This year’s class should elevate Cleveland into the upper echelon
The NFL college draft is almost here. The Browns have some holes to fill, but there aren’t many.
Going into the free agency period that list was cornerback, safety, left defensive end, kick returner, linebacker, defensive tackle, third receiver, kicker and swing tackle.
John Johnson will solve the safety issue. Cody Parkey was re-signed and will compete with Matt McCrane for the kicking job. Backup OT Greg Senat was inked as a possible solution to the swing tackle slot. Anthony Walker and Malcolm Smith were huge signings at linebacker. WR Rashard Higgins was re-signed and is already familiar with the offense. Defensive end Takk McKinley and defensive tackle Malik Jackson will compete for openings on the defensive line. Veteran corner Troy Hill will vie for a starting position or play the slot. And JoJo Natson was retained to return punts and kicks.
Last year’s crop of free agents proved that teams are built through the draft. Veteran free agents and great additions, but the hungry young bucks who come in and assert themselves to make a living in the pro game is the nucleus of every NFL club.
This year’s rookie crop will become critical to Cleveland’s continued assent in the AFC.
Every new player – hand-picked by GM Andrew Berry, the coaching staff and the hundreds of hours of film study, interviews and notes by the scouting department – is critical to the franchise’s current trend of being an annual playoff team.
Cleveland has nine picks in this year’s draft. A quick glance at the roster reveals that it will be difficult to imagine that nine new guys plus the amount of undrafted free agents signed will fit the final squad. With that in mind, it is most likely that Berry will orchestrate several trades just like last year in order to elevate the quality of player selected to the club’s advantage. But since our Magic 8 ball game dropped off the shelf in an unlikely incident and was placed on IR, we have to go at it as is.
One thing Berry should focus on when selecting defensive players: good tacklers. This defense has been plagued for years by guys who miss tackles, get fooled regularly on jukes, are hand grabbers or waist pullers, shoulder pad riders and tag-alongs for extra yardage. Get guys who take out legs and drive through players. Anybody can reach out a paw and hold onto a jersey and hand-fight for five yards. The key is to hit them where their legs stop moving.
Let’s finally be known for a defense that will lay you out.
A few notes. The Browns do not own any compensatory picks for rounds three through six this year. In Round 5, Cleveland’s own pick #170 was sent to Jacksonville in last year’s Ronnie Harrison trade; and in Round 7, their own pick #253 went to Denver for FB Andy Janovich.
For now, here is a full 7-round mock draft.
Round 1 – pick #26 (26)
EDGE Jayson Oweh – Penn State: 6’-5”, 257 pounds
Any franchise cannot have too many pass rushers and run stopper. With the free agent signings of Jadeveon Clowney and Takk McKinley, the Browns have the luxury of taking a guy who can be groomed that has all the tools to be one of the great ones. Oweh, on paper, is that guy.
He is a freak of an athlete and is raw, but can use a season with tutelage from Myles Garrett and Clowney to help him with techniques. Runs 4.36 in the 40, so he has unbelievable speed coming off the corner. Pro Football Focus rated him at 89.7 last year in run defense, the third highest of any defensive end. He is capable of playing either side. His zero sacks last year are a concern, but Penn State only played seven games and Oweh had five the year before in a full season and two in his freshman year.
High motor, all the physical tools, and absolutely catapults off the snap. Natural strength. Could use an extra 20 pounds.
Oweh will need a season to groom. But now that the Browns have Clowney and McKinley to take on that left defensive end slot, Oweh has everything you could want at the EDGE position.
Round 2 – pick #59 (27)
CB Elijah Molden – Northwestern: 5’-10”, 191 pounds
Molden’s father Alex played for the New Orleans Saints so he has NFL lineage. He is not going to win any weigh-in contests, but this is an excellent man coverage player. He only allowed a mere 11 catches for 65 yards across 18 targets in four games last year. Played in the Senior Bowl and had a great practice week and absolutely dominated high-quality receivers.
Molden is a guy who can come into camp Day 1 and compete for the starting position. His game is man coverage, but is also adept in zone coverage or any type of press coverage. Big play in big games. The second-round is a perfect place to find cheap labor and you can never have too many valued cornerbacks.
Highly-effective coverage guy. The fact the DC Joe Woods plays a lot of 4-2-5 defensive packages mandates having numerous cornerbacks on the roster.
