AFC North: Teddy Bridgewater

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- At this time last year, Christian Ponder's preseason was over. He was firmly entrenched as the Vikings' starting quarterback headed into the beginning of the regular season, and as such, he was preparing to sit out the team's final exhibition game against the Tennessee Titans.

Of course, it's all turned around this year. Ponder is the third-string quarterback, behind the veteran the Vikings initially signed to back him up and the player they drafted in the first round as their new QB of the future. He hasn't played in the Vikings' last two preseason games, and though coach Mike Zimmer has hinted the Vikings will keep three quarterbacks, Ponder would be on the roster as an afterthought, not a centerpiece.

Ponder
Ponder
This Thursday, as the Vikings wrap up their preseason schedule against Tennessee, the stage figures to be Ponder's. He'll likely see a healthy share of the playing time against the Titans, and if he does so, he'd effectively get his first significant chunk of work since last Dec. 1, when a concussion knocked him out of a game against the Chicago Bears and Matt Cassel claimed a starting job he still hasn't given back.

Thursday could be the last significant playing time Ponder sees in a Vikings uniform, though he says he's not asking for a trade to speed up his exit from Minnesota.

"That's up to our GM," he said. "I'm not going in and saying anything to him right now in terms of that. Whatever happens is going to happen. If I go to the GM and ask for a trade, that doesn't mean the other team wants me. It's really up to everyone else."

Even if he's in Minnesota all season, Ponder will be a free agent at the end of the year, and will in all likelihood be looking for work elsewhere. He said he's not treating Thursday as an audition for other teams, even though it could be his final chance to put something on video before he hits free agency.

The Vikings have said they've seen improvement in Ponder's play, though it remains to be seen whether any of that will come to light in a game after Thursday night. If the Titans game is indeed Ponder's only concentrated chunk of playing time this season, it'll serve as a bizarre footnote to a dizzying turn of events for the quarterback in Minnesota.

"It's definitely a little different," he said. "This week, the first-team offense will be running scout team and everything, and taking it easy. It's completely different. Honestly, I'm excited to just get out there and play. Getting more reps in practice makes this week fun, and I'm looking forward to getting some action in the game. I'm learning so much from watching Matt and Teddy [Bridgewater], and listening to [quarterbacks coach] Scott [Turner] and [offensive coordinator] Norv [Turner]. I really feel like I have a great understanding of what we're doing, and my confidence is high right now."
CINCINNATI -- We knew it was going to happen. We told you it was going to happen.

The Cincinnati Bengals were in no way, shape or form out to make Teddy Bridgewater the new face of their franchise. No shot whatsoever. Were they thinking about possibly drafting him in the unlikely event that all their other targets were off the board? Yes, who wouldn't?

Coach Marvin Lewis has been saying since the middle of last season that he trusts Andy Dalton and wants him to remain his quarterback for the long term. Team president Mike Brown has mostly echoed those sentiments, making it clear he and his front office are trying hard to figure out ways they can reasonably and fairly compensate Dalton on an extended deal before his contract expires next March.

[+] EnlargeAndy Dalton
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesThe Bengals appeared to show faith in Andy Dalton by not drafting a high-profile QB on Thursday night.
So why on earth did any of us actually believe Bridgewater was going to be the Bengals' draft selection at No. 24?

It's the nature of four-month draft coverage in the social media age, I suppose.

By passing on Bridgewater ... and Derek Carr ... and Jimmy Garoppolo ... and Tom Savage and whatever other quarterbacks draft analysts had been pegging at one point or another as possible first-round selections, the Bengals sent a clear message to Dalton. They are, just as they've been saying, committed to him. Love it or hate it, the plan to keep Dalton in stripes is real. How concrete that plan is, however, remains to be seen.

The Bengals could soon tiptoe into limbo with Dalton. Negotiations haven't, by all accounts, progressed much. If they don't soon, both sides might be best served to just let him play out his final season without a renewed contract. If that happens, both sides better hope Dalton wins a playoff game or two. Another first-round postseason exit and the Bengals might be hearing the following words next spring: "With their first-round pick of the 2015 NFL draft the Cincinnati Bengals select quarterback ..."

