10 NFL Draft Prospects Every Cleveland Browns Fan Should Know About

Andy McNamara@@AndyMc81Correspondent IIJanuary 10, 2014

10 NFL Draft Prospects Every Cleveland Browns Fan Should Know About

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    Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

    There are 10 NFL draft prospects whom every Cleveland Browns fan should know about.

    This is not a mock draft or a list of the top collegiate athletes, but a mix of players at various positions who would fill a need for the Browns.

    Not having a head coach or definitive offensive and defensive systems in place throws a wrench into matching talent with a specific strategy.

    However, by finishing 4-12 this season, Cleveland's front office obviously needs to look at vast improvements on both sides of the ball.

    All statistics are via ESPN.com and projected draft-round selections are courtesy of CBS Sports.

    The NCAA college bowl games are all in the books, so let's take a closer look at some possible future Cleveland Browns.

10. Ben Malena, Running Back

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Projected 2014 NFL entry draft round selection: Undrafted

    2013 Season Statistics

    Rushing: 551 yards, 4.8 yards per carry, 10 touchdowns

    Receiving: 190 yards, 21 receptions, one touchdown

    In the shadow of Aggies star quarterback Johnny "Football" Manziel, the 5'8" Ben Malena has developed into a reliable dual-threat all-purpose back.

    He is solid in pass protection, and while not explosive, is able to consistently pound the rock—the exact type of complementary RB to Dion Lewis that Cleveland currently is in dire need of.

    Malena is a fan favorite for Texas A&M as he wears a variety of headbands during games and isn't afraid to make a flashy entrance out of the tunnel. More importantly, the senior is a team captain, recognized locker room leader and force on special teams.

    This Cedar Hill, Texas, native would help balance the Browns backfield. He could be a hidden gem in the seventh round or may even go undrafted.

9. Christian Jones: Inside Linebacker

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    Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

    Projected 2014 NFL entry draft round selection: 2-3

    2013 Season Statistics

    56 tackles, two sacks, one interception

    It seemed like every Sunday Browns fans were watching opponents dominate their team over the middle and exploit size mismatches against inside linebacker Craig Robertson.

    Adding the 6'4", 235-pound Christian Jones into that spot could eliminate the problem.

    Playing on national championship winning Florida State, Jones' wingspan makes him a natural star in pass coverage. He's able to smother large tight ends, but is also fast enough to chase down receivers on deeper routes.

    The senior Seminole's footwork is phenomenal, as are the angles he takes in pursuit of the ball-carrier. Jones' large frame can help take away middle rushing lanes, and he possesses the explosiveness to shed blockers when blitzing.

    This All-ACC second team performer sometimes takes his athleticism for granted as he tends to play high, which then effects his tackling technique. These flaws are coachable and a small price to pay for a potential upgrade at the position.

8. Marion Grice: Running Back

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    Ralph Freso/Getty Images

    Projected 2014 NFL entry draft round selection: 4

    2013 Season Statistics

    Rushing: 996 yards, 5.2 yards per carry, 14 touchdowns

    Receiving: 438 yards, 50 receptions, six touchdowns

    At 6'0" and 204 pounds, Marion Grice needs to bulk up and not be such an upright runner.

    However, the Arizona State senior is a proven contributor with seven multi-touchdown games in 2013. That's no small feat considering he missed the last three matchups of the season because of a leg injury.

    The timing of Grice's lower body ailment was unfortunate, but he's expected to be fully recovered for the Senior Bowl on Jan. 25.

    The Sun Devil can cut on a dime and display instant acceleration, and his patience often puts overaggressive defenders out of position. Grice is also a dependable receiver and can hold his own when blocking.

    One other skill that the Browns may find appealing is that Grice has ability as a kick returner. Over 11 contests in 2013 he ran back 21 kicks for a total of 507 yards and a long of 44. 

