It’s March 13th, 2019. NFL fans around the globe are anxious about the first day of free agency. It has become a holiday for football fans for several years now, but particularly for Cleveland Browns fans. It tends to be the only consistent time the Browns look good in front of the rest of the league. They’ll walk away with 2 or 3 of the top 10 free agents in hopes these players can change their environment for good. Little did the fans know, the Browns were about to make their big move the night before the new offseason began.
Right before many fans went to bed that night, news broke that shook Cleveland, the NFL, and all the world of sports. The Browns just traded for star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. This would be the biggest name in professional sports to come to Cleveland since LeBron James returned in 2014. Christmas came early to The Land. Browns fans began fantasizing about another championship parade for Cleveland. This time in February with the streets filled with orange and brown. The float with the team is coming down Euclid Avenue and fans cheer as Baker Mayfield lifts the Lombardi Trophy to the sky. It would finally happen!! The time of suffering for the Dawg Pound is over!! It’s our turn! Right?!
Well, hopefully one day soon.
It’s December 29th, 2019. Browns fans continue to guzzle down alcohol with their dinner to help ease the pain of a disappointing season. The hopes for a Super Bowl title will have to wait another year. The team only won 6 games and didn’t make the playoffs for what would be the 17th straight season. They ended their 2019 campaign with a loss to the 1-14 Cincinnati Bengals.
Local news erupts during the evenings hours. Owner Jimmy Haslam has fired head coach Freddie Kitchens after one season. This would mean for many of the players it would be their 4th different coach in 3 seasons. But this time, it seems the players are very upbeat about the move. A few days later, general manager John Dorsey resigns. Cleveland would face another Haslam full reset.
It’s March 20th, 2020. The COVID-19 epidemic has cancelled all sporting events. Cleveland sports fans saw the Cavaliers’ season come to a halt and the Indians having to delay Opening Day. New head coach Kevin Stefanski and general manager Andrew Berry have the opportunity to bring the city hope again. The new regime was already different from the others. This Browns team had answer at quarterback and star power many teams would love to acquire. They just needed to fill the rest of the puzzle of what would hopefully be a consistent winner. Easier said then done.
Berry and Stefanski hit the ground running in free agency. They added key veterans to both the offensive line and the defense. They gave Baker Mayfield another offensive weapon in Austin Hooper, who became the highest paid tight end in NFL history when he signed. And just like many other offseasons, the fans were starting to become optimistic again. Once again, the Browns make Cleveland proud. At least for the time being.
Now comes the biggest challenge for the new regime: Draft Day. The past two drafts, John Dorsey was able to find a handful of impactful players that would help change the course of the franchise. However, he also made some bad picks in the mid-rounds that would cost the team an opportunity to add more quality talent to an overall strong roster. Not every team is going to get all their picks right, but the better teams walk away making the best of their picks. It’s been a long time since Cleveland had an overall great draft.
Cleveland’s offseason priority should always be to capitalize on the draft. This draft could be one of the most important moments for the young careers of Kevin Stefanski and Andrew Berry. They have the pieces to be a playoff team now, but need more talent to help guarentee it happens. If they want to see that championship parade sometime in the next 3 years, it starts here. Here my predictions and preferences for the first 4 rounds of the Cleveland Browns 2020 draft:
Key Additions: TE Austin Hooper, T Jake Conklin, FB Andy Janovich, LB B.J. Goodson, QB Case Keenum, CB Donovan Olumba, DT Andrew Billings, S Karl Joseph, CB Kevin Johnson, and DE Adrian Clayborn.
Key Departures: LB Christian Kirksey, LB Joe Schobert, S Damarius Randall, CB TJ Carrie, TE Ricky Seals-Jones, and S Morgan Burnett.
Key Needs: LT, RG, LB, S, and WR
Browns, Round 1 Pick 10
Browns send the 10th and the 97th overall pick to the Philadelphia Eagles for the 21st, 53rd, and the 168th pick along with a 2021 1st rounder.
