2017 NFL Draft: Cleveland Browns Post-Season 7-Round Mock Draft
Now that the underclassmen deadline has passed, but All-Star games are still to be played, it’s a good time to take another snapshot of the 2017 NFL Draft for the Cleveland Browns.
The first 28 picks of the NFL Draft order are now set as the NFL prepares for Championship weekend. The underclassmen are now decided for the 2017 NFL Draft (though there is a three day window for players who have changed their mind, but haven’t hired an agent).
For the Cleveland Browns specifically, all of their picks have now been decided with the exception of compensatory picks that are known, but won’t be announced officially until the owners meetings.
Without athletic testing numbers until the NFL Scouting Combine and Pro Days, the focus is still on entirely on the tape as well as production in terms of trying to match the Browns with players in the upcoming draft class. The last look at the draft was during the bye week during the season and can be found here.
The most notable change is the change in defensive coordinators from Ray Horton to Gregg Williams. It’s not entirely clear how much Williams wants to change with the base defense, but there are some trends that he’s had throughout his coaching career that will likely play a role for the Browns.
As always, this will utilize the On the Clock mock draft simulator from Fanspeak, so there are not trades, but one potential trade is discussed. The goal isn’t to get a super realistic draft, but to at least get a framework that allows discussion of players that the Browns could target in the upcoming draft.
Round 1: Myles Garrett, DE — Texas A&M – 6-5, 270 lbs. (Listed)
8.5 of 38 sacks (22.3 percent) and 15 of 111 tackles for loss this season (13.5 percent) despite missing two games.
The argument for Garrett is getting less difficult as the draft process progresses. While the other potential candidates for the top pick fall due to their play or other concerns, Garrett remains. He continues to be the clear choice for the top pick in the draft.
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Not only does Garrett have the size, strength, speed and agility to be a franchise edge rusher, he’s produced at a high level, remained healthy and is clean off the field. Lastly, he’s barely 21 years old and may not reach his athletic peak for six years, all while playing for the Browns.
One of the main arguments used against taking Garrett has been Jadeveon Clowney and his issues with the Houston Texans. Finally healthy, Clowney has been named to the Pro Bowl and a Second Team All-Pro. And in his first two playoff games, he was a force, wreaking havoc against the Oakland Raiders and New England Patriots. Along with teammate Whitney Mercilus, that pass rush gave them a chance to knock off the heavily favored Patriots.
Injuries can happen to anyone, but Clowney came with an injury concern due to bone spurs he dealt with at South Carolina. Garrett doesn’t have those concerns and while teams won’t be able to have their doctors evaluate him until the NFL Scouting Combine, he’s had a clean bill of health save a nagging ankle injury this season.
Round 1 (Pick from PHI): Solomon Thomas, DL – Stanford – 6-3, 273 lbs. (Listed)
41 of team 489 solo tackles (8.3 percent), 8 of the 27 sacks (21.6 percent), 15 of 72 tackles for loss (20.8 percent)
Solomon Thomas announced himself to the world in his bowl game performance against North Carolina. For those who have been paying attention to him this year, that was only the finishing touches on what has been an outstanding season.
Thomas is raw as a defensive lineman, but he has terrific hands and thrives on contact. Rather than going around the opponent, he opts to go right through them and given his explosive speed, if they are wrong, he is potentially blowing up the play or killing the quarterback.
Whether newly hired defensive coordinator wants to employ an even front or keep the base odd front that Ray Horton used, Thomas fits. He’s either the 3-tech defensive tackle in an even front or if they go odd, he can play the 5-tech and then move inside to the 3 in nickel.
There is a small question about Thomas’s weight as, if the Browns want him to be a full time defensive tackle, it would be far better for him to around the 285-pound mark. Given how easily he’s added weight since he arrived at Stanford, this shouldn’t be a problem, but it is a box to check.
He’s still relatively raw at the position and has a great deal to learn as far as nuances of defensive line play and where his eyes should be. His raw ability, youth and athletic potential make him a worthwhile project to invest in and develop on what could be an up and coming defensive line.
Along with Garrett, Thomas would give Williams the foundation to have a terrific defensive line, much as he did with the now Los Angeles Rams. The added advantage with these two is how young the group would be, having Danny Shelton and Emmanuel Ogbah picked the past two seasons. Ogbah and Shelton will turn 24 later this year.
