Thanks to the trade for wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., the Browns are without a first-round selection for the first time since 2008. Cleveland’s opening pick of the draft is currently slated to be in the second round - the 49th overall selection.
Now while there may only be 15 players “worthy of being selected in the first round,” here are five defensive players who, if available, could be enticing to general manager John Dorsey when the Browns are on the clock in the second round.
Cornerback Justin Layne went to Michigan State as a wide receiver after being an All-Ohio selection his senior year at Cleveland’s Benedictine High School. He switched to defensive back during his freshman season, and became a full-time starter in 2017. He was an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection that season and then was a second-team all-conference selection as a junior.
A highly-regarded wide receiver recruit, Layne transitioned to cornerback as a freshman and developed into a shutdown defender in college. Given his length, play strength, ball skills and route anticipation ability, Layne is best used in a press/man role at the next level. He has the physical upside to excel in zone but he must develop in terms of spacing and route awareness. A physical player, Layne is disruptive early in routes and at the catch point while playing with no hesitation when needed to play through contact and make a tackle. Layne should be an eventual starter with a fairly high ceiling as he continues to learn the nuances of the cornerback position.
If Dorsey believes he does not need a day one starter from this pick, he could favor Temple cornerback Rock Ya-Sin, who began his career Presbyterian College, an FCS program. In three years with the Blue Hose, Ya-Sin started 33 games and was a first-team All-Big South selection in 2017 after making 45 tackles and intercepting five passes. He transferred to Temple for the 2018 season and was a first-team All-American Athletic Conference selection after leading the Owls with 12 pass breakups.
Rock Ya-Sin is a developmental target for teams who like to rely on man coverage and are looking to develop a potential outside starter by Year 2 or 3. Ya-Sin is clearly comfortable playing in tight quarters, and has great body control and flexibility -- both traits that project him favorably as man-coverage starter. That said, Ya-Sin must grow more comfortable playing the ball in the air and matching multi-break routes with measured footwork, or he will always remain a low-impact player on the ball despite his length. Ya-Sin’s wrestling background, esteem for hard work, and limited football experience all project favorably to a successful developmental track in the NFL.
A third cornerback to consider is Penn State’s Amani Oruwariye, who was a second-team All-Big Ten selection as a junior despite not being a starter for the Nittany Lions. A full-time starter in 2018, Oruwariye was a first-team all-conference selection after leading Penn State with a dozen pass breakups and intercepting three passes.
Oruwariye’s size, length, strength and ball skills make him an ideal fit as an outside zone/press corner. Complementing his impressive stature is a trust for his technique and outstanding processing skills. Oruwariye has the traits needed to matchup with “X” receivers in man coverage, making him a scheme-versatile defender. Oruwariye has the upside to start early in his career on the boundary and emerge as a productive playmaker with his ability to make game-changing plays on the football.
Moving to the safety position, Virginia’s Juan Thornhill could be one to watch as the Browns search for a replacement for Jabrill Peppers. A three-year starter for the Cavaliers, Thornhill progressed from being a third-team All-ACC selection to a first-team selection in 2018 as he lead Virginia in tackles and interceptions.
Thornhill has that ability to make plays in space when asked to help against the run, but also deep in coverage. His NFL combine performance showed one of the most explosive players in the draft with a 4.42 40-yard dash and a vertical jump that nearly broke the combine record at 44 inches. Thornhill’s athleticism will play somewhere on Sundays. The Browns could use it.
Another safety option is Florida’s Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, who started 25 games for the Gators. In 2018, he lead the team in interceptions with four, while adding three sacks and nine tackles for loss (out of 71 total tackles).
Gardner-Johnson is a highly versatile defensive back that can fill numerous roles for an NFL defense and allow for more scheme diversity. He is a standout zone defender whether it’s single high or split zones. He features the physical traits needed to mirror routes in man coverage and excels near the line of scrimmage with box duties. While there is some variance, his improvements from 2017 to 2018 give indication that he still has room to grow. CGJ is a true swiss army knife that profiles as a productive starter that is deployed in multiple ways in the NFL.
What do you think Browns fans? Who would you like to see Dorsey select at No. 49?