If the top 3 of the 2012 NFL Draft goes the way many expect, then the Browns hold the fate of the two teams selecting directly behind them.
It’s safe to assume that the Colts will draft Andrew Luck with the top overall pick and that the Redskins will select Robert Griffin III at No. 2. And while GM Rick Spielman has tried to drum up interest in cornerback Morris Claiborne, chances are the Vikings will take offensive tackle Matt Kalil at No. 3.
But once the Browns are on the clock at No. 4, everything gets a little less predictable.
Cleveland could stand pat and take running back Trent Richardson (whom I selected for the Browns in my first mock draft), receiver Justin Blackmon, or Claiborne. If Minnesota somehow passes on Kalil, he becomes an option for the Browns at No. 4, even though they’re already set at left tackle with Joe Thomas. (Cleveland still needs a right tackle and it may be difficult for the Browns to pass on the opportunity to pair an intriguing talent like Kalil with a five-time Pro Bowler in Thomas.)
The Browns could also trade the pick, which might ultimately be in their best interest. If they can pull off a trade with Miami at No. 8 and still land Richardson, then Cleveland wins. That’s the Browns’ best-case scenario right there.
But the key is whether or not some team will want to trade up and if they do, whom would they target? Many believe that Richardson is an Adrian Peterson-type prospect, but running backs have become increasingly less valuable in a pass-heavy league. And while the Dolphins and maybe even the Chiefs could trade up for quarterback Ryan Tannehill, is he a top 5 prospect? Better yet, is he the type of franchise signal caller that teams would want to part with a first-round pick for? If the Dolphins stay pat at No. 8, they could feasibly get Tannehill there and not have to part with any picks in order to move up.
Thus, we’re back to the Browns and their options at No. 4. If they take Richardson, then the Rams would be ecstatic because that means Blackmon would likely fall to them at No. 6. If the Browns take Claiborne, it’s a realistic possibility that the Bucs will take Richardson at No. 5 because whom else would they take? They need defensive line help but Quinton Coples and Melvin Ingram both have question marks, and they’d be reaching for a DT like Fletcher Cox or Michael Brockers. If Cleveland selects Blackmon, then you’ll probably see St. Louis attempt to trade down or if Richardson is there, the Rams may tab him as Steven Jackson’s replacement.
Either way, it all starts with the Browns at No. 4. They’re the first piece of the domino.