CLEVELAND, Ohio — I’m out on Sasquatch (aren’t alleged sightings just bears?), open to the possibility of UFOs, and totally in on the idea that during an NFL Draft week taking place in this city, one of the things discussed was how much the Browns franchise quarterback believes in intelligent life on other planets and guys in the woods in gorilla suits.
That’s progress, people.
Baker Mayfield could have some fun in a news conference Monday because he already has his team. The Browns, picking at No. 26, don’t have to get a player to help right now. They are already Super Bowl contenders. There is no desperation in this pick, only opportunity, though I do believe an influx of first-round talent might help the Browns get over the top in a Super Bowl run.
Think of what right tackle Tristan Wirfs (pick No. 13) and safety Antoine Winfield (pick No. 45) did for Tampa Bay last season.
I generally agree with the idea that the Browns should be focused on players who could potentially replace high-priced veterans that they won’t be able to keep in the future. Andrew Berry explained that — the draft isn’t really about now. Think of third-round defensive tackle Jordan Elliott (pick No. 92) last season. He did have a regular role in a defensive line rotation and played OK as a rookie, but now in Year 2, the Browns are expecting more after letting Sheldon Richardson go. Draft now for later. It’s what the Browns must do to sustain their winning around the handful of franchise pillars that will be here long-term.
That’s where the Browns haven’t done as well with recent mid-round picks as they’d like. Nick Chubb in the second round in 2018 was a franchise changer. But look at the other other picks in Rounds 2 through 5 over the last three years, when the Browns should be hitting on at least a few guys who could become average starters and fill out the roster around their stars.
2018: Austin Corbett (Round 2), Chad Thomas (3), Antonio Callaway (4), Genard Avery (5).
2019: Greedy Williams (2), Sione Takitaki (3), Sheldrick Redwine (4), Mack Wilson (5), Austin Seibert (5).
2020: Delpit (2), Elliott (3), Jacob Phillips (3), Harrison Bryant (4), Nick Harris (5).
All the listed players from 2018, plus Seibert, are gone. Williams is projected to start but his health status is uncertain, which is part of why he was available in the second round. Takitaki is maybe a rotational linebacker, but not much is expected from Redwine and Wilson.
Delpit, Elliot and Phillips could all start, while Bryant has a role at tight end that should expand in years to come, and Harris projects as a possible future starter on the interior of the offensive line as the Browns get older and more expensive in there.
So grabbing a couple guys who could potentially start in two years in Rounds 2 through 5, but holding out for the idea that a first-round pick could help them right now — that’s how the Browns could win the 2021 draft. And if aliens land while Roger Goodell is on the stage announcing Trevor Lawrence to Jacksonville, that could be a win for the Browns, or at least Mayfield, as well.
So, how might the Browns go about finding that Round 1 impact at Pick 26?
Let’s dispense with 16 players virtually guaranteed to be off the board when the Browns pick.
Quarterbacks (5): Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields, Mac Jones.
Receivers (3): Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, Devonta Smith.
Tight ends (1): Kyle Pitts.
Offensive tackles (3): Penei Sewell, Rashawn Slater, Christian Darrisaw.
Offensive guards (1): Alijah Vera-Tucker.
Cornerbacks (2): Patrick Surtain, Jaycee Horn.
Linebackers (1): Micah Parsons.
Now let’s show how you can root along as the draft unfolds, pulling for things to happen that will give the Browns more options with their first-round pick.
They aren’t taking a running back in Round 1, so it would be great if running backs go high. I would imagine at least one back goes before Pick 26, probably Najee Harris, and there could be two. If Miami takes a back at No. 18, then Pittsburgh might be taking the second running back off the board at 24 in Travis Etienne or Javonte Williams. Root for running backs to be drafted.
The Browns also aren’t taking an offensive tackle in the first round, but plenty of teams need them. At least one more tackle has a chance to go before the Browns, probably Teven Jenkins, and then root for Samuel Cosmi to sneak into the top 25 as well. That would help the Browns.
So let’s pick 10 remaining players the Browns very well could have interest in at No. 26, and assume that at least three of them will be available, since we’re throwing an extra running back and extra tackle into that top 16.
Potentially available for the Browns
Cornerbacks: Greg Newsome, Caleb Farley, Asante Samuel, Eric Stokes.
Edge rushers: Azeez Ojulari, Kwity Paye, Jaelen Phillips, Greg Rousseau, Jayson Oweh.
Linebackers: Zaven Collins, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.
Safety: Trevon Moehrig.
Defensive tackle: Christian Barmore.
Receivers: Rashod Bateman.
Now, that’s 14, and I said we’d look at 10, but I felt compelled to include a few of the edge rushers that I have no interest in the Browns drafting. But their names come up. I’m out either because they lack athleticism, or because they only have athleticism and I wonder what kind of actual football players they are. So I’m discounting Phillips, Rousseau and Oweh. No interest, and it’s not my path for the Browns winning this draft. There’s not another guy I want to kick out, so I lied, we’ll actually give the Browns 11 guys to consider and they should have at least four to choose from.
Again, so far, 16 sure things, plus a random running back and a random tackle equals 18 picks before No. 26.
Seven other players will then be picked before the Browns are up. So let’s do some process of elimination while thinning this group of 11.
I’m neither a draft expert nor someone particularly adept at predicting things. I just make Sasquatch jokes and yell on podcasts. But I would imagine the Browns will select one of these 11 players Thursday:
Newsome, Farley, Samuel, Stokes, Ojulari, Paye, Collins, Owusu-Koramoah, Moehrig, Barmore, Bateman.
Who won’t it be?
