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CLEVELAND BROWNS – 2017 DRAFT NEEDS

cleveland-browns39Leading up to the draft I’m going to try and cover every team in the NFL and their draft needs. I’ll go in order of the 2017 NFL Draft which means I’m starting with the Cleveland Browns. I’m listing, in order, the needs from most needed to least needed. Let’s get started:

#1 EDGE RUSHER

Going from Ray Horton to Gregg Williams at DC, the Browns should use more of a 4-3 defensive front although in today’s NFL these designations are a bit more fluid than usual. That said, as a base defense the 4-3 will be more used which necessitates guys who can play 4-3DE. The Browns essentially have one of those in Emmanuel Ogbah who was taken in the 2nd round of the 2016 NFL Draft. A 43DE out of Oklahoma St., Ogbah was initially used as a 34OLB before switching to 34DE. At 6’4/273lbs, going back to a 43DE makes a lot of sense and also puts Ogbah in the best position to succeed. Carl Nassib is also on the roster but at 6’7/280lbs he’s more 3-4DE and wasn’t too good as a rookie last season. The rest of the edge rushers are essentially undersized with no elite playmakers. Given the importance of this position, it is critical for the Browns to figure out a way in which to get pressure on the QB. Ogbah was fairly raw as a rookie and there is essentially nothing behind him. Defense wins championships and giving Ogbah an ELITE running buddy could change the complexion of Cleveland’s defense overnight.

#2 SAFETY

It doesn’t matter if it is free safety or strong safety. The Browns are horrible in their deep secondary. Cleveland essentially played without a free safety in 2016 which is why they tried to use below average corners such as Tramon Williams, Tracy Howard & Trey Caldwell at free safety without much success. Cleveland has a little bit at strong safety with Derek Kindred, Ed Reynolds and Ibraheim Campbell but all 3 players are liabilities in coverage and are mostly box safeties looking to make hits and missing tackles at points in trying to make spectacular plays. There is no talent on the roster when it comes to this position. There is no depth at either free safety or strong safety and the Browns would do well to try and address the position with top shelf talent in the draft. Safety is an important piece in roster building because the position is so versatile so Cleveland should upgrade. If you really wanted to argue that safety is a bigger need than edge rusher, you’d have a decent case.

#3 CORNERBACK

I don’t think you can have too many elite cover corners so there is work to be done here. Jamar Taylor had a great season at corner after coming over from Miami, but Joe Haden was one against hampered by injuries. Tramon Williams, Tracy Howard and Trey Caldwell are already being experimented with at free safety which only leaves Briean Boddy-Calhoun as the other corner. I like the 3-headed monster of Taylor, Haden and Boddy-Calhoun if Haden can regain some health and Boddy-Calhoun can step up and improve on his slot corner abilities. The problem for Cleveland begins if Haden can’t get healthy & Boddy-Calhoun’s size prevents him from being able to cover adequately. He’s 5’9/180lbs which is a bit smallish and lean for an NFL CB. It wouldn’t be an awful idea for the Browns to beef up their corners because A LOT could go wrong and if so the Browns would be walking out players in coverage that have no business playing CB. Keep in mind the division they are in as well. Antonio Bryant, Sammie Coates, AJ Green, Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton, Ladarius Green, Tyler Eifter, Tyler Boyd, Mike Wallace and Breshard Perriman all reside in the AFC North.

#4 LINEBACKER

In my post on how to build an NFL roster, I rank LB 10th out of 11 positions regarding importance to overall team. That being said I think this is a big need for Cleveland for a couple of reasons. The first reason is depth. Even if you like what the Browns having coming back as a core of LBs (Jamie Collins, Demario Davis, Christian Kirksey & Joe Schobert), there isn’t a lot of depth behind them. Collins will be entrenched at the WIL, but there isn’t any depth behind him and Kirksey, Davis & Schobert are weak in coverage. The 2nd reason is coverage. Nobody can cover outside of Collins and at worst the MIKE needs to have some coverage skills. That essentially admits the problem of not having a legitimate MIKE. Kirksey sets up as a great run stuffer on the strong side that wouldn’t be horrible take out in nickle packages. Davis is more of a poor man’s Kirksey and Schobert is still a project. I’m certain I wouldn’t build a team around inside LBs, but there is an obvious need here.

