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Reviewing the Cleveland Browns’ 2019 NFL Draft

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Chris Pokorny breaks down John Dorsey’s second draft as general manager of the Browns.

NFL: NFL Draft-City Views Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

We are over a week removed from the 2019 NFL Draft, where the Cleveland Browns walked away with 7 new players (not including undrafted free agents). Here is a recap, along with my opinions, on how things went down this year:

1. The Browns’ 2019 NFL Draft Class: Prior to this year, in the Browns’ previous seven draft classes (from 2012-2018), they had made 13 first-round selections, which was anywhere between one and three picks per year. In 2019, the Browns didn’t have a first-round pick. I’ll touch more on that in a bit, but here is how this year’s draft class panned out:

  • 2nd Round (#46): CB Greedy Williams
  • 3rd Round (#80): LB Sione Takitaki
  • 4th Round (#119): S Sheldrick Redwine
  • 5th Round (#155): LB Mack Wilson
  • 5th Round (#170): K Austin Seibert
  • 6th Round (#189): OT Drew Forbes
  • 7th Round (#221): CB Donnie Lewis Jr.

The draft class won’t blow your socks off, and grades varied for what the Browns got. One of the things I always find funny is when we look at draft projections vs. where a player is taken. For example, when Takitaki was drafted in the third round, one of the early vibes was, “what the heck — we could have had him in the sixth round!?!” But then when Wilson was drafted, you heard, “he was graded as a second-round prospect!” If the Browns had drafted Wilson in the third round and Takitaki in the fifth round, we probably don’t hear a single complaint about “when” they were drafted.

2. No First-Round Pick, But Still Interested: I’ve come to love the NFL Draft as the lead blogger for Dawgs By Nature. It is the funnest day of the year, as I report on all the rumors throughout the morning about who the Browns might draft. By evening, there is such an excitement anicipating Roger Goodell walking out onto the stage to see who Cleveland’s selection will be. We didn’t get that this year, though, because the Browns traded the 17th overall pick earlier this offseason for WR Odell Beckham Jr.

That’s not a complaint — the trade was magnificent! First-round picks are far from a proven commodity, but Cleveland traded a mid-first rounder for a league-wide star at the receiver position who has helped elevate the team into prime time status. Nonetheless, being without a first rounder made the first day of the NFL Draft boring — but that didn’t stop Browns fans from tuning in to draft weekend:

As you can see, Cleveland still ranked fourth on the list of TV markets who tuned in to the draft. Also, it should be worth noting that Columbus is fifth on the list. I know you can’t combine those TV markets and prove they are all Browns fans, but if you did, I don’t have to tell you where the combined rating would rank.

3. Thinking Back to 2008: The last time the Browns did not have a first-round pick was in 2008. I always remember that season as the year that the Browns’ first selection was actually LB Beau Bell, all the way in the fourth round! What the heck happened that Cleveland had to wait that long for a pick? Let’s take a brief trip down memory lane.

  • During the 2007 season, the Browns selected OT Joe Thomas with their first-round pick. They moved back into the first round, though, to also select QB Brady Quinn. In doing so, they sacrificed their 2008 first-round pick to the Cowboys.
  • Here is one I forgot about: in February 2008, the Browns traded their 2nd round pick to the Packers for DL Corey Williams.
  • In March 2008, the Browns traded CB Leigh Bodden and their 3rd round pick to the Detroit Lions in exchange for DT Shaun Rogers. The additions of Rogers and Williams symbolized a major effort to bolster the team’s defensive line.

In the 4th round, Bell was Cleveland’s first pick. Still in the 4th round, the team also traded a 3rd round pick in 2009 so they could draft TE Martin Rucker. Not the proudest of drafts for Cleveland.

For the 2019 NFL Draft, I wasn’t worried. As far as I was concerned, the Browns were already winners on Day 1 of the draft for having “drafted” Beckham. Unlike 2008, they still had their 2nd and 3rd-round picks, meaning they could still add some promising young pieces to their roster.

4. Pick-by-Pick, Day 2: On Friday, the Browns were ready to make their first picks of the draft. We put together a community big board at Dawgs By Nature every year, where fans vote on the players they’d like to see the Browns select. The Browns were originally scheduled to pick at No. 49 this year. Between me excluding quarterbacks from the big board and knowing the variability of the draft, I thought that having 45 slots for our big board would be enough to give us something to work with by the time the second round started.

The 45 slots above are color-coded. The red slots mean that the player was drafted on Day 1. The orange slots were available heading in to Day 2, but were drafted before Cleveland went on the clock. Who knows how high GM John Dorsey had CB Greedy Williams ranked on his big board, but he was No. 9 on ours, making it a rarity to still see him available mid-way through round two.

CB Greedy Williams

Around the 40th pick, there was a rumor on Twitter that the Browns and Patriots were both trying to trade up. Going based off the live reactions of Lane Adkins of The OBR, I think the perception was that both teams wanted to get Williams. When the Patriots secured No. 45 overall, Adkins grimaced at first, before breathing a sigh of relief when the Patriots took a different cornerback in Joejuan Williams. Dorsey wasted no more time, trading one of his three fifth-round picks to get his Williams.

