It has been well documented over the past few months how desperate the Cleveland Browns are for a quarterback. Mostly everyone — fans, experts, talking heads — understand that Brian Hoyer is not the quarterback for the future, and if anything, he is simply a stopgap between now and the next guy. What most people outside of Northeast Ohio don’t realize is how close the Browns are to being legitimate contenders in the NFL. Last year, in all but three of the 12 Browns losses, Cleveland was within a score of the lead at some point in the fourth quarter in every one of those games. Due to this massive failure, particularly losing 10 of their final 11 games, head coach Rob Chudzinski took the fall and was fired after his first season.
The Browns were in every single game they played last season, and it was just small failures that caught up to them causing them to lose the game. Davone Bess‘ fumble against the Kansas City Chiefs is a prime example of this. So how close are they really to being contenders? Very. They just need to make slight upgrades at these positions outside of quarterback, and they are in a prime position to do so in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Linebacker: The Browns have a strong contingent in their linebacking corps, including Barkevious Mingo, Paul Kruger and Karlos Dansby. But the Browns absolutely would love to add an inside linebacker. In their current 3-4 setup, head coach Mike Pettine would love to get a guy in the same mold as Kiko Alonso, who was a second-round pick of the Buffalo Bills last season and contributed greatly to the most improved defense in football. Ideally the Browns want to add an athletic linebacker to play the inside position. A guy like Ryan Shazier from Ohio State, whose natural position is outside linebacker, could make for a great pick for Cleveland at No. 35 overall (the Browns’ pick in the second round).
Cornerback: Almost all the attention about NFL defensive backs is given to the outspoken guys like Richard Sherman or Darrelle Revis, which allows the Browns Joe Haden to fly under the radar. Week after week, Haden takes on the best wide receivers in the NFL and is always up for the challenge. Which is why the Browns need to get him some help. The Browns added safety Donte (W)hitner this offseason, but he mostly just replaces the departed TJ Ward. Although both Buster Skrine and Leon McFadden played well last season, particularly when they had help over the top, the Browns would obviously love to add another cornerback who can end up playing as an almost equal to Haden. The Browns have more particular needs with their current first-round picks at No. 4 and No. 26, so the earliest Cleveland would pick a corner is at No. 35 or in the third round with one of their multiple picks.
Wide Receiver: Cleveland’s need for a WR is well documented. Many people have Cleveland taking Sammy Watkins if he is there at No. 4, and if he is not the Browns are likely to take a wideout at No. 26. If Odell Beckham Jr. is still available at 26, the Browns would obviously love to have him. With the need to add weapons to the corps of Josh Gordon, Jordan Cameron and Ben Tate, a top wideout must be a top priority for Cleveland.
Offensive Guard: One of the Browns’ biggest weaknesses this past season was at the guard position. Shawn Lauvao is gone after signing with the Washington Redskins. Do the Browns trust John Greco or Jason Pinkston as long-term solutions to their weakest position on the offensive line? I seriously doubt it. The Browns could certainly add a guard later in the draft, in the third round or later. Guard Brandon Thomas from Clemson is who analyst Todd McShay has Cleveland taking with their second pick in the third round, at No. 83.