Quality year for defensive linemen

Two years ago the Browns used first-and second-round draft choices on defensive linemen Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard.

Last year former general manager Tom Heckert again looked for line help, picking tackle John Hughes in the third round and tackle/end Billy Winn in the sixth round.

With such an emphasis on the line and with first-year coach Rob Chudzinski switching to a base 3-4 defense, there wouldn’t appear to be a big need to add much line help in this year’s draft.

That thinking would be wrong, especially with new management in place. General manager Mike Lombardi has no loyalties to players he didn’t bring in, which means he might have an interest in adding help up front on defense.

This is a good year to go shopping for defensive linemen. There are several tackles and ends who would fit nicely into the front seven of any defense.

The best of the bunch might be Sharrif Floyd of Florida. Floyd (6-3, 297) has terrific quickness and is capable of causing problems in the backfield. He had some problems against stronger players.

Floyd started off playing end but moved inside last season and led the team in tackles for loss with 13. He had 46 tackles and three sacks.

“Inside is much closer to the ball and to running plays that are going toward you or away from you and it’s much easier to disrupt plays that are going away,” Floyd said. “Outside, you have to be a little more patient in some situations. The ball can run away from you and you have to chase it down from behind. But still they both get their fair share of disruption and sacks and things of that nature.”

Star Lotulelei (6-3, 311) of Utah is an interesting prospect. He moves well for his size and proved to be an anchor at nose tackle, but he doesn’t always play up to his ability.

Last season Lotulelei had 42 tackles (10 for lost yardage) and five sacks. He didn’t work out at the combine because of a heart condition that isn’t supposed to hurt his draft status.

The Browns signed free agent Desmond Bryant to start at one end. Phil Taylor will start on the nose, with Ahtyba Rubin starting at the other end. Depth could be an issue beyond those three. Sheard will be moved to outside linebacker, leaving defensive coordinator Ray Horton with Winn and Hughes as backups.

The missing link remains a strong pass rusher. Linebacker Paul Kruger, who was signed away from the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, might help, but he needs help from the other side. With no Terrell Suggs on the roster, the Browns might be looking for a hybrid end/linebacker.

Ezekiel Ansah of BYU could be a fit. Ansah (6-5, 271) had a big senior season, collecting 62 tackles (13 for lost yardage) and 4.5 sacks.

Ansah is a high risk/reward prospect. He’s late to the sport after arriving in the United States to compete in track. He had only one noticeable season in football, which has to concern scouts.

What scouts like is his size-speed combination. Some see another Jason Pierre-Paul, who’s done quite well for himself with the New York Giants.

“In comparison to other people that are out there, I have been playing only a few years,” Ansah said. “I still have a lot to do just to catch up to them.”

Another foreign-born prospect is Bjoern Werner of Florida State. Werner (6-3, 266) had huge numbers last season 42 tackles (18 for lost yardage) and 13 sacks. Werner plays with a high motor but lacks ideal length for the position. Like Anash, there are risks involved with Werner.

Possible mid to late first-round selections are Sheldon Richardson of Missouri and Johnathan Hankins of Ohio State. Both are tackles.