7. Ka'Deem Carey: Running Back

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Projected 2014 NFL entry draft round selection: 2

    2013 Season Statistics

    Rushing: 1,885 yards, 5.4 yards per carry, 19 touchdowns

    Receiving: 173 yards, 26 receptions, one touchdown

    There is high risk, high reward when considering Arizona junior Ka'Deem Carey. 

    The risk involves his maturity issues off the field, a story all too familiar to Browns fans this past season with wide receiver Josh Gordon.

    However, the reward opportunities seem exceptional.

    Shattering the 1,000-yard plateau for the second consecutive year, this playmaker rumbled for over 127 yards in all 12 games this season. That includes a 169-yard, two-touchdown performance in Arizona's 42-19 win over Boston College in this year's AdvoCare V100 Bowl.

    Carey added bulk last offseason and is now 207 pounds. That extra weight helped with his power running up the middle. At 5'10", the Arizona running back's superb vision and fast decision-making emphasizes his ankle-rolling cuts and first-step quickness.

    The Wildcat can also punish defenses in the short passing game and has developed into an effective blitz blocker in the backfield.

    His second-round draft grade may be a bit rich for CEO Joe Banner's liking, especially if the team feels that both Dion Lewis and Edwin Baker can be contributors in 2014. 

6. L'Damian Washington: Wide Receiver

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    Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

    Projected 2014 NFL entry draft round selection: 5-6

    2013 Season Statistics

    Receiving: 50 receptions, 893 yards, 10 touchdowns

    How would having a raw 6'4" wide receiver who can run a 4.39, 40-yard dash sound Browns fans?

    Boasting an eerily similar skill set to an unpolished Josh Gordon in his rookie season, L'Damian Washington could be a steal in the later rounds of May's draft.

    Like Gordon, this long-striding senior out of Missouri has the acceleration and physicality to be an instant threat as either an outside or slot receiver.

    Washington's main flaws involve sloppy route-running and not coming back for the football if a play breaks down. Proper coaching and focus should easily correct these bad habits. It did for "Flash" Gordon and look at him now.

5. Jimmy Garoppolo: Quarterback

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    Bradley Leeb-USA TODAY Sports

    Projected 2014 NFL entry draft round selection: 3

    2013 Season Statistics

    Passing: 5,050 yards, 53 touchdowns, nine interceptions, 168.3 passer rating 

    Jimmy Garoppolo could very well be the most underrated quarterback in this entire draft.

    In 2013 he was selected as an Associated Press FCS first team All-American, won the Walter Peyton Award, and led all Division-I players in touchdowns. His competition may not have always been top notch, but those accomplishments are still quite impressive.

    Garoppolo also threw for over 300 yards on 11 occasions, five of which were for more than 400 yards. Statistics don't mean everything, however. But combining these prodigious numbers with Garoppolo's 6'2", 222-pound frame and accurate arm certainly helps elevate his profile.

    The senior from Eastern Illinois goes through his progressions quickly, releases the ball on time and demonstrates the footwork needed to escape pressure.

    Although he doesn't possess elite arm power, Garoppolo can put above-average zip on the pigskin, which will help him be successful at the NFL level.

    A fun side note is that the Panther has doubled as a punter since 2012, delivering nine kicks.

4. Cyril Richardson: Offensive Guard/Tackle

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    Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

    Projected 2014 NFL entry draft round selection: 1-2

    Cyril Richardson is a mountain of a man at a mighty 6'5" and 335 pounds.

    Besides his impressive size, this Baylor Bear's greatest asset is his versatility on the offensive line. He successfully played both left guard and left tackle in his three years as a starter.

    Outside of Joe Thomas, Cleveland's offensive line is riddled with question marks, and Richardson could make an instant impact.

    The senior displays good footwork and fluid movement in pass protection while utilizing his pure power to bulldoze tacklers on running plays. Richardson needs to improve his angles when defending the blitz but overall looks like a can't-miss prospect.