Making a mock draft is similar to making predictions in the NCAA Basketball Tournament. You think you have a somewhat idea what will happen, and one trade or selection completely throws most of it off. Not that anyone was going to get a multi round prediction 100% correct anyway. Rarely I include trades for the sake of trying not to over complicate things, but this year I’m pretty certain we will see one when the Browns are on the clock.
Let me explain this trade. Browns are sitting in a pretty position in this draft. The mainstream analysts will go on and on about the quarterback class in this draft. What you haven’t heard enough is how deep this year is for offensive tackles and wide receivers. From the 1st round to the 4th round it is loaded with potential starter talent. When the Browns are on the clock they have a critical choice. They have a major hole at left tackle that hasn’t been filled since Joe Thomas retired. There is a good chance that one if not two of the top offensive tackles will be taken before their pick. On the other hand, all the wide receivers are still in play. They could select the top receiver and pair them with Beckham and Landry. Think about it. That’s tempting. Baker wouldn’t know where to start with all that talent. However, the Browns have multiple needs and could use more picks. It is in the front office best interest to trade down.
In Philadelphia, their front office has been working for a while to find Carson Wentz a dynamic wide receiver. There has been plenty of trade talk but no luck. They decide it’s time to go all in and make one of the biggest splashes of the weekend. They want to trade up and select the next star wide receiver that will help bloster their offense for the next 5 or more years. They are moving up 11 spots so they have to send a hefty package of picks to tempt the Browns in trading down to the 21st pick. They will need to present the Browns a similar offer the Atlanta Falcons gave Cleveland in 2011 when they moved up from 27th to 6th to select Julio Jones. Eagles call the Browns to make their aggressive move to get their guy. They will send the 21st pick, their 1st rounder in 2021, their 3rd round pick, and their 5th round pick from New England. Cleveland offers their 97th pick from Houston in the deal for Eagles 2nd round pick instead of taking their 3rd rounder. Philly accepts the edited trade offer and the deal is done. Eagles will land either Jerry Jeudy or CeeDee Lamb and the city of brotherly love will celebrate. Fast forward a little later, the Browns are on the clock at the 21st pick.
Browns, Round 1 Pick 21: T Josh Jones, Houston
One of the top reasons the Browns had such a disappointing season in 2019 was the 29th ranked offensive line. Despite Nick Chubb’s Pro Bowl performance, the offensive line was tough to watch. The Browns can’t walk away from this draft without an answer at left tackle. If they do, you can already write of the next season. Sure you could trade for Trent Williams who wants way too much money or you could offer Jason Peterson a short term deal, but I think it would be best to find an affordable long term answer now.
Jones’ name has remained under the radar as far as offensive tackles go in this draft. An aggressive player with a high motor that gives 100% on every play. No quit in style. He was recruited by former Houston coach Tom Herman and stayed after Herman left for the University of Texas job. His teammates appreciated his loyalty to the program and voted to make him captain his senior season.
Analysts and scouts have stressed he has serious potential but needs to get stronger. Fortunately, Kevin Stefanski hired one of the best offensive line coaches in Bill Callahan who can help prepare Jones for the pro level. He has solid speed but needs to improve on his foot work.
So out of all the offensive line prospects, what made me believe the Browns would select Josh Jones here? Andrew Berry has stated recently he wants to build the team around football players that fit well on and off the field. Jones’ personality and playing style already fits the mold Berry is describing. An upbeat player who is pushing himself and his teammates to perform at the top of their game each day. That includes practice. A perfect locker room guy. On top of that, he is heavily favored in the analytics department. Pro Football Focus rated him the 14th overall player in the class and 4th among offensive line men. Jones is also 1 out of 3 potential 1st round offensive tackles that primary played the left side last season.
There are a few other options here including Boise State tackle Ezra Cleveland and Bama safety Xavier McKinney. Let’s say for a second I’m wrong about the trade with the Eagles and they only trade down a few spots, is Josh Jones still a serious option for Cleveland at that point? Absolutely, but they may trade down again to add some more picks and then select him.
