Following the loss of starting center Alex Mack and starting right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, the Cleveland Browns are in need of young offensive lineman, especially in the middle of the line. Cleveland currently has third year standout Joel Bitonio at left guard, but that’s all that is known as of now. Last year’s first round pick Cam Erving could play center or right guard, but he underachieved greatly in his rookie season. Finally, veteran John Greco is the favorite to play right guard. The Browns are looking to upgrade, and here are five top prospects that they could select in the 2016 NFL Draft.
The top guard in the draft could be Kansas State’s Cody Whitehair. Whitehair (6’4”, 301) played several different positions on the line in college, much like Erving did at Florida State. Whitehair wrapped up his career by starting at right tackle in his final two seasons. The Browns could look to play him at right guard or right tackle. Finally, Whitehair has been said to be a better pass blocker than run blocker, which could help keep their new starting quarterback upright. Whitehair is cbssports.com’s 38th ranked prospect in this draft. He is projected to be drafted in the first or second round.
Up next is Joshua Garnett. The Stanford product also stands at 6’4”, but carries about ten more pounds. Garnett was the typical Stanford offensive lineman, as he excelled in the run game and carried a “mean streak”. He led the way for one of the nation’s top rushers last season in Christian McCaffrey. Garnett was also awarded the Outland Trophy, given to the nation’s top interior lineman. Garnett’s run blocking ability could help to bring a running game back to the Cleveland offense. Garnett is ranked 60th on cbssports.com’s prospect list. He is projected to go in the second round.
Moving on to the centers, we have a three year starter in Ryan Kelly. The impressive part about Kelly is that he started for Alabama for three years, so this guy definitely has talent. Kelly leads a very tall class of centers, standing at 6’4” and weighing in at 311 pounds. Kelly also led the way for one of the nation’s top rushers in Heisman trophy winning Derrick Henry. Kelly could come in with a lot of pressure if he is asked to replace former Pro-Bowler Alex Mack. Kelly is cbssports.com’s 25th ranked overall prospect. He is projected to be a first or second round pick.
Next up is the brother of current Dallas Cowboy Pro-Bowl guard Zach Martin. Nick Martin, who also is coming out from Notre Dame, stands 6’4” and weighs 300 pounds. Also like his older brother, Nick is very versatile. Martin can play guard or center to fit the Browns’ weak spots on the line. Martin was a three year starter at Notre Dame, and could play many more seasons in the NFL. If Nick can play close to the level that his brother Zach does for the Cowboys, than he would be an excellent pick for the Browns. Martin is the 64th ranked prospect according to cbssports.com. He is projected to go in the second or third round.
Finally we have Max Tuerk, a mammoth from USC. Tuerk (6’5”, 298) started at every single offensive line position for the Trojans. The big question for Tuerk is his injury history, as he came off a big knee injury this past October. This should force Tuerk to slip in the draft, but if he slips enough the Browns could steal him away in a low risk/high reward scenario. Tuerk is ranked 110th out of all prospects in this draft on the cbssports.com top prospects list, probably due to his injury. That projects him to go in the third or fourth round.
The interior line is certainly not the most talked about position going into the draft, but could be among the most important. Teams need to have a good offensive line today, and with Joe Thomas and Joel Bitonio the Browns are off to a good start. If Cam Erving can comeback and be a solid starter and maybe one of these prospects could be drafted and turned into a solid starter, then Cleveland could begin to win games. It all starts with the NFL Draft on Thursday, April 28th.