3. Jordan Matthews: Wide Receiver

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    Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

    Projected 2014 NFL entry draft round selection: 2

    2013 Season Statistics

    Receiving: 112 receptions, 1,477 yards, seven touchdowns

    Being the cousin of legendary NFL receiver Jerry Rice isn't a bad place to start when looking for a complementary wideout to Josh Gordon.

    Jordan Matthews is a big-time playmaker who used his 6'3" frame and excellent body positioning to set the SEC single-season record for receptions and yards in 2013.

    The Vanderbilt senior owns tremendous hands, catching anything near him, and is known for his spectacular one-handed grabs. He would be a welcome change to the butter fingers that belong to Greg Little and Davone Bess.

    Matthews produced results in college whether it was lining up outside or in the slot. He doesn't have elite speed, but his route-running should be crisp enough to gain consistent separation in the NFL.

2. Justin Gilbert: Cornerback

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    Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

    Projected 2014 NFL entry draft round selection: 1

    2013 Season Statistics

    42 tackles, seven interceptions, seven passes defensed

    Finally a cornerback that isn't 5'9" like free-agent signing Chris Owens, draft pick Leon McFadden and holdover Buster Skrine. That height seemed like a prerequisite for Cleveland's front office in 2013.

    At 6'0" and 200 pounds, Justin Gilbert is just what the Browns are looking for in an outside corner opposite Joe Haden. 

    The Oklahoma State Cowboy is arguably the best ballhawking CB in college football, and that is in part because of his excellent body positioning and aggressiveness when covering receivers.

    Gilbert's seven interceptions led the Big 12 this season and as a delightful bonus, he has also returned six kickoffs for touchdowns throughout his collegiate career.

    The senior does need to clean up his technique, but he possesses the tools to be a star as a pro.

1. Blake Bortles: Quarterback

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    UCF quarterback Blake Bortles after winning the Fiesta Bowl.
    UCF quarterback Blake Bortles after winning the Fiesta Bowl.Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

    Projected 2014 NFL entry draft round selection: 1

    2013 Season Statistics

    Passing: 3,581 yards, 25 touchdowns, nine interceptions, 163.4 passer rating 

    The hype machine surrounding Blake Bortles is in full operation and gained even more momentum following his gutsy effort in winning the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

    Bortles used his legs and arm to convert four total touchdowns (three passing, one rushing) and overcame some early jitters that resulted in a pair of interceptions. Throwing for 301 yards and turning out 93 more on the ground catapulted him up the draft prospects board.

    Dan Greenspan of NFL.com wrote, "Bortles reportedly received a first-round grade from the draft advisory board and at least one NFL team with a top-10 pick regards him as the top quarterback in the draft."

    What surely intrigues the Browns, and other quarterback-hungry clubs, is Bortles' four fourth-quarter comeback victories in 2013. The Florida native's stock also rose during the regular-season finale against Southern Methodist that took place in a nasty ice storm.

    Although the conditions were frigid, this was a tremendous opportunity for Bortles to show his versatility in bad weather and prove he could succeed in the cold. When circumstances weren't right for tossing touchdowns, No. 5 stepped up and ran to produce two scores.

    Not turning the ball over, throwing 35 times and completing 68.6 percent of those passes in harsh winds is exactly what a Northern outdoor team like Cleveland is looking for.

    Bortles is receiving comparisons to Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck from Bleacher Report's own NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller.

    The junior certainly looks the part of a franchise signal-caller at 6'4" and 220 pounds. He possesses underrated athleticism and isn't afraid to get physical when on the run.

    Arm strength, a fluid release, downfield accuracy and quick progressions are all traits that emphasize the 22-year-old's value. Although he has the speed to make plays with his feet, Bortles is able to stay poised in the pocket under pressure and convert.

    He needs to develop a better awareness from where defenders are attacking. As such a raw talent, Bortles would benefit greatly from holding a clipboard for one or two years.

    Andy McNamara is an international sports broadcaster and journalist.

    Follow Andy on Twitter @AndyMc81