A lot has to factor into that scenario, though. Much of it hinges upon whether the Bengals will in fact extend Dalton before, during or immediately after the 2014 season. Much of it also depends upon how Dalton fares under newly promoted offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, who has vowed to showcase a more physical, run-based offense that should take some pressure off his quarterback. I've gone on record as saying I believe Dalton will be better under Jackson. Just like I thought Bridgewater would have been good as a backup under him, too, had he been available in later rounds.

Taken 32nd overall Thursday night by coach Mike Zimmer's Vikings, Bridgewater came off the Bengals' board around the time most recent mock drafts began anticipating. Many Bengals fans who were holding out hope that Bridgewater might at some point fall to Cincinnati, were happy their former defensive coordinator was the one who landed him. Bridgewater goes to a team they don't have to see often, and one whose head coach they like. It'll make it easy for them to root for him.

By selecting Darqueze Dennard at No. 24, the Bengals sent a broader message to their overall team. The pick made it known that their commitment to continuing to draft the player they deem the best available is real. It also let the team know that while Zimmer and a few other key pieces from last year's top-3 defense are gone, the identity of this team still begins on that side of the ball.

It's hard to argue with that. Part of Jackson's emphasis on the physical and more smashmouth style of play Jackson comes from the preexisting identity of the team, one that comes from a long aggressive defense that has to compete in the physical AFC North. Noted as one of the more blue-collar divisions in the NFL, the AFC North just got even tougher from a defensive standpoint with the first-round additions of cornerback Justin Gilbert (Cleveland), linebacker Ryan Shazier (Pittsburgh) and linebacker C.J. Mosley (Baltimore). With the rest of the division going defense in picks ahead of theirs -- of course, excluding the Browns' other first-round pick, quarterback Johnny Manziel at No. 22 -- it just made sense for Cincinnati to follow suit.

Yet another reason why the Bengals had no business drafting a backup quarterback in the first round.

While the message to Dalton on Thursday night was that he was indeed the team's starter, Friday night's picks could let us know exactly how long the Bengals do envision that to be the case. If no quarterback gets picked Friday, there is a good chance Cincinnati feels rather optimistic about re-signing Dalton well beyond 2015. The same can be said if they don't pick a quarterback in Saturday's fourth round, either.

But if a draft-hopeful quarterback does in fact get a phone call from the Bengals in Rounds 2-4, the message that call sends to Dalton could be somewhat jarring for him. Andy, you're still the starter, that phone call will say. But just in case, we've got your backup and possible replacement.

Dalton may have weathered the Bridgewater pass, but there are still messages he has yet to receive.
CINCINNATI -- You might have seen this week when we caught up with Cincinnati Bengals Hall of Fame offensive tackle Anthony Munoz at the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Fan Fest in Cleveland.

Though quarterback Andy Dalton's play was among the Bengals-related concerns Munoz touched on, he also spoke for a moment about the direction he felt the franchise was going, and what he anticipated seeing it do when the NFL draft arrives Thursday night.

When it comes to building up the Bengals' roster this weekend, expect them to do so by focusing on defense, not offense, Munoz said.

[+] EnlargeRyan Shazier
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteOhio State linebacker Ryan Shazier could be a good fit for the Bengals in the first round.
"I don't know names, but I think we need a linebacker," Munoz said. "We can go out and get a pretty good linebacker, maybe a defensive back. I don't think you can ever have too many cornerbacks and defensive backs."

So there you have it.

Munoz, a former Bengal who attends every home game and called preseason games for a local television station last year, is not looking for the Bengals to draft Teddy Bridgewater or any other quarterbacks or offensive players in the first round.

"The linebacker position is a good position to go with our D-line," Munoz continued. "Even though we lost one or two [on the defensive line], it's an area that's still strong. As far as linebacker or defensive back, that's what I would look at."

Michael Johnson was the starting defensive end the Bengals lost this offseason when he signed with Tampa Bay. Linebacker James Harrison was also cut in March, leaving a hole in the regular rotation at "Sam" linebacker. The Bengals also probably wouldn't mind having another linebacker who could play the "Will" position, giving them another option in situations where tight ends, running backs and the occasional slot receiver needs to be covered.

