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Reviewing the Cleveland Browns' 2017 NFL Draft

NFL: Cleveland Browns-Press Conference Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 NFL Draft is officially over, and the Cleveland Browns walked away with 10 new players (not including undrafted free agents). Although things might not have gone exactly how Sashi Brown and company would have hoped, the front office confidently executed their gameplan. Here is a recap, along with my opinions, on how things went down this past weekend:

1. The Browns' 2017 NFL Draft Class: Cleveland headed into the draft with 11 picks and finished with 10, a haul that included three first round picks. It’s the first time a team has had three first-round picks since the Minnesota Vikings did it in 2013.

In 2013, the Vikings took DT Sharrif Floyd (No. 23), CB Xavier Rhodes (No. 25), and WR Cordarrelle Patterson (No. 29). Before that, it hadn’t been done since 1967, so you can see that it’s a pretty rare occurrence. Something should be noted about that Vikings’ draft in 2013, though — their next pick after those did not come until the fourth round. Cleveland still had a second- and third-round pick, and picked up an extra first-rounder in 2018. Argue all you want about the players that this front office actually takes, but they certainly know how to acquire draft capital.

Here is how this year's draft class panned out:

  • 1st Round (#1): DE Myles Garrett
  • 1st Round (#25): S Jabrill Peppers
  • 1st Round (#29): TE David Njoku
  • 2nd Round (#52): QB DeShone Kizer
  • 3rd Round (#65): DT Larry Ogunjobi
  • 4th Round (#126): CB Howard Wilson
  • 5th Round (#160): OT Roderick Johnson
  • 6th Round (#185): DT Caleb Brantley
  • 7th Round (#224): K Zane Gonzalez
  • 7th Round (#252): RB Matthew Dayes

Only 53 players can make the regular season roster. If all 10 draft picks were to make the final roster, that means that at least 19% of the roster will consist of first-year players, and that doesn't factor in any undrafted free agent gems that the scouting department might have found. Combine that with the class of 14 draft picks from a year ago (some of whom are not on the team any more), and you can see how this team is being rebuilt from the ground up.

2. First-Round Flare & Passing on a QB: Over at 92.3 the Fan, Ken Carman put together a great compilation of Browns draft rumors dating back to last October.

Funny enough, the tracker begins with a rumor about the quarterback who Cleveland actually ended up selecting in DeShone Kizer, albeit in round two. Despite all the rumors, there was never a doubt that Myles Garrett would be the No. 1 overall pick. His measurables were off-the-chart, and although Cleveland is prone to acquiring assets, more than anything they need that one guy who can be a franchise-defining player. You’d like for that guy to be a quarterback, but that obvious pick under center just wasn’t in the 2017 NFL Draft.

I pretty much ignored all the noise in the week or two leading up to the draft that speculated Cleveland could take a quarterback first overall. The real game being played, in my opinion, was an attempt to manipulate other teams into believing the Browns wanted a certain player, which in turn would help push a couple of other prospects, either at quarterback or on defense, right into Cleveland’s lap.

The manipulation wasn’t just coming from the Browns, though. I now believe that the San Francisco 49ers played a role in drumming up the fact that Cleveland was interested in QB Mitchell Trubisky. Otherwise, Chicago wouldn’t have needed to move up one spot. The entire NFL was stunned by Chicago taking Trubisky, and who could have seen it coming? Even the Bears’ front office admitted that they kept it secret from everyone, including head coach John Fox, almost right up until they sealed the deal.

Prior to the draft, we heard that the Browns had contacted three or four teams about moving up from No. 12 overall. When I think back to watching the Titans being on the clock at No. 5 overall, they took every second of clock possible before handing in the card for WR Corey Davis. That seemed like a big-time overdraft from my perspective, but here’s the speculation that immediately entered my head: perhaps Cleveland and Tennessee had been banking on a trade, where Cleveland jumps to No. 5 (and gives up No. 33 or No. 52) to take Trubisky, while the Titans still have their pick of a wide receiver-cornerback tandem at No. 12 and No. 18.

The trade might have thrown everything into chaos. Cleveland might have debated if they were still interested in a trade up for another player, and Tennessee might have tried to see if another team could do a deal. Before they knew it, no suitors could commit, and with the clock winding down, I think they just settled (still happily) on Davis at No. 5.

