2020 Browns Draft Review: The Joke Is Over In Cleveland

For decades the Cleveland Browns were the laughing stock of the NFL. The 2019 season was supposed to change that, with the addition of Odell Beckham, Jr. and the emergence of Baker Mayfield, they were primed for a playoff appearance. However, like so many great jokes, the set up just helped create laughs when the joke was delivered. Now, with a new GM and head coach, it seems (maybe?) the Browns finally got things figured out. After a strong free agency period, they followed up with one of the best draft classes of the year. Rather than going for the splashy names like the previous regime, they found a middle ground between the best player available and need. They face stiff competition in their division, but Cleveland may soon have a winner, which would be in part to this draft class. 

1.10 Jedrick Wills, OT Alabama

It was no secret that one of the Browns biggest weaknesses on last year’s team was the offensive line, which acted more like swiss cheese than the brick wall it’s supposed to be. So, when one of, if not the best tackle prospect who should have been a top-five pick, dropped to ten it was a sign that the football Gods were smiling on Cleveland. While Wills played on the right side in college, he will more than likely take over the spot vacated by Cheech and Chong Greg Robinson who is no longer with the team and did a poor job last season, forcing Baker to be rushed into many throws or having to take a sack. With established right tackle Jack Conklin on the team, it makes more sense to keep him comfortable there and grow with your tackle of the future on the left side. While you may think it’s an easy transition moving from the right, it’s not as seamless as one would think, particularly in footwork, and with OTA’s not happening, so Wills might show some growing pains early. However, in short order, he will rise to the ranks of best blindside protectors in the league. He’s a physical, no-nonsense tone-setter that has the athletic and technical skills you look for. No other tackle in this year’s class, or the previous year’s class for that matter, has the ability to use his hands and feet better than Wills. Whether he’s exploding off the ball or using his hands to stabilize a bull rush, there’s really nothing he can’t do. Long-term he’s going to become a tackle you can trust in one on ones, no need for a tight end to stay in or help chip. That’s the best quality a team can ask for in a tackle, and the Browns now have that again. The team has quickly turned a weakness into a strength, following the recipe that wins are built in the trenches, and protecting your most valuable asset is of the utmost importance. 

2.44 Grant Delpit, S LSU

Drafting a top-ten player in terms of talent in the second round? That’s an absolute win. I’m a huge Delpit fan and think he’s going to be an impact player for many years. Yes, he wasn’t as good this past season as he was in 2018 but he was still good enough to win the Thorpe Award, given to the nation’s best secondary player. Teams, sometimes rightfully, decide to overanalyze the faults in players rather than the things they do well. Delpit has great size and athleticism that enables him to play either safety spot in most schemes, however, the Browns are likely to play him at free safety which would better utilize his talents. He displays great range and football IQ that allows him to quickly diagnose plays and be in the right position more often than not. The safety position has been the Browns version of a revolving door the past few seasons, having no stability whatsoever. Currently, the team has Andrew Sendejo and Karl Joseph as presumed starters, but neither has shown any promise of being good NFL starters. Thus, Delpit becomes the new favorite to start. Both of the aforementioned veterans are more thumpers, while that’s Delpit’s weakness. His broken collarbone injury in 2018 had seemingly a physiological impact on his game as in 2019, he seemed to shy away from contact more and missed tackles due to poor tackling mechanics. Delpit’s strength though is his coverage ability and versatility in the back end. I would suspect that Delpit starts week one at safety and becomes a good starter immediately. When/if he can fix his tackling problems, he instantly becomes a secondary chess piece. Line him up at either spot, play center field or in the box, blitz, line him up in man against the tight ends, the possibilities are endless. 

3.88 Jordan Elliot, DL Missouri

After going with two accomplished players, Browns decided to get a lottery ticket with their third pick. Elliot has the look you want in a player, tall and muscular, but leaves a lot to be desired in terms of production. Right now he’s as raw as an uncooked steak and needs a lot of coaching up on simple things, all of which are fixable. He’ll get bullied way too often than he should be, which is more than likely because of poor functional strength. A way to improve this would be to keep your pad level lower and be stronger with your hands, both skills that could develop within a few years. The thing that Elliot does well is occupying blockers and keeping gap integrity, a vital quality that a defensive lineman needs. The Browns currently have Sheldon Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi ahead of him, letting Elliot the ability to develop this season. However, both of the previously mentioned veterans could be gone after the season. Richardson is solid, but expensive, and might not be worth keeping around at eleven million dollars a year. Ogunjobi has been good but is a free agent after the season. Personally, I think Elliot will need more than just one season to become an NFL starter as he’s a project now, but the new regime in Cleveland feels like they can sculpt him into a solid player.

