Featured image via AP Photos
The Cleveland Browns had a somewhat unusual draft in that they came into the draft with 10 picks, ultimately took 12 players and may only have one player at the top of the depth chart entering the 2015 season. Between media and fan expectations, the Browns also came away with a draft that was not expected, but took advantage of the strengths of the 2015 class.
Despite not really having a true nose tackle on the team, finishing dead last against the run and struggling in pass defense as a result with a head coach that built his reputation on the defensive side of the ball, fans and the media refused to let go of this dream that the Browns would draft or trade for a quarterback and add receiving weapons. Fortunately, the Browns decided to attack the defensive side of the ball and give Mike Pettine the tools to make his defense successful, suggesting they would like him to be effective as a head coach as well.
The Browns were somewhat fortunate that defensive tackle Danny Shelton was there for them to get at the 12th pick. The Bears were in as bad of a way at the nose tackle spot as the Browns were and picked seventh, but opted to give… Jay Cutler another weapon on the outside in Kevin White. There is reason to believe the Browns would have liked to have maneuvered to get Shelton but also take a player they had ranked higher on their board. That player was DeVante Parker. Saints head coach Sean Payton admitted after the Browns picked Shelton, they would have taken him at the 13th pick.
Shelton was the pick the Browns had to have in this draft. They desperately needed a nose tackle and after Shelton, the drop off in talent was substantial. Eddie Goldman and Jordan Phillips were the other two highly touted nose tackles in this class and between Goldman’s rampant inconsistency and Phillips’ possible medical red flags connected to his back, Shelton was the guy.
Shelton played a remarkable amount of snaps for Washington and played at a high level. While some people have thrown out Haloti Ngata as a comparison, the Browns hope they have gotten the closest thing to Vince Wilfork. Shelton checked all of the boxes, except one, which while may seem minor, has historical significance. His 40 time and 10 yard split were both awful and the implication is that no player who has ever tested that slowly has ever succeeded in the NFL. The 3 cone drill and 20 yard shuttle were perfectly fine, so while the 40 seems to be an outlier, if Shelton should fail, people will point at this as part of the reason.
However, Shelton was extremely disruptive this past season, racking up a ton of production and playing an incredible number of snaps at a high level. In all, Shelton was able to play over 900 snaps last season and he brought a consistent effort and production level throughout. The Browns certainly hope they do not need to just leave the guy out there, hoping they can get 100% of Shelton on fewer and more important downs than he had to at Washington.
Shelton needs to come in and dominate on first and second down against the run. The Browns talked about the idea that Shelton could help them on obvious passing situations, but this sounded silly and like lip service as soon as it was said. And a little over 24 hours later, they admitted as much with a trade up and another selection at the end of the third round.
If Shelton can simply be a force on running downs, it makes a dramatic impact on the overall defense for the Browns. As a team, the Browns actually set the edge well and did a good job with outside runs. They were absolutely gauged up the middle throughout the year and when teams were consistently in third and short, the team was forced to respect the run rather than being able to pin their ears back and rush. As a result, the entire defense was compromised.
Shelton is going to step in day one and start. The Browns have Phil Taylor moving back to nose and he is in a contract year, but he is still recovering from a knee injury and he is remarkably inconsistent when it comes to doing his assignment. The other guy is Ishmaa’ily Kitchen who is… okay as a third nose tackle for whatever that is worth. They also have Jamie Meder who they got at the end of last year coming off of an injury and that could be the most compelling battle of training camp at that spot.
After addressing the biggest need on the team short of the quarterback position, the Browns took Cameron Erving with the 19th pick. This pick is perfectly defensible, but it felt odd given the needs of the team and the talent available. What makes the pick strange is the fact that the Browns took their 6th offensive lineman with the 19th pick of the draft. It was a need and something that had to be addressed, but the idea of taking that guy that high is certainly interesting. To compare, when the Browns took Alex Mack in the first round, they selected him with the 21st pick of the draft in a class where he is one of the few players that has been successful really at all from the top of the class.
The part of this pick that is defensible is that the Browns offense went from 26.8 points per game to 15 points per game last year and the pivot was when Alex Mack broke his leg. Clearly, there was a ‘never again’ mindset. Additionally, it would be stunning if Alex Mack does not opt out after this year, considering some of the contracts that have been paid to centers in the NFL since he signed the deal; most notably, the deal the Raiders just gave Rodney Hudson. That does not mean Mack and the Browns could not just hammer out another deal for him to stay, but certainly there is a possibility that Mack could leave either because he just wants to leave or the Browns simply do not want to pay that much money for a center.