I’ve heard rumors that the Browns’ interest in Trubisky was to mask their true interest in Patrick Mahomes. I’ve heard that they were actually interested in Trubisky. I’ve heard that they liked some of the top defensive prospects too. After having time to reflect on everything that went down, here’s what I think happened: they were going to pull the trigger on Trubisky, and were willing to give up one of their valued draft picks in the process.

For Mahomes, they did not want to break the bank -- the Chiefs coughed up a first-rounder in 2018 to get him, and Cleveland didn’t want to do that. Think of it this way — if the Browns had traded up (and given the same compensation) for Mahomes, they’d have zero first-round picks in 2018. Sitting at No. 12, with both quarterbacks off the board, they clearly were not sold on DeShaun Watson, as they handed him over to the Houston Texans in exchange for their 2018 first-round pick. So Cleveland could’ve considered “Mahomes and no first-round picks in 2018” one minute, only to end up with “two first-round picks in 2018” a little while later. When you’re not that convinced on a quarterback, it’s really not a difficult decision to take the option that includes the lucrative first-round picks.

3. Getting Great Value: That previous bullet point touched on a lot of speculation that can best be summarized as an educated guess. One thing we like to look at every year is how the Browns’ draft class compares to where some draft experts projected them to go. All offseason, Dane Brugler of CBS Sports has been my go-to source for draft projections, so let’s take a look at how Cleveland did (note: my original inspiration for this came via @DownWithDamon):

On the left side (in orange) compares Bruger’s projections vs. what round the Browns selected the players in. On the right side (in green) is the actual overall pick vs. where PFF ranked that player on their big board. Collectively, you can see how Cleveland made very few reaches -- there were no cases of taking a John Hughes or Cody Kessler four rounds earlier than anyone expected.

Cleveland also made several draft-day trades without sacrificing position. They gave up the first picks in the 2nd and 4th rounds to get Njoku at the end of the first round. They were OK with doing this because of last year’s deal that left them with another mid-2nd round pick, not to mention getting the 5th year option on Njoku’s contract.

The downside? It left them without a 4th round pick heading into Day 3. But that’s where having accumulated multiple 5th round picks in the past came into play — they used those to get back into the half way portion of the 4th round. They also put together a mini-package to move up a little in the 5th round to help them add two prospects who, “in a fantasy / far-away land, once had first-round potential.”

And next year, they’ve already got:

  • Two 1st rounders (one from Houston)
  • Three 2nd rounders (one from Houston, one from Philadelphia)
  • One 3rd rounder
  • Two 4th rounders (one from Carolina)
  • One 5th rounder
  • Two 6th rounders (one from Pittsburgh)
  • One 7th rounder

The Browns also leveraged their compensatory picks this year to help them get LB Jamie Collins, and to help get that 2nd rounder from Houston in 2018. Cleveland won’t have compensatory picks in 2018 (because of their lucrative free agent class), but that’s OK — they’ve already set acquired assets by other means.

4. Pick-by-Pick: We’ve talked about the craziness of the start of the first round, how Cleveland got good value from their picks, and how the front office did another good job accumulating assets. What about the actual talent they acquired and how they can contribute? Let’s go round-by-round:

DE Myles Garrett

The selection of DE Myles Garrett speaks for itself. He’s a generational talent who also seems to have the charisma to make him an instant fan favorite. When you consider that the club is also getting DE Desmond Bryant back, the level of talent up front compared to a year ago is already ten times better.

SS Jabrill Peppers

I’ve already expressed a couple of times that I have some reservations about passing up on S Malik Hooker falling in their lap at No. 12, but I can live with the selection of SS Jabrill Peppers. The reason I had Peppers ranked higher on my draft board than my peers here at DBN was due to how Gregg Williams had (successfully) used LB/S Mark Barron with the Rams. He’ll make it work with Peppers.

From a positional aspect, Ed Reynolds is the favorite to be the free safety, and everyone here should know how competent of a job I felt he did in the second half of last season. I don’t care so much about how Peppers can be used as a returner or on offense. Hue Jackson flirted with gimmicks a few times last year — some good (Kevin Hogan in the read-option), some not-so-good (bubble screens for 17-yard losses). WR Mario Alford was a solid returner for the Browns to finish the 2016 season.

