For years now, the NFL draft has been the Super Bowl to Browns fans. We know that we aren’t going to make a playoff run just yet, but we know we’re right on the cusp – if we nail this draft then we’re right in the conversation!
And then the wheels fall off, coaches are fired, players give up and we reboot the whole thing like the Spiderman franchise. But not like the great Spiderman movies (looking at you Tom Holland), but the black eyeliner-wearing, angsty Toby McGuire Spiderman movies.
I love football, especially the Browns, as a native Clevelander. Lately, Browns football has been really exciting, because it seems like we’re so close right now. I’ve been following the Browns since the early 90’s, and that’s about my only credential. I’m not a journalist, I’m not an analyst, and hell, I only played one year of organized football at any level (club football at Wright State University. I know you’re impressed). I’m just a fan.
I wasn’t alive for The Drive or The Fumble, but as a proper Clevelander, I grew up hating the Broncos. I remember my grandfather telling me that the Browns were moving, and I remember the rebirth with Tim Couch and Butch Davies. I met Josh Cribbs once, and I even had my photo taken with Kellen Winslow Jr. when he came into the Panera I worked at in high school (YIKES).
In recent years, we’ve hit on some picks like Joe Haden, Alex Mack and first ballot Hall of Famer Joe Thomas. However, we’ve also had our busts. And oh boy, have we had our busts. I’m not on a word count here, but let’s all agree that we understand how well we’ve drafted over the past 30 years.
So here we are. It’s 2020 and everything is going according to plan.
Alright, but for real, here are some actual thoughts on the 2020 NFL Draft that are mostly my own, with some technical notes primarily from NFL.com on their draft site.
We entered with some obvious areas of need in the form of offensive line, notably left tackle and right guard, linebacker, and wide receiver. We had already been active in free agency and we still have a ton of cap space left (about $38.5 million after the resigning of Rashard Higgins). I assumed that we would go for an offensive lineman with our first-round pick unless we traded for Trent Williams, but other than that I really didn’t know how things would shake out. Let’s take a look pick by pick:
Round 1, Pick 10: Jedrick Wills, Offensive Tackle, Alabama
Wills was arguably the top OT going into the draft, and one of four that were likely going to be available at pick 10. He played RT in college, but he’ll be tasked with making the switch to LT as we signed Jack Conklin in the offseason. There’s always a debate about how well someone can make the switch from right tackle to left tackle, but Joe Thomas was absolutely ecstatic about the pick, and is on the record as being happy and willing to help Wills make the transition. New Head Coach Kevin Stefanksi’s zone offense is going to help make things easier as well, and Wills already has experience with blind side protection as his college quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa, was a lefty. Physically, Wills is a monster: he’s strong, he’s wide, and he’s got great feet and footwork. He’s shorter than average tackles in the NFL, but he makes up for that with that great footwork and active hands. Going into draft night I had no idea which tackle we would end up with, I figured that Wills would have been gone by 10 and we would pick between Andrew Thomas, Tristan Wirfs, or Mekhi Becton. Thomas went early to the Giants, Wirfs is considered an athletic beast, and Becton is absolutely enormous with a 7-foot wingspan. I wouldn’t have been upset with any one of these guys, but Joe Thomas did a ton of work scouting these guys (check out his Twitter page if you haven’t seen it, it’s great stuff) and his conclusion was that Wills was the best tackle coming out this year. I’m going to go with Joe on this one, great pick.
Round 2, Pick 44: Grant Delpit, Safety, LSU
I didn’t watch day two of the draft, but I got a text from a good friend clear out of the blue that night that said “Go to hell.” Naturally, I assumed this meant we got someone he wanted (he’s a Tampa Bay fan, we often commiserate together). Turns out that someone was Delpit, and I was pleased he was going to be rocking Brown and Orange and not going to the Tampa Bay
Patriots, ahem, Bucs. I left safety off of my “areas of need” list, but honestly you could have thrown it in there. We swapped safeties with the Oakland Raiders when we signed their former first-round draft pick Karl Joseph to a one-year deal, and they signed Damarious Randall. We also signed former Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo to a one-year contract. Clearly the idea was to sign some capable veterans to short term deals as a stop gap until we can find someone to move into the role for the long term. We have JT Hassell under contract, and frankly I don’t know anything about him. We also have last year’s fourth-round draft pick Sheldrick Redwine. With Joseph and Sendejo likely getting the most playing time, and Redwine expanding his role, Delpit will have a chance to learn as a backup and then show what he can do next year. He’ll be great in run defense as he’s physical and able to get downhill fast, and he’s not afraid to hit anyone coming across the middle. The downside, however, is that tackling is a concern for him. Whether it’s in wrapping up an offensive player, or lacking the size to avoid bouncing off the ball carrier, I wouldn’t be surprised if he has plenty of tackling drills in his very near future.