Additionally, after about 15 players in this class, the talent drop off was pretty substantial across the board. No one was screaming to be taken at the 19th pick. Certainly there were people pulling for guys like Bud Dupree who went to the Steelers a few picks later and Breshad Perriman who went to the Ravens. From a pure talent standpoint, the Browns may have taken the best player available, but it is certainly less appealing when there is a real chance Erving will not play this year.
Before the Mack injury, the Browns had arguably the best offensive line in all of football and from Joe Thomas to rookie sensation Joel Bitonio to Mack to right guard John Greco, the Browns were getting absolutely stellar line play. Plenty of local media and fans have made the leap to suggest that Erving is going to start on the right side this year, most suggesting right guard. As good as that sounds, Greco was outstanding last year and the only time he struggled was when they tried to have him player center in Mack’s absence, putting the abominably bad Paul McQuistan in at right guard. Some of the same fans and media assumed McQuistan would start because he played fill in left tackle for the Super Bowl winning Seattle Seahawks replacing an injured Russell Okung, never bothering to notice that McQuistan was one of the worst players on the team.
Perhaps Erving will come into camp and be a revelation where he is so good, he can beat out Greco but that is far more unlikely that many are willing to realize. The other possibility, which seems somewhat remote is that Erving could compete to start at right tackle, which is the weakest link in the chain on the offensive line. Mitchell Schwartz has been good when the offense is unpredictable and the defense cannot just pin their ears back and rush. When that happened, Schwartz had some real issues in pass protection. Maybe Erving will have a shot there but the Browns took another Seattle castoff during last year when in Michael Bowie.
The Seahawks tried to get Bowie to injured reserve after he suffered a season ending injury, but when they had to release him to try to get him there, the Browns put in a claim for him and got him. Now, healthy, Bowie may have a better chance to start at right tackle than Erving does. And for all of Erving’s talent, he struggled in college at left tackle in the ACC, so it might be a stretch to assume he can come in and start at right tackle in the NFL. There is also a remote possibility that Joel Bitonio could be in the mix at right tackle. This actually seemed to be where he would land when he was drafted but they stuck with Schwartz and Bitonio proved to a phenom at left guard. This seems unlikely as messing with Bitonio in his second year seems unlikely, but in the event Bitonio were to kick out to tackle, Erving could start at left guard.
Short of another injury, Erving may indeed be in for a redshirt year. A few years down the road, Erving may look to be an absolute stud and no one will question the move whether he inherits the center or he replaces an aging Greco at right guard. However, in the short term, this move looks questionable, especially when Ty Sambrailo out of Colorado State and Ali Marpet from Hobart looked perfectly suited to take a redshirt year for different reasons as the sixth man and went over 30 picks later. Sambrailo could play all five spots and is perfect for a zone scheme but just needed to get stronger in his core and legs. His technique was excellent on tape as well. Marpet was suited to play any of the three interior spots and could have used a year to adapt to the level of competition after playing division three football in college. However, Marpet was as dominant a player at the Senior Bowl as there was, right from the get go.
The Browns’ commitment to a strong offensive line is both good and important, but there are quibbles to be had with taking what looks to be a backup interior lineman presently at the 19th overall pick. Rest assured, if Erving is not starting week one of the season, there will be media and fans throwing a tantrum every time Bud Dupree gets a sack or Breshad Perriman scores a touchdown for divisional opponents.
The second round proved to be fascinating as the Browns decided to trade back from the 43rd pick to 51st pick. There is plenty of reason to believe that the guy(s) the Browns really wanted went off the board before they were on the clock and then moved back. The two most likely players who went off the board before getting to the Browns were Preston Brown, who went to Washington and Devin Funchess, who went to Carolina after they moved up to get him. Both players fit the Browns beautifully and would have filled some holes. Nevertheless, the Browns added a few more picks and held fast at the 51st pick to make their next selection.
At 51, the Browns took Nate Orchard, a pure pass rusher from Utah. The fit with Orchard was obvious, but it definitely felt like a reach as to where they took him. Orchard is not an overwhelming athlete, cannot play the running game dead and only had one productive year for the Utes.