TE David Njoku

After a fantastic 2015 season, something just didn’t quite click with TE Gary Barnidge when Hue Jackson came to town. It’s sad to see Barnidge go, but it’s not something I’ll dwell on because the combination of Njoku and TE Seth DeValve is exciting to think about. Both have the size+speed combinations to give opposing defenses fits.

When you consider the fact that Cleveland has bolstered their offensive line significantly, having strong blocking tight ends becomes less of a priority...which makes it even more of a bonus that Njoku has some blocking potential. Don’t get me wrong — he won’t be a mauler from Day 1, but I think he has a blocking ceiling that hasn’t been reached.

QB DeShone Kizer

I wasn’t crazy about the Browns trading up for a quarterback, but I would’ve lived with it. I was somewhat worried about them trading up (for a third first-round pick) into the first round to take a quarterback like Kizer or Davis Webb. But staying patient at No. 52 overall and letting Kizer just fall into their laps? Heck, sign me up. If it goes bad, then remember that the Browns have more-than-enough capital next season to take one of, if not the best, quarterback in the draft.

This is where Hue Jackson gets to work his magic. Regardless of whether Kizer was his favorite quarterback or not, he has to be salivating at the fact that he’s going to get the chance to develop a quarterback prospect who could legitimately turn into a solid starter, as opposed to Cody Kessler, who is simply too limited to make the necessary downfield throws. Kizer has already taken to coaching and knows where he needs to get better:

And you know that Cleveland would love nothing more than for him to feel like this is his team and for him to seize the starting quarterback job, alas Russell Wilson in Seattle and Dak Prescott in Dallas. The team even gave him a hero’s welcome in Berea:

DT Larry Ogunjobi

In describing Ogunjobi, head coach Hue Jackson said, “He's big, tough, strong, and can knock guys back.” He has a feel-good story who was going down a lazy-overweight path as a kid, but being forced into high school football lit a fire that hasn’t stopped burning. His ridiculous-looking workout video from a week before the draft also made the rounds. While I had my doubts that a guy like Xavier Cooper could make an impact as an interior defense (and he has not), my hopes are already high for Ogunjobi. It also tells me that we’re going to see a lot more 4-3 fronts with Gregg Williams, to which I say, “it’s about damn time.”

CB Howard Wilson

Once we got to the fourth round, it was the point of the draft where I’d be lying if I told you I knew very much about these prospects before doing research. Wilson is a guy who Brugler believes has the make of a starting cornerback down the road, and Brent Sobleski from Bleacher Report says that Wilson “could turn into Gregg Williams' version of Trumanie Johnson."

He has the ball skills that people raved about with CB Pierre Desir, but no where near the rawness and has more upside than the team’s cornerback drafted last year in the fifth round, Trey Caldwell. With the club having Joe Haden, Jamar Taylor, and Briean Boddy-Calhoun penciled in as their top three cornerbacks right now, Wilson won’t be penciled in high on the depth chart. But given the injury issues that Haden has had, and some doubts on whether he’ll finish out his contract with the club, Wilson could get an audition as a lower-profile successor to him.

OT Roderick Johnson

What is funny is that at Florida State, it was Roderick Johnson who started at left tackle and forced Cameron Erving to move to center (where Cleveland eventually drafted him). I initially assumed that Johnson would compete for the starting right tackle spot in Cleveland, but Andrew Berry clarified that he will not be entering that competition:

This was a trade up to get Johnson, so the club sees the value in Johnson as their potential future left tackle. It’s also a way to hedge their bet at the position a bit -- I wasn’t aware of this, but as Brent Sobleski of Bleacher Report pointed out this morning, Spotrac says that while LT Joe Thomas is under contract through 2018, he has an opt out clause after this season. Should he decide to exercise that clause, Cleveland will have a potential replacement to slot in. The previous front office did something similar with C Alex Mack by drafting Erving -- but that was in the first round. This was the fifth round, and the right time to do it. Smart.

DT Caleb Brantley

After selecting Brantley, it was smart of Sashi Brown to immediately hold a mini-press conference and firmly state, “Facts may turn up that prevent us from being able to keep him on our roster.” It’s the right message to send about the seriousness of the allegations, while also stressing that if he happened to be in the right, then we got him at a point in the draft where 31 other teams will be saying, “I wish we would’ve just taken him sooner.”

