Guard position a major need for Browns

Editor’s note:?This is the first part of Mike McLain’s draft analysis series, breaking down each position leading up to the NFL?draft to be held Thursday, April 25 through April 27.

The 2013 NFL draft presents the Browns with a dilemma that isn’t all that unpleasant.

If the plan of new offensive coordinator Norv Turner is to feature running back Trent Richardson (why wouldn’t it be?), then there’s an obvious need to strengthen the line. There’s no need for tackles with Joe Thomas (six Pro Bowls) and Mitchell Schwartz on board, and center is in the capable hands of Alex Mack.

The guard spots are a different matter. Shaun Lauvao and John Greco finished as the starters. It’s doubtful the new regime headed by general manager Mike Lombard and coach Rob Chudzinski consider a Lauvao-Greco tandem the ideal situation.

There’s no guarantee Jason Pinkston will be able to play after missing much of last season with a blood clot. Pinkston was a surprise starter in 2011 after Eric Steinbach went down with a back injury. Pinkston was recently cleared to practice, but the team must handle him with kid gloves.

With a need to upgrade the interior of the line, one could argue that Alabama guard Chance Warmack is the best fit for the Browns, who own the sixth overall pick. Selecting a guard that high isn’t considered good value, but Warmack has been described as one of the best at his position in years.

The last guard to be picked in the top five was Ken Huff of North Carolina, who went third overall to the Colts in 1975. Two years before that the Patriots made a wiser choice in picking Alabama’s John Hannah fourth overall. Hannah is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“It’s widely known that guards aren’t drafted that high,” said Warmack, who blocked for Richardson in college. “If that did happen, that would be an honor as a player that plays guard.”

Warmack (6-2, 317) is a classic road-grader, which would be a comfort for Richardson. He would be another piece to what was a better-than-average, pass-protection unit last year. Stamina was an issue at times, but the weather is much more comfortable in Cleveland than Tuscaloosa.

Beyond Warmack, this appears to be a good year for offensive tackles, which again could play into the hands of the Browns. They don’t need one, but there are teams behind them in the order that might be anxious to trade up for the chance to select either Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M or Eric Fisher of Central Michigan.

Joeckel (6-6, 306) is a Thomas-like talent in his athleticism and pass-blocking skills. What he might lack in arm length and strength, he makes up for with quickness that will make any quarterback feel better about his blind side.

Joeckel has been pegged as the first overall pick in some mock drafts. He certainly will be a top-five selection.

“It would be really cool; a dream come true,” Joeckel said of being picked first overall. “I’m definitely striving to be the No. 1 pick, but my dream is to just play in the NFL. I know being the No. 1 pick, after that, it doesn’t really matter. You’ve got to go prove yourself in the NFL.”

Fisher (6-7, 306) has had to overcome the small-school mentality to prove his worthiness as a top-10 pick. He did it with outstanding athleticism and exceptional pass-blocking skills. His strength will need to increase, but that shouldn’t prevent a team from calling his name high in the process.

Fisher helped his cause with a solid showing during Senior Bowl week.

“I thought the Senior Bowl was absolutely huge for me,” he said. “I knew what I had to do to impress a lot of people and cancel all the doubt in people’s minds, so I went down there with a little chip on my shoulder on a mission to prove to a lot of people who Eric Fisher is and what he’s made of.”

Lane Johnson of Oklahoma has a chance to be a top-10 pick, which means he could fit into a trade scenario involving the Browns and the tackle-needy Miami Dolphins. Johnson (6-6, 303) is late to the position having played quarterback in high school and tight end and defensive line in college before switching to tackle.

Jonathan Cooper of North Carolina is a guard who could challenge Warmack for being first off the board. Cooper (6-2, 311) pulls well and is an overall strong run blocker.