Browns in much need of linebackers
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth part of a series previewing the NFL draft by position.
The help-wanted sign is out at the Browns’ practice facility.
All positions need filled, but a priority has been placed on linebackers.
The search for talented linebackers has become perhaps the Browns’ number one objective as coach Rob Chudzinski prepares for his first year on the job. Chudzinski favors a 3-4 base defense, which places a premium on outside linebackers that can do it all – contain the run, rush the quarterback and drop into coverage.
There was a reason why general manager Mike Lombardi signed free-agent linebackers Paul Kruger and Quentin Groves. It’s also the reason why Jabaal Sheard will be moved from end to outside linebacker.
Quite simply, there weren’t enough quality linebackers available last season when the Browns played a 4-3 base. The problem is more noticeable this year because of the switch to the 3-4.
There is no shortage of prospects the Browns could select with the sixth overall pick in the draft. Each has the measurables to fit the job requirement, but as is often the case there are questions.
Does Dion Jordan have the necessary upper-body strength? Will Jarvis Jones’ stenosis be a problem? Then there are the question marks surrounding Manti Te’o, who became a target of late-night comedians with his unusual story about a girlfriend that didn’t exist.
Jordan, a 6-6, 248-pounder from Oregon, might be the safest choice. Jordan is a smooth pass rusher with a great first step. For the Ducks last season he had 44 tackles (10.5 for lost yardage) and five sacks.
Jordan’s upper-body strength might concern some scouts. His cause in that area wasn’t helped when he didn’t lift at the combine because of a right shoulder injury. He had surgery shortly after the combine.
Jordan is confident that he will make a team very happy with his pass-rush skills.
“I feel like me lining up all over the field on defense shows my athleticism, shows that I understand the game and that I did a lot for the university,” he said. “But my whole thing is getting after the quarterback.”
Jones (6-3, 235) of Georgia is an enigma. He led the nation in tackles for lost yardage (24.5) and sacks (14.5) last season and can play inside or outside. On tape he appears to be the best natural pass rusher.
The stenosis diagnosis is a worry. A team will have to be satisfied with the medical report before taking a chance on Jones.
“I have a slight narrowing in my spine between the C4 and C5 (vertebras),” Jones explained at the combine. “Like pretty much everybody probably some of you have spinal stenosis and don’t know it – I have it. But most of the doctors checked me out and feel that I’m fine. I don’t have any contusion or anything like that in it.”
Barkevious Mingo of LSU didn’t begin playing football until his junior season of high school. He quickly established a reputation as one of the nation’s elite recruits.
Mingo (6-4, 241) has tantalizing talent but never produced as expected for the Tigers. Last season he had 38 tackles (8.5 for lost yardage) and 4.5 sacks. Like many of the prospects he has great speed but lacks superior upper-body strength.
Te’o entered last season at Notre Dame as a Heisman Trophy hopeful. His stock remained high at the end of the regular season, but he lost the Heisman vote to Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. Te’o’s stock took a hit with a poor showing in the Fighting Irish’s blowout loss to Alabama in the national championship game.
Te’o (6-1, 241) had 103 tackles (5.5 for lost yardage) and 1.5 sacks last season. He’s a pure inside linebacker because of his 4.82 speed. There is concern about his ability to handle straight-on blockers, but scouts like his ability to read plays and act instinctively.
The girlfriend hoax apparently wasn’t a big topic among team representatives at the combine.
“They’ve told me that they’ve wanted to hear it from me what the truth was,” Te’o said. “They haven’t really said anything about it affecting me. Some guys just talk briefly for 30 seconds and the next 14 minutes is all plays and getting down to business.”
Kevin Minter (6-0, 246) of LSU might be the best inside prospect. Minter led the Tigers in tackles (130) and tackles for lost yardage (15) last season.