3.97 Jacob Phillips, LB LSU

The Browns linebacking corp is in a bit of transition with the loss of leading tackler and middle linebacker, Joe Schobert, and don’t have a surefire replacement. Mack Wilson started and performed well for a fifth-round rookie a season ago and are scheduled to roll with Sione Takitaki, a third-round pick from a season ago, at middle linebacker but still need some depth and competition at the position. Enter former LSU tiger, Jacob Phillips. He played a bit in Patrick Queen’s shadow but was the leading tackler on the national championship team. While he does struggle in pass coverage, due to the fact he has trouble reading quarterbacks eyes and processing opponents routes, he is a great run defender. Will be aggressive as he flows to the ball and not afraid of getting physical with blockers. His role early might be at SAM, where his focus will be to engage with tight ends and tackles trying to blow up a run play, but his speed and tackling abilities show he has the chance to be a long-term solution in the middle. In a division now where you have to face Lamar Jackson twice a year, you’re going to need athletic linebackers who will move sideline to sideline. This is an upside pick, but if Phillips can speed up his mental processing and become a better overall football player, he has the chance to carve out a role on this defense. At worst, he becomes a special team standout. 

4.115 Harrison Bryant, TE Florida Atlantic 

On paper, this pick was confusing. Yes, Bryant is a very talented player worthy of a fourth-round selection but the Browns already have a great one-two punch with Austin Hooper and David Njoku. One would figure that the Browns would run more two tight end sets, which perfectly suits their style of play. In a two tight end formation, you can’t focus on the run or pass, so a creative offensive mind will be able to keep the defense on their toes. Last season, with Stefanksi calling the plays, went two tight ends with Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith, and Hooper and Njoku are a major upgrade over that duo. There are rumors that Njoku is on the trade block which inserts Bryant into this scenario. If Njoku is moved, Bryant starts to see a lot more snaps. Bryant would be utilized as a more move tight end/h-back, even lining up at fullback at times. He’s not a great blocker and would struggle against defensive linemen and possibly even stronger linebackers. I would like to see him be used frequently moving in motion and as a field stretcher in the play-action game. Hopefully, the Browns keep Njoku for one more season to see that tight end duo play together, but if not then Bryant will see a good amount of playing time. 

5.160 Nick Harris, C Washington

Versatile? Check. Athletic? Check. Smart? Check. If a player has those three qualities, more likely than not they’ll be a pro in this league for a long time. Harris checks all those boxes and while he might not necessarily see the field right off the bat, he can fill in at any spot across the interior offensive line. The Browns are pretty good in the trenches with J.C. Tretter, Wyatt Teller, and Joel Bitonio but every team is always one injury away from a completely different outlook. While Harris may never be a consistent starter, he’s never going to be a detriment to his team. He’s quite small for a lineman, maybe one of the smallest in the league at 6-1 295 pounds, but makes up for it in quickness and IQ. At Washington, he was often used as a puller or in double teams before moving to the second level to block a linebacker. In short-yardage situations and it came to power running, he would get overwhelmed with speed and length of defensive tackles. His length and lack of strength will be the thing that holds him back, but that still doesn’t mean he can’t play. He has a high IQ which is displayed in making line changes and in almost always making the right block. At the worst, the Browns have a pretty cheap, high-level depth player at a position where injuries are unfortunately very common. While the plan may not be for Harris to see a lot of playing time, I’d bet over the next four seasons he will make more than a handful of starts and do a good job at it. 

6.187 Donovan Peoples-Jones, WR Michigan

As I mentioned previously, the Browns do not have a legit third receiver at the moment. Guys like Rashard Higgins, Taywan Taylor, KhaDarel Hodge, and Damion Ratley are in the running for it, but none have proven themselves to be consistent producers. Higgins and Taylor have had flashes of being good receivers, but both probably will never strike fear in the opposing team’s eye. Peoples-Jones, on the other hand, has the chance to have a good pro career. Out of high school, he was a highly-touted prospect and then fell flat at Michigan. The offense wasn’t a pass friendly one and struggled with poor quarterback play over his three seasons. Peoples-Jones does have a lot of things you look for in a receiver: size, athleticism, route running, and an alpha male attitude. He’s going to give full effort whether he’s blocking or showing toughness with the ball in his hands. The general consensus would be his future is working in the slot where he’s going to have a free release off the line then use his athletic ability to get open. I think he will have a relatively small role in the offense as a rookie and contribute on special teams, where he has experience as a punt returner. Let him spend some time learning about how to be a receiver and slowly work his way into getting snaps. The question that will soon be answered though is whether it was Michigan that held back Peoples-Jones from reaching his potential or is it that Peoples-Jones just isn’t a good receiver. The NFL seems to think it’s the latter, I believe it’s the former and that the Browns got a steal in the sixth round. 

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