With no inside knowledge to the Browns’ plans, my hypothesis was that last season, the first for the current front office and coaching staff, was about establishing a foundation – a group of players with high football IQ and character, with mostly successful college careers, who may not ever be high-ceiling starters but would definitely be “glue guys” and rotational players that filled out the depth chart. If need be, outside of Corey Coleman, the players taken last year can do a job in a crunch. I didn’t agree with many of the values of the players taken, but I believe I understand the Browns’ thought processes behind the selections. This past offseason we saw the Browns take a major step toward rebuilding with the upgrades they made throughout the roster, specifically their offensive line. That leads me to believe that this draft is Phase 2 of their plan, which is where they reach for future cornerstone franchise players. For almost two decades the Cleveland Browns have tried to take the shortcut to rebuilding, and it appears that this regime is doing it right. They’ve mostly burned the roster down and are repairing it the way it has needed to be repaired. If the Browns and this current regime are fighting for the playoffs in three seasons, it’ll be because of what they do in this class, and if this experiment fails, this draft will be the reason.
Because of my fascination with the Browns, I wanted to dissect what each pick might look like and potentially cast some clarity on how they might attack this draft. I would expect that their draft board is likely bigger than more established teams with lesser needs, so at each pick I’ve given them plenty of options. Even if the actual player considered isn’t available, the position and value of the position is what should be considered. Below I’ve highlighted each positional need and why they may choose to address it during this draft, and when they might look to do so.
From reading the tea leaves, taking in as much information from outside sources as possible, and investigating the Browns’ processes all that I can from the outside looking in, this is anatomy of the Cleveland Browns 2017 Draft:
- Quarterbacks – Cody Kessler is a fine stop-gap for 2017 and going forward, but he’s a contextual starter at best, which is someone a team can win with if all the pieces are in place, but not someone who will be the reason a team wins. I wouldn’t mind him as a short-term starter, but Cleveland must find a franchise quarterback eventually.
- Edge Rusher – Transitioning from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense, Cleveland has made wholesale changes along their defensive front. Carl Nassib and Emmanuel Ogbah are quality complementary players, but neither are a cornerstone edge rusher, which is what the Browns must acquire if they’re going to eventually take the leap into playoff discussion.
- Cornerback – Joe Haden and Jamar Taylor are not long-term options at corner, and with the group of 2017 Draft cornerbacks combined with Cleveland possessing five picks within the first three rounds, I expect them to snag a future starter before Day 2 is over.
- Safety – Cleveland could look to upgrade both free and strong safety spots, and given how I believe the tiers of this position sets up, there should be at least one player worth each pick in the first three rounds excluding #1 overall.
- Defensive Tackle – Danny Shelton has nose tackle locked down, but the Browns need a 3 technique to pair beside him in their new front. The depth of the defensive tackle class is in the mid-rounds, but if this position is prioritized, there should be a couple of options at #33 or #52.
- Outside Linebacker – Jamie Collins is sensational, but for base downs Cleveland could look to find someone to compliment him. This position could be considered a need that isn’t as prioritized because of all the sub-package played in today’s NFL and the emergence of Christian Kirksey at inside linebacker.
- Running Back – Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson are both nice players, and while each play a different style I would classify both as complementary backs more than bell-cow starters. Adding a running back will really depend on how much Cleveland values the top-end talent at the position. They could reach early or wait until Day 3 where the depth of this class is.
- Tight End – Gary Barnidge is 31 and Seth DeValve is mostly an unknown. I don’t think this is a must-address position for Cleveland, but would not be surprised if they took advantage of the value of one at some point in the draft.
- Wide Receiver – The Browns drafted four wideouts last season, including Corey Coleman, and balanced out losing Terrelle Pryor for Kenny Britt, but I am still not sold on the unit outside of Coleman.
- Right Tackle – In one offseason the Browns totally remade their offensive line, adding J.C. Tretter and Kevin Zeitler to the left side combo of Joe Thomas and Joel Bitonio. Suddenly a major weakness is a huge strength, but questions remain at right tackle, where Cam Erving and Shon Coleman are currently slotted to battle it out. Maybe those two are fine to lock down that spot long-term, but if the Browns’ front office isn’t sold, I wouldn’t rule out them bringing in someone else to compete.