Thomas has a chance to be compared to Aaron Donald, who is now the foundation of the Rams defense. Donald was far more polished as a player, but Thomas may show the same type of athleticism with that type of upside. The Browns defense would have an identity and an incredibly bright future having that type of group up front and Chris Kirksey and Jamie Collins (assuming he’s re-signed) at the first two levels of this defense.
Round 2: Deshaun Watson, QB – Clemson – 6-3, 215 lbs. (Listed)
4,593 passing yards, 67 percent completions, 7.9 yards per attempt, 41 touchdowns, 17 interceptions and 165 carries for 629 yards, 9 touchdowns
The immediate question is how—and the answer comes in two parts.
First, the Browns would likely not be taking Watson here. They’d almost certainly be moving up into the first round to get Watson. First-round picks come with an added fifth-year team option that teams crave when it comes to quarterbacks, so in the event the quarterback is everything they hope for, they’ve got one last year at a reasonable rate before having to pay them like a franchise quarterback. The Minnesota Vikings did this with Teddy Bridgewater as an example.
The most logical landing spot for the Browns to trade into first round would be 26th pick, which is owned by the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks have a track record for moving out of the first round to gain additional assets, so they could be a willing trade partner.
It would also mean they’d jump ahead of the Kansas City Chiefs, who may be in the market for a quarterback for Andy Reid to groom in order to replace Alex Smith. This type of move could easily cost the Browns their third round pick or some piecemeal equivalent, but if it gets them their quarterback, it’s a small price to pay.
As for Watson being available this late, there’s a disconnect between where he’s viewed by the public and where he’s viewed by the NFL. When teams meet with him, he should only help himself as by all accounts, he will do great when it comes to his character, his intelligence and work ethic.
Many immediately point to his performance against Alabama in the National Title game as to why he will go far earlier. Some even suggest he is in the discussion for a top three pick. As incredible as Watson was in the championship, he didn’t do anything he hasn’t done before. Watson has tremendous poise and is never out of a game. This has been true throughout his career. He’s able to make some big throws in tight spots as well as making plays with his legs.
Watson might have helped himself in terms of changing plays at the line of scrimmage to put Clemson in good position, but in terms of his reads and what he was asked to do, it’s been largely the same thing his entire year, including last year’s title game where he was every bit as fantastic but they fell short.
Ultimately, Watson has tremendous talent and would be a fantastic quarterback for Hue Jackson to develop. His footwork needs to improve and so does his decision-making. Watson tends to throw from a bad platform, especially on quick passes and will trust his teammates too much at times, leading to some of the number of turnovers he’s had this year. He’s also not someone that should come in and start immediately.
It only takes one team to fall in love with a player and Watson the person could cause a team to take him earlier, but he’s considered more of a second round talent that could go in the first round based on the tape rather than a top pick.
Round 2 (Pick from TEN): Budda Baker, S – Washington – 5-10, 193 lbs. (Listed)
49 of 572 team solo tackles (8.5 percent), 3 of 40 sacks (7.5 percent), 10 of 90 tackles for loss (11.1 percent), 6 of 40 pass deflections (15 percent), 2 of 19 interceptions (10.5 percent)
With the defensive line addressed, the focus turns to the secondary. Jamal Adams of LSU and Malik Hooker of Ohio State have received a substantial amount of attention as they could be selected in the top-15 picks this year.
Baker doesn’t have the prototypical size they do, but he’s a fantastic player in own right. An important part of their defense, Baker did a little bit of everything for the defense. Coverage, playing deep zone and being come up and be physical against the run.
What stands out most about Baker is his instincts. He sees the game well and plays with excellent rage as a result. Some have gone as far as bringing up Earl Thomas and Tyrann Mathieu in the conversation with Baker. If the Browns have a potent pass rush, it really opens up how much Baker is able to do for this defense. He can be used in a number of different roles to try to catch offenses by surprise and potentially cause turnovers.
The questions with Baker will be about his size. He’s not listed particularly big, so it’s important that he measures in close to it, but he does play bigger than his size would suggest.
The Browns need to upgrade the free safety spot. Jordan Poyer is serviceable but more suited to be a role player. Ed Reynolds is a good run support player but he’s limited in coverage. Baker gives them what could be a lasting answer at that position and one that can make plays.