The productive year Orchard had came in the form of 18.5 sacks, which was second in the country. Orchard does have a pretty good array of developed pass rush moves, plays through the echo of the whistle and is relentless. The fact he does not have any overwhelming physical traits and the likely usage of Orchard felt like it would be available another round or maybe two later, but the Browns were thrilled to get Orchard.
Orchard is coming in and likely going to do three things for this team. Be a situational pass rusher, particularly in sub packages and give them an outside linebacker that can drop effectively in coverage, something they did not really have. Last year, Barkevious Mingo hurt his shoulder the first game of the season but soldiered through and played the entire year. As a result, he ended up being the guy they would drop often when they needed a guy to do it. When healthy, the Browns were extremely aggressive with him and wanted him to get up the field and attack. With Orchard, they can have him drop and attack with Mingo.
The other part of this is obviously having Orchard be another athletic pass rusher that can come off the edge from a two point stance. In sub packages, the Browns can have Orchard and Mingo attack up the field from the outside and use speed to cause issues in the backfield. Last year, they had Jabaal Sheard try to fulfill this role but it was an awkward fit from a previous regime. Sheard was more suited to play the exact same role as Paul Kruger which was their so-called rush position. When they had Sheard do other things, he was actually pretty solid but was never maximized and it was no surprise when the Browns and Sheard parted ways this offseason. Sheard should make for an excellent Patriot.
Orchard is the more streamlined pure rushing backer that can drop that Sheard was not. The concern with Orchard in addition to relatively average athleticism is that some of his production was caused by the fact that he was simply slightly ahead of collegiate players in terms of technique and savvy. That could be a rude awakening for him in the NFL when opposing linemen are not shocked to see what he does and Orchard will have to adjust. Orchard fits exactly what the Browns want in their defensive scheme and could be successful within it but his lack of special qualities could prevent from being a big time player.
Lastly, Orchard can occasionally come in and give Mingo a break if needed. Mingo is a guy the Browns really do not want to take off the field but it is never a bad thing to have a rotation and help a guy stay fresh. Now, the big thing is that Mingo is a terrific run defender (and was a willing one in college), even when he only had one arm, where Orchard has been putrid against the run against collegiate competition. It is not terribly likely that he is suddenly going to be good at something at the highest levels of the game when he did not do it against lesser athletes and players.
Orchard fills a huge need in this defense and scheme but it remains to be seen if he can really be the answer they need there. Whether the Browns just want more competition and depth or need someone to replace Orchard, he does fit the mold of the position the Browns want to get. Rangy, athletic pass rusher that has the hips to drop into coverage and be a linebacker in addition to being a pass rusher.
The Browns would have fans believe that they came into the second round wanting Orchard and were happy to get him. That is believable to a point. The Browns do genuinely seem thrilled to get Orchard but it does seem as though their initial target for the day went off the board, which caused the trade back.
The most likely candidate is Preston Smith, defensive end out of Mississippi State, who could play the 5-technique defensive end, could slide inside to rush the passer in sub packages and tested out of the gym athletically. He had the production, versatility and character the Browns stressed throughout the draft and could have come in and found playing time immediately. He could have rotated with Desmond Bryant, come in for Kruger and given them a bigger, more run defending unit and then rushed the passer from the interior on obvious passing situations, where he had a great deal of success in college.
The other candidate, Devin Funchess, could have come in and played the role that Jordan Cameron had the previous few seasons. Funchess is a wide receiver but would have fit beautifully as the big slot that Cameron played. The difference with Cameron is the Browns occasionally pretended he was an inline tight end which never really ended well, unless it was just having Cameron pretend to block. Funchess had the size and athleticism to be a matchup nightmare and open up options on the outside the same way Cameron did. Funchess was still quite young, at only 20 but was a true junior that was the best player on the Wolverines team this past season and gave more than a few highly regarded draft prospects trouble, including but not limited to Eric Rowe and Doran Grant.
The third round proved certainly has the appearance of being an extremely productive one, getting two players that filled needs and made it pretty clear what the Browns want to be as a team and what they feel is important. Both players, at first blush, came at extremely good values and the Browns were thrilled to get both.