Browns, 2nd Round Pick 41: WR Laviska Shenault Jr., Colorado
I do believe Cleveland will be picking a receiver early in the draft. Outside the LSU brothers they don’t have any serious depth. Shenault is 6’1 with great mix of speed, size, and strength. Highlight reel hands and averaged 24 yards a reception. On paper he looks like a quality addition. The only unfortunate thing about him is the comparisons he’s drawing which include Sammy Watkins and Greg Little. Two college receivers that burned competition in space but didn’t develop well in the NFL.
Browns take a chance on Shenault due to his size and hands. His explosiveness could be useful when defenses are covering Landry and Beckham close. Giving Baker another playmaker on the field should make defenses frustrated.
Browns, 2nd Round Pick 53 (from Eagles): DT Justin Madubuike, Texas A&M
Browns defensive line faced injury issues last season which hurt them the last 6 games. Andrew Berry has added depth via free agency for both defensive end and tackle, but they could use a younger, long-term option on the inside. Sheldon Richardson had a solid first season with Cleveland but who knows how much he has left in the tank. Larry Ogunjobi continues to stay consistent and former Bengal Andrew Billings signed a one year deal. Madubuike is undersized for an NFL defensive tackle but what scouts like about him is his speed and athleticism. One of the better defensive linemen in the class when it comes to pass rush and containing scrambling quarterbacks. Some analysts believe he could be more productive if moved to defensive end. He brings plenty of options but also has plenty of work to prepare for the next level.
Browns, Round 3 Pick 74: LB Akeem Davis Gaither, Appalachian State
As of right now, the Browns have 2 for sure starting linebackers in Mack Wilson and newly acquired B.J. Goodson. Gaither is a tad undersized but makes it up with his speed and athleticism. He had at least 5.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for a loss in both his junior and senior season. A Texas kid who was a former 5 star high school recruit. He would be useful on the outside to help with the pass rush. An explosive prospect that could help Cleveland in the long run.
Browns, Round 4 Pick 115: CB Cameron Dantzler, Mississippi St.
Cleveland added more cornerback back depth in free agency but could use a younger, long-term option. Terrence Mitchell isn’t guarenteed to be on the team on week 1 and Denzel Ward continues to deal with injury issues. Dantzler was one of the toughest cornerbacks in the SEC. He gave both Alabama and LSU issues last season. His man to man coverage ability is off the charts. Analytics department really digs his potential. Some analysts believe he could be picked higher than the 4th round but his tackling issues could make him drop to the lower rounds. There are some questions whether or not he would be a better dime corner than an every down option. If available, Browns take the chance on him here.
Alright, now it’s my turn to be the Browns the first four rounds.
Me, Round 1 Pick 10: T Andrew Thomas, Georgia
Once upon a time, there was a Browns general manager named Phil Savage. He sat in the war room as an assistant gm to the Baltimore Ravens in 1996 when they selected soon-to-be Hall of Famer Jonathan Odgen. The attitude in the room with that pick was to get someone to solidify the offensive line and would be part of the team the next 10 years. Fast forward to 2007 when Savage was running the Browns war room. They are sitting with the 3rd overall pick with some critical roster holes to fill. Despite a questionable quarterback situation, the front office came down to two decisions, Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson and Wisconsin left tackle Joe Thomas. Little did they know they were deciding between two soon-to-be Hall of Famers. When it came down to decision time, Savage told the room if they didn’t solidify the offensive line it wouldn’t matter what else they did that offseason. They wanted a permanent answer for their left tackle position and someone who would be there for the next 10 years. After the Browns selected Joe Thomas with the 3rd overall pick, they went on to have the best offensive line in 2007. Savage’s era in Cleveland did not end well, but he remains one of the better scouts at evaluating talent in the league. His comment about solidifying the offensive line will always remain true when it comes to building a great football team. Browns have not seen an o-line work that well since. Well, it’s time to change that.
