• Trey Modlin

Consensus in Cleveland Rules the Draft

The Cleveland Browns took positive steps toward building a strong team and culture with its activity during the 2020 NFL draft. General Manager Andrew Berry and the coaching staff, led by Head Coach Kevin Stefanski had a general consensus on their draft board and selected seven players in the 2020 NFL draft. Their first four selections came from the Southeastern Conference (SEC) which is widely considered the best conference in college football. The SEC also produced 63 draft picks, 15 more than the next conference, and has now produced the most picks for 14 straight seasons. With its next three selections, the Browns added depth to various positions on offense that have the potential to be starters for the team. With the 10th pick the Browns selected Jedrick Wills Jr. out of Alabama. According to Terry Pluto, sports columnist of The Plain Dealer, Wills was the Browns’ preferred selection for his pure skills. However the Browns have a need at left-tackle, and despite never playing that position in his career, the Browns project him to eventually do so. While Wills Jr. develops, the Browns can deploy recently-signed Jack Conklin at left-tackle. Conklin, who started 35 of 39 games as a left-tackle at Michigan State, was selected eighth overall in the 2016 draft, but switched to right-tackle for the Tennessee Titans where he has played ever since. He was a major reason for the Titans run to the AFC Championship last season, blocking for rushing-champion Derrick Henry, and in 2017 when the Titans upset the Chiefs in the playoffs. For these reasons Conklin can be viewed as an example of being successful despite playing a new position. With support from his former head coach Nick Saban, widely considered one of the greatest college football coaches of all time, the Browns are hopeful that Wills will also transition to left-tackle smoothly. With its next two picks, the Browns selected two more players within the top 25 of the College & 2020 Draft Rankings from Pro Football Focus (PFF). Grant Delpit was the Browns’ second-round pick at No. 44 overall. Being a three-year starter in the SEC means that Delpit brings lots of experience against college football’s best wide receivers in what was a receiver-loaded draft. Delpit was the second-ranked safety going into the draft, but likely fell due to a perception that he has issues with tackling as described by Ellis Williams of the Plain Dealer. His situation was similar to that of Greedy Williams, who the Browns selected at No. 46 last year, and, similar to Delpit, was ranked among the top three cornerbacks in his draft class. Despite this concern, the Browns still took the best talent available, and if they have a good season, then improvements in tackling will be a major factor. With its next pick, the Browns got a steal in the third round with the selection of defensive-tackle Jordan Elliott at pick No. 88 overall. Elliott, who was projected to get selected in the mid-to-late first round, may have dropped due to weight concerns in college. According to Pete Smith of SI.com, Elliott lost 30 pounds during his last season at Missouri in order to be faster and to try to alleviate this concern. Although Elliott was only a one-year starter at Missouri, he earned a grade of 92.8 on a scale of 0-100 from PFF, which was the highest grade among interior linemen over the past two seasons combined. Elliott’s main strengths are with generating power and beating blockers against the run game. He can take over while starting tackle Sheldon Richardson rests especially with upcoming games against run-heavy offenses such as the Baltimore Ravens and the Dallas Cowboys. With its second third-round pick, the Browns selected linebacker Jacob Phillips who started every game in his final two seasons at LSU. Phillips displayed tremendous endurance and tackling ability by leading his team with 113 tackles last season, and showed a quick burst at the combine with a time of 4.33 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle. He may not be a starter right away but the former captain of LSU’s national championship team brings leadership to the Browns that can help fuel this defense, which fell off as the Browns lost four of its final five games last season. With its later round picks, the Browns added depth to the offense by selecting tight end Harrison Bryant from Florida Atlantic, center Nick Harris from Washington and wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones from Michigan. Despite not being highly recruited out of high school, Bryant was a second-team All-Conference USA selection in 2017, was voted to the first-team both in 2018 and 2019 and was a unanimous first-team All-American last season as well. Bryant also earned the John Mackey Award for college football’s most outstanding tight end in 2019, and adds depth behind David Njoku, and Austin Hooper. Harris excelled as a three-year starter in 42 games whose major strengths include footwork and pass protection, and adds excellent depth behind Browns starting center J.C. Tretter. Two critiques were his lack of size and that he projected solely as a center so versatility could be an issue. However, he will have plenty of time to mold once the offseason conditioning program commences which can help him with protecting quarterback Baker Mayfield, and playing different positions if injuries occur along the offensive line. Finally, Donovan Peoples-Jones was Michigan’s kick returner over the past three seasons. Although his production as a receiver was limited, his combine numbers help display his athleticism as he achieved a 44.5 inch vertical, a 40-yard time of 4.48 seconds and broad jump of 139 inches. Peoples-Jones is still a talented receiver who is a welcome addition to the Browns’ depth chart and could get added playing time if injuries ravage the team again this season. Overall, the Browns’ seven selections all had plenty of playing experience, won awards in college and can help bring depth and leadership to the locker room. This staff decided that the future is now and despite trading down a few times, it traded back up in order to get highly-valued players to build a strong culture around. As Berry stated after the draft, “we feel good about adding a number of individuals who embody the tough, smart and accountable culture that we are trying to build upon here in Cleveland.”

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