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Draft notebook: The NFL's masters of suspense

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The Cleveland Browns' front office and coaching staff might as well be answering questions by giving name, rank and serial number. You could be talking to the Hall of Fame bust of Jim Brown and walk away with more insight than the fabricated vacillations flowing out of Cleveland's headquarters.

And the San Francisco 49ers? At least they have revealed their negotiations with Cal's Aaron Rodgers, Utah's Alex Smith and Michigan's Braylon Edwards. The Miami Dolphins? They have made it pretty clear they are looking to trade down a few spots for more picks.

And then you have the Browns, who by all accounts are interested in any and all players with the No. 3 choice. Hiding your hand is one thing, but at this rate, it's only a matter of time before mock drafts have Cleveland selecting LeBron James in the first round.

Barring that stroke of luck, let's just assume the Browns will stick with football players. Around the league, there are any number of sources that believe they are targeting a different player. Some think general manager Phil Savage is enamored with Utah's Smith, others are certain it's Michigan's Edwards. Even USC receiver Mike Williams has come up in a few conversations – despite Cleveland having tight end Kellen Winslow, who doesn't seem all that different from Williams.

Still, there are some who think Cleveland has lined up a trade with, well, everyone in the top seven picks except the Tennessee Titans.

"We want to try and make it count," Savage said. "If someone is good enough to be drafted here, we believe that they will help us in some fashion."

Even the process of elimination has failed with the Browns. Despite already having two young quarterbacks, there are several sources across the league spectrum insisting Savage is in love with Utah's Smith. And while they need at least a few more cornerstones, Savage has said he's willing to drop deep into the first round if he's offered a good trade package.

Oh – and if you haven't already figured it out – there's a good bet that any information coming from the Browns is either bloated with ambiguity or downright unbelievable. The Browns recently traded for Denver's Reuben Droughns, giving them three legitimate options (along with Lee Suggs and William Green) for starting tailbacks, yet when Savage was asked if that ruled out a running back with the No. 3 pick, he once again steered toward the open sea.

"Not in the least," Savage said. "The one thing that we tried to do in free agency is add quality players, but that would not take away from us taking a quality player in the draft."

Yeah, right.

All of this underscores an interesting point: The Browns have played this draft perfectly so far. While there has always been some relative certainty about what the teams ahead of them are going to do (with San Francisco taking Aaron Rodgers and Miami taking Auburn running back Ronnie Brown or trading down), there really has been no realistic handle on what Cleveland is prepared to do. Savage has been the Sergeant of Indecision, which is what every general manager aspires to be leading up to the draft.


  • Don't bet the farm on the Dallas Cowboys selecting Maryland defensive end/linebacker Shawne Merriman at No. 11. He could be off the board to the Minnesota Vikings at No. 7 depending on what happens with wide receivers Edwards and Williams. If the Vikings can't get their hands on either of those players, Merriman may end up in Minnesota, playing his traditional defensive end spot in a 4-3 defense.

While Vikings coach Mike Tice has said he's not afraid to take a running back in the first round, and seems to be flirting with South Carolina wide receiver Troy Williamson, the Vikings can still get value at running back and wide receiver later in the draft. A stud defensive end like Merriman, however, isn't certain – especially since so many teams holding picks 10 through 17 need defensive ends. And don't rule out the Vikings going defense again at the 18th pick and selecting Georgia safety Thomas Davis, who has the flexibility to play outside linebacker, too.

  • If Merriman is gone, don't be shocked if Dallas grabs LSU's Marcus Spears. Spears has reversed his falling stock and surged back up draft boards in recent weeks.

Despite a knee that is still not completely healthy, Spears ran on March 31 and was clocked in the 5.05- to 5.10-second range in the 40-yard dash. It's expected that those numbers will drop even lower when Spears is healthy and has a chance to train properly. That's a good sign for a player who checks in at almost 6-foot-4 and 305 pounds. There are several teams that believe Spears could be an anchor defensive end in a 3-4 defense, even without gaining weight.

  • With Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis saying he is leaning toward offense with the No. 17 pick, there's a possibility Virginia tight end Heath Miller could end up being Cincinnati's selection. The Bengals could use someone with Miller's pass-catching ability, even if there are some concerns about his blocking and health (he had surgery for a sports hernia in January).
  • One player who has bolted into the draft's top 15 picks is Troy State linebacker/defensive end DeMarcus Ware, who could end up being the first "flex" linebacker off the board – even before the highly touted Merriman.

Only a few months ago, Ware seemed destined to be a late first-rounder or early second-rounder. But his drill work and speed (4.55 in the 40) have teams convinced he can be a impact player at outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.

His likely destination seems to be the Houston Texans at No. 13. Houston needs a linebacker and coach Dom Capers, who attended Ware's workout personally, has taken a huge interest.

  • Don't buy any of the talk that the Green Bay Packers might panic and spend their first-round pick on Brett Favre's heir. The Packers believe that one (or both) of the "second-tier" quarterbacks they like – Akron's Charlie Frye and Auburn's Jason Campbell – could fall to them late in the second round. Some teams like one player over the other, but if Frye or Campbell are available with the 58th overall pick, expect Green Bay to go with Frye as Favre's successor.
  • While the Washington Redskins seem locked in at a cornerback at No. 9, the hushed ravings over Miami cornerback Antrel Rolle could mean that the draft's top two corners will be off the board by the time the Redskins pick. And while Washington has taken a keen interest in Auburn corner Carlos Rogers of late, don't be taken aback if the Redskins pull a minor surprise and go for South Carolina's Williamson to further bolster their receiving core.

Along with Rolle and Troy State's Ware, interest in Williamson has heated up in recent days. And although there have been some suggestions that Rogers is on par with Rolle and West Virginia corner Adam Jones, that is not an opinion shared by a great deal of personnel people.

  • Speaking of Rolle: One scout predicted (before the owners' meetings in March) that, as the draft neared, teams would fall back on their typical ways of coveting size and speed. He was right.

That's precisely what has happened, as Rolle's stock has risen quickly in the last two weeks, possibly to the point of surpassing the smaller Jones. Teams don't seem to be too scared off by Rolle's physical nature, thinking he has the ability to jam wide receivers at the line of scrimmage and the speed to then turn and run with them. One of those teams is Tennessee, whose coach, Jeff Fisher told us at the owners' meetings that he thought Rolle had the ability to be a major playmaker.

  • The New England Patriots appear to have locked onto Georgia linebacker Odell Thurman at No. 32, and they don't seem to be wavering much.

While Thurman has had some personal problems, it's not entirely accurate that the Patriots only aim for players with pristine reputations. Thurman is a top-notch talent who may be able to play either inside or outside linebacker in the NFL, and at least two personnel people we've spoken to think he could step in and be an immediate impact player – and solid citizen – under the Patriots' umbrella.

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