First, with the 77th pick, they took Duke Johnson from Miami(FL) to add a running back to the pair of young backs they got last year. The Browns traded up to acquire Terrance West last year and then got Isaiah Crowell as an undrafted free agent. They were to play behind Ben Tate, who first got injured and then whined his way out of town before being underwhelming for the Steelers at the end of their season.
West and Crowell were extremely productive behind a healthy Mack but when he went down, their production went with him. Those two were bigger, more powerful backs with some wiggle but relatively limited as pass catchers. They pounded teams but had more speed than some teams were ready for when the blocking was great.
Johnson gives them a more dynamic speed threat that is a purer fit in a zone scheme offense. He has the speed to be a homerun threat, sees the hole well and gives them a more horizontal threat that could make guys miss and outrun opponents. He also is a far more capable and more dangerous threat as a pass catcher, which was at times an element this offense did not have last season.
Johnson is the type of back where if he is able to get to the second level of the defense and can make an opponent miss, he can take it the rest of the way; a true home run threat. In that sense, he is ideally matched for the Browns offensive line. Being able to run behind Thomas, Bitonio, Mack, Greco, and whoever they line up at right tackle could give him multiple opportunities to not get his first contact for several yards down the field, which makes defensive coordinators nervous and puts substantial pressure on opposing secondaries to make big tackles. With his ability to stick his foot in the ground or make a big cut back, defenses could find themselves holding their breath when he gets the ball and the offensive line is clicking. The result could be a number of splash plays and some long touchdown runs that give the Browns more of a vertical threat than critics realize.
Johnson may not end up being the starter at the beginning of the season. West has a ton of talent and assuming he matures, he is more of a true road grader between the tackles that gets the tough yards that keep drives going. As a result, Johnson could be the primary change of pace guy early as well as a third down threat because of his ability to catch the football.
The concept of a true starting running back is pretty unimportant unless there is such a disparity of carries that one guy is clearly the guy. West and Johnson could be the dynamic duo for this team with the visually challenged Crowell becoming a knuckle ball for teams to have to stop. Crowell could not see the hole between the tackles last season and everything he got was a pitch as well, so while fans clamored for him to start, he was perfect as a complement and change of pace to Crowell. He ended up being somewhat of a closer last year that broke the backs of defenses in games and he could be that same player here. A fresh set of legs with electricity in how he carries the football that can be the finishing blow to a defense that is already tired in the fourth quarter.
Johnson gives them an element of speed, a perfect match of style and what the Browns do well and adding an element in the passing game they can expand as his comfort level grows. With his speed, if Johnson gets the ball at the second level, he can be a threat to go all the way. Now, the Browns have a truly rounded stable of backs that can give them a little bit of everything. They are in an excellent position to succeed and if they put in the work, the Browns can have an outstanding running game that sustains them and makes them competitive, even without a franchise quarterback. Being able to land that type of player in the third round could prove to be an enormous win for this team both this year and going forward.
As the round wore on, there were some rumblings that the Browns might try to trade back into the third round but the vast majority of people, including the live radio broadcast covering the event, thought the Browns were done for the day and got ready for day three of the draft. Low and behold, the Browns called the Patriots and made a deal to move up to the last eligible pick of the round, #96, to grab the fourth player of the class.
The selection of Xavier Cooper was a surprise but a welcome one. The Browns paid a decent amount to move up the 15 slots to get Cooper, giving up the 111th pick (at the time, the first of 3 fourth round picks including 115 and 116), their 5th round pick and got a 7th round pick back to make the move. The package paid was pretty substantial but Cooper had slipped in the draft and the Browns clearly wanted him.
Cooper is the pick that confirmed all of the lip service paid to Danny Shelton was just that; talk. It was a surprise to see Cooper selected only because his lack of length made him seem unlikely to be used at the 5 technique end spot, which is what made Preston Smith such an enticing prospect for this team. Cooper is a pure 3 technique defensive tackle and it was surprising that teams like Oakland and especially the Dallas Cowboys, who had a smoldering crater in that starting spot for their schemes, did not scoop him up.
Cooper is a remarkable athlete that wreaked havoc in the PAC-12 because he was too agile for them to keep him in front of them. At 293lbs, Cooper clocked a 4.87 40 with a 1.67 10 yard split along with a 7.23 3 cone time at the Scouting Combine, both of which are incredibly fast and both show up on his tape. On a pretty bad defense, the Cougars moved Cooper around as much as possible to give him the best opportunity to make plays, which panned out over the course of the season.
