- Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Cleveland Browns could've gone with the flashy pick by drafting West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith. They could've played it safe by taking Alabama's Dee Milliner, the top-rated cornerback in the draft.
Instead, Cleveland made the right move in going with LSU pass rusher Barkevious Mingo with the No. 6 overall pick, sending a message to the rest of the league: The Browns are coming after your quarterback this year.
The first free-agent signing by chief executive officer Joe Banner was Paul Kruger, the sacks leader for the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. The first pick of this new era was Mingo, one of the most explosive and athletic defensive players in this draft.
The Browns didn't address their biggest need at cornerback. They didn't bring in a playmaker to spark a long-struggling offense. What the Browns did accomplish was to put some fear into Joe Flacco, Ben Roethlisberger and Andy Dalton.
"We've talked about bringing in aggressive players to play in an aggressive scheme. He fits that very well," Banner said. "This was the outcome we were hoping for."
How much did the Browns want Mingo? Banner said he had a trade in place if Mingo didn't fall to them. When he was there, the Browns didn't think about trading down.
The Browns are doing more than switching to a 3-4 defense under new coordinator Ray Horton. They want to change the mentality. Last week, during the Browns' first minicamp, linebacker D'Qwell Jackson talked about giving the Ravens and Steelers "a little dose of their own medicine."
That wasn't the case last season, when Browns linebackers combined for 19.5 tackles for loss or sacks, the lowest mark in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Browns now have playmakers in Mingo and Kruger.
"We feel like building this the way we are, with character and aggressiveness and quickness, that this was the right guy at this time as we looked at our board," Banner said.
There will be some teeth-gnashing that the Browns didn't draft someone to improve upon the NFL's 24th-ranked scoring offense. But the Browns didn't need Smith, another strong-armed quarterback like Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell.
Some will worry that Buster Skrine is still penciled in as the starter at cornerback. As I wrote previously, Milliner doesn't make enough plays to be taken at No. 6.
Asked about passing over a cornerback, Banner said: "We're not going to force filling a need on a short-term basis. We're not going to fill all the needs on this team this year. It's just not going to happen."
Plus, teams can get by with average corners if they can put pressure on quarterbacks. Look at the Ravens, who won a Super Bowl with Cary Williams (a seventh-round pick in 2008) and Corey Graham (Pro Bowl special teams player) at cornerback.
"It all starts with the pass rush," coach Rob Chudzinski said.
The reason why I like the decision to pick Mingo goes beyond his name, which sounds more like a character in the "Harry Potter" books. (His name, by the way, was made up by his mother, who wanted something different. His brother is named Hughtavious. Yes, really.)
In his first interview with Cleveland reporters, Mingo didn't sound overwhelmed by the upcoming challenges of the NFL, which comes from his SEC pedigree. His sacks dipped to 4.5 in his final season in college, but his confidence did not.
On his vision for his pro career, Mingo said: "I think I can be as good as I want to be -- and I want to be great. I want to be one of those guys that gets their names in Canton, Ohio, and be a dominant player."
Even though Mingo didn't produce strong sack numbers, he still made quarterbacks move out the pocket and hurry throws. He recorded 28 total pressures (hurries and knockdowns), tied for the second-most in the SEC. Only Jarvis Jones (31), who was later drafted by the Steelers, had more.
Mingo is freakishly athletic. He has a tremendous upside. Sure, Mingo needs to bulk up if he wants to defend the run. But he brings something you can't teach: an explosive first step.
"I think I'm the best pass rusher," Mingo said. "Week 1 and the preseason, I'll get to show it."
The Browns, though, made the right pick because they went with the best player available. Reaching for a player like Smith or Milliner won't change double-digit losses year after year. This about building a team, and that begins with embracing an attacking style of play. And, adding some 'Bark' to the Dawg Pound seems appropriate.
"It really started with our coaching search and Chud's philosophy, which is part of the reason why he got the job frankly, about playing aggressive and attacking defense and making life uncomfortable for quarterbacks," Banner said. "It's about being on the attack even when the other team has the ball. I think you could see it in the moves that we made, whether it's in the free-agent moves or what you've seen so far in the draft. It fit the plan."