Round 3: Adoree’ Jackson, CB – USC – 5-11, 185 lbs. (Listed)
60 of team 531 solo tackles (11.2 percent), 11 of 60 pass deflections (18.3 percent), 5 of 14 interceptions (35.7 percent)
4 punt return touchdowns and 2 kick return touchdowns over the past two seasons at 15.5 yards per punt return and 26 yards per kick return
Perhaps indicated by his late decision to declare, Jackson is a polarizing prospect. He has all world ability, but is incredibly inconsistent. Some have even suggested that he would be better suited as a wide receiver. Jackson has rare ability as a corner and has the athleticism to stay with anyone. He should test incredibly well, which could push him up boards.
The problem is technique. Jackson tends to play too high and when he gets high, he gets off balance. And on a few choice occasions, when he gets off balance, he will lose his footing and fall down.
When he’s right, Jackson is tremendous in coverage and tracks the ball remarkably well, showing great ball skills. Teams weren’t afraid to pick on Jackson because they could beat him, but on more than one occasion, he’d eventually get them back with an interception. The game against Washington is a good example.
The reason some feel Jackson should move to receiver is his ability with the ball in his hands. He’s electric as a returner and when he was utilized in the Trojans offense, he could make some big plays. Jackson should immediately take over all kick and punt returning duties, but as a full time offensive player, Jackson loses a lot of what makes him special.
Jackson misses his share of tackles that need to be cleaned up, but he is physical and will come up and hit opposing ball carriers. The will appears to be there, but like with everything else, it’s technique and consistency.
It’s important to figure out what makes Jackson tick and find out if he’ll take coaching and learn. That could mean the difference between taking a project that could become a terrific corner and getting the next Justin Gilbert, even if it’s in round three here.
Jackson has the ability to match up with players like Antonio Brown, who the Browns see twice per year. The key is getting that out of him on a consistent basis. That will take time and work. Williams should like Jackson because of his ability to cause turnovers. He may get beat and give up plays, but Williams has loved guys who can get the ball and Jackson has that ability.
Round 4: Pat Elflein, OL – Ohio State – 6-3, 300 lbs. (Listed)
2016 Rimington Award, 2016 Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year, 2015 2nd Team All-American
The immediate reaction here is that Elflein will of course take over and start at center. No, as discussed previously, it just happened to be too good a value to pass up here. Elflein can play center and would be able to compete there, but he’s also been effective at guard.
The Browns have Cam Erving and Anthony Fabiano. Those should be the plan going forward. The benefit here as that Elflein provides some insurance of there’s an injury or if the development simply isn’t there and Elflein is better.
John Greco and Austin Reiter are likely to start the season on the PUP list. Hopefully, the Browns will re-sign Austin Pasztor to start at right guard. Elflein could give them depth at right guard and center, plus give them a body while Reiter and Greco recover. When they are able to return to the lineup, the Browns can make a decision and cut someone, likely Alvin Bailey.
The question with Elflein largely comes down to size. His listed weight may be 300 pound by the team’s website and he may be a player that has a difficult time keeping on weight. There’s nothing to suggest he can’t be effective in the 290s, but it could impact how some teams view him and his ability to play anywhere other than center.
Former Cleveland Brown Eric Steinbach is an example of a player that struggled to gain and keep weight. Most of the time, he played closer to 280 than to 300 and he was extremely successful. This seemed to hurt Christian Westerman last year, who was a talented and accomplished guard, but wasn’t picked until the fifth round by the Cincinnati Bengals.
Round 4 (Compensatory): Michael Roberts, TE – Toledo – 6-5, 270 lbs. (Listed)
Roberts accounted for 46 of Toledo’s 291 receptions this year (15.4 percent), 533 of 4,196 receiving yards (12.7 percent) and 16 of their 63 offensive touchdowns (25.3 percent)
One issue that plagued the Browns during the 2016 season was the lack of a true inline tight end that could be a receiver. Gary Barnidge can’t block a soul and should only play in space while Randall Telfer is an effective run blocker, but battled nagging injuries and made zero impact as a receiver.
Michael Roberts is enormous and makes a big red zone target. He’s been used as a big wide receiver more than an inline tight end, but he has experience in a three-point stance.
The issue for Roberts there is how stiff he is. He doesn’t bend well below the waist, especially with his ankles and tends to block too high. It makes it more difficult for him to be agile in space and makes it easier for opponents to get around him. It also accounts for his lack of quick twitch ability when it comes to running routes.