Ohio State product Ryan Shazier is one linebacker who could provide that level of versatility and depth for the Bengals. If he is there when Cincinnati selects at No. 24, he could be an option. Other options for that draft slot include cornerbacks Darqueze Dennard (Michigan State), Justin Gilbert (Oklahoma State), Kyle Fuller (Virginia Tech), Bradley Roby (Ohio State) and Jason Verrett (TCU). At least two of those cornerbacks are expected to be off the board before the No. 24 pick, as should the two highest-rated safeties -- Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Alabama) and Calvin Pryor (Louisville).

If there are no defensive backs or linebackers the Bengals like at No. 24, don't be surprised if they turn to the defensive line and figure out a way to help add to the depth at end. It all depends upon how that player grades on the Bengals' big board, though.

Munoz is probably on to something. It's something we've been saying for a while, but somehow it makes even more sense when a revered Hall of Famer says it: Cincinnati would be best served focusing early in the draft on defense. After that, go to town beefing up the offensive line with another body that can run block, another physical running back and a quarterback to back up Dalton.

The following is Munoz had to say about the Bengals' direction the past few seasons under head coach Marvin Lewis. It's something to keep in mind this weekend as the Bengals draft players. They don't just want good players, they want leaders, too. And lately, they have been among the best at drafting and developing those types of players:
"You can take the last three or four years and really separate it from the previous 18, 19 years. It is a different mindset and it's a totally different group of guys. One of my former teammates who's been a radio announcer or analyst for close to 30 years I think says it best: when your best players are your best guys and your hardest workers, that's when it starts to come around. I really believe that's what the Bengals have going for them. Their best players are their hardest workers and their best guys. ... This is a totally different makeup of the team. They're going in the right direction."
If you've been following along on our Cincinnati Bengals blog all offseason, you know that I'm an advocate of drafting at No. 24 the most athletic player who makes the most sense for what the team needs.

Since there may be an early run on cornerbacks and the cornerback position is one the Bengals are in need of addressing, I've been pulling for the team to take a player from that position group. Between Darqueze Dennard, Jason Verrett, Kyle Fuller and Bradley Roby, the options there are strong. By the time the Bengals come back to their second-round pick at No. 55, none of them may be on the board.

Defensive end has been a first-round possibility to me, too. But recent Bengals draft history shows the team shies away from taking players at that position so early. The same goes for quarterback. Only once in coach Marvin Lewis' 11 drafts have the Bengals used a first-round pick on that position. Carson Palmer was taken first overall in Lewis' first draft as a head coach. He led the Bengals to the playoffs two years later.

Not long after daybreak Saturday, Bengals fans were jolted from their slumbers when my ESPN colleague Chris Mortensen tweeted about a scenario that for the past few months has been a recurring dream for many of them:



As soon as that message went out, the Twitter equivalent of a draft-infused Bengals block party began. Casual draft observers and die-hard Bengals fans alike were praising the possibility Mortensen's tweet raised.

They should.

But it shouldn't be much of a surprise that the Bengals are at least thinking about Bridgewater (I alluded to some of that in this Saturday's Bengals mailbag). After all, from an overall fit standpoint, he best matches the type of quarterback -- backup or starter -- who the Bengals could use in offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's new scheme. Bridgewater's mobility and arm strength are two characteristics that could make him ideal for what the Bengals are hoping to execute with starter Andy Dalton this season.

So yes, absolutely Bridgewater should be a Bengals "fallback option," whether that's at No. 24 overall or 55th.

If you've watched Bridgewater's draft stock the past few weeks, you've seen its dizzying arc. There have been a few rises but mostly falls. Once seemingly a first-round lock, Bridgewater has inexplicably earned second-round or later projections of late. Some mock drafts in the past month have had teams passing on him into the third round. In their three-round mock draft just this past Thursday, ESPN draft insiders Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay had the Texans taking the former Louisville signal-caller with the first pick of the second round.

If he falls that far, his selection ought to be considered a steal.

That's why the Bengals are smart to at least consider him as a "fallback option."

Of course, that calls into question what Cincinnati should do about Dalton. He is, after all, still the starter and Lewis in particular has said publicly he wants him to remain in place for years to come. Team president Mike Brown has been a little less firm in his commitment to Dalton's long-term future with the franchise, but he also has made it clear that the organization is doing what it can to see if it can extend his rookie contract. That extension could come this offseason, but it also could come before or during next year's round of free agency. His contract expires next March.

