If the season ended today, the Browns are primed for two top 10 picks, and four picks within the top 50. In other words, they can not, repeat CAN NOT mess up this opportunity to jumpstart their franchise. An infusion of young, top tier talent is exactly what this franchise needs.
With a plethora of defensive talent, the Browns can seriously shore up that porous defense. Their offense is littered with young, controllable skill position talent, but their offensive line is so poor they can’t keep a quarterback healthy for more than a few weeks.
This is the opportunity, with 11 projected picks, and eight confirmed picks, that the Browns can use to build some depth, add some talent to a talentless roster, and finish creating their young core of players for development. If they want to win the draft, this is a look at how they can do it with their eleven selections.
With needs at seemingly every position, there really isn’t a way they can fail in this draft, except for one, overvaluing the quarterback position. They can’t afford to waste the top pick on an unknown guy in a weaker class, they must avoid falling into the trap to ensure their foundation for the future is set.
Dec 3, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Florida Gators quarterback Austin Appleby (12) is brought down by Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman Jonathan Allen (93) during the fourth quarter of the SEC Championship college football game at Georgia Dome. Alabama defeated Florida 54-16. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
Defensive End, Alabama
The Browns are reported to have an astronomical draft grade on Myles Garrett, but that doesn’t mean they’re taking him first. Garrett’s been great in college, but has never been able to beat the best tackles in the conference, just watch his performances against Cam Robinson. Alabama’s Jonathan Allen makes so much sense for the Browns given his versatility, on field talent, and leadership. He’s been a superstar for Alabama and has lived in opposing backfields all season long.
The first team All-American and first team All-SEC pick has drawn J.J, Watt comparisons, and would be a stud playing in a 3-4 system, which he already plays in. He can play 3-4 end, or a three technique for the Browns and gives them a defensive building block. Allen’s an elite pass rusher, and run stuffer who has racked up 26 sacks in college and has shown abilities to force turnovers, and score off them. Allen’s a proven talent, he has won the Bednarik, Nagurski, and Hendricks Award and finished seventh in Heisman voting. Allen is exactly what Cleveland needs, an elite run stopper and pass rusher, to pair with Danny Shelton and the edge guys they got last year through the draft.
Nov 26, 2016; Clemson, SC, USA; Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) waves to the fans as he stands on the field during the fourth quarter against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Clemson Memorial Stadium. Clemson Tigers defeated South Carolina Gamecocks 56-7. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Deshaun Watson is a star, and despite doubling his career interceptions this year and posting a lower QBR there’s no reason to abandon ship on his stock as a prospect. Watson’s exactly what Cleveland needs, he’s a winner (29-3 in college, two ACC titles, two playoff appearances), he’s a game changing quarterback, and he’s a dual threat with elite deep ball accuracy. Watson’s the guy Hue Jackson needs to get the ball to Terrelle Pryor, Corey Coleman, and Gary Barnidge efficiently.
There are understandable concerns over the Browns offensive line, however it’s worth noting Pro Bowl left guard, Joel Bitonio, and right guard, John Greco, are on the IR. Watson’s ability to run and throw accurately, like Russell Wilson, and his ability to shine on the biggest stages make this worth the selection for Cleveland. He’s got the production, success at the college level, and abilities that make him a prime candidate to end the QB carousel in Cleveland if they can build a proper offense around him. Watson is the guy the Browns need under center, whoever their new center will be.
Nov 19, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers guard Josh Boutte (76) and center Ethan Pocic (77) and quarterback Danny Etling (16) in action during the game against the Florida Gators at Tiger Stadium. The Gators defeat the Tigers 16-10. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Cam Erving is arguably the worst starting center in the NFL. He spends more time watching defensive lineman hit his quarterback than he does holding his blocks, and has been another bust from the stain in NFL history that is the Ray Farmer tenure. Ethan Pocic is a very talented, and reliable center who started 36 games at LSU and has earned All-SEC honors two years in a row. He has been a consistent blocker in the run game, and is good in pass pro, he may not be the best player available at that point in the draft, but he certainly improves the Browns interior offensive line which will be huge for their running backs.
His experience against top talent in the SEC, and his excelling in power run schemes prepared him well for the next level, and he will excel as the Browns next center. Pocic would be an immediate upgrade for the Browns’ offensive line that has been banged up all year long, as previously mentioned they’ve had to place Pro Bowl left guard, Joel Bitonio, and their starting right guard, John Greco, on the season ending IR. Pocic’s addition would solidify four of the five starting line spots. That line will be better with future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas, Joel Bitonio, and Greco all set to come back in 2017.