It’s critical to find out if he has the will and want to in order to be an inline player. If he does, then he becomes a fantastic player that can really transform the offense, even if it takes some time to realize.
The ideal scenario is to have Barnidge and Seth DeValve as space players that can cause matchup problems in the slot or outside. Roberts and Telfer give them true road graders that can operate as an extension of the offensive line. Roberts can then be a weapon in playaction and using his size to advantage in the middle of field where he can box out opponents for the ball. Roberts has already demonstrated his ability as a receiver and red zone target. 16 of his 45 receptions this year were for touchdowns.
Roberts is participating in the Shrine Game this week and is slated to participate in the Senior Bowl next week, assuming he doesn’t get nicked up in the process. The hope is that he will show a willingness to get in a three point and beat the guy across from as a blocker and firing off the ball to catch passes.
Round 5: Jordan Willis, DE – Kansas State – 6-5, 258 lbs. (Listed)
11.5 of team 30 sacks (38.3 percent), 17.5 of 70 tackles for loss (25 percent)
Jordan Willis was one of the most productive pass rushers in the country and the fact he’s available this late in the draft shows just how deep the class is when it comes to pass rushers.
Willis has a huge frame with broad shoulders and long arms, so he likes to try to take control at the point of contact. When he goes single arm, he’s virtually unreachable by offensive linemen. Combine that with how much ground his steps cover and he plays faster than he looks.
Willis keeps opponents honest by attacking inside, outside and going right at opponents with a bull rush. When opponents think they’ve got him figured out and try to beat him to the point of contact, he can use a swim move and leave them blocking air.
His overall speed doesn’t appear to be anything special and how he performs in athletic testing will be important as that might be his biggest question mark, but his first step and snap anticipation are effective to keep opponents honest.
The Browns would be adding him to help bolster their pass rush, but Willis has shown to be an effective run defender as well. Willis is scheduled to participate in the Senior Bowl, so he will get an opportunity to showcase his ability there. Unless he bombs athletic testing, this is just a matter of capitalizing on the strength of this draft class.
Along with Garrett, Willis allows the Browns to completely transform their edge rushing position. Adding them to Ogbah, Carl Nassib and Tyrone Holmes, the Browns have a little bit of everything in terms of styles and can really work and develop these players. The Browns also have Nate Orchard coming back from an ankle injury, so this would be one of the youngest and most competitive position groups in 2017.
Round 5 (Compensatory): Damontae Kazee, CB – San Diego State – 5-11, 190 lbs. (Listed)
45 of team 508 solo tackles (8.8 percent), 8 of 59 pass deflections (13.5 percent), 7 of 26 interceptions (26.9 percent)
Whether it’s the names in this corner class or the school where he plays, Damontae Kazee has become somewhat of a forgotten entity in this draft class. Finding out just how big Kazee is will be important, but many have suggested he would be limited to being a slot corner in the NFL, which seems to go against what he shows on tape.
Kazee’s production the past two years is incredible, recording 15 interceptions and 15 pass deflections along with 8.5 tackles for loss in 28 games. He picked off Wyoming’s Josh Allen twice in a 27-24 Aztec victory to clinch the Mountain West Title.
If he measures in close to his listed height, Kazee has shown the ability to play on the outside, cause turnovers and play physically. His knack for getting the ball could make him extremely attractive to Gregg Williams.
Kazee is slated to participate in the Senior Bowl and this could be a huge opportunity for him to show he’s big enough and capable enough to be an outside corner in the NFL. Beyond that, he’ll get to have a side by side comparison with corners like Tre’Davious White of LSU, Desmond King of Iowa and Jourdan Lewis of Michigan.
Along with Jackson, Kazee bolsters the corner position opposite of Haden and perhaps someone to groom behind him. Jamar Taylor signed a three year extension and is best suited to play in the slot and they have Briean Boddy-Calhoun, who looked like a nice undrafted free agent find. This should give them a set of corners with upside that can cause turnovers.