#5 QUARTERBACK

A lot of people would argue that QB should be #1 for the Browns and in theory they wouldn’t be wrong. On the other hand I’d point out the fact that Cody Kessler wasn’t that awful his rookie season despite being thrust into the starter’s role with hardly any rep time in the preseason because Robert Griffin was getting those repetitions with the first team. Kessler showed good chemistry with Terrelle Pryor & Gary Barnidge, both of whom should be integral parts to a Cleveland passing attack. I know Kessler comes with some questions about his ability to stay healthy for a full 16 games, but I think he’s earned the right to audition for a full season. I think this also comes down to strategic play. The QB class in 2017 looks paper thin with guys like DeShone Kizer, Deshaun Watson & Mitch Trubisky leading the way. That’s desperation. There are so many other needs at integral positions that Cleveland can wait until 2018 and draft a QB out of a much stronger class. If an opportunity presents itself to grab a QB in the 2nd or 3rd round then maybe it’s worth it, but at this point the Browns simply don’t have great options so why waste the draft capital?

#6 RUNNING BACK

I like Isaiah Crowell but the Brows have handcuffed him with a running partner ever since they signed him out of Alabama State. His rookie season he was running with Terrance West and the last two seasons it’s been Duke Johnson. Last season Crowell averaged 4.8ypc and had a long run of 85 yards. He’s also solid in the passing game with 40 receptions. Crowell ran for almost a thousand yards splitting time with Johnson. He’s got more than enough size at 5’11/220lbs to hold up over an NFL season. I’d let him loose but history says they aren’t comfortable giving Crowell the job so in theory the Browns could be looking for a franchise RB. This would obviously help with Kessler (or another young QB) given that it could take some pressure off. A restricted free agent, I think Crowell returns. I’d like to see him get 230-240 carries.

#7 TIGHT END

A simple look around the playoffs and you’ll note that teams have dynamic pass catchers at TE. Gary Barnidge is a solid enough player with big size and the capability of grabbing 80 balls, but there is nothing much behind him and he only has 2 years left on his contract and will be 32 years old this year. It wouldn’t be the worst time to start thinking about a solid pass catching tight end to replace him. It’s not a huge need but Cleveland would do well to think about the future with this position.

#8 DEFENSIVE LINE

In today’s NFL you really would like to see your interior D-Linemen get some inside pressure and shoot the inside gaps pretty quickly to collapse the pocket. This is what Aaron Donald has successfully done in becoming one of the most dominant defensive players on the planet. It’s what the Saints are banking on Sheldon Rankins being able to do in the near future. The Browns have a solid DT in Danny Shelton and I think switching back to a 4-3 will help Jamie Meder become a much better player than he showed in 2016. The Browns also have some decent depth with Xavier Cooper and Gabe Wright, but none of these guys are able to get inside pressure. I don’t think this is an obvious need because Cleveland has a solid 4-man rotation that can be very, very good against the run, but they don’t get a lot of inside pressure.

#9 INTERIOR O-LINE

I’ve seen some draft sites saying this is a big time need for Cleveland. I’m not buying it and here is why. The Browns want Anthony Fabiano to take over at center. If that’s the case then there is no need at this position other than backup status and to be honest, Cameron Erving could be the backup center. Not only that but Austin Reiter could be an OK backup as well. The center position is a non-issue. At guard the Browns will welcome back Joel Bitonio on the left side paired with Joe Thomas. If Bitonio is healthy he’s one of the best guards in the league. At this point he’s healthy so drafting a guard to start certainly isn’t taking Bitonio’s spot. The other guard spot is a little up in the air given that John Greco could miss all of 2017, but the Browns have Spencer Drango & Alvin Bailey for that spot if they need. There is some thought that Austin Pasztor is going to come back and he’s a more natural fit at guard. Regardless of what happens, the Browns have too much capital on the inside to bring even more interior O-linemen into camp to compete for jobs. Yes inside O-Lineman can make life a lot easier for inexperienced QBs, but getting Erving away from center is a great start, and the guard play has actually been pretty good.