If the Browns have to cut him, I won’t be crying over the fact that the team wasted a 6th round pick. We’re talking about guys who get cut every year. If he pans out, though, then Cleveland will have shored up their defensive line much quicker than I would’ve ever guessed — Danny Shelton, Ogunjobi, and Brantley can form a very stable defensive interior.

K Zane Gonzalez

Besides going 7-of-9 on 50+ yard field goals last season, Gonzalez had a very strong Pro Day, where a report said the following:

  • Height and length of his kicks is impressive. NFL scouts in attendance commented to each other about his big leg.
  • Accurate field goals went over things they shouldn't have and hit things at distance they shouldn't have be able to hit.

The Browns also conducted a private workout with him, and I think we can all agree that a seventh-round pick is not too early for a kicker. Head coach Hue Jackson said the team likes Cody Parkey, but that Gonzalez should offer some good competition. And here is the money quote from former NFL kicker Jay Feely, who feels Gonzalez is a better prospect than the kicker the Buccaneers took in the second round last year:

RB Matt Dayes

This is the pick I read the least in to, just because of the position — he was the closest thing to Mr. Irrelevant, but odds are that if he had become an undrafted free agent, he would’ve chosen a different team. This is where having that late pick basically gives you first dubs on one undrafted free agent prospect, and Dayes is the guy Cleveland chose. So there’s something to be said about that.

5. Senior Bowl Love: This year, the Browns had the luxury of being able to coach the South team at the Senior Bowl, but really they got an up-close-and-personal look at all the Senior Bowl players.

From the North team, the Browns took DT Larry Ogunjobi in the 3rd round. Andrew Berry said that Ogunjobi had an outstanding Senior Bowl and "responded well to competition." Jeff Ridson of The Browns Wire noted that Browns defensive line coach Clyde Simmons "LOVED" Ogunjobi at the Senior Bowl. Also on the North team was K Zane Gonzalez, taken in the 7th round. On the South team, the Browns coached RB Matthew Dayes, who they took in the 7th round.

6. Quotes from Scouts: Every year before the draft, Bob McGinn of the Journal Sentinel reviews some of the top talent in the draft and directly relays some quotes that were provided by scouts. Remarkably, 9 of the Browns’ 10 picks were covered by McGinn; usually, only your teams’ picks through the first three or four rounds make it.

On DE Myles Garrett:

  • Scout 1: “It’s a no-brainer. If Cleveland doesn’t take him they should be kicked out of the league.”
  • Scout 2: “When that guy came down the assembly line it was a special day for the Almighty. He was feeling real good about what he was doing. You do see some lapses but I do think he will live up to the A&M tradition of Von Miller. If Ziggy Ansah is a 5 on talent level, this guy’s a 6. We’re talking a whole different level.”
  • Scout 3: “Straight-laced. Well-liked. Motor doesn’t always run hot. Deep thinker. Into jazz.”
  • Scout 4: “He leaves a lot to be desired. He’s a good athlete but there are stretches of him not being productive. He’s not really a tough guy. He’s a flash player. I don’t think he plays hard. He’s got burst and speed but I’d take (Joey) Bosa.”

On SS Jabrill Peppers:

  • Scout 1: “I still don’t know if he’s offense or defense. I still got a couple days. I’d like him at the right price but I’m not going to spend a first-round pick on him.”
  • Scout 2: “This kid is very passionate about football. Almost to the point where if you’re not at his level of passion he has no time for you. His skill set says free safety but he’s better closer to the line.”
  • Scout 3: “I think he’s getting beat up a little bit. He’s not Polamalu but you’ve got to play him in a role where he can just roam and play the run.”
  • Scout 4: “One of the most versatile guys there’s ever been. I don’t know what the problem is. He’s a dynamic utility safety for us. Guy’s a winner.”
  • Scout 5 (Special Teams): “He doesn’t have Adoree Jackson’s straight-line speed but he’s good. He’s bigger, stronger.”
  • Scout 6 (Special Teams): “Whatever you want him to be, he’s going to be. He does the (returning) for you right now.”