The only option: Myles Garrett, Edge Defender, Texas A&M
The pick must be Myles Garrett and it shouldn’t be all that discussed. The most important thing the Browns can do is build a team rather than worrying about the demand to pigeonhole a quarterback that doesn’t belong at the 1st overall pick. Switching to a 4-3 defense, Garrett is going to be the starting weak-side rusher Week 1 and he should lock that spot down for a decade. Elite pass rushers are the second most valuable position in football behind quarterbacks, and by every statistical and analytical metric, Myles Garrett is the top 1% of special prospects at his position. The pick of Garrett represents the cornerstone of the foundation to future Browns success. No other player in this class would get the benefit of the doubt going ahead of him.
Option 1: Patrick Mahomes, Quarterback, Texas Tech
Option 2: Mitchell Trubisky, Quarterback, North Carolina
Option 3: Deshaun Watson, Quarterback, Clemson
Option 4: O.J. Howard, Tight End, Alabama
Option 5: Marshon Lattimore/Gareon Conley, Cornerbacks, Ohio State
Option 6: Malik Hooker, Safety, Ohio State
Option 7: Jonathan Allen, Defensive Line, Alabama
The Pick: Patrick Mahomes, Quarterback, Texas Tech
I have no insider knowledge of this pick, but if Mahomes is available at #12, I believe he should be the pick. I’ll circle back to why, but I want to address the other options first.
With Trubisky, the smoke is that Cleveland will trade up to take him at either #5 or #7, or will select him at #12 if he falls. While that shouldn’t be totally ruled out, trading up seems to cut against the grain of the Browns’ (small sample size) strategy – they traded down multiple times in 2015. Trubisky also raises a flag because he only had 13 career starts at North Carolina, whereas rookie starters Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan were multi-year starts and captains of their respective teams. It appears Cleveland appreciates experience and leadership – which isn’t to say Trubisky isn’t a leader and can’t succeed in time, it’s that he has proven the least to this point in his career. So when you consider Cleveland trading up for a more inexperienced quarterback, that’s antithetical all around.
For Watson, there’s little to argue against except one thing: multiple advanced models dislike him as a long-term starter, and he even failed my own model, which is derived of subjective components as well as things like SEMTEX. And obviously the Browns aren’t making their decisions off my or any other third party model, but we do know they are analytic so maybe their own models dislike Deshaun. That’s not a question I can answer but it is worth considering. He is an option, undoubtedly.
O.J. Howard is the real wildcard at #12 because of how uniquely talented he is, combined with Cleveland coaching him in January at the Senior Bowl. Howard is the first prospect that makes us consider what might happens if the Browns don’t go quarterback at #12 and look instead to continuing to build up their roster with foundational players. Drafting Howard shows two things: First, that Cleveland isn’t sold on a franchise quarterback at this pick and are content, at worst, to ride with Cody Kessler as a stop-gap. Second, it would show that the Browns are past the days of trying to place Band-Aids on severed limbs – Howard would be a pick that past regimes wouldn’t make due to fear of not taking the player / position they were supposed to take. He would signify that Cleveland is in it for the long haul with the front office and coaching staff.
Similarly, any of the three Ohio State defensive backs I highlighted would represent, to a different degree, the same sentiment. Lattimore and Conley could end up as shutdown corners, something 2014 pick Justin Gilbert certainly didn’t do, and something that Joe Haden is likely past his prime of being. Malik Hooker would give the Browns a potential elite center fielder to cover the backend of the defense. If any defensive back is chosen, it shows the Browns are serious about shutting down opposing offenses as much as possible while they build their offense along the way.
Lastly, I don’t think it’s fair to completely rule out Alabama’s Jonathan Allen. He would be an undersized defensive tackle, but Gregg Williams would know how to coach someone like him from his time with the Rams and Aaron Donald. Allen playing alongside Danny Shelton and Myles Garrett would remove any pressure for him to be the dominant player along the line, and – in a more complementary role – he could really shine. The question is, where is taking a complementary style defensive tackle so high a good value? Another unanswerable question worth pondering.
So why will Patrick Mahomes be the pick at #12? I can’t say for certain, but I will make the case for it. Firstly, no one in this draft has more arm talent, a trait that cannot be taught. An arm can be trained to get incrementally stronger over time, but it cannot be taught to be as strong as Mahomes’s is and it can’t be taught to do the things that Mahomes’s does. His background in pitching combined with favorable genetics and a brash nature that demands appreciation allows him to throw passes that 99% of other quarterbacks simply wouldn’t try. I talk a lot about the inappreciation of quarterback who will take the throw – not make it, take it. Mahomes will take any throw and with a quarterback coach like Hue Jackson, who’s going to give his guy opportunities to be successful anyway, Patrick Mahomes’s ability to thrive outside of the normal construct of the offense with the arm talent he possesses would wind up being what Hue Jackson was hoping to get a year ago with Robert Griffin IIII plus more. If Cleveland is secure with this process compounding at the rate it needs to, and are in it for the big payoff down the road, Mahomes is the quarterback that they have to take at #12. Cody Kessler can start early on in 2017 if need be, but I don’t see the broken, moldable prospect in Patrick Mahomes that many make him out to be. If there is a franchise quarterback in this class who could check every box in three years, it’s him. And for the first time in so, so long this pick wouldn’t be forcing the issue at the position, it would be capitalizing on chance that does not come along often. Will Patrick Mahomes be the pick? I cannot say for certain. Should he be the pick? Absolutely.