Round 5 (Compensatory): Tanzel Smart, DL – Tulane – 6-1, 305 lbs. (Listed)
34 of 474 team solo tackles (7.1 percent), 18.5 of 87 tackles for loss (21.2 percent), 5.5 of 29 sacks (18.9 percent)
Tanzel Smart is the Brent Sobleski special: short and wide. He’s low to the ground, takes up a lot of space and makes an impact. Smart uses good leverage, gets under guys and when he finds his way through, he explodes into the backfield and causes problems.
Smart came to Tulane much heavier, weighing upwards of 340. He dropped weight , still has the ability to clog the middle, but he’s far more athletic, showing surprising speed. Smart is one of those who will never have a pretty looking body, but he just makes plays. Smart is 22 years old (will turn 23 during the 2017 season), but played in all 48 games during his collegiate career. He’s still young but has played a ton of football.
The Tulane product is not only planning to participate in the Senior Bowl, but he should be on the South team, which the Browns are coaching. Browns newly hired defensive line coach Clyde Simmons will get to work with him, see how he takes coaching and improves through the week. If Simmons and the Browns like what they see from Smart there on top of his college career, they may be inclined to pull the trigger in the draft.
For the Browns, Smart represents a versatile defensive tackle that can play the 3-technique or fill in at the nose. He is able to cause problems in the middle, demand attention and create opportunities for teammates, but has shown the ability to make his own plays.
Round 6: Xavier Woods, S – Lousiana Tech – 5-11, 219 lbs. (Listed)
60 of teams 615 solo tackles (9.7 percent), 3 of 44 sacks (6.8 percent), 6 of 47 pass deflections (12.7 percent), 5 of 9 interceptions (55.5 percent)
Woods has been consistently productive over the past three seasons. In 41 games, Woods recorded 149 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, six forced fumbles, 14 interceptions,16 pass deflections, and three defensive touchdowns.
He’s done a little bit of everything for the Bulldog defense and that is what makes him attractive as an NFL prospect, especially with teams increasing utilizing players like Woods to take on more linebacker roles.
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Woods is physical, has shown to be a good tackler but looks to rip the ball out when he has the opportunity. He also has obvious ball skills and is a threat when he gets the ball in his hands.
It’s unclear if Woods might last this long, but he presents a substantial value. With players like Jabrill Peppers that could play the same role being so highly rated, a player like Woods, even with his substantial accomplishments, could slip through the cracks for a team like the Browns to grab later.
Woods has experience playing at all levels of defense, blitzing as well as playing deep coverage. He could be a strong safety for the Browns, but Gregg Williams might look at him as a linebacker the same way he did with Mark Barron with the Rams. Woods, assuming the listed measurements are accurate, is actually heavier than Barron.
The Browns add a player that can add some depth to the second level of the defense and potentially have specific situations where he can contribute on defense as well as on special teams.
Woods is another player that is slated to participate in the Senior Bowl and would almost certainly be on the South team with the Browns. It will be interesting to see if they put him through any linebacker drills in addition to the reps he takes as a safety.
1. Myles Garrett, DE Texas A&M
12. Solomon Thomas, DL Stanford
33. Deshaun Watson, QB Clemson
52. Bishard Baker, S Washington
65. Adoree’ Jackson, CB USC
106. Pat Elflein, OL Ohio State
141. Michael Roberts, TE Toledo
146. Jordan Willis, DE Kansas State
176. Damontae Kazee, CB San Diego State
180. Tanzel Smart, DL Tulane
186. Xavier Woods, S Louisiana Tech
The Cleveland Browns take advantage of the strength of this draft class – defense. While they have a talented pair of linebackers in Chris Kirksey and Jamie Collins (scheduled to be a free agent), the rest of the defense needs a significant injection of talent.
Here, the Browns add four defensive linemen, including two of the best prospects in the draft and add four defensive backs. The defense would be an incredibly young unit but have a significant amount of talent and upside to develop under new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
The Browns get their quarterback in Deshaun Watson, but as mentioned earlier, that would likely require moving back into the first round. In so doing, it would cost them some additional assets which might have them pick fewer players overall.
This also has the Browns taking advantage of their opportunity to coach at the Senior Bowl by selecting five players scheduled to participate in the event as well as a few that will be coached by the Browns staff directly.
Hue Jackson has the defensive coordinator he wanted. Now he has to give him the players to succeed to make this switch from Horton to Williams a worthwhile one. This draft certainly gives them the ability to do that, while also getting a quarterback he can try to develop. Now, it’s up to the coaches to make it work. It should be fun to watch.