- Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer
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Fact No. 1: The Cleveland Browns desperately need a starting cornerback.
Fact No. 2: Alabama's Dee Milliner is the consensus top-rated cornerback in the draft.
Opinion: The Browns should trade out of the No. 6 overall pick even if Milliner is available.
Obviously, there's more to the Browns' first-round pick than filling a need and taking the best player available. It makes all of the sense in the world for the Browns to select Milliner. The argument here is whether it's the smartest move.
When a team takes a player in the top 10, the expectation is you're getting a game-changer. That was the thought when Cleveland landed running back Trent Richardson a year ago. Milliner doesn't have that same cachet, according to ESPN NFL draft expert Todd McShay.
Of the recent cornerbacks to get drafted in the top 10, Milliner is "a slight notch below" the likes of Joe Haden, Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne. Haden and Claiborne are better in man-to-man coverage than Milliner, and Peterson has more freakish ability. The biggest question for me is Milliner's playmaking ability. Although he's known for his aggressive play, he finished with six career interceptions, which hardly blows anyone away.
"With Milliner, he has average ball skills," McShay said. "I've seen a bunch of plays on tape where he's there and bats the ball down. Claiborne would've gone up and made the play."
McShay still believes Milliner is a top-10 pick. He's the only elite defensive back in this draft. McShay acknowledged that Milliner is probably more well-rounded than Haden, Peterson and Claiborne.
But given the Browns' needs beyond cornerback, the Browns would be better served to trade back and acquire a second-round pick. (The Browns used their 2013 second-rounder on wide receiver Josh Gordon in last year's supplemental draft.) Last year, the St. Louis Rams received a second-round pick from the Dallas Cowboys in moving from No. 6 to No. 14.
When fans began asking about the Browns' chances of trading back, I didn't think it would happen because I didn't see a player in the top 10 another team would covet. I underestimated the left tackle draft class and the Browns' fortuitous draft position.
The Kansas City Chiefs are expected to take the top left tackle in Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel with the No. 1 overall pick. The Detroit Lions are projected by many to select the second-best offensive tackle, Central Michigan's Eric Fisher, at No. 5 (Milliner is also an option for the Lions at this spot). If both offensive tackles are gone in the top five, the Browns find themselves with prime real estate at No. 6.
It's widely presumed the Arizona Cardinals are targeting Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson. That means any team wanting a top-tier left tackle -- namely San Diego at No. 11 and Miami at No. 12 -- will need to make a deal with the Browns in order to move one spot ahead of the Cardinals.
There's no debating that the Browns need a cornerback. Cleveland didn't re-sign last year's starter, Sheldon Brown, and backup Buster Skrine had more penalties than passes defensed last season. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Browns allowed 22 touchdowns to opposing wide receivers last year (tied for second-most in the NFL), although that may be a reflection of a lack of pass rush as well.
So, why should the Browns trade down if Milliner is available? The depth at cornerback in this draft gives the Browns the option of dropping to the middle of the first round and still getting a starter-caliber cornerback like Florida State's Xavier Rhodes or Washington's Desmond Trufant. The Browns also would have a shot at getting LSU pass-rusher Barkevious Mingo, who is reportedly high on the team's draft board, if they slide back to No. 11 or No. 12.
The key to this deal is picking up an additional second-round pick. The Browns can use that to upgrade any number of starting spots, from free safety (Eric Hagg) to inside linebacker (Craig Robertson) to tight end (Jordan Cameron) to left guard. (Jason Pinkston is trying to return from blood clots in his lungs.) If the Browns decided to take Mingo in the first round, they can find a quality corner in the second round, whether it's Mississippi State's Johnthan Banks, Boise State's Jamar Taylor or SE Louisiana's Robert Alford. Teams don't need a pair of elite cornerbacks to win in this league. Look at the Baltimore Ravens, who captured the Super Bowl while starting Cary Williams and Corey Graham at cornerback.
There's also a chance the Browns could select a quarterback in the second round, such as Florida State's EJ Manuel. He has been compared to Cam Newton, which may interest new Browns coach Rob Chudzinski if he wants to run his Panthers offense in Cleveland.
The decision to trade out of the No. 6 overall pick will be tougher if either pass-rusher Dion Jordan of Oregon or Ezekiel Ansah is on the board. Both project to be better 3-4 outside linebackers than Jabaal Sheard, who is converting from defensive end.
And it wouldn't be easy to pass on Milliner, either. The Browns need a cornerback after not picking up a top one in free agency. But Cleveland has a lot of needs, which require a lot of picks. The best decision the Browns can make at No. 6 is to trade down.
1620dMatt Williamson, Scouts Inc.