AKRON, Ohio -- The Browns will likely select a quarterback with the fourth overall pick in the NFL Draft, but which of this year's top prospects would be the best fit for them, considering they're in the AFC North, a division known for tough, rugged football in cold-weather cities, and they're going to be using new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's system?
Is it Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel or Central Florida's Blake Bortles?
New General Manager Ray Farmer, new coach Mike Pettine and Shanahan have undoubtedly studied college game film and formed opinions about what they consider the correct answer. Now they'll have chances to explore their theories this week at the NFL Scouting Combine, which begins Wednesday in Indianapolis.
In the meantime, NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock could envision any of those prospects wearing brown and orange next season.
"I think all three of those top-rated quarterbacks could play for the Cleveland Browns," Mayock said Tuesday during a conference call. "Bortles is kind of a bigger, stronger guy. People think he's got the biggest arm. I'm not sure if he does or not. I want to see him live. But I also think he's the least developed of the three. I think Bridgewater is the most ready-to-play NFL-style quarterback in this draft. And I think Manziel's got that 'it' factor where I don't think it matters if it's Cleveland, Seattle, Dallas, warm weather, cold weather, whatever, I think he's just going to be who he is."
But there's a good chance only one of those quarterbacks will be available at No. 4. The Houston Texans have the No. 1 overall pick, followed by the St. Louis Rams at No. 2 and the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 3. The Texans and Jaguars are in the market for a quarterback, meaning the Browns might feel compelled to trade up if they fall in love with someone they fear would be picked before they're put on the clock.
With 10 picks, including two in the first round (Nos. 4 and 26), the Browns have ample ammunition to maneuver. However, betting the farm on Bridgewater, Manziel or Bortles would involve plenty of risk, at least in Mayock's eyes.
"None of these guys are Andrew Luck," Mayock said. "None of these guys are Peyton Manning. None of these guys (make you say), 'It's a slam dunk. This is an easy one.' ... I can pick apart all three of them. I could not pick apart Andrew Luck.
"Manziel is a different kind of evaluation (because of his scrambling style), and you've got to buy in and embrace what he does. I love the kid. I love watching him. I think you're going to have to teach him, and I think he's going to have to be open to listening and learning. Your team is going to have to change how they play and embrace his style. Bridgewater and Bortles I think, can both be good quarterbacks, but I'm not ready to say either of those are all-pro quarterbacks."
Mayock considers Bridgewater the head of the quarterback class, followed by Manziel and then Bortles.
"The reason I think (Bridgewater is) the most ready to play in an NFL-style offense is he was under center, he was in pistol, he was in shotgun, his offense, they threw the ball short, intermediate and deep," Mayock said. "He understands three-step, five-step (drops). He reads more than just half a field. So you can put the tape on and watch him do things and say, 'Yeah, that translates to the next level.' He's not as much a wild card as Manziel, and I think he's more developed in his reads and throws than Bortles."
In some games, Manziel reminded Mayock of "a combination of Fran Tarkenton and Doug Flutie." But in others, Mayock said Manziel became "frustrated in the pocket," which caused him to make poor decisions and lose accuracy.
"He doesn't like being confined," Mayock said. "He likes those open spaces and we have to evaluate him a little differently because of that. (But) I do believe he's got the arm strength, the athletic ability, the passion for the game. ... I believe in the kid. I think he's going to be a top-10, if not a top-five, pick. But you're going to have to live with some of the negative plays in addition to the positive ones."
Mayock said he believes Bridgewater, Manziel and Bortles "are locked in as the three top quarterbacks" in this year's class. Next in line are Fresno State's Derek Carr, who Mayock projects as a late first-round pick, and Alabama's AJ McCarron, whom Mayock expects to be selected in the second or third round.
If the Browns surprise the masses by electing not to pick a quarterback with their first selection, Mayock said choosing Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins at No. 4 and Carr at No. 26 would make sense.
"Watkins would be awesome there," Mayock said. "I think they can get a running back in a bunch of different places, given the number of picks the Browns have this year. (Watkins), if they took him at four, I'm all-in on that kid. He can really play.
"I think Carr would be an interesting guy at 26. I didn't love his USC tape in the bowl game at all, but I do believe he's got the arm strength and athletic ability to be a starter in the NFL. I don't think he's a Pro Bowl-type starter, but I think he's a competent starter. The question you've got to answer yourself is at 26, are you getting a significant improvement over what you think Brian Hoyer is because if you're not, you need to move on and get another positional player."
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