By drafting a quarterback in the first two rounds, particularly in the first round, the Bengals could run the risk of sending the wrong message to Dalton. He's been told not to worry; a drafted quarterback won't unseat him or end his tenure.

"There's been a lot of talk that they're going to draft another quarterback, but they're not bringing in another quarterback to replace me," Dalton said late last month. "From everything they've told me they're not bringing in anybody to compete. So I'm not worried about it."

Bridgewater's potential drafting at 24 or 55 may not be about competition in 2014, but it definitely could result in Dalton's replacing if the Bengals and Dalton's representatives can't agree on his financial value to the team. He also would be replaced if Brown and the front office simply feels it prudent to move on.

So while Dalton may not feel worried about having Bridgewater behind him -- if the former Louisville star does end up getting drafted by the Bengals -- the starter would be wise to keep his head on a swivel.

Having said that, though, I'm still sticking to my guns about the Bengals' draft. I don't like to waffle on opinion. While I welcome opportunities to change my mind and to have it changed, I still like to stay firm with my beliefs. And I believe the Bengals need to focus either on bolstering their defense or their offensive line in the first round.

If Bridgewater is around when they pick in the second like some draft analysts have been suggesting in recent weeks, then you most definitely pull the trigger and turn that dream into reality.

Analyzing Kiper Mock 4.0: Browns 

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
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The three top quarterbacks are all on the board for the Cleveland Browns when they make their first first-round selection in ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper’s Jr. Mock Draft 4.0 Insider.

It’s no surprise Kiper has the Browns taking one at that spot. Everyone and their cousin seems to believe the Browns absolutely have to have a quarterback with the No. 4 pick.

Josh Gordon said during a recent visit to ESPN that he was a Johnny Manziel guy and he thought the Cleveland Browns would draft the quarterback with the No. 4 overall pick in May.

He gushed about Manziel during his visit to Bristol.

Gordon
Gordon
Bridgewater
This week in an interview on NFL.com he said if he had a choice he would take Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

Asked to comment on the quarterbacks in the draft, Gordon didn’t even mention Manziel, instead talking up Blake Bortles -- “reminds me of Ben Roethlisberger” -- and Derek Carr -- “I’m a big fan of Derek Carr” -- and Bridgewater -- “He’s been real good on the field.”

When pressured about which quarterback he would take he finally gave in and said he would “play it safe” and take Bridgewater.

A few things can be said about this:
  • Gordon might not have a clue who he likes, and like some players sometimes do might just be saying what he thinks people want to hear.
  • Gordon really isn’t committed to a particular draftable quarterback.
  • If he really thinks Bortles is Roethlisberger, that’s good enough for me.
  • Playing it safe is not the way to go with the fourth pick in the draft.

The Manziel-to-Bridgewater thing can be filed under the heading: “Go figure.”
The Cleveland Browns have created a little bit of national buzz with the way they’ve approached the quarterbacks in this year’s draft.

Instead of having the top brass attend the pro days of Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles to watch them throw, the team had its scouts do the work. Reportedly general manager Ray Farmer attended but did not not watch either throw. Coach Mike Pettine, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and quarterback coach Dowell Loggains have not attended any of the quarterback pro days. (It will be interesting to see what happens with Johnny Manziel on March 27.)

Ah, there's more. At the combine, the Browns reportedly did not spend any of their 15-minute interviews with the quarterbacks.

Gasp.

This has created some buzz. To the point that the esteemed Tony Grossi of WKNR ESPN-Cleveland has the Browns taking an offensive tackle fourth overall. (Ugh ... Sam-my Wat-kins, clap-clap, clap-clap-clap.)

How, the outraged say, can the Browns skip the workouts? Isn't that part of their job?

It’s led to questions ranging from whether they are disinterested in the quarterbacks or being deceptive in their intentions or are they flat-out incompetent (their past chases them in the case of the last question)?

Maybe they’re doing their job in a slightly different way.

Because really, what’s the big whoop?

Consider:

• Scouts scout. That’s what they are paid to do. They watch players, break down their technique and provide evaluations. Scouts should be able to see a player's athleticisim in a workout. And the scouts have already spent months watching these players in the fall.