On TE David Njoku:

  • Scout 1: “Everybody just seems to like the guy. But he is raw as can be. He’s a backup for them. I don’t know how you take an unproductive backup guy from an average team and take him in the first or second round … he’s a track guy but as far as a football player, he is a long ways away.”
  • Scout 2: “Lot of wow plays. An athletic freak.”
  • Scout 3: “Gonna be a star. He’s better RAC (run after the catch) than O.J. Howard. O.J.’s better, but this kid has up side.”
  • Scout 4: “He’s a beautiful looking thing. His broad jump (11-1) and vertical jump (37 ½) were out of this world. Very explosive linear but when he runs he’s kind of stiff upper body. Little herky-jerky. Last year he had a lot of drops; this year he cleaned up his hands a little bit. He needs a boot up his (expletive) but he’s got a lot of ability. His blocking is OK. I don’t know how self-motivated he is to be a really good player.”

On QB DeShone Kizer:

  • Scout 1: “Really good arm strength. Can crank the ball through the tight windows. He’ll stand tall in the pocket. When he’s under pressure he doesn’t move in the pocket as well as you would like. Big dude.”
  • Scout 2: “He should be the top guy but for some reason he’s not. The tape is just incongruent. He’s smart (Wonderlic of 28). I talked to the kid. He’s got size, a good arm, pretty good athlete. Everything lines up. It doesn’t connect. Is there a fatal flaw somewhere? Maybe the game doesn’t slow down for him.”
  • Scout 3: “He’s a pure millennial. He’s caught up in being more of a quarterback image than being a quarterback. If he goes to the right spot with the right coach, he’ll ascend. They’re going to have to get him to focus on football. I honestly think this guy would do better in a small market. If he goes to a big market he’ll enjoy everything else that comes with the position. The one position in the building you don’t want to worry about whether he’s going to be focused on football is quarterback.”

On DT Larry Ogunjobi:

  • Scout 1: “He is an athlete for sure. Got great takeoff, great quickness, really good kid. He overthinks a lot of stuff. He’ll get pushed around at the point of attack when you have to two-gap. Plays hard.”
  • Scout 2: “He’s talented, really talented. There’s some issues with the shoulders, no doubt about it.”
  • Scout 3: “If he’s focused, he can jolt you and shed you. But quite often he gets hung up on blocks. He will be a project.”

On OT Roderick Johnson:

  • Scout 1: “Never should have come out but he’ll probably make more money this year than next year. Great intangibles. Can run fast in a straight line. He gets bull-rushed all over the place. Gets knocked around. But he could develop into a good player.”
  • Scout 2: “You love the length but awkward athlete, not very strong. Got a lot of developmental to him.”

On DT Caleb Brantley:

  • Scout 1: “Of all the DTs, he probably is the best pass rusher.”
  • Scout 2: “He’s lazy. Guy doesn’t always play hard. He’s got some penetration. Got some dog in him. He’s a definite potential bust guy.”
  • Scout 3: “Wasn’t in real good shape at pro day. He doesn’t bring it all the time. You’re going to have to kick him in the (expletive).”
  • Scout 4: “I didn’t like his style of play. I didn’t like his toughness. He’s not that big. Doesn’t play heavy.”

On K Zane Gonzalez:

  • Scout 1: “He had a very good senior year. He was fantastic this year with seven makes over 50. He comes with a lot of pizzazz.”
  • Scout 2: “It’s like a given that this guy is really good,. I saw his pro day and, shoot, he missed a bunch of kicks. What I didn’t like about him was when he was on the left hash he’s missing over the right post and when he was on the right hash he’s missing over the left post. I’m looking for a guy that if he misses he’s missing straight and just barely missing. That’s more of what I saw out of Elliott.”

On RB Matt Dayes:

Scout 1: “More of a specialty back. He’s a one-cut speed guy. He tries to run hard but he doesn’t have any (expletive) behind him. He does have some receiving skills.”

Scout 2: “He maximizes his talent but he’s not a very talented guy,” said another scout. “Small and not a lot of speed.”

7. By the Numbers: I want to thank everyone who tuned in to Dawgs By Nature during our draft coverage! For the three days of the draft, we had 26 posts with a total of about 11,087 comments! Although we didn’t quite a break numbers in terms of traffic this year, you have to plateau at some point, and remember that last year we had 14 total draft picks.

  • 2011: 88,545 pageviews, 37,381 visits
  • 2012: 142,533 pageviews, 55,975 visits
  • 2013: 188,009 pageviews, 75,985 visits
  • 2014: 287,972 pageviews, 120,737 visits
  • 2015: 295,170 pageviews, 154,091 visits
  • 2016: 445,864 pageviews, 232,574 visits
  • 2017: 344,096 pageviews, 150,190 visits