The Browns drafted Cooper to do one thing; kill the quarterback and to do it from the interior of the defensive line. They have John Hughes as the projected starting 3 technique because he is stout against the run and offers enough that he is not a liability as a pass rusher. In obvious passing situations, the Browns are going to bring in Cooper at that spot and just hoping he can continue to cause problems for opponents with his speed and quickness. He is fast enough to create quick explosion and strong enough that he can create quick momentum and win with both power and speed. Obviously, they want him to get home and get to the quarterback but that up field penetration can make it difficult for quarterbacks to step into throws, be worried about trash around their legs and give rushers coming around the edge more leeway on how they beat their blockers.
In sub package situations, the Browns could very easily have Cooper in at the 3, Desmond Bryant sliding inside to the 1 with players like Barkevious Mingo, Nate Orchard, Paul Kruger or Armonty Bryant coming from around the edge to bring pressure. Between their physical gifts, blitzes and stunts, the Browns have the potential to give opposing quarterbacks fits.
Along with getting the best run stopping defensive tackle in the draft in Danny Shelton, the Browns may have also gotten the best pure pass rushing defensive tackle in the draft in Cooper. It is possible the Browns could use Cooper occasionally at the 5 depending on the situation, but there are two things that would suggest this is not likely. In terms of length, both in pure height and in terms of Cooper’s arms, he is far from ideal. Cooper is 6’3” which is not bad or anything but his arms are pretty short which is what they presumably would have loved about the 6’5” Preston Smith who had longer arms.
Cooper looks like he should be successful as so much of his focus for this team is just going to be getting to the quarterback. The 31.5” arms that make it seemingly unlikely that Cooper will see much time at the 5 are the biggest potential knock on him being successful in the NFL. If he has trouble extending his arms and controlling, shedding blocks from offensive linemen in the NFL, it will be difficult for him to get home with the pressure he causes. The concern for NFL teams is that interior linemen will be able to dictate the action for Cooper.
Overall, the Cooper pick looks like a huge find for the Browns. They desperately needed the ability to cause more disruption and rush the passer from the interior and he has the athleticism and power to do it. The fact that he is coming into a situation where he will be asked to focus on what he likes to do most anyway should only increase the likelihood that he will succeed. The potential is there for Cooper to put up half a dozen sacks this season and be the engine that makes the pass rush go for the Browns on the inside, even if he is not playing a ton of reps to do it. At least for the time being, Cooper looks to be a specialist that could grow into a bigger role down the road, but could be just what the doctor ordered as a rookie.
The Browns finished day two of the draft making two big splash picks at great values after what appeared to be two reaches with the second of their two first round picks and their second round pick. Going into day three, the Browns had 7 picks and no one expected they would use them all, whether it was packaging them and moving up for specific players or even trading out to acquire additional assets in the 2016 draft. The Browns did not draft 7 players on day three; they drafted 8.
The fourth round proved to be somewhat of a mixed bag for the Browns. After moving up from 111 to get Xavier Cooper, they made a pick at 115 and then proceeded to trade down from 116. The first of their two fourth round selections looks great while the second was easily the worst pick of this year’s class.
After it was reported that the Browns were trying to trade up to acquire Bryce Petty, the Browns ended up sitting tight at 115 and getting the guy they were actually targeting; Ibraheim Campbell. Going into this draft, there were two strong safeties in this draft that seemed like the best fits for what the Browns want to do with that position. The first was Jaquiski Tartt out of Samford who went in round 2 with Campbell as the second.
Campbell was a big part of what was a pretty underwhelming Northwestern season, finishing just 5-7. Regarded by some as the Landon Collins of the Big Ten, Campbell was relatively under the radar until he got to the Senior Bowl. Campbell showed well in Mobile, able to show effectiveness in man coverage which is often a difficult area for strong safeties. Going back to his collegiate tape, Campbell showed tremendous instincts and vision with the ability to make plays.