• The scouts, front office and coaches have reams of game tape and information to watch. If a guy is a player, he should show it better on the field rather than in the packaged environment of a pro day. Show me a team that changes its mind on a guy who struggles in games based on a pro day and I'll show you JaMarcus Russell. Game tape is light-years more important than a pro day; football is played on a field in mud and wind and rain, not in an antiseptic setting like a pro day workout.

• The Browns will only say they are evaluating every player, but the rules allow them to bring in the three quarterbacks for interviews and workouts in Berea. They no doubt will, and they can talk to them there for a day and have them throw. A 15-minute interview might be nice, but a day-long one is better. A pro day is interesting, but throwing in a less-controlled environment might even allow the team to better assess a guy’s fundamentals and skills.

In some ways, the Browns' approach is refreshing. They are letting people do their jobs, and Farmer isn't obsessing.

Can questions be asked? Of course. But questions always come up this time of year about a team, its approach and its decisions. The bottom line comes when players are picked.

The Browns have done plenty since 1999 to warrant criticism.

But it seems like jumping on the pile to criticize them over this issue.
Player: Teddy Bridgewater (going in alphabetical order)

Position/College: Quarterback, Louisville

Combine impression (1-10, 10 the best): Seven.

Likelihood he’s there at Cleveland Browns' No. 4 pick: 80 percent.

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsTeddy Bridgewater threw for 9,817 yards, 72 touchdowns, and just 24 interceptions at Louisville.
Other teams interested: Houston (first), Jacksonville (third), Oakland (fifth)

The skinny: Bridgewater weighed in at 214 pounds at the combine, nine pounds more than his playing weight at Louisville.

Even he admitted he had trained for the combine.

“It was a huge focus,” he said of putting on the added weight. “I’ve been working hard with my eating habits, my weight-room lifting and everything.”

Let it be said that this is one of few times where “eating habits” related to putting on weight rather than taking it off. But that is Bridgewater’s burden as he heads to the draft. He had a sterling career at Louisville, throwing for 9,817 yards, 72 touchdowns and just 24 interceptions. His final season he threw for nearly 4,000 yards.

But his wiry frame has many wondering how long a career he can have in the NFL. Bridgewater makes Barkevious Mingo look stocky.

Bridgewater said he started at Louisville at 222 pounds. But he needed surgery on his jaw to fix his bite, a procedure that involved breaking his jaw to correct the overbite. When that happened, he couldn’t eat for two months and lost weight.

“I just have to get back adjusted,” he said, “to eating the right foods and everything and controlling my eating habits.”

Bridgewater is an affable, engaging guy with a quick release and a strong arm. He completed 78 percent of his passes as a senior. He can run if he has to, and he can move in the pocket. Most feel he’s the most NFL-ready quarterback given the system he played in in college.

But that body frame has many wondering if he should be taken in the top five.

The fact that Bridgewater himself made such an effort to put on that weight shows he’s aware of the issue.

“I just feel that to play the position you have to have durability,” he said. “I just want to prove that I can put on that weight and I’m one of those guys that can last a full NFL season.”

The others: Blake Bortles
Sammy WatkinsJoshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY SportsClemson receiver Sammy Watkins had 12 touchdowns on 101 catches last season.
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- The accolades flow freely and easily.

The talent that Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins brings to the NFL is rare, which would also make it special.

Greg Cosell, a guy who is as good as anyone at projecting college players to the NFL, tweeted that Watkins is the “best WR prospect since A.J. Green (and) Julio Jones.”

And Mike Mayock of the NFL Network couldn’t stop gushing when asked about Watkins in a recent conference call.

“He’s got a little attitude about him,” Mayock said. “He blocks people. You can see him getting (angry) during games and going after corners and safeties and linebackers.

“So he’s got an attitude like he wants to be the best player there is, and when you combine that with his physical ability I think it’s awesome.”

In the NFL, receivers aren’t supposed to go Top 10. But the last time the pundits gushed this much about a receiver coming out of college was when Calvin Johnson left Georgia Tech. That hype also came from the pro scouts and GMs themselves. Every one said Johnson would change the game. He has. Just as Green has changed the Bengals.

Which leads to the inevitable question facing any team picking in the top five of this year’s draft: Why not Sammy Watkins?

Count the Cleveland Browns among the teams facing that question.

