While the NFL is still stuck in a labor abyss and players are enjoying an extended vacation, the OBR staff took the opportunity to engage in a roundtable discussion regarding some of the more intriguing Browns' storylines heading into the 2011 season*.
*Assuming such a thing occurs.
What follows is the third in a series of questions posed to OBR writers. Today's topic regards which recently drafted rookie was the team's best late-round pick.
It's really hard to project how any draft pick will do in the NFL, but we'll give it a shot. The Browns picked Buster Skrine and Jason Pinkston in the fifth round and safety Eric Hagg from Nebraska in the seventh round.
Of the three, Pinkston would appear to have the best chance for long-range potential. The Browns traded up into the fifth round to get Pinkston by giving up two sixth-round draft choices. Pinkston was a very good player in college at Pitt and the Browns think he can develop into a starter on the offensive line.
Skrine is speedy, but undersized and could be a nickel cornerback. Skrine could also be used in the return game. There is no question Skrine should be the fastest player on the roster and the Browns need to find a way to use his talents.
Hagg, even though he was a seventh-round pick could be a developmental player because of the Browns need at safety. If he can show his prowess on special teams, he could make the roster. However, his best bet could be on the practice squad. A couple of seasons ago, Don Carey, a lower-round draft choice, was plucked off waivers by Jacksonville when Eric Mangini tried to sneak him through after he was injured. Carey was a starting safety for the Jaguars last year.
One of the best players on the Browns last year was Peyton Hillis, who was a seventh-round draft choice of the Broncos. Ahtyba Rubin was a sixth-round draft choice of the Browns in 2008 and he is being counted upon to be a mainstay on defense.
Every team, scout, fan and draftnik is eagerly searching for a diamond in the rough during the NFL draft. They want a player who is drafted late in the process and then exceeds all expectations. These types of stories have been too few and far between in regards to the Cleveland Browns. A couple current examples can be found on the roster, but the general makeup of the team and its draft classes have been less than stellar since the team's rebirth.
If one were to peg a potential late-round "steal" while perusing the Browns' 2011 draft class, the obvious choice becomes Pittsburgh offensive lineman Jason Pinkston.
Cleveland liked the potential of Pinkston enough to trade back into the fifth round to acquire his services.
Most year-round draft analysts had Pinkston ranked higher than 150th overall, which is the spot where he was eventually chosen by Cleveland.
Draftinsider.net and SportsIllustrated.com had the former left tackle with a fourth-round grade. CBSsportsline.com had Pinkston 13 slots higher in its overall rankings. I had the lineman ranked 87th overall.
Pinkston is a hard-nosed lineman who excels at uprooting and driving defenders off the football. He is technically sound and reliable. He does not possess the natural gifts to remain at tackle at the next level, but Browns' fans could realistically expect the Pitt product to compete for a starting guard slotting in 2012.
John St. Clair proved that even with a Pro Bowl left tackle, right tackle is still an important position. For the last few seasons, the Browns offensive line has struggled on the right side with St. Clair as a starter. In April's draft, this position was addressed by the Browns with the selection of Jason Pinkston.
Can Pinkston play right tackle in the NFL? He is 6-foot-4, 305 pounds with good foot speed and long arms, but some scouts think he has the strength to play guard and does not have the speed to play tackle.
It doesn't take much to upgrade from St. Clair, so handing Pinkston the best later-round pick for the Browns in 2011 may seem too easy.
We'll also have to cut Pinkston some slack. He grew up in Pittsburgh a die-hard Steelers fan. Now he'll be wearing orange and brown. He said can separate his fandom from his job and since his last name isn't St. Clair, I'm sure embracing him will be no problem for Browns fans. It is better than another season with "El Matador."
I was tempted to go with Buster Skrine here, but had some Coye Francies anxiety. Also, it's probably worth noting that at best, Skrine will serve as the team's fourth cornerback. However, in Jason Pinkston's case, there is an outside chance that he inherits the team's starting right tackle job – simply based on Tony Pashos' recent injury issues.
At the least, Pinkston will become part of a right side rotation that includes Pashos, veteran Floyd Womack and second-year guard Shaun Lauvao. Based on both Womack's age and current free agent status, Pinkston could essentially fill the top backup role at both right guard and right tackle in 2011.
Additionally, if Lauvao falters during training camp – assuming such a thing even occurs – Pinkston's value dramatically increases.