Friday, January 7, 2011

The Luck of the draft

Andrew Luck's decision to remain at Stanford for one more season very well could have a dramatic effect on whom the Browns select in the National Football League's college draft April 28-30.

It’s already having an effect on Jim Harbaugh’s future plans. Now that Luck has decided to come back and actually get his college degree – how novel is that? – before heading out to the pros, Harbaugh just might stay on as the Cardinal coach for one more season before he, too, heads out to the pay-for-play ranks.

With Luck, a virtual lock to be the No. 1 pick in the college lottery, out of the draft scenario, everyone moves up a notch. That takes players the Browns are targeting and moves them one notch away from the club’s No. 6 draft position.

Alabama running back Mark Ingram just declared, but the Heisman Trophy winner in 2009 was hampered by injuries last season and even though he might be the top-rated runner, it’s unlikely he will crack the top 20 prospects list.

Players such as wide receiver A.J. Green, defensive linemen Nick Fairley and Da’Quan Bowers, and cornerback Patrick Peterson, all of whom would fill a critical need for the Browns, probably won’t be there when it comes time to select.

The Carolina Panthers will almost certainly strongly consider Green or Fairley with the first pick even though they need a quarterback. But Ryan Mallett of Arkansas, the second-rated quarterback behind Luck, is not worthy of such a lofty choice. Nor is third-ranked QB Blaine Gabbert of Missouri.

Even if the Panthers pass on Green, he won’t reach the Browns since the Cincinnati Bengals, drafting fourth, will waste precious little time in calling his name. That’s because Chad 85 will be catching passes for someone else next season now that Marvin Lewis has been retained.

Bowers, who might have slipped down to No. 6 if Luck had declared, will go higher now. And the Browns, getting a little long in the tooth along the defensive front, could use a lineman or two. Alabama’s Marcell Dareus is a possibility. North Carolina’s Robert Quinn, more of a 4-3 defensive end, doesn’t fit the Browns’ scheme unless they switch back to the 4-3.

Cleveland also needs help in the secondary, especially at corner. Patrick Peterson of Louisiana State, a shutdown type cornerback, most likely will be off the board when the Browns are on the clock. But someone like Nebraska’s Prince Amukamara, rated slightly below Peterson but a top five prospect, should be available.

It’s no secret the Browns also need plenty of help at wide receiver. Colt McCoy needs a playmaker. But with Green probably gone, the next best available is Julio Jones, a boom-or-bust type receiver. And the Browns have enough of those already. Think second or third round there.

The top tier of this draft is populated by quarterbacks – three possible first-rounders in Mallett, Gabbert and Jake Locker – and defensive players, most notably along the defensive line.

Too bad Luck didn’t opt to come out and push everyone else down a peg. The Browns’ only hope is that someone screws up in front of them and takes a player not projected to be a top 10 pick.

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