What makes Campbell fit what the Browns like at that position, it is as simple as looking at the difference between T.J. Ward and Donte Whitner. Ward was at home in the box, able to play like an extra linebacker, which made for a great run defender, but he had some issues in coverage, particularly man coverage. Whitner was far more accustomed to playing deeper, reading the play and then coming downhill to play the run while having the ability to stay deep on passing plays. That is the style of safety Campbell played for the Wildcats.
Campbell has shown the ability to recognize tendencies and read plays to where he can play faster than he times, see plays develop and attack. This enabled him to make big plays both at the line of scrimmage, in the backfield, or deep as the play dictated. As a result, Campbell had more than a few plays where he was able to play deep center field and cause turnovers or read the quarterback’s eyes and undercut a route to get an interception.
Campbell has been advertised as a hybrid safety and there may be some truth to that, but he has the potential to be a good strong safety while he is a pretty mediocre free safety. While Campbell has made some big plays down the field in center field, he also had plenty of situations where he was beaten deep. Some are suggesting that Campbell can become the third safety the Browns could really use, but he seems far more suited to just focus on being the heir to Whitner and be good on special teams.
Last year, the Browns had Jordan Poyer who could come in and be a free safety when Tashaun Gipson was hurt and it would be a surprise if he is not that guy again this year. The Browns can probably use a better free safety prospect behind Gipson for that role, but Poyer at free safety is likely always going to be better than Campbell at free safety.
The Browns had Jim Leonhard who came in and made some plays as the extra strong safety and when he retired, it was a pretty sizable hole. Certainly, if Whitner were to get hurt, Campbell becomes far more important immediately but Whitner likely only has a couple good years left, whether they are all with the Browns or not. That is what makes Campbell’s acquisition a little more important, so he can just worry about trying to become the long term solution at that position when Whitner is no longer that player. As nice as it might be to get a hybrid player for the third guy and Campbell is more than intelligent enough to learn both, his focus has to be on getting everything down at the strong safety and learning everything possible from Whitner while he is here.
The fit was great, the value was right on and the Browns got someone they really wanted from this class. Campbell can do a little bit of everything just like Whitner can and if he can show that he can be the guy after Whitner, he becomes a monster value. Even if he is nothing more than great depth and a value on special teams, it is a good pick, but he has the potential to be more than that.
After trading down seven spots, the Browns selected Vince Mayle, a wide receiver out of Washington State with the 123rd pick. Save the notion that Mayle plays wide receiver, which has been a media and fan obsession since Farmer and Pettine were hired, nothing about this pick looks promising. Rather, it looks like a complete waste of a pick.
Mayle has not played a ton of football, but he is a good (not great) athlete and already 24 years old. The Browns took a project of a wide receiver that looks like the best case scenario is that he is the fourth or fifth receiver on the depth chart and is heavily used on special teams. If Mayle is a big time special teams player, that would be great, but when that seems to be the best part about a fourth round pick, it is not terribly promising.
The Browns have a talented wide receiver coach in Joker Phillips, so maybe he sees something in Mayle that the metrics and tape do not. There have been cases made that Mayle can develop into Anquan Boldin or Dwayne Bowe, but the likelihood of that actually occurring seems incredibly slim. Further making this pick baffling is the fact that there were a number of capable receivers sitting there that were younger, more athletic and more productive in their collegiate careers.
Factoring in everything that went into this pick, it just does not make much sense and at least right after the fact, looks to be the worst pick of the 2015 class for the Browns. The other part of the Mayle pick that made it that much worse is the fact the Browns would not make another selection for 66 picks, making the unpleasant taste of Mayle linger for a few hours.
After the better part of two rounds, the Browns got back on the clock in the sixth round with five picks left. The first of which was Charles Gaines from Louisville with the 189th pick. This pick seemed a little curious at the time, but this Browns front office has shown that it is absolutely in love with the corner position. Gaines may not win a roster spot this year because the Browns have a talented group of corners, but the Browns would draft another corner in the seventh round and sign five more as undrafted free agents.
Last year, the Browns were hoping they could have Joe Haden and Justin Gilbert play on the outside with Buster Skrine playing the slot. Unfortunately, despite being the 8th pick of the 2014 class, Gilbert had no idea how to play corner and some personal issues that dogged him throughout his rookie year so his contributions were few and far between. As a result, Skrine had to stay on the outside which gave an undrafted free agent, K’Waun Williams, a shot to play the slot. Williams was great in this role and had a good rookie year, though his season did come to an early end due to a concussion.