Browns haven’t found their answer to left tackle since Joe Thomas retired. It absolutely hurt Baker Mayfield’s game last season and it will continue to until there is some legit protection there. I’m honestly not against trading down due to the Browns have multiple holes that need to be filled. But it is mandatory to find the answer to left tackle this coming draft weekend. If you can find a guarenteed answer at ten then lock him up.
Andrew Thomas was a force in the SEC. The former teammate of Nick Chubb’s excelled in the run game and was solid in pass protection. In Stefanski’s system the Browns will be running the ball more often than the previous few seasons. You won’t see better run blocker in this class than Thomas. I sat and watched much film on the top tackles in this draft. While Tristian Wirfs and Jedrick Willis are hot names, they struggled in key games. While Andrew Thomas gave Alabama and LSU headaches. They struggled to get through the left edge the whole game. On top of all this, the analytics are in his favor as he is rated the top offensive tackle in the class.
Hypothetically, if a team did want to trade up for the pick and the offer was too good to pass up then I would do it. In that scenario, Alabama safety Xavier McKinney would be my pick and I would trade back up to the 1st round to get either Josh Jones or Ezra Cleveland. But all temptation aside, if I’m the Browns sitting at ten and decide to use the pick, I’m putting a Thomas on the left side again. You’re welcome, Baker.
Me, Round 2 Pick 41: WR Tee Higgins, Clemson
I agree with getting a receiver here early in the draft. You need all the receiver depth you can get in this league. Higgins is 6’4 target with decent speed and possession hands. He came in clutch for Clemson down the stretch. He would fit well as the second receiver so the Browns could move Landry in the slot.
Me, Round 3 Pick 74: LB Malik Harrison , Ohio State
As previously mentioned, Browns have a hole at linebacker. Harrison is the makings of a sexy pick. Most Browns fans are Buckeyes fans, he hits really hard, and could fit in either linebacker position. There is some concern about his size but that’s what they said about my dude Mack Wilson last year. Bring in a young force with plenty of potential that will be a fan favorite for the next 5 years or more.
Me, Round 3 Pick 97 (from Texans): S Jeremy Chinn, Southern Illinois
Every year there is a draft prospect I really like that could go as high as the first round or as low as the sixth. This year, it’s Jeremy Chinn. I have seen some mock drafts where he falls around the 3rd or 4th round. I did see one claiming the Tennessee Titans were drafting him with their first pick. No matter where he goes, he has the physical gifts to be a dynamic safety in the NFL. The issue that’s putting his stock in limbo is his extremely low football IQ. Usually, that is something I would ask the Browns to move on from a prospect at that point. They’ve been hurt enough by that in the past. But not many of these players with low football IQs have the skill set this kid provides. Cleveland needs a long term option at safety and more playmakers on defense. Draft him and have him spend extra time with coaches, veterans, and in the film room. In the case he is not available here, I would go with Kentucky guard Logan Stenberg.
Me, Round 4 Pick 115: LB Joe Bachie, Michigan State
Back in 2016, the Browns were linebacker needy and there was a Big Ten prospect out of Wisconsin named Joe Schobert I really liked. Watching his film I just thought he would fit perfectly in Cleveland. As luck would have it, the Browns agreed with me and took him in the 4th round. He was an impact player and a leader in the locker room. Unfortunately, Andrew Berry was unwilling to meet his price and he signed with Jacksonville. I’m encouraging the Browns again to go with a Big Ten linebacker in the 4th round. Bachie meets the standard of a Browns linebacker. Hard hitting, leader, and has played his whole playing career in nasty mid-west weather. A group with him, Malik Harrison, B.J. Goodson, and Mack Wilson gives the linebacker group a serious chance. Other options to consider with this pick or later rounds include Oregon guard Shane Lemieux and Fresno State guard Netane Muti. Browns still need answer for right guard.