By Tony Grossi
Seventh in a series analyzing the Browns’ draft needs.
Position: Defensive back.
Roster: Joe Haden, Sheldon Brown, T.J. Ward, Usama Young, Dimitri Patterson, Ray Ventrone, Buster Skrine, Eric Hagg, James Dockery, David Sims.
The big question about this position group is this: Is it time to move Brown to safety and promote Patterson to the other corner spot opposite Haden? Brown, 33, is entering his 11th NFL campaign and last year of his contract. He has a streak of 160 consecutive games played -- second-longest at his position to Tampa Bay’s Ronde Barber. Patterson was re-signed for $16 million over three years, with $6 million in guarantees. That is a starter’s level contract. Skrine, Hagg and Dockery will compete for backup spots.
Needs: Another cornerback to compete with Skrine and develop as a potential replacement for Patterson, who will be 29 in June.
Top 5 prospects:
1. Morris Claiborne, Louisiana State.
The elite cornerback of the draft and No. 1-ranked player on defense. His score of 4 on the Wonderlic intelligence test might not hurt his draft status as much as the perception that he isn’t very fond of tackling.
2. Mark Barron, Alabama.
The elite safety of the draft and only one worthy of first-round consideration. He is most effective as a physical run-stuffer in the box, but had 12 career interceptions.
3. Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama.
Any Alabama cornerback with career production is going to be well prepared for the rigors of the pro game because of coach Nick Saban. This one is long-limbed and cocky but not really physical.
4. Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina.
Started 40 games at cornerback and finished with eight interceptions. He has excellent size but not elite speed.
5. Janoris Jenkins, North Alabama.
Enormously talented but was kicked off Florida team after a second drug-related arrest. Transferred to North Alabama, where he had three punt returns for touchdowns and a 21.7-yard average.
Under radar: Chase Minnifield.
The son of former Browns great Frank Minnifield had knee surgery in January to be fully healthy for training camp.
Last word: The re-signing of Patterson reduced the need of taking Claiborne with the fourth overall pick. With a full complement of picks, every team takes at least one cornerback. With 13 overall, the Browns may choose two.
Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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