The focus of the Browns’ offseason has been improving the pass rush, and that could very well continue in the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday night.
“The game is fundamentally about preventing pressure on your quarterback and getting pressure on the opposing team’s quarterback,” CEO Joe Banner said at the scouting combine. “If you can do that, you have a chance to win any game against any team.”
But what if Oregon’s Dion Jordan has been taken? And BYU’s Ezekiel Ansah is off the board, or general manager Michael Lombardi believes he doesn’t fit into the Browns’ 3-4 scheme?
The top two pass-rushing options are out of the question. Then what?
LSU’s Barkevious Mingo and Georgia’s Jarvis Jones are next in line, and would certainly receive consideration from the Browns — at No. 6, or preferably after a trade down to the 10-15 range. Both come from successful programs and have impressive resumes.
“Like in most drafts, there’s always guys that can rush the passer and I think this draft has several guys that can do that,” Lombardi said. “So it’s more than just rush the passer, it’s trying to make sure you find guys that can do a little bit of everything.”
While Jones has the best pass-rush credentials in the draft, Mingo might be more well-rounded. In addition to 15 sacks in three seasons, including eight as a sophomore in 2011, Mingo had 119 tackles, including 29 for loss. He projects as a 3-4 outside linebacker after spending most of his time at end, and said he’s comfortable dropping in coverage.
“It’s all football,” he said at the combine. “We covered backs, we covered tight ends. We did it all.”
Mingo is 6-foot-4, 240 pounds and ran a 4.58-second 40-yard dash. His body type and game are similar to Jordan’s. Both have the height, speed and athleticism desired in an outside linebacker.
“I think my speed separates me from every other guy in this draft,” Mingo said. “I’m a fast guy and I’ve got a quick first step and I like getting to the quarterback.”
“Here’s what I like about Mingo,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. “He’s explosive. He’s quick. He can win at the snap. He can dip. He can bend. I mean, this is a guy with tremendous potential as a pass rusher, and that is what this league’s about.
“When he was on the move, I thought he was almost unstoppable. When he was lined up on an island by himself against a quality tackle, I thought he struggled a little bit.”
Mayock expects Mingo to take big strides in that department as he gets NFL coaching and packs on some muscle.
“My main focus in the offseason is to put on weight,” Mingo said. “I put on 15 pounds and I’m still as quick as I ever was. Still the same first step, and I think I can add more, so it’s not an issue.”
“I’m willing to bet on the upside,” Mayock said.
The best part of Jones’ scouting report is his production, rather than his potential.
He totaled 28 sacks and 44 tackles for loss in two All-American seasons with Georgia. As a redshirt junior in 2012, he led the nation with 14.5 sacks and 24.5 tackles for loss, and added 85 tackles and seven forced fumbles.
“He’s probably the most relentless player in the draft,” Bulldogs defensive coordinator/associate head coach Todd Grantham told The Chronicle-Telegram on Monday. “He has a great passion for playing.
“The best example is he rushes the passer against Florida in the fourth quarter, turns, runs to the ball, knocks the ball out of the tight end’s hands into the end zone, we recover and go on to win the game. He enjoys playing the game and transfers that positive energy to other players.”
Sometimes the game film gets fuzzy in the months of relative inactivity before the draft. Jones measured 6-2½ with 33-inch arms — neither of which is ideal — and ran a 4.85 40, which was slower than the mediocre time expected. His 30½-inch vertical, 9-3 broad jump and 20 bench press reps at 225 pounds were also pedestrian.
A glance at the measurables suggests he isn’t an elite athlete and could struggle in the NFL.
“Not sure he’s a first-round talent,” former Dallas GM Gil Brandt said on nfl.com. “I see him as a guy that’s going to play with his hand on the ground and he’s going to try hard, and he’s going to come close to making sacks, but he’s not going to have 14.5 like he did at Georgia.”
Grantham strongly disagrees.
“That’s irrelevant,” he said of the 40 time. “He’s been the best player in the best conference in the country the last two years.
“The guy plays good in big games. He’s a baller. The tape doesn’t lie.”
Grantham coached the 3-4 as coordinator of the Browns from 2005-07 and runs it in Georgia. He said Jones’ transition to the next level should be smooth.
“He’s very good against tight ends in the run game, he’s hard to block, he’s a physical player,” Grantham said. “He’s an effective guy coming off the edge. One stat people do look at when they sit around NFL meetings is the sacks you’ve had.”
Jones cleared a significant hurdle just to continue his career. USC wouldn’t give him medical clearance after he suffered a stinger in 2009 and was diagnosed with stenosis — a narrowing of the open spaces within the spine.
He didn’t give up the dream of playing football and transferred to Georgia when doctors passed him. He was poked and prodded at the combine and was satisfied with the test results.
“I only had one incident. I never had any symptoms after that,” Jones said of the USC injury. “I played two years of SEC football, redshirted, practiced every day, never had any symptoms. So I feel that I’m healthy.”
After fighting so hard, he’s not about to be stopped by a couple of less-than-perfect scouting reports.
“I feel like I’m an impact player,” he said. “I make plays. I love the game of football.
“I’m just gonna get after you. I’m gonna get after the QB every play.”
Just what the Browns are looking for.
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