If a team can pair a guy compared to A.J. Green with Josh Gordon, why not do it? Imagine the nightmares for defensive coordinators, especially when the ability of tight end Jordan Cameron is added to the equation. The Browns would have two guys who could break a big play at any time.

Watkins had 3,391 receiving yards in three seasons at Clemson, including 12 touchdowns on 101 catches last season. He runs a 10.5 100-meter dash, he’s 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds and claims he ran a 4.27 40-yard dash at Clemson (yes, take that time with a grain of salt).

He’s amazingly quick. He has good hands. He plays football.

“What makes him such a great football player? It's all the other elements," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "It's not his height, weight, speed. It's all the other stuff that's part of his makeup, his gifts.”

Taking him with the No. 4 pick would mean passing on a quarterback in the top three, but the unmistakeable buzz at the combine this week from NFL coaches and GMs is that they are wary of the top quarterbacks in this year’s class.

All have ability, but all have questions -- to the point that many wonder if they will be selected high, not because they are dominant players, but because they play quarterback.

The questions, too, seem legitimate, beyond the annual rite of finding something wrong with every draftable player.

Johnny Manziel is hit or miss, too small or flawed fundamentally with his whirling dervish moves that worked in college but might not work in the NFL.

Teddy Bridgewater's lean frame brings his durability into question, and his arm motion is a little quirky.

Blake Bortles has the size and arm strength, but he needs a couple years to develop.

They’re all “yeah, but” guys similar to the quarterback class that included Christian Ponder and Blaine Gabbert going in the first round -- not because they were the best players to take at those spots, but because they were quarterbacks.

Do the Browns want to roll the dice with the fourth pick with a guy who has legitimate questions?

Teams spend hours studying players and going over reams of information, then when they get to the draft they go away from their philosophy of best player available because a guy plays quarterback. NFL teams constantly tout “innovation” and “innovative thinking,” yet rebel against Watkins because the Browns have Gordon.

Having two outstanding receivers would spread the field, open up things for a running back, help an efficient quarterback like Brian Hoyer. A quarterback selected 26th or in the second or third rounds could be groomed to follow a guy like Hoyer.

It might mean something or nothing, but the Browns met or will meet with two quarterbacks expected to be taken later in the draft: Northern Illinois’s Jordan Lynch and Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo.

The Browns aren’t tipping their hand, and the draft is 10 weeks away. Watkins and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina are considered instant hits.

Clowney would be tough to pass up.

Watkins should be.
There's agreement on the Cleveland Browns' two first-round picks in the second mock drafts of ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay.

Both agree the Browns will take a quarterback with the first pick (fourth overall) and a receiver with the second pick (26th overall). They both even agree on the receiver.

All of the picks make sense, and it's tough to argue them -- provided you share the belief the Browns pick a quarterback first. I don't. I'd take Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins and at some point I'd take Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde, perhaps in the second round. Kiper and McShay disagree.

Kiper has the Browns Insider taking Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater with the fourth overall selection.

Kiper opines that with Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron, the Browns have players to help a young quarterback. He calls Bridgewater the guy who "has a lot of traits that translate to early success."

Johnny Manziel is not available in Kiper's draft when the Browns pick. He is in McShay's draft, Insider but McShay has the Browns taking Blake Bortles of Central Florida.

His analysis might not exactly thrill fans, though, as he writes the Browns could wind up with a receiver and could pass on Bortles because he's not the most stout guy. He also has qualifiers about his ability.

"He will not wow scouts with a big-time arm, and, like most young quarterbacks, he can become more consistent with his decision-making," McShay writes. "However, Bortles does have enough arm strength to make all the NFL throws, and unlike many college QBs I study on tape, Bortles sees the entire field, stands strong in the pocket and shows the ability to go through NFL-type progressions."

Kiper and McShay both have the Browns taking Fresno State receiver Davante Adams (6-foot-4 and 228 pounds) with the pick they acquired from Indianapolis for Trent Richardson.

Kiper calls Adams "a strong receiver who will make plays in traffic and beat defenders for the ball on contested throws." McShay calls Adams "a very good complement to Gordon and a nice weapon for Bortles," whom he has the Browns taking first.

Adams is a redshirt sophomore who declared early. He's big and strong but isn't the fastest.

