Age and off-the-field issues have made defensive end a draft priority for the Cleveland Browns.
With the development of Ahtyba Rubin at nose-tackle, the team believed that it could occasionally move starting nose-tackle Shawn Rogers on the edge on running downs. Rogers quick first step and massive frame would make him a difficult matchup to handle one-on-one on the outside.
But Rogers status is now up in the air after his recent felony charge for carrying a concealed weapon in an airport.
Even if Rogers’ attorneys are able to work something out with prosecutors (or push back his court date to season’s end), it is highly likely that NFL President Roger Goodall will strike Rogers down with vengeance. Expect nothing less than a two-game suspension in a best case scenario.
The rest of the Browns defensive lineman are a combination of past their prime veterans and long-shots who are lucky to be collecting an NFL paycheck.
Entering his ninth season in the league, Kenyon Coleman battled a series of injuries that ultimately led to his season being cut short in 2009. He did not make much of an impact when he was healthy and is better suited as a backup at this stage in his career.
Robaire Smith made a remarkable recovery from a torn achilles to start 15 games in 2009. However, at 33 years old (in November), he is nearing the end of his career.
Brian Schaefering showed flashes in limited duty in his first year, but he is longer on hustle than athletic ability. He doesn’t exactly instill fear in opposing offenses.
C.J. Mosley has shown he is nothing more than a career second-stringer, while Keith Grennan and Derreck Robinson are projects.
That leads us to the list of NFL hopefuls entering the 2010 draft.
Keep in mind that in the Browns’ 3-4 defense, ends are expected to hold up at the point of attack in the run game and not just rush the passer. Undersized defensive ends need not apply (although Cleveland is in the market for a tweener who can move to outside linebacker – but that is a whole separate article).
Derrick Morgan (Georgia Tech) has emerged as the clear front-runner to be the first defensive end taken in the draft. He has prototypical NFL size and athletic ability to hold up on the outside of the 3-4.
Morgan has taken some heat for a sub-par performance in the Orange Bowl against a strong Iowa offensive line, but keep in mind that he is only 21 and has room to grow both physically and mentally.
He (along with safeties Eric Berry and Earl Thomas) is a definite consideration for the Browns with the seventh pick in the draft.
The next tier of defensive ends includes Jason Pierre-Paul (South Florida) and Everson Griffen (Southern California). Both are expected to be late first round picks who will be outside of the Browns reach unless they trade up from the second round (or down from the first).
Pierre-Paul possesses plenty of potential, but is expected to be a project who will need to improve his football acumen as well as hit the weights.
Griffen is a beast physically (recording 32 reps on the bench press during the combine and a 4.65 forty time), but questions about his work ethic on the field and his character off it have lowered his stock.
With three picks in the third round, I will be shocked if one of the following players are not wearing orange and brown in 2010: Carlos Dunlap (Florida), Tyson Aluala (California), Alex Carrington (Arkansas State), and Corey Wootton (Northwestern).
Corey Wootton in particular has drawn interest from the Browns coaching staff, who sent a contingent to his pro day workout.
Woottton was a potential first round pick after his junior year (first team All Big Ten), but suffered a torn ACL near the end of the Alamo Bowl. He returned for his senior year and appeared to be back to his old self the second half of the season.
To play in the NFL, he will need to bulk up that 6’7” frame, but is very quick and uses his hands and long arms to keep blockers at bay. He could be a third round steal now that he has fallen under the radar.
Browns coaches were present for Carrington’s workout as well. He has excellent size (6’5” – 285 lbs.) and strength, and is a particularly impressive run defender.
The knocks on Carrington surround technique and lack of quickness. He is a big body who has not had to worry about secondary moves against a lower level of competition in college.
A raw prospect to keep an eye on late in the draft is Clifton Geathers (South Carolina). He is the brother of Bengals starting defensive end Robert Geathers, Jr. and son of former NFL player Robert Geathers.
He only has one season of starting experience under his belt, but scouts are intrigued by his massive size and incredible strength. At 6’9” and 300 lbs., Geathers is easily the largest end in the draft.
He is worth a flyer with one of the Browns’ 10 picks near the end of the draft.