Molden is the gold standard in the slot for this class.
“Molden is an aggressive and active run defender as well. He diagnoses plays and reads runs quickly, with a very fast trigger from the second level. Molden is a willing run defender who shows little concern for contact, as well as being a reliable wrap-up tackler. He doesn’t usually go for big hits, but can deliver them when the situation requires. He shows good football IQ to be able to execute each of those roles’ duties, as well as communicate with his teammates during the pre-snap phase of the play.”
Round 3 – pick #89 (26)
WR Amari Rodgers – Clemson: 5’-10”, 211 pounds
Both Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, Jr. will be 29-years old this fall. The Browns must keep an eye on the future and it may be time to think about getting in a younger guy who has had a ton of success at the college level. Including the Senior Bowl, Rodgers has played in six bowl games, two of which were National Championship contests. First Team All-ACC last year and Honorable Mention All-ACC the year before.
At the Senior Bowl, Rodgers caught everything thrown his way. Impressive at how he can contort his body to bend to catch bad balls. And if you watch tape of him, that is every game. Not the biggest receiver, but came from a positive offense that has played its fair share of big games. Would become a perfect slot receiver for the Browns.
Rodgers’ numbers this past season were 77 catches for 1,020 yards and get this: 15 touchdowns. He was the go-to guy for Clemson’s offense and he is very durable having played in every game since his freshman season. He is a slot receiver that is built like a running back. That is why his yards-after-contact are so high because he won’t go down on the first hit. Rodgers thrived with manufactured touches and then used his physicality, burst, vision, and decisiveness to work after the catch. He has reliable hands, plays a physical brand of football, and is an exceptional athlete.
His negatives are he needs to better develop his route tree and find a bit more consistency at the catch point. Another plus, though, is that he is also a punt return man. Along with Donovan Peoples-Jones, this would give the Browns two young talented guys at the receiver position to groom and one day become the main focus.
Round 3 – pick #91 (28) from New Orleans Saints (2020 Day 2 trade)
DE/DT Payton Turner – Houston: 6’-5”, 270 pounds
Turner is a top pass rusher who you never heard of. Houston played him at every defensive line position and even outside linebacker so the versatility is there. His game involves great hand battling abilities, sufficient power and physicality, and has a non-stop motor. Turner has a very good reach with his length.
He is a better pass rusher than a run stopper, although that part of his game is not bad but would need some improvement. The negatives are his stance needs to be cleaned up, and he is slow coming out of his stance. The one thing Turner would provide right away for the Browns is quality depth.
Turner offers versatility as a defender and could develop into a starting defensive end with some seasoning. He also has the uncanny ability to fluctuate his weight. At one point he was 290 and then dropped to 270 quickly when he was needed to step into the outside, so depending on what the defense needs, he could play everyone’s position except Myles Garrett’s.
His career numbers include 114 total tackles with 9.5 sacks. He had zero missed tackles last year. Turner may not be on the field much at first, but he can contribute and grow into the position as he gets more snaps during the season just like last year’s third-round pick DT Jordan Elliott did last year.
Round 4 – pick #110 (5) from Philadelphia Eagles (Genard Avery trade)
LB Chazz Surratt – North Carolina: 6’-1”, 227 pounds
Surratt came to North Carolina as a quarterback where he had been a high school Two Time First-Team Associated Press All-State and was named Parade National Player-of-the-Year. That means one thing: exceptional athlete.
He started eight games at quarterback in his first two seasons at NC but had injury issues both years plus was inconsistent and struggled. He switched to linebacker going into his junior year and found his calling. He finished with 115 total tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks and was named First Team All-ACC. During that year, that was all anyone in the ACC was talking about was this highly-touted quarterback who jumped to the other side and was terrific.
Surratt has a very good skill set with size, speed, good strength and athleticism. Being focused on the offense all those years, Surratt did have some issues with missed tackles; but he also made a lot of tackles and was consistently around the ball. In 2020 he made 91 tackles with six sacks and earned his second First Team All-ACC status. And his instincts can be streaky. He will need to learn to read his keys pre-snap. Surratt absolutely owned the Senior Bowl during the practice week. Before Senior Bowl week, nobody outside the ACC had heard of this kid or seen his defensive skills.
If the Browns select a linebacker like Surratt in the mid-to-lower rounds, this means that either Sinone Takitaki or Mack Wilson will compete for a roster spot in training camp. But one – or both – will most likely be cut.
