It is getting closer folks, the beginning of the 2015 NFL Draft is just one day away for the Cleveland Browns and the rest of the NFL. This means that we need to kick our Top 5 positional fits into overdrive, with the next group up on the list being inside linebacker.
Many think the Browns do not need to look at the inside linebacker position after addressing it during the 2014 offseason, however, a deeper examination says differently. In fact, do not be surprised if the Browns are picking one in the first few rounds of the 2015 NFL Draft.
Before we get to the potential draftees, as usual, we need to take a look at the inside linebackers currently on the roster.
ILB Currently on the Roster:
Karlos Dansby: 2014 Free Agent Signing
Christian Kirksey: 2014 3rd Round Draft Pick
Craig Robertson: 2011 Undrafted Free Agent
Tank Carder: Claimed off waivers from Buffalo in 2012 (5th Round Pick 2011)
Darius Eubanks: Signed to practice squad in 2013
At first glance, it is easy to think this is a position of strength for the Cleveland Browns. The team brought in veteran thumper, Dansby, for his productiveness and attitude as a leader in the middle of the defense. They then went out and drafted Kirksey, who has the ability to play both inside and outside in the 3-4 defense, to be the “yin to Dansby’s yang” in the unit.
While both players were highly productive in their first season with the Browns, Dansby’s age is one of the main reasons why the Browns could be looking to add to the unit in the draft. Add in Robertson’s streaky nature and inability to cover tight ends and running backs, and the inside linebacker position could certainly use an infusion of “young blood” for the second consecutive season.
Carder and Eubanks are nothing more than special teams players, though Carder has stepped in and filled in on defense when injuries have occurred.
Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State, 6’4” and 246 pounds, Late 1st/2nd Round Projection
Though it is not likely the Browns will take an ILB in the first round, McKinney needs to be mentioned on this list. His size and athleticism are off the charts, and should he be around when they are picking in the second round—Ray Farmer will give him a long, hard look.
Despite looking the part, McKinney is a raw prospect who needs to develop solid instincts to become a long-term starter at the NFL level. He at times has difficulty deciphering plays, and will need a solid mentor to learn from to transform into a legit NFL starter.
So why is he on this list? Because his raw tools are incredible, as he has long arms and could develop into a very good player with the right coaching and training. That may not be what most people want to hear out of a potential second-round pick, but with Dansby in front of him—McKinney would have a solid group to learn from and grow, without major expectations early on in his career.
Denzel Perryman, Miami (Fla.), 5’11” and 236 pounds, 2nd/3rd Round Projection
Among my favorite players in this draft class, Perryman plays like an absolute missile when he is on the field. Despite having smaller than preferred size for the position, Perryman plays like a man possessed on the field—with a physicality unrivaled by many at his position in this draft class. He takes on blocks, isn’t afraid to put his head down and fill run lanes—oh and he has a nose for the football. If all of that wasn’t enough to get you excited about the Hurricane, he is a heady leader in the middle of the defense, dissecting plays in the backfield and reacting early on.
So why is he projected in the 2nd/3rd round? Many are concerned his size will be a problem when he has to drop into coverage, and that he gets caught up by bigger blockers if he cannot shed them at first contact. Despite these things, Perryman should absolutely be considered if he is available when the Browns are on the clock in the 2nd/3rd rounds.
Paul Dawson, TCU, 6’0” and 235 pounds, 3rd Round Projection
Dawson is an intriguing prospect, as at times he has drawn comparisons to Tampa Bay’s Lavonte David. However, there are concerns about his strength and ability to play within the system—which leave many to truly wonder what you are getting out of the 22-year old.
Here is what I can tell you. When you watch him on film, he makes quick decisions and reacts quickly to the ball. Whether it is attempting to get to the QB or filling a running lane, Dawson does a very good job in either scenario. He also can locate the ball well on the field, often making big-time plays behind the line of scrimmage.
If people are concerned about his production on the field, I just do not see it. He is tough, gritty and a very good tackler. When the Browns are picking in the third round, they would be lucky to get a player with his ability to be productive if he is still available.
Ramik Wilson, Georgia, 6’2” and 237 pounds, 4th/5th Round Projection
A player very few are talking about, Wilson has drawn projections to ILB in the 3-4 or OLB in the 4-3. With his size, speed and explosiveness, Wilson could be a player to keep an eye on during day three of the draft—especially since he is an absolute tackling machine.
He will never be known as the “physical mauler” type of ILB, as he prefers to go around blockers and work in the middle of the field more than near the line of scrimmage. However, he can still dissect a play and make tackles near the LOS. With solid coaching, Wilson could be a very good rotational guy with starter upside.
Jake Ryan, Michigan, 6’2” and 240 pounds, 4th/5th Round Projection
When you watch Ryan on film (sorry Buckeye fans), you see a versatile player who can play both OLB in the 4-3 or ILB in the 3-4. One of my favorite aspects of Ryan’s game is his ability to diagnose the triangle, quickly reacting to and deciphering the play while many would still be attempting to figure it out. He also is great in run support, as he is not afraid to lower his head and blow up a play on any given down.
Why is a player with a high motor and natural ability to diagnose and stop plays rated in the middle? One of the main reasons is his injury history (torn ACL) and his lack of “top end speed” according to some analysts. When you watch him on film, you will also see he gets caught up in blockers at times due to his aggressive nature.
Even with the injury history, Ryan is the type of player who could be very, very good at the NFL level. If the Browns feel he can step inside with his intelligence and relentless nature, he could be a very good fit on this defense.
Check out More of our “Top 5 Positional Fits” for the Browns in the 2015 NFL Draft!