Round 3, Pick 88: Jordan Elliot, Defensive Tackle, Texas
Elliot was another strong pick in my mind, this time in terms of talent instead of need. Our interior defensive line is strong – Sheldon Richardson was last year’s big free agency signing, and Larry Ogunjobi is getting better every year. We also signed former Bengal Andrew Billings this offseason, and that was a sneaky good move. Elliot will start the year lower on the depth chart but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him rise quickly. He can control gaps well, and he’s pretty quick with both his hands and feet. According to Lance Zierlein’s analysis on NFL.com, he’s a little slow off the snap and will run out of steam while in pursuit. That said, there is plenty of upside to him as he was graded as a round two or three type of player and he won’t have to start right away.
Round 3, Pick 97: Jacob Phillips, Linebacker, LSU
According to most draft experts, Phillips was the lone reach of the Browns draft. Considered to be a depth/developmental pick, the third round is a bit high for Phillips, even though he’s smart, he’s a team guy, and he makes tackles. Unfortunately, he isn’t particularly physically imposing and will have a hard time avoiding/shedding blocks. With all that being said, this was definitely a pick of need over talent. After losing Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey in the offseason the Browns are thin at LB. BJ Goodson was signed to a one-year deal and will help bridge the gap as we see how Phillips develops. In the meantime, get ready for even more Mack Wilson (who I LOVE by the way) and Sione Takitaki.
Round 4, Pick 115: Harrison Bryant, Tight End, Florida Atlantic University
Initially, this pick was puzzling for me. The Browns still have Stephen Carlson on the roster, resigned Pharoah Brown pre-draft, have a healthy David Njoku (for now, fingers crossed), and just made Austin Hooper the highest paid tight end in NFL history. That being said, depth at tight end is going to be important for us this year. Stefanski is going to run a lot of two TE sets, and it won’t be a surprise if they even line up three at times. Njoku is a phenomenal athlete, but his ability to stay healthy and on the field has been a problem. I’m not sure if Carlson and Bryant will be duking it out for the fourth TE spot on the roster, or if we’ll actually go so far as to carry all five guys as injury insurance. Bryant was an AP All American and Mackey Award winner (best TE in the nation) in his last season, not too bad for a converted offensive tackle. He’s another depth/developmental guy, but that makes sense for a day three pick.
Round 5, Pick 160: Nick Harris, Center, Washington
I will never argue about adding depth to the offensive line. While he played a few games at guard during his freshman season, he’s seen almost exclusively as a center in the NFL. I didn’t know much about Harris so I looked him up on the NFL’s prospect site, and according to Lance Zierlein Harris, he is prone to causing false starts amongst teammates as he hesitates to snap the ball on occasions. He also looks to be a bit grabby as he holds onto defenders when he gets beat. With that said, he has strong footwork, good speed, and he can get to the next level by taking good angles and refusing to give up on plays. With a mentor like current Browns center JC Tretter he could become a strong back up.
Round 6, Pick 187: Donovan Peoples-Jones, Wide Receiver, Michigan
I have been on record as wanting the Browns to resign Rashard Higgins for ages now – I think he can be a great WR3 and he has a strong relationship with Baker. But why am I talking about Higgins when we drafted Donavon Peoples-Jones? Because at the time of the draft Higgins hadn’t resigned yet, and I was pretty stoked on this pick. By now you may have even heard Urban Meyer call Peoples-Jones a steal of the draft and that he should have been a top 10 pick. If we’re being very honest there’s no way a top 10 guy slides to the sixth round unless there are extreme character concerns, something that Peoples-Jones certainly does not have. Michigan did not do Peoples-Jones any favors during his tenure there. He was the top-ranked WR recruit coming out of high school and proceeded to have a rather uneventful three years in college. He has strong footwork and he’s big – something that helps him break tackles and even block pretty well on the edge for running plays. He isn’t great off the line, and he’s not considered to be very quick or fast. Most draft experts had Peoples-Jones going in the fourth round give or take, so the fact that we got him in the sixth shows some great value. Not all sixth-round picks make the team, but with our thin WR corps he may have a shot, and I really hope he does.