Sep 30, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington Huskies defensive back Budda Baker (32) celebrates after stopping Stanford Cardinal running back Christian McCaffrey (5) in the back field during the first quarter at Husky Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports
Free Safety, Washinton
Ibraheim Campbell has played poorly this season to say the least, and Derrick Kindred will not get to prove himself at the end of the year thanks to a broken ankle. But neither appear to be long term starters from their limited action, unless they seriously improve in this offseason. Washington’s Budda Baker has been labeled as a relentless worker by Washington head coach, Chris Peterson, and is one of the best safeties in America. Baker was named a first team All-American (Sporting News) and first team All-Pac 12 safety, and was a semi-finalist for the Thorpe Award for best defensive back.
Baker has 65 tackles, nine tackles for loss, seven pass deflections, a forced fumble, and two interceptions on the season. He is a high character guy with a distinguished college resume who fits the mold to exact detail of what Sashi Brown wanted to add in last year’s draft. He’s a high character guy, with proven college production, and a great work ethic. His willingness to improve and talent is something the Browns locker room needs, when the Huskies’ coach Chris Peterson had his team run up the Seattle space needle, Baker was the first on the team to finish getting up 832 stairs in about six minutes.
Sep 17, 2016; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Colorado Buffaloes defensive back Chidobe Awuzie (4) rushes on Michigan Wolverines quarterback Wilton Speight (3) and causes a fumble in the first quarter at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
The Browns’ cornerbacks, outside of Joe Haden when he’s healthy and Briean Boddy-Calhoun, have been horrible. Tramon Williams’ signing is another trace of the Farmer era that needs to be wiped from memory. However, the Browns selecting Chidobe Awuzie is them taking a lockdown caliber corner with great awareness of the field around him, and his talents earned him a second team All-Pac 12 selection. Adding him to the mix with Jamar Taylor, whom they recently signed for three years, Haden, and Boddy-Calhoun gives them a respectable rotation of cornerbacks.
He was named Colorado’s co-MVP by the coaches and players, and also tallied some impressive stats on the way. Awuzie totaled 54 tackles (44 solo), four sacks, two forced fumbles, and 11 pass-breakups. He also had one interception and 17 third-down stops. Awuzie’s also durable playing 771 defensive snaps this season, and durability is necessary for the Browns with Haden’s injury prone history. At a position of need, Awuzie is a relatively unknown commodity that could surprise many people with his talent on the field.
Dec 30, 2015; Nashville, TN, USA; Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Jake Hubenak (7) is sacked by Louisville Cardinals linebacker Devonte Fields (92) during the first half in the 2015 Music City Bowl at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Outside Linebacker/Defensive End, Louisville
The Browns need help on the edge, and Devonte Fields is an intriguing prospect who can help them. He’s 6’3″ and 242lbs. so a little small to play defensive end, but can be utilized in a third down role. Fields is a guy who can play either right or left end, and was able to generate a lot of holding penalties against him in college.
Fields is also capable of playing in Ray Horton’s 3-4 system, and has the speed to succeed as a pass rushing specialist. The Browns could use a versatile player like him to play defensive end or outside linebacker so they can stick Emmanuel Ogbah in positions where he can succeed and develop moving forward. Despite his off field issues that got him kicked off the TCU team, he’s worth a selection here.
Nov 26, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers running back James Conner (24) leaves the field after defeating the Syracuse Orange at Heinz Field. PITT won 76-61. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Running Back, Pittsburgh
Isaiah Crowell’s contract expires after this season, and after his hot start to the year he has fizzled recently gaining only 211 yards in the past eight games after streaking to 394 yards in the first four games. Crowell also hasn’t found the endzone since October 30th after scoring five touchdowns prior. With a case they won’t re-sign him, and Duke Johnson Jr.’s versatility outweighing Crowell’s skill set, the Browns should look new direction. James Conner, when healthy, was one of the best backs in college football and has an incredible story.
His career was shaken up following an MCL injury and being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, which he overcame. The Browns have nothing to lose, and everything to gain by trying out Conner with a fourth rounder, he has gained 3,701 yards and 52 touchdowns on the ground at Pitt. Conner’s a smash mouth back who can easily replace Isaiah Crowell if they decide to let him walk, and is also very capable of making defenders miss when he has the ball. Conner’s health in the past may present a red flag, but he is an undeniable talent that is worth a shot.
Oct 17, 2015; West Point, NY, USA; Bucknell Bison tight end Andrew Owers (80) celebrates after scoring a two-point conversation against the Army Black Knights during the first half at Michie Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports
Offensive Tackle, Bucknell
Austin Pasztor has been a disaster at right tackle, and will probably be on the move after this season, and Joe Thomas is going absolutely nowhere unless he demands a trade prior to the draft. However, Thomas has said at least one million times he wants to finish his career a Brown. The hole at right tackle could be filled by last year’s third round pick, Shon Coleman, however building depth and adding competitive talent is a must. Bucknell’s Julie’n Davenport is unknown to the common football fan, but to scouts he’s a diamond in the rough.