Option 1: DeShone Kizer, Quarterback, Notre Dame
Option 2: Joe Mixon, Running Back, Oklahoma
Option 3: Dalvin Cook, Running Back, Florida State
Option 4: Malik McDowell, Defensive Line, Michigan State
Option 5: Chris Wormley, Defensive Line, Michigan
Option 6: Tyus Bowser, Linebacker, Houston
Option 7: Quincy Wilson, Cornerback, Florida
Option 8: Chidobe Awuzie, Cornerback, Colorado
Option 9: Marcus Williams, Safety, Utah
Option 10: Budda Baker, Safety, Washington
The pick if Cleveland passes on a quarterback at #12: Deshone Kizer, Quarterback, Notre Dame
Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer could very well be the pick (and one of the better values in the draft). I believe Kizer has two flaws: accuracy and mental processing. The accuracy is something that Cleveland would likely have to live with to a certain extent, but can get better in time, especially if Kizer sits behind Kessler initially. The mental processing deficiency isn’t meant as a slight or in the typical nature of the term – the literal meaning is that a player does not and likely cannot possess the processing to read, react, and perform at an optimal level. With Kizer, I think he can do those things because I’ve seen him do them at a high level before. I just don’t think he has ideal mental processing right now after a tumultuous year with Brian Kelly. Towards the end of the season Kizer teetered between gun shy and erratic, which I believe was caused by being in his own head worrying about Kelly on the sidelines. Quicksand for quarterbacks isn’t something easily erased, but with Hue Jackson’s teachings and being able to sit and learn, I believe the confidence and proper processing can be retrained and eventually, DeShone Kizer could flourish.
Option 1: D’Onta Foreman, Running Back, Texas
Option 2: Chris Godwin, Wide Receiver, Penn State
Option 2: Josh Reynolds, Wide Receiver, Texas A&M
Option 4: Bucky Hodges, Tight End, Virginia Tech
Option 5: Antonio Garcia, Offensive Tackle, Troy
Option 6: Takk McKinley, Outside Linebacker, UCLA
Option 7: Adoree’ Jackson, Cornerback, USC
Option 1: Justin Evans, Safety, Texas A&M
Option 2: Sidney Jones, Cornerback, Washington
Option 3: Larry Ogunjobi, Defensive Tackle, UNC-Charlotte
Option 4: Caleb Brantley, Defensive Tackle, Florida
Option 5: Duke Riley, Linebacker, LSU
4th – 6th Round
With 11 picks in total and six coming in rounds 4-6, I expect the Browns to be aggressive in one way or another, whether it be using these Day 3 picks to move up and secure a coveted player, or maybe they see a need to trade down and out of the 2017 Draft and start collecting extra picks for the 2018 Draft. Having drafted 12 players last year and keeping them all on the roster, it seems unlikely (though I’m not ruling it out) for the Browns to select and keep 11 players in this draft plus any undrafted free agents they bring in.
Two options at each positional need for the Browns in rounds 4-6, based off athletic testing, on-field performance, and/or known football-character:
- Quarterback: Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee; Davis Webb, Cal
- Running Back: James Conner, Pittsburgh; Chris Carson, Oklahoma State
- Wide Receiver: Ryan Switzer, North Carolina; Malachi Dupree, LSU
- Tight End: George Kittle, Iowa; Jonnu Smith, FIU
Right Tackle: Julie’n Davenport, Bucknell; Conor McDermott, UCLA
- Defensive Line: Eddie Vanderdoes, UCLA; Treyvon Hester, Toledo
- Outside Linebacker: Jordan Evans, Oklahoma; Carroll Phillips, Illinois
- Cornerback: Xavier Coleman, Portland State; Brandon Wilson, Houston
- Safety: Xavier Woods, Louisiana Tech; Montae Nicholson, Michigan State