Quandary for Browns

Football: With the NFL draft's top pick, Cleveland puts gold against gold on its scales. Will it be Courtney Brown or LaVar Arrington?

Nfl Draft

April 09, 2000|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

The Cleveland Browns are on the clock. Six days and counting before the NFL draft begins, they are still weighing the value of the No. 1 pick. Do they invest millions of dollars in defensive end Courtney Brown or pledge their future to linebacker LaVar Arrington?

Take the best pass-rushing end to come out in the last 15 years? Or opt for the free-lancing linebacker who conjures up visions of Lawrence Taylor?

Tough call. Intriguing decision. Ozzie Newsome wishes he had it to make, though.

"I'm envious of Cleveland," said the Ravens' vice president of player personnel, who owns the fifth pick. "They can't miss. They cannot miss with either one of those guys."

A draft ripe with impact players on offense will, in all likelihood, start with two impact players on defense Saturday.

Who's No. 1 is the question.

There is no easy answer, not even for the Browns, for whom signability and need are major considerations.

Since the February scouting combine in Indianapolis, three players have been fitted for the No. 1 pick. First, there was Florida State wide receiver Peter Warrick. Then, after a bravo workout in March on his Penn State campus, it was Brown.

More recently, all eyes have turned to Arrington, Brown's teammate and alter ego at Penn State.

"Probably the most fun guy to watch on tape this year has been LaVar Arrington," Newsome said. "You're talking about a young man who has shown the ability to take over college football games."

Arrington likely is rated higher on most NFL draft boards, but history is on Brown's side when it comes to the first pick.

Only three linebackers have ever been the first pick in the NFL draft -- Aundray Bruce in 1988, Tom Cousineau in 1979 and Tommy Nobis in 1966 -- and none made it to the Hall of Fame.

However, since 1972, nine defensive linemen have led off the draft, including Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon in 1976. That's one almost every three years.

The past decade enforced the priority NFL teams have placed on premier pass-rushing linemen. In the 1990s, 22 defensive linemen were taken in the top 10 picks of the first round, most of any position. And 62 defensive linemen were picked somewhere in the first round in the last decade, again the most for any position (defensive backs are second with 53).

Arrington spent five hours visiting the Browns last Thursday, and left with the expectation he's headed back to Cleveland.

"After conversing with the owner and coaching staff, I get the feeling that they really don't know," he said. "But at this point, I'm kind of confident that maybe I will end up in Cleveland."

That's big news in Washington, where the Redskins cornered the second and third picks in the draft with the hope of taking Arrington and Alabama tackle Chris Samuels.

The Redskins aren't in the market for a defensive end, even one as talented as Brown. They signed future Hall of Famer Bruce Smith and re-signed Marco Coleman to big contracts in the off-season, and have former No. 1 pick Kenard Lang in reserve with Anthony Cook and Ndukwe Kalu.

The Redskins thought so highly of Arrington that they traded two first-round picks and two late-round picks to the San Francisco 49ers to move into the No. 3 spot, seemingly assuring themselves of the best linebacker and lineman in the draft. Now, they might be forced to trade that pick to a team that covets Brown.

It's not hard to understand why Washington wants the 6-foot-3, 233-pound Arrington, a junior coming out early. He was a first-team All-American as a sophomore and junior for the Nittany Lions, and won both the Butkus and Bednarik awards as the nation's best college linebacker and defensive player in 1999.

Last season, Arrington made 72 tackles, including 20 for losses, with nine sacks and one interception. In a game at Purdue, he sacked quarterback Drew Brees, forcing a fumble that he recovered and returned for a touchdown. He blocked a potential game-winning field goal by Pittsburgh with four seconds left. Against Texas A&M in the Alamo Bowl, he delivered 14 tackles, a sack and had three hurries that became interceptions.

Arrington is a lightning rod on defense with the reputation of being slightly undisciplined. His effervescent personality is in contrast to that of Brown, who is soft-spoken and religious.

Nevertheless, Penn State coach Joe Paterno called Brown the best defensive end he ever coached. Brown, 6-5 and 270, set Penn State records for tackles for losses in a season (29) and a career (70), and also had a school-record 33 sacks in four years.

Brown posted a remarkable 4.53 time in the 40-yard dash at his private workout last month, sending ripples through the league. Arrington's times ranged between 4.49 and 4.55.

While Brown has been compared to Bruce Smith -- the first pick in the 1985 draft -- Arrington has been measured against Taylor, the Giants' dominating Hall of Fame linebacker and No. 2 pick in 1981.

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