Davenport is a big body at 6’7″ and 315lbs. and has been drawing NFL scouts to Bucknell practices for months now. His execution, effort, and good blocking form have scouts salivating. They’re loving his size, humility, knowledge of the game, and it definitely doesn’t hurt that he has an 84″ wingspan. Davenport’s an athlete and could be a dark horse to land the starting right tackle position in 2017 for a Browns team with little experience expected to compete for it.
Nov 26, 2016; Oxford, MS, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs wide receiver Fred Ross (8) carries the ball during the second half of the game against the Mississippi Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Mississippi State won 55-20 Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
Wide Receiver, Mississippi State
Cleveland’s finally got playmakers on the boundary in Terrelle Pryor and Corey Coleman who are explosive play threats each time they get their hands on the ball. With Rashard Higgins and Ricardo Louis not emerging as standout slot receivers, and Andrew Hawkins production declining, Cleveland may look to draft another receiver, and Mississippi State’s Fred Ross is a talented player who can fill that slot position. Ross is a talent that plays a similar style as Odell Beckham, and has gained 873 yards and 12 touchdowns this season.
Ross is very talented after the catch, and could do Cleveland’s offense a lot of favors out of the slot. He’s an underrated receiver in this class filled with big name guys like Mike Williams, and will show the world how good he really is when he’s showcased in the Senior Bowl this year. Cleveland could land a steal with Ross if he falls into this spot. It also helps the possibility of this happening with Jordan Payton, a rookie who they cut Taylor Gabriel for (so Browns), just got popped with a four game PED suspension, and his future is in question.
Sep 10, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers defensive lineman Ejuan Price (L) causes Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Trace McSorley (9) to fumble during the second quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Outside Linebacker, Pittsburgh
The Browns defense is getting better with each week their young guys get experience, and that’s especially telling of their pass rush with rookies Emmanuel Ogbah and Carl Nassib beginning to create pressure. Adding depth and talent on the edge is always important, and Pitt’s Ejuan Price is another talented outside linebacker who can help the Browns. Despite a serious injury history, his upside as a pass rusher makes this a compelling pick for Cleveland.
Price isn’t big enough to be a three down linebacker, and often gets swallowed up in run support, so this role would be perfect for him. This season he racked up 12 sacks, 21 tackles for loss, and forced three fumbles, all three things the Browns could use a boost in. Price is a risk pick with his injury history, but his upside as an edge rusher outweighs the risk, especially with the volume of prospects the Browns are able to bring in this draft.
Oct 1, 2016; Oxford, MS, USA; Mississippi Rebels defensive back Tony Conner (12) attempts to intercept the pass intended for Memphis Tigers running back Sam Craft (11) during the third quarter of the game at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Mississippi won 48-28. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
Strong Safety, Ole Miss
The Browns’ safeties have been bad this season as previously mentioned, and are a large part as to why they have the 21st ranked passing defense, and to why they’re 32nd in touchdowns allowed (28), they’re only 21st thanks to having their bye week. They need to infuse talent into their safeties group, and Ole Miss’ Tony Conner is an interesting candidate for them.
Conner came into Ole Miss as a five star safety, and has largely played their “Huskie” role, a hybrid strong safety role which is becoming huge in the NFL today. A torn meniscus in 2015 led to him staying for his senior season, and in 11 games this year he had 41 tackles for 3.5 tackles for loss with five pass deflections. Conner’s potential, and ability to play the hybrid safety role gives Ray Horton some versatility with his players, and allows him to have some better coverage options.
Jan 13, 2016; Berea, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns new head coach Hue Jackson (left) and Vice President of Football Operations Sashi Brown talk during a press conference at the Cleveland Browns training facility. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
This is the real life version of the movie Draft Day. Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta deserve lifetime deals if they can swing a class that resembles this kind of talent and depth. All of these players have a chance to compete for a starting position, and have the talent to build around, and make something of themselves in this league.
That 2017 lineup would look so much better with Jonathan Allen, Danny Shelton, and Desmond Howard on the defensive line. That allows Emmanuel Ogbah and Carl Nassib to shift into pass rushing roles, and gives Cleveland a potential third down situational group with Allen, Ogbah, Bryant and Nassib, sounds better, right?
Their back end could be so much better with Haden and Jamar Taylor on the outside with Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Chidobe Awuzie taking nickel duties. Not to mention that Budda Baker and Tony Conner are both capable of starting for the Browns or supporting Kindred and Campbell.
Watson’s presence will greatly benefit Terrelle Pryor and company, and give the offense a competent quarterback who can stretch the field and go deep, unlike Cody Kessler. The addition of Davenport and Pocic will help add depth and talent to open up holes for the backs and keep Watson upright.
This is a group of guys that adds a lot of talent, and potential to a talent barren team, and could mesh greatly with some of the young talent and veterans they already have. This projected draft class is one that could have the Browns winning at least one game next year, and would set them up for long term success.