- Newsome and Farley: I’ve been talking about a group of top five corners, but I expanded that to six to include Stokes. If Surtain and Horn are sure to be gone, it’s not as much of a lock, but I’ll also assume Newsome and Farley are gone. Farley has a chance to make it to 26 only because of his injury history and because he opted out last season. It could present a great decision for the Browns if he’s there, but I won’t project it. As for Newsome, he’s got nice size at 6-feet, good speed with a sub-4.4 40 time, he doesn’t give up big plays — and why then would we expect he’ll be available? He’s a well-rounded prospect with upside at a premium position. I’m assuming he’ll be gone.
- Ojulari and Paye: Ojulari led the SEC in sacks and he’s only 20 years old. He seems like the best combination of athleticism, upside and football instincts among the edge guys, so he’ll be gone. But I can totally see him as a Brown if he lasts. Paye is my candidate to tumble, but almost everyone has him going before 26. So I won’t give the Browns the chance.
That leaves seven players, and at least four should be available. Here’s my order from least likely to most likely.
Barmore: He’s the top defensive tackle in the draft, the Browns have a need there, and there’s a good chance he’s around at 26. But I don’t think the positional value is there for the Browns to take a tackle with corner options available.
Bateman: He’s the only offensive player in this group, but if he’s there at 26, this could be the Browns’ chance to make up for missing out on Ohio State receiver Michael Thomas in 2016. Bateman, from Minnesota, is a Big Ten pass catcher who projects as a No. 1 receiver, and if he falls in the Browns’ lap, they could take advantage and then take defensive players with their next four picks. I don’t think you can project it because he’s probably gone, but he could be Mayfield’s long-term No. 1 receiver.
Collins: I’ve liked him for the Browns since January, but adding Anthony Walker, Jadeveon Clowney and Takk McKinley lessened his fit. He’s a play-making linebacker who can help as a pass rusher, and I absolutely think a linebacker at 26 can make sense for the Browns if that linebacker is on the field all the time. Collins is just too rare of an athlete, and less of a fit than a few months ago. I think there’s a good chance he’s gone, and even if he’s there, the Browns pass.
Moehrig: Can the Browns ever have too many safeties? He’s the best one in this draft, and he has the cover skills to play in the slot. Want to protect against Greedy Williams’ health questions at outside corner? Adding Moehrig to play some slot, freeing up Troy Hill to play outside if Williams can’t go, could do that. Then long-term, maybe the three safeties the Browns rely on are Moehrig, Delpit and John Johnson.
Samuel: Would the Browns add a smaller corner? Samuel measured at 5-10, and the Browns may not want to add another shorter corner with Denzel Ward. But Samuel could play outside or in the slot, he’s productive and quick, and the long-term positional value is there. Height alone shouldn’t be enough to eliminate this idea.
Owusu-Koramoah: This is Tim Bielek’s guy, a linebacker with safety skills at 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds. If he slips a bit because teams aren’t quite sure what to do with him, he’s a player who could fill two roles at once for the Browns, as a linebacker to help now and a safety to inject into the defense long-term. Peter King in his final mock draft has the Browns moving up to 21 to take him.
Eric Stokes: This is who I’ll actually predict for the Browns in something of a worst-case scenario where Bateman, Collins and Owusu-Koramoah are also gone, and they choose Stokes over Samuel, Moehrig, and Barmore.
This Georgia cornerback is 6-1 and broke 4.3 in his 40, so he’s a rare size-speed combo. The extra two or three inches of height gives him the edge over Samuel, and there’s enough untapped upside to make him worthy of the first round. He produced at a high-level SEC school, which the Browns seem to appreciate. He plays a premium position, and while he could help this season, this is also a long-term upside pick. And, it sure seems like he’ll be there at 26, so there’s no finger-crossing fantasy involved here.
Browns 2021 draft predictions
Round 1, Pick 26: Eric Stokes, CB, Georgia
Round 2, Pick 59: Baron Browning, LB, Ohio State
Like several other linebacker prospects in this draft, Browning can also help as an edge rusher. He’ll be a better pro than he was a college player, and the Browns grab some upside that will help if Clowney and McKinley aren’t long-term answers in Cleveland.
Round 3, Pick 89: Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma State
Wallace can play inside or outside, and an ACL tear in 2019 may push him down boards a bit. He could be a long-term answer for when the Browns can no longer afford both Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. He was a productive three-year starter at Oklahoma State who could also challenge to be the Browns’ third receiver this season.
Round 3, Pick 91: Traded to the Arizona Cardinals for their 2022 third-round pick
Arizona doesn’t currently have a pick in Rounds 3 or 4, and the Browns don’t need all their picks. If they don’t use one of the third round-rounders to move up in Round 1 or Round 2, something like this could certainly happen.
Round 4, Pick 110: Josh Kaindoh, Edge, Florida State
He’s a nearly 6-6 edge rusher with good tools and an injury history. An intriguing project to give Myles Garrett and Clowney this season.
Round 4, Pick 132, Jamie Newman, QB, Georgia.
Case Keenum counts more than $7 million against the cap this season as Mayfield’s backup, but Mayfield will soon reach the point where he won’t need a veteran in the quarterback room. He will be the veteran in the quarterback room. The Browns can get off Keenum’s contract for a minimal hit in 2022, and that $7 million can be better used elsewhere as long as the Browns have a different backup quarterback they believe in. Let’s have them use a little draft capital to find that guy right now.
Newman was a one-year star at Wake Forest before transferring to Georgia last season. He was projected as a starter for a national title contender before opting out. But he has a reputation as a hard worker who makes smart decisions on the field. Give him a year to learn from both Mayfield and Keenum, and then develop him as a guy the Browns can believe in if they need to.
Rest of the Browns draft, with one pick each in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds: C’mon, I’m just making stuff up at this point.
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