get help. LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson, Georgia wide receiver

A.J. Green, Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers, Texas A&M

linebacker Vonn Miller, North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn,

Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones and Auburn defensive tackle Nick

Fairley could all be in play for the Browns.

Publicly, at least, the Browns have been saying they don’t need

a quarterback. McCoy showed enough promise last season – and not

with a lot of help – to convince Heckert and team president Mike

Holmgren that it’s worth investing another full season into his

development.

Still, they’ll likely pick a quarterback at some point.

Beyond that, it’s vital that Cleveland upgrades its wide

receiving corps for McCoy, who will be running Shurmur’s West Coast

offense, a passing heavy attack that requires receivers to run

crisp routes – and over the middle.

With size, speed and strength, Green and Jones are ideal fits.

Heckert said both are suited for the Browns’ new system.

Heckert was particularly effusive during a pre-draft news

conference in praising Jones, who caught 78 passes for 1,133 yards

last season. Jones played through injuries and put his toughness on

display at the NFL Combine, where he ran a 4.34 40-yard dash, two

days after learning he had a stress fracture in his foot.

”It shows how tough the kid is,” Heckert said. ”He’s

obviously a good player. He is a big, fast kid. He is a great kid

and I think he is a really good player.”

Heckert, though, could be reluctant to use a Top 10 pick on a

wide receiver. He’s seen that patience can pay handsomely.

When he was GM of the Philadelphia Eagles, Heckert waited until

the second round in 2008 before drafting speed-burner DeSean

Jackson at No. 49. Jackson, who dropped from the first round

because of his small frame, was the seventh wide receiver taken.

He’s now a Pro Bowler and one of the league’s most electrifying

players.

”That’s what you kind of hope for in the draft is you get guys

in the second round that you have rated way up in the first

round,” Heckert said. ”That’s what happened with DeSean. That’s

the best case scenario, you are thinking about guys in the second

round and somebody you had in the first round falls to you.

”That’s great if you can do it, and I hope we can.”

If the Browns wait until the second round for a receiver, Boise

State’s Titus Young or Miami’s Leonard Hankerson could be

options.

Heckert wouldn’t identify the Browns’ biggest need, sidestepping

the question. But defensive line is either Priority 1 or 1a.

Cleveland’s front seven is being reshaped under Shurmur from a

3-4 to a 4-3 alignment, and there’s currently a sizable void in the

Browns’ roster of capable defensive ends – a position that many

experts believe is the deepest in this year’s draft.

Bowers, Quinn and Fairley are regarded as the best defensive

linemen of a stellar class, but each comes with major question

marks.

Bowers led the nation with 15.5 sacks as a junior last season,

but his stock has dropped because of concerns over a surgically

repaired knee. Quinn served an NCAA-imposed suspension for

accepting gifts from an agent and didn’t play a down in 2010.

Fairley, once considered a possible No. 1 overall pick, has been

fending off critics of his work ethic and character.

Heckert doesn’t view any of them as risky, and said he’ll base

his choices on what he knows about a player.

”You watch the tape, you make your decision and you go from

there,” he said. ”We’ve looked at it all and we’ll make the

organizational decision on all these guys that have issues.”

The Browns don’t have quite as many issues after Heckert scored

big in his first draft with Cleveland. Last April, he selected

cornerback Joe Haden, who led the club with six interceptions,

hard-hitting safety T.J. Ward and McCoy with his first three

picks.

Those picks have the Browns headed in the right direction.

It’s up to Heckert to keep them going that way.