Round 4 – pick #132 (27)
RB Jermar Jefferson – Oregon State: 5’-9”, 215 pounds
Being the contract year for Nick Chubb, the Browns will need to think about a younger version of Chubb to groom. Jefferson is a very productive back and a great athlete. Had 858 yards this past season in only six games and named First Team All Pac-12. Exceptional pass receiver with soft hands and good vision. Tough back and can hit the home run. Runs a 4.55 in the 40 but oftentimes will play faster.
Jefferson was a three-year starter who is explosive and patient with running lanes. Plays pugnacious and difficult to bring down. Shifty enough to make defenders miss and once he hits open field finds another gear. He is not a guy who is going to move a pile, but has the size and skill to become that primary workhorse running back at a high-level.
“One of Jefferson’s biggest strengths is his balance, which leads to plenty of yards after contact. He did not play for a very good program at Oregon State, but he proved to still be an effective runner as a workhorse back in the Pac-12. Jefferson will need to be a more effective pass catcher, and he does not have elite speed compared to the rest of this draft class.”
Round 5 – pick #169 (25) from Los Angeles Rams (Austin Corbett trade)
OT Brenden Jaimes, Nebraska: 6’-6”, 300 pounds
Jaimes (pronounced HI-mays) primarily played right and left tackle while at Nebraska, but has positional versatility. Very intelligent player who could become the first lineman off the bench. Has played guard and even center in college and high school, or was the number one reserve at either. Jaimes does have starting potential as a tackle, but in Cleveland he capably fills the role of swing tackle early on in the inevitable position of any possible injury as witnessed last year along the offensive line.
Honorable Mention All Big-10 three years in a row and started 40 games. Tenacity is his biggest attribute but can dominate defenders. .
The majority of Nebraska’s running game focused mainly on power blocking schemes with some inside and outside zone runs. This alone plays into the Browns offense. In the passing game, Nebraska relied more on the quick pass.
Jaimes has light feet and is able to keep his hands moving on kick out blocks with an overall good base. Very mobile and is able to quickly recognize stunts with solid upper body.
Round 6 – pick #211 (27)
QB Shane Buechele, SMU: 6’-1”, 205 pounds
Buechele has a very high floor some physical limitations, but he’s a nice fit for what Kevin Stefanski’s offense requires of a quarterback. He is very intelligent with an accurate throw, and was a four-year starter in college for Texas and then SMU. Very poised and is an extremely tough kid.
The Browns have Casey Keenum as backup who is now 33 years old which is currently excellent veteran presence who has had quite a few NFL starts. The only other QB is Kyle Lauletta, who was drafted in the third-round by the New York Football Giants in 2018 and has since bounced around including Cleveland’s practice squad. A young guy to bring in and learn Stefanski’s system and become a younger version of Keenum as a career backup would be beneficial.
So basically, Buechele would not be waiting-in-the-wings to replace Mayfield, but would be biding his time to replace Keenum as the primary backup.
Buechele does not possess Baker Mayfield’s arm strength, but is a very good leader and can make the throws. Great functional mobility with a quick release. Good ability to layer throws through zone coverage. Extremely tough whose mechanics will need to be tightened up at the next level.
Round 7 – pick #257 (30) from Bills (Wyatt Teller trade)
SS Qwynnterrio Cole – Alcorn State: 6’-3”, 190 pounds
The safety position could use another player as depth and play patrol cop. Cole is an extremely well put together with a chiseled body. Two-time HBCU All-American and SWAC All-Conference First-Team player.
Intelligent guy who is very physical and an excellent tackler. Versatility is a plus which he displays proper techniques and is a true ball-hawk. Can play that second linebacker in the 4-2-5 with ease and hold the deep zone. Strong safety will probably be his calling who will contribute on special teams right away until he is ready to start. Great burst and will come up and make tackles in the run game. Huge upside.
“As an NFL Draft prospect, Cole has ideal size at the position and could be a valuable commodity to NFL owners and decision-makers. He played all over the defense as a sophomore, lining up at the nickel, outside corner, and both safety positions. Cole’s 6-foot-3, 190-pound frame makes him a great fit at each of these positions in the NFL, and also presents Cole as an extremely versatile player. This frame could also allow the rangy defender to add weight and make it harder for opposing skill-position players to fight him off as he moves from college to the pros.”