Gaines is a pure slot corner, so he is basically trying to ideally beat out Williams, but also trying to at least be a dime corner and an asset on special teams. There were some who thought Gaines would go a few rounds earlier, so the value looks good on this pick. It still may be an uphill battle for Gaines to make this roster and if he is unable, it could be difficult to get him onto their practice squad.
As it currently stands, the Browns corner situation is very obvious in which guys are going to play which spots. Haden is actually the shortest of the corners the team has to play on the outside. The Browns hope for a better year from Gilbert and they also drafted Pierre Desir, who was basically redshirted last year but forced into action late in the season due to injury where he looked promising. They also signed Tramon Williams as insurance to play on the outside.
K’Waun Williams and Gaines are slot corners and if both of those players make the team, someone like Johnson Bademosi may end up being the odd man out. Bademosi is a huge special teams player but that is all he offers, so if Gaines can help on special teams and be an asset as a corner, he could get the nod. This is assuming they do not find another corner they love of the five they signed as undrafted free agents like they did with K’Waun Williams last year.
With the 195th pick, the Browns took Malcolm Johnson, a utility player out of Mississippi State. Listed as a tight end, Johnson played tight end, fullback and H-Back for the Bulldogs and was drafted by the Browns to compete for the F position in John DeFilippo’s offense. For all intents and purposes, that position requires the player do everything Johnson has done in his career in Starkville.
Johnson is a good blocker who uses power but also does a great job with using proper angles to set up running lanes. While he was not a featured part of the passing game, he showed the hands and ability to make the occasional play that can extend a drive or cap one off with a touchdown.
The Browns made a play for Charles Clay in free agency, though he ultimately ended up going to the Buffalo Bills. Clay is pretty much the prototype for what the Browns are looking for and the coaching staff mentioned Marcel Reese as another example. Johnson does not have the ideal bulk for the position but he has shown he can contribute in the same types of ways as Clay and Reese have.
It is important to note that while Johnson has a great shot to make this roster, this is not the only player they brought in to compete for the F in this offense. They brought in a few undrafted free agents. Johnson would seemingly be the front runner but the Browns have a few guys to look at to acquire a pretty important position in their offense. While Tony Grossi continues to crow for the Browns to get a traditional fullback which is virtually obsolete in today’s game, the Browns are looking for someone who can block but has some versatility.
The Browns followed up the Johnson pick by selecting Randall Telfer with the 198th pick out of USC. On the surface, the Browns appeared to have simply picked up a third tight end to develop behind Gary Barnidge and Jim Dray as inline threats. However, Telfer has been dealing with an injured foot and never was able to work out, so it appears as though the Browns may have picked Telfer with the idea of stashing him for a year on injured reserve.
As for the thought process behind the Telfer pick, it seems awfully similar to when Anthony McCoy was drafted by Pete Carroll in the 6th round. McCoy was a good athlete that was on a stacked USC offense that was limited to basically being a blocker because their simply were not enough opportunities to get the ball to him. In some respects, a similar argument is being made for Telfer. He was predominately used as a blocker but he had a good amount of production as a sophomore that tailed off the past two seasons. While Telfer can perhaps be like McCoy in that he is a better NFL player than collegiate, the USC offense that had McCoy on it was far more talented than the one from which Telfer was drafted.
Whether or not Telfer is ultimately stashed for a year, he may spend much of that time just trying to get stronger so he can hold up inline as a blocker. At the same time, the Browns may try to see what he can do as a receiving threat and continue to develop that part of his game. Being placed on injured reserve seems far more likely as far as Telfer getting a chance to develop, but there does not appear to be much in terms of threats to beat him out for a fourth tight end on the roster at this point. If he is waived, he may be a good candidate to make it to the practice squad.
In their first pick of the seventh round, the Browns picked up Telfer’s teammate Hayes Pullard. Pullard is an athletic inside linebacker that has a ton of playing experience from his time at USC. He has the size to be an every down backer at 240lbs but is athletic enough to help in coverage. At the Senior Bowl, Pullard showed to be the most capable coverage linebacker of the players invited.
As a result, Pullard could be a player utilized on passing downs along with Chris Kirksey when they want to give Karlos Dansby a chance to catch his breath. Pullard is a pretty rangy athlete but his instincts and angles make him play faster on the field than testing would indicate. He should also be able to find a home on special teams.
