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Pro Football Focus hands out final preseason grades for key Browns rookies

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Pro Football Focus has some interesting findings after examining the preseason performances of the Browns’ key rookies

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NFL: Cleveland Browns at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

NFL analytics site Pro Football Focus has been preparing for the start of the regular season by finishing up their reviews of every team’s and every player’s preseason performances, and certain first-year members of the Cleveland Browns have proven to be standouts.

PFF’s Sam Monson rounded up the preseason grades of all of the players selected in the first round of the 2017 draft, of which the Browns had three: First-overall pick, defensive end Myles Garrett; safety Jabrill Peppers (No. 25) and tight end David Njoku (No. 29.). All three were standouts, though to different degrees.

Garrett, who played 68 snaps in the preseason, earned a grade of 83.0 for the summer, good enough to make him their seventh-best edge rusher overall and the very best among the first-round rookies.

He had a sack, two quarterback hits and four hurries, and, as Monson wrote, “looked just as capable against the run.” But it may be some time until we see what Garrett can do on the field in games that matter; Garrett left Wednesday’s practice with an ankle injury that could cost him the season opener if not more games than that.

Peppers, too, drew a glowing review from PFF and Monson. In his 81 preseason snaps—77 as a free safety—he notched seven tackles, an interception and a pass defensed. He also returned five punts for 49 yards and one kickoff for 27 yards. This earned him a 76.2 grade, the highest given to any rookie safety this preseason.

PFF was a bit more chilly about Njoku’s summer, given that he caught only four passes on eight targets for 41 yards. But Monson pointed out that just one of those incompletions a drop and that Njoku has also been impressive as a run-blocker. Most importantly, none of Cleveland’s 2017 Round 1 draft picks are showing signs of being declared busts a year from now.

Among the non-first round rookies, quarterback DeShone Kizer was one of Cleveland’s best performers of the summer, something that should come as no surprise given that he has since been named the Browns’ starter. He had the best passer rating when throwing under pressure among all quarterbacks drafted in either Rounds 1 or 2 this year and also scored a high rating on pass attempts of 20 or more yards.

Browns kicker Zane Gonzalez also got some of the PFF love. Though not perfect when kicking extra points (three-of-four) or field goals (two-of-three) this summer, he still did enough to beat out Cody Parkey for the job. A major reason? All nine of his kickoffs during the preseason went for touchbacks, with an average of 72.9 air yards each.

In a typical year, an NFL team is lucky if 50 percent of their draft picks become successful contributors. The Browns have tried to up their success rate by acquiring as many picks as possible, which is certainly one way to quickly and effectively build a roster. But that 50 percent hit rate still applies. With Garrett, Peppers, Njoku, Kizer and Gonzalez all looking sharp at this early point in their careers, it’s possible the Browns have already nailed that 50 percent return rate on their 2017 investment before the regular season kicks off.