Physically, he resembles Greg Little. But unlike Little, who spent one season at receiver and didn't play his senior year due to NCAA violations, Adams' production in college was impressive. In 2012, he had 102 receptions for 1,312 yards. In 2013, he led the nation in receptions (131), receiving yards (1,719) and touchdowns (24).

Clearly those are some impressive numbers.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars' loss to Buffalo ended a three-game winning streak, but it also improved their draft position by two spots.

If the season ended today the Jaguars (4-10) would own the No. 4 overall pick. Houston (2-12), St. Louis (6-8) and Oakland (4-10) would have the first three picks, with the Rams picking that high because of a trade with Washington.

Bradford
Bradford
Cutler
If the current order holds, the Jaguars are in a good spot if they indeed want to pick a quarterback with their first pick. There are rumblings that the Texans are going to make a run at Jay Cutler in the offseason, which would be a smart move because the Texans -- despite this season's record -- are still a playoff-caliber team if they find a good quarterback.

Cutler would keep the Texans' window open for the next few seasons. It would be unfair to expect a rookie quarterback to carry the team, especially since none of the them appear to be in the same class as Andrew Luck.

St. Louis wouldn't appear to be thinking quarterback, although there is some uncertainty there because of the season-ending knee injury to Sam Bradford. Before he was hurt in October, Bradford was on pace to have the best season of his career, and there were reports that the Rams wanted to do a contract extension for the former No. 1 overall selection.

If the injury has changed their mind, the Rams could take a quarterback with their first of two first-round picks, but they also need help on the offensive line and at safety. Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews is an option.

Oakland would be the wild card. Terrelle Pryor appeared to be their quarterback early in the season, but now it's Matt McGloin. Is either a long-term answer? Probably not, so quarterback would be the Raiders' top need. The Raiders are unpredictable, and it wouldn't be a shock if they bypassed a quarterback for one of the top linebackers or Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins.

If the Raiders did take a quarterback, that would leave the Jaguars with at worst their second choice among the available quarterbacks. It isn't as deep a crop as originally thought now that Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Baylor's Bryce Petty have said they are returning to school. Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel are expected to leave early and UCLA's Brett Hundley is waffling, but there also are several senior prospects worth considering in the first round, including LSU's Zach Mettenberger and Fresno State's Derek Carr.
The Cleveland Browns are officially on the clock. The Browns must deliver a franchise quarterback in the 2014 draft, or the next excruciatingly painful 14 weeks will be an utter waste.

The white flag was raised on the Browns' 2013 season Wednesday afternoon when they shocked the football world by trading running back Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts for a first-round draft pick. I initially thought someone had hacked Adam Schefter's Twitter account when I read the news. Trading your top player for a draft pick after two games? This is strange even by the Browns' standards. The Browns received a pick that will likely end up in the bottom half of the first round and are left with no offense for the rest of the season. This is a bad trade, and the only way the Browns can save face is by finding the new face of the franchise.

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
AP Photo/James CrispThe Cleveland Browns will surely take a hard look at taking Teddy Bridgewater in the 2014 draft.
Browns CEO Joe Banner, general manager Mike Lombardi and coach Rob Chudzinski are pushing all of their chips into the 2014 draft, which is 232 days away for those wondering when the Browns can become relevant again. The Browns have multiple picks in the first, third and fourth rounds, giving them the means to draft the quarterback of the future that they want.

Will it be Teddy Bridgewater? Johnny Manziel? Or how about Tajh Boyd? I have no idea right now. All I know is the Browns had better be right after mortgaging this season so quickly.

“Right now, based on how we’re building this team for sustainable success, we’re going to be aggressive and do what it takes to assemble a team that consistently wins," Banner said in a statement.

Browns fans, who have enjoyed just two winning seasons since the team rejoined the league in 1999, don't want to hear about "building." They want some assurance that this team is headed in the right direction. Right now, hope and offensive talent are in short supply in Cleveland.

The day began with the Browns announcing Brian Hoyer will replace the injured Brandon Weeden at starting quarterback for Sunday's game at Minnesota. It ended with Cleveland announcing Willis McGahee is coming to town to replace Richardson, if McGahee passes his physical. McGahee for Richardson? Even the worst fantasy football owners are snickering about this.