#10 WIDE RECEIVER

At worst the Browns are going to franchise Terrelle Pryor. They took Corey Coleman in the first round last year and also spent draft picks on Ricardo Louis, Rashard Higgins, and Jordan Payton. The Browns also have Andrew Hawkins coming back if he doesn’t decide to retire. That’s six players right there and I don’t think the Browns will go past six unless they also want to keep Mario Alford for kick/punt returning duties. In that case the Browns would have to cut loose a draft pick from 2016 or carry 7 wide receivers. I cannot imagine the Browns using four picks in the 2016 NFL Draft and then coming back in 2017 and drafting a slew of WRs again!

#11 OFFENSIVE TACKLE

Joe Thomas is one of the best LTs in the game and he’s going to be around for another 2 seasons so there isn’t a huge need to find his replacement right away. The Browns are hoping to move Cameron Erving to RT and he’s around for a few more years as well. The Browns took Shon Coleman in the 3rd round last season. Depth is somewhat of a problem, but Alvin Bailey can play tackle in a pinch as could probably Spencer Drango. If the Browns bring back Austin Pasztor, he is also a possibility. There isn’t a lot of quality depth here around Thomas, and if he goes down then Cleveland is screwed, but I think the Browns are probably a year or two away from really having to dive into the tackle market.

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS

In some ways it isn’t hard to see why the Browns were a 1-15 team. They had spotty QB play that was inconsistent at best. Their first round draft pick, who was supposed to spark the offense, got injured after the 2nd week of the season. Cameron Erving had a brutal time blocking anyone up the middle and Austin Pasztor had a rough time at RT early on in the season although he got much better. Defensively the Browns had almost zero pass rush until Jamie Collins was brought over via trade. They played without any legitimate safety help. There was no real coverage skills by any defender outside of Jamar Taylor at corner. Joe Haden struggled physically once again. A lot of losses are going to pile up when you can’t protect your QB, can’t rush the opponent’s QB, and have no ability to cover when the opposition is passing.

On the other hand, this isn’t as horrific of a team as it would seem. The O-Line was actually pretty good not counting Cameron Erving. Isaiah Crowell showed more and more that he could be a #1 franchise RB if the Browns would just let him have the football. Terrelle Pryor has the look of a legitimate #1 WR. Cody Kessler showed some promise at QB. Defensively Danny Shelton made a huge leap in his 2nd year at defensive tackle. Jamie Collins was a huge get and will be even better as a 4-3 WIL. Jamar Taylor was solid at CB and if Joe Haden can get healthy, the Browns have a shot at having two solid corners. If Cleveland can stay healthy while adding a couple of impact players at safety and edge rusher, they’ll be far from a 1-15 team in 2017. According to Football Outsiders, the Browns played the most difficult schedule among all NFL teams in 2016 and that is likely to ease up a bit in 2017. The switch back to a 4-3 base defense fits the players on defense a lot better as well.

This should be a much better team in 2017.

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January 28, 2017 - Posted by | Cleveland Browns, Decision Making, Game Theory, NFL, NFL Draft, Strategy

1 Comment »

  1. I have a soft-spot for the Browns. I’m a Colts fan, but I wish the Browns were good. You couldn’t be more right about the QB position. If there was a stud QB in the draft, yeah, take him. But there isn’t this year. If Kizer is available in the 2nd round, maybe. 3rd round, definitely. My ND love makes me very biased, but Kizer is the only legitimate QB prospect I see in this draft.

    Comment by copperheaded | February 16, 2017 | Reply


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