By Bob Evans
With the NFL’s free agency period less than a week from beginning, the Cleveland Browns are among a number of teams looking to add key contributors with their large amount of cap space currently available.
However, it appears that may not be as easy of a task as many thought, as rumors surfaced one of the top pass rushing free agents—Connor Barwin of the Houston Texans—would not be interested in playing for the Browns. With Barwin out of the mix and a few others receiving the franchise tag this week, the Browns may have to focus their pass rushing efforts on what could be a potentially star-studded class early in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
If they are forced to use their lone selection in the first two rounds on the best available pass rusher, that means the Browns will likely have to address adding an impact starting cornerback opposite of Joe Haden through free agency or later rounds of the draft. With a bevy of average to above average players available at the position in free agency, the Browns may have to pass on overpaying one of those players in free agency and focus on finding a starter in the draft.
The problem with this idea is that after the early round talents of Alabama’s Dee Milliner, Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes, Washington’s Desmond Trufant and Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks, there is a major unknown factor regarding the rest of the players. With that said, here is a look at five cornerbacks the Browns could target in round three or later to emerge as a starter next to Haden.
David Amerson, North Carolina State
If Amerson could have come out following his monstrous 13 interception season in 2011, he likely would have been a first-round pick. However, a down year in 2012 and some bad performances in big games have pushed him into the late-second to early third round of this year’s draft. At 6’1” and 205 pounds, Amerson has the speed (4.44 at the combine) and physicality to develop into an elite corner in the NFL.
However, his below average ability to come out of breaks allowed faster receivers to burn him in 2012. Despite this fact, he is a pure playmaker at the cornerback position—and one the Browns cannot pass up if he is there at the beginning of round three.
Robert Alford, Southeastern Louisiana
Playing in the FCS, Alford was easily one of the most dominant cornerbacks in all of college football. He is known as your prototypical “lockdown” cornerback, despite standing just 5’10” and 188 pounds. Alford has good speed, registering a 4.39 40-yard dash at the combine, but needs to figure out how to utilize that speed to position himself better against bigger wide receivers in order to be successful in the NFL.
Currently projected as a third-round prospect, Alford is very physical at the line of scrimmage and isn’t afraid to jam a receiver at the line to gain the upper hand. After watching Sheldon Brown get pushed around last year, his physicality would be a welcome addition to the Cleveland secondary.
B.W. Webb, William & Mary
Webb may not have the elite speed (4.51 at the combine) other cornerbacks do in this draft, but he makes up for it with his never quit attitude and physical nature. Standing 5’10” and 184 pounds, Webb was one of the top cornerbacks in the FCS—much like Alford.
One of the big questions with Webb is how he will adjust to man coverage in the NFL after being utilized primarily in zone coverage techniques in college. With the Browns switching to a 3-4 “attacking” style of defense next year, the team will need their corners to be on an island more often with less help from the linebackers in coverage. If Webb can prove himself capable of handling this task, he would be worthy of a fourth round selection for the Browns.
Tharold Simon, LSU
Sorry Honey Badger fans, but Simon is the cornerback from LSU this writer has his eye on. Currently projected to be taken off the board in the fourth or fifth round, the 6’2” and 202-pound corner would be able to match up with the bigger receivers in the league.
Last season, Simon posted four interceptions nine pass breakups and 45 tackles after being asked to step into a defensive secondary which lost the aforementioned Honey Badger and Morris Claiborne. His long arms and height make him a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks to throw over, and he has no problems getting in and out of his breaks.
Travis Howard, Ohio State
Despite being one of the Buckeyes’ key components on defense last year, Howard was not invited to the combine. He was an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention in 2012, racking up four interceptions and 40 tackles during his senior campaign.
Howard stands 6’0” tall and 198 pounds, yet has still been clocked in the high 4.4 to low 4.5 range during workouts. He is a tough defender who will jaw with opposing wide receivers on the field, but still never gives up on a play. Howard is also very good in run support, but will need to work on his positioning if he wants to develop into a starter at the NFL level. However, with his sixth-seventh round projection, his size alone and experience in the Big Ten warrant a look from NFL teams.
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