Barkevious Mingo’s only excursions north from the humid environs near West Monroe came when he trekked on collegiate visits to Michigan and Connecticut.
After roughly an hourlong wait Thursday night, the LSU defensive end faces acclimating to cooler climes in Cleveland, which snagged the junior with the No. 6 pick during the NFL draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York
The threat of lake-effect snow and freezing temperatures didn’t cool Mingo’s feelings toward a Rust Belt city craving success after its revived franchise has made just a lone playoff trip in 2002.
“I can’t wait to get to Cleveland,” said Mingo, who is 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds. “It is such a loyal fan base with hard-working people. They love their Browns — rain, sleet or snow.”
Bolstering their pass rush in a revamped 3-4 scheme, the Browns minted Mingo as LSU’s sixth selection in the top six picks since 2007. The Tigers watched another one of a record-setting 11 juniors go off the board when the San Francisco 49ers tabbed safety Eric Reid with the No. 18 selection.
Landing with the Browns would appear to be a boon for Mingo, whose raw athleticism led to gaudy workouts that impressed scouts with figures such as 4.58-second speed in the 40-yard and a 37-inch vertical leap.
Under first-year coach Rob Chudzinski, the Browns brought in defensive coordinator Ray Horton to overhaul the scheme and spent $40 million on outside rush linebacker Paul Kruger, who had 13.5 sacks last season from Baltimore.
“Being on the attack even when the other team has the ball,” Browns CEO Joe Banner said of the philosophy. “You can see it in the moves we’ve made that our philosophies are consistent.”
In meetings with Horton, it was evident the Browns plan for Mingo to play standing up instead with a hand on the ground, squaring off with left tackles several inches taller and carrying an extra 60 pounds of girth on stout frames.
“It’s an adjustment,” Chudzinski said. “That’s one of the things we did when KeKe was in, and he was able to really relate the concepts well, understand them and be able to talk to our coaches about them.”
Already in minicamps, second-year defensive end Jabaal Sheard shifted from defensive end, where he had 55 tackles and seven sacks last season, to outside linebacker spot alongside Kruger for a team that was No. 23 in total defense (368.3 yards per game) and allowing 23 points.
“Adding KeKe in the mix gives us another pass rusher in a solid rotation,” said Chudzinski, who inherited a 5-11 team that finished last in the AFC North. “You can’t have enough pass rushers, and keeping those guys fresh is a key.”
Mingo’s physical attributes were enticing for scouts, who were left impressed by a sterling performance in February’s scouting combine. Mingo’s ability to accelerate, evidenced by a 1.58-second 10-yard split, from a sprinter-style stance and beat tackles was his chief strong suit.
“I’m high energy, have a good first step and am quick to the ball,” he said. “That’s what they wanted to add to their team, and I feel I can bring that.”
Questions persist, though, about whether Mingo, who had just 15.5 sacks and 60 tackles at LSU, translates his physical gifts into on-field production.
Starting 10 games last season, he tallied only 4.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss, and there have been critiques that he can be stood up at the point of attack on run plays.
Mingo countered by telling reporters that coordinators shifted more backs to his side in blitz pick-up, slanted blocking schemes toward the edge and had quarterbacks execute three-step drops to get the ball out quickly
“We also played a lot of mobile quarterbacks,” he said. “By scheme, our defensive coordinator didn’t want us to get upfield, lose contain and give up big runs. We were contain more than rush in some games.”
Mingo’s ability to be a disruptive force isn’t always evidenced by sacks but by 27 quarterback hurries and 13 pass break-ups — stats indicating he can be a bothersome presence in the backfield.
“As you watch games and you study him, he had a lot of snaps where he did that,” Chudzinski said “It wasn’t necessarily equating to sacks but the pressures on the quarterback, the batted balls, just making quarterbacks step up, slide and have to throw on the move.”
Semantics matter little when Mingo states a simple goal.
“Get to the quarterback, cause turnovers, win games,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Roughly, an hour later, fellow underclassman Eric Reid’s fate was determined when the 49ers swapped their No. 31 selection in the first round and the No. 74 selection in the third round to snare the All-America safety hailing from Geismar.
“I am ecstatic to be a 49er,” said Reid, who is 6-1 and 213 pounds. “It’s a privilege to go to an organization as well respected as San Francisco. It’s definitely a dream come true.
He first drew the eye of the NFC champions at the scouting combine, where he ran 4.53-second 40-yard dash and had a 40.5-inch vertical jump, in February during an interview with coach Jim Harbaugh, and the organization and scheduled a follow-up visit.
“He believes that he’s a winner all the way and champion kind of guy and football player,” Harbaugh said. “I can’t wait to have him here in our home in Santa Clara.”