It’s Draft Month! Now that the demolition phase of the Browns roster is mostly complete, let’s assess of the remaining foundation.
The Browns have ten draft picks to make at month’s end, and there’s room on the roster for another 12 undrafted free agents to compete for jobs through training camp. Here’s a rundown of today’s run-down roster, ranked in order of positions most in need of an instant infusion of draft talent.
RGIII‘s signing diminishes the virtual imperative to draft at QB at number two, but it’s quite possible they’ll do it anyway. My amateur eye prefers Wentz over Goff, but I’d be delighted if they manage to trade down a bit and still secure either of them, picking up a second-rounder to bolster the roster revamp. While there are some other intriguing quarterbacks in the draft, I doubt the Browns will feel confident presenting any of them as a credible solution to their aching need for a true long-term franchise quarterback. Not when they could’ve had one of the consensus top two. Draft need: high.
2. Wide receiver
The big question mark is obviously Gordon, whose reinstatement petition response from the league is overdue and very much in doubt. But as mentioned earlier, the Browns must proceed as if anything they get from this gifted enigma is a bonus. We also ought not assume that Pryor will become a reliable producer (or even that he won’t be moved back to QB). Hartline and Hawkins are bona fide professionals, but that’s just not enough to bank on. Clearly the new Browns braintrust is digging deeply into the draft prospects here so as not to repeat the negligence of the previous regime. I would be shocked if they don’t either take a receiver in the first two rounds or double up on the position further down in the draft. Draft need: high.
3. Tight end
The popular Barnidge will be relied on to replicate his magical mid-career emergence of 2015. Beyond him there’s little but Bibbs, last year’s camp phenom, and Telfer, the sixth-rounder who arrived with a broken foot. Unfortunately the draft class is not strong at this position. My biggest hope is for someone to capably handle the role of the classic blocking tight end, which the Browns lacked last year. The upheaval on the offensive line makes this mandatory. Maybe it’s a job for Malcolm Johnson, who looked lost as a rookie fullback. Draft need: medium-to-high.
4. Offensive line
Could the Browns really go “best player available” with the second-overall pick and choose the draft’s best lineman, Laremy Tunsil of Old Miss, as Thomas’s heir apparent? With the hole created at RT by Mitchell Schwartz‘s departure, it’s not inconceivable. But I doubt it, unless they recoup immediate and significant draft value in an unlikely blockbuster trade involving Thomas. While losing Schwartz and Alex Mack hurts, the Browns still have seven linemen with at least some starting experience to get through this year. Only Bowie and Pasztor are entering the final season of their contracts. I could see them sticking to their draft board and taking either zero, one, or two linemen based strictly on BPA. Draft need: medium.
The overall quality of this group is in doubt, inside and out, so it’s foolish to rule out drafting a premiere pass rush prospect, despite high picks recently spent on Mingo and Orchard. The Moneyball execs have to be praying that someone steps up on the edge to justify releasing Kruger and saving $6.5 million in 2016 salary. The Browns think Davis can be a run-stuffing force in the middle to replace Karlos Dansby. Kirksey has a golden opportunity to cement his status as a core player at the other ILB spot. Draft need: medium.
If Poyer has indeed grown into a starting-quality player, the Browns would be well advised to seek an extension before his contract year. Moore arrives on a one-year deal to backfill for the loss of Tashaun Gipson. Campbell should develop as Whitner’s eventual replacement. Draft need: medium.
Haden will likely start training camp, and perhaps the regular season, on the PUP list. Gilbert, a bust to date, has plenty to prove, but has the raw talent to be part of the mix plus a punt returner. Ekpre-Olomu, coming off a redshirt rookie year, is an intriguing talent who might manifest as one of Ray Horton‘s proverbial “little guys who can hit.” Especially given Haden’s injury, Tramon Williams is needed for veteran stability until enough of the promising younger players make him obsolete. Draft need: low-to-medium.
8. Running back
This young stable contains a variety of talents and styles, but it lacks both experienced depth and a proven bell cow. Crowell runs hard but needs to improve his balance and ability to shed tacklers. Duke Johnson had a nice rookie year, particularly receiving, and has all the makings of a core player. The speedy Mostert is the likely kickoff returner. Watson is an intriguing size/speed combo who produced in college. RB is where you can jump on a mid-to-late round sleeper, but I see enough here (and enough needs elsewhere) to eschew a back in the first two rounds at least. Sorry, Zeke fans. Draft need: low-to-medium.
9. Defensive line
This group represents a significant investment already, and all remain under team control for at least two more years. (Armonty Bryant, more of a tweener, is the exception, but he didn’t do his contract prospects any favors with an arrest and upcoming suspension.) While there’s not a unit on this team that couldn’t be improved by the arrival of elite young talent, in this case expect a handful of developmental additions to compete for jobs. Draft need: low.
In summary, the current team’s depth is not pitifully thin, but there’s plenty of unfulfilled potential, and the lack of top-end talent is discouraging. The new decision-makers need to put up a high batting average with their swings during the draft. Otherwise, this new episode of the Browns’ absurdly troubling drama will feature an even more extended period of pain.