Richardson hasn't lived up to the hype of being the No. 3 overall pick in 2012. His career average of 3.5 yards per carry is less than pedestrian. It's easy to say the Browns lost with Richardson and can lose without him. That's not seeing the big picture. If that's the case, the Browns should trade Pro Bowl offensive tackle Joe Thomas, too.

All you have to do is watch Richardson to see his potential. He played most of his rookie season with broken ribs. He was running behind an offensive line this year that doesn't get any push off the ball. Richardson is a powerful and versatile runner who has the talent to be a top-five back in this league. The Colts will give him the opportunity and carries to prove that.

This is the latest move showing the Browns' new regime wants its own players. Of the 27 players drafted by former general manager Tom Heckert from 2010 to 2012, only 15 are currently on the 53-man roster, with Richardson being the latest to go. Now, the decision-makers can set their sights on getting their own quarterback.

My question is who's going to take the handoffs from the new quarterback? Young quarterbacks in this league had reliable runners. Matt Ryan had Michael Turner, and Joe Flacco has Ray Rice. Richardson would have been an integral part of the supporting cast for a rookie first-round pick.

I understand the need to get the quarterback position fixed. That has to be a priority for a franchise that is on its 19th starting quarterback since 1999. Weeden knows he has no future after hearing of the Richardson trade. Hoyer is merely a stop-gap.

The pressure is on the new regime to get the right franchise quarterback in 2014. If not, it could be the one getting sacked in a few years.
Many have speculated that the Cleveland Browns' top two targets in the 2013 draft were Oregon linebacker Dion Jordan and LSU pass-rusher Barkevious Mingo. How would the Browns' draft board change if the 2014 class had been eligible? That's where ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. chimes in. He remixes the NFL draft in an Insider post .

Would the Browns have considered trading up for Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater? Would Cleveland choose UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr over Mingo?

Kiper thinks Bridgewater would be a possibility at No. 2 for the Jacksonville Jaguars and at No. 3 for the Oakland Raiders. It likely would've been too expensive for the Browns to trade up from No. 6, especially when they didn't have a second-round selection. Still, Bridgewater would make Cleveland think harder about doing something that drastic than Geno Smith.

The more realistic scenario is choosing between Mingo and Barr. According to Kiper, Barr is arguably a better pass-rusher than Jordan, who was taken No. 3 overall. Considered a perfect fit for a 3-4 outside linebacker, Barr finished second in the nation with 13.5 sacks and ranked fourth with 21.5 tackles for loss. "There's certainly the possibility he beats out Barkevious Mingo as the No. 6 pick to Cleveland," Kiper wrote.

Kiper also unveiled his first 2014 NFL draft Big Board . South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney tops the list, and three quarterbacks (Bridgewater, Clemson's Tajh Boyd and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel) are in the top 25.
In the hours leading up to the start of the NFL draft, the reports varied from the Cleveland Browns drafting West Virginia's Geno Smith in the first round to the team trading for New England Patriots backup quarterback Ryan Mallett. The Browns ultimately passed on Smith on Thursday night, and they reportedly have no interest in acquiring Mallett.

Will the Browns be able to avoid taking a quarterback on the second day of the draft? Cleveland only has a third-round pick, the 68th overall, because it used a second-rounder on wide receiver Josh Gordon in last year's supplemental draft.

Three quarterbacks -- West Virginia's Geno Smith, USC's Matt Barkley and Syracuse's Ryan Nassib -- are all expected to go in the second round Friday night. That would leave the likes of NC State's Mike Glennon, Arkansas' Tyler Wilson, Oklahoma's Landry Jones and Tennessee's Tyler Bray sitting there when the Browns are on the clock again.

With these choices, I wouldn't take a quarterback in the third round and I don't see the Browns doing so either. The one quarterback who intrigued me for the Browns was Florida State's EJ Manuel because he brought a different element than Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell. But the Browns never had a decision to make with Manuel, a second- or third-round talent who was surprisingly taken by the Buffalo Bills at No. 16.

The best decision for the Browns is to remain patient and let Weeden have a second year to prove himself. He didn't live up to expectations of being a first-round pick, but he was far from a bust. Weeden threw for 3,385 yards, which was more than Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and Ryan Tannehill.

If Weeden fails to establish himself, there's always Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel next year.

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