The biggest area Pullard has to improve is when it comes to playing the run. For USC, Pullard was a read and react, run and chase backer. The Browns are hoping he can be more assertive and attack more running plays downhill than wait for them to come to him to make tackles (think Wali Rainer). If Pullard can do that, he could become a terrific value for the Browns because he would then have a chance to be an every down linebacker.
The Browns have a few inside linebackers they like. Dansby is the headliner and the Browns like what they saw in Kirksey as a rookie and expect him to keep getting better. They still have and like Craig Robertson is their primary backup to be a pure run stopper, but he is pretty awful in coverage. The last guy they had on the roster was Tank Carder, who mostly played special teams. If Pullard is unable to beat Carder out, he really does not deserve a roster spot. Nevertheless, Pullard’s talent would seemingly be a safe bet to win out simply because of his versatility.
With the last pick of their draft, the Browns took a low risk, high reward stash player in Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, cornerback from Oregon. As a junior and then as a senior, Olomu was arguably the best cover corner in either draft. Unfortunately, in practice preparing for the College Football Playoff, Olomu suffered an ACL tear that was far worse than the traditional injury. The reason that Olomu was sitting there in round 7 is there are enough teams that think there is a legitimate chance that Olomu may never play a down in the NFL.
For the Browns, they obviously adore corners, but whether it is one year or the Browns are looking at a two year plan with Olomu, the payoff could be huge. Olomu showed terrific feet and top end speed with the ability to make plays on the ball and was a threat to take it all the way when he caused turnovers. If he can get back to being 100% or close to it, the Browns could have a superstar to play in the slot, where Olomu would be the most likely fit in this defense.
It is also possible that Olomu could be a free safety even though he has never done it to this point. Olomu is extremely intelligent and a hard worker, so if he can come back, the Browns have a ton of options with how they would want to use him. Slot corner seems the most likely, but he is a potential impact player regardless. Again, it is a pretty safe bet that the Browns will put him on injured reserve this year and may either do it again the following season or put him on PUP. If it works out, it is a huge addition and if not, the Browns used a seventh round pick to make the gamble. It is difficult to complain about the move.
Rather than going through all of the undrafted free agents the Browns brought in, there is one that stands out as particularly interesting. The Browns signed two Kansas Jayhawks, who seem to have something special going on with their strength and conditioning program. One of the players they are bringing in is the stud athlete, Jimmay Mundine. He is getting a look as another player that could play the F position for the Browns.
At 6’1.5” 240lbs, Mundine ran a 4.6 40, put up a 6.98 3 cone, a 4.34 short shuttle, had a 38” vertical, 10’1” broad jump and had 20 reps on the bench press. From a pure athletic standpoint, the sky appears to be the limit for Mundine. He was also productive for the Jayhawks, catching 45 passes for 584 yards and 3 touchdowns in 12 games this past season. In all, he played 45 games for Kansas and caught a total of 11 touchdowns for his career. Maybe Mundine never amounts to anything but for what the Browns want at the F position as well as pure upside and athleticism, Mundine is a guy worth keeping an eye on to see if he can make it to training camp and then ultimately stick on the roster.
On the whole, the Browns draft weekend lacked flash but was pretty specific in the overall goal. Give Pettine the tools to make his defense actually work while securing the offensive line and running game to ensure the team can do as much as possible offensively without having an elite passing threat. The Browns want to be able to dictate pace on both sides of the ball and keep themselves in the game as long as possible, so that they can always give themselves a shot to win at the end, which is what they did last year until Mack went down.
Overall, the draft looks successful in what they are trying to do even if not everyone is going to be a huge success. It would not be a surprise of a pass rushing linebacker continues to be a need going into next year along with quarterback, a top wide receiver, a purer pass catching threat at tight end and a developmental left tackle as the top needs for this team, but obviously things could change and more needs could pop up as this season progresses.
Unfortunately for the Browns, the ceiling of this team may be somewhat low until they are able to get a legitimate threat at the quarterback position, which could make this build slightly more plodding than fans would hope.
Nevertheless, the Browns were able to go 7-9 against a soft schedule with a sieve of a defense and no consistency on offense, so there is reason to be hopeful if they can be stout on defense and at least consistent running the football on offense.