Pro Football Focus had rave reviews for the selection, particularly the value Cleveland got in getting a first-round prospect at No. 46. The simplest assessment one can give on Williams is that he is highly praised for his coverage skills, but panned for his tackling.

Dorsey’s response to reports that Williams has issues with tackling? “I have no problem with his tackling. He will get you down. Corners are paid to cover. The tackling aspect, just get the guy down.” You can see some film by Cleveland.com’s Jake Burns here.

I always love when the NFL captures prospects’ reactions to being drafted, and Williams getting the call, surrounded by his family, can be seen in the second half of this video feature. That came after the initial letdown of being one of the prospects who traveled to Nashville on Day 1, hoping to walk the stage. He headed back home for Day 2.

Where does Williams fall on the Browns’ depth chart? Although he is the team’s top pick, he is far from guaranteed playing time: like most rookies, he is going to have to prove himself. Think back to last year: T.J. Carrie and E.J. Gaines were the higher-profile free agent signings for the team, but it was actually Terrance Mitchell who surprised everyone with a great camp to win a starting job. As it stands right now, Denzel Ward and Mitchell are the starters, with Carrie in the slot. It’s up to Williams to show he can unseat Mitchell for a starting role.

LB Sione Takitaki

The funny draft day story is that Takitaki didn’t think the Browns were going to draft him since he had limited contact with him, so he went to use the restroom. While on the toilet, he got the call from Cleveland and jumped right up. He’s also a player who turned his life around after being dismissed from his college team for a misdemeanor theft in 2016.

Since Takitaki wasn’t projected to be a high draft pick, there wasn’t a lot known about him. Some of the early assessments praised his speed and power. Jake Burns of cleveland.com had a chance to dive into a lot of film on the Browns’ third-round pick, and his versatility stood out: something the Browns stressed repeatedly after making the selection. They feel he can contribute at any of the linebacker spots, so they will try him out everywhere and see where he does best leading into training camp.

The selection of Takitaki also represents a commitment to getting players who love producing on special teams. The area he struggled with last year was — like Williams — in the area of missed tackles.

5. Pick-by-Pick, Day 3: On Saturday, the Browns wrapped things up with their final five picks.

S Sheldrick Redwine

The Browns finally got their safety in the fourth round with Sheldrick Redwine. With how things were unfolding this offseason, I started leaning more and more toward the fact that the team was not banking on investing their second round pick in a safety, just because they traded away SS Jabrill Peppers this offseason. Taking Redwine here adds a really good special teams player right off the bat, while also creating more competition at safety. But as it turns out, Redwine might be more of a complimentary player in year one as opposed to one looking to steal snaps away from someone.

DBN’s Mike Krupka did a film analysis on Redwine, and kudos to him for calling that possibility out several weeks before the draft:

Ball skills and encouraging run defense are reasons to be optimistic about Redwine. He also has that versatility role to where he could line up as a third safety or extra defensive back, depending on the package. Once he gets his feet wet in that role, time will tell how soon he can be viewed as a “starter.” Remember that the Browns didn’t just trade Peppers, they also cut SS Derrick Kindred, so they need a player like Redwine to fill that third safety void.

LB Mack Wilson

With the first of their two fifth-round picks, the Browns took linebacker Mack Wilson. I know I keep harping on special teams, but Wilson is another player who shows promise in that area, with hits like this:

Wilson was projected to be a second round pick, but fell several rounds. Wilson’s run defense needs improvement, but he has athleticism that is really intriguing to the coaching staff, such as what you see on this end zone interception here:

Wilson still needs to be polished before being considered for an everydown role, but Cleveland has lacked depth at linebacker for so long; between Takitaki and Wilson, they now have it.

K Austin Seibert

With their other fifth-round pick, the Browns selected kicker Austin Seibert. A lot of fans despised taking a kicker with any draft pick, let alone a fifth rounder, feeling that it’s a waste (that kickers should be undrafted signings, and you might miss out on other gems). For example, many could speculate, “Why take a kicker before a lineman with so much potential like Drew Forbes in the sixth round? Why risk missing on that position player?”

I see and acknowledge that line of thinking, but it doesn’t bother me that Cleveland took a kicker in the fifth round. Pro Football Focus noted that Seibert had the top kickoff grade in the nation last year. We know that Greg Joseph settled down for a decent season last year, but absolutely should face competition in 2019. What’s funny about the deal is how Evan Silva points out that Seibert is now the outcome of Cleveland’s decision to finally trade WR Josh Gordon last year.

For Seibert, it sounds like the Browns evaluated him more so on his Pro Day performance. He rarely tried field goals beyond 50 yards, and was 1-of-3 on them. He hit less than 50% from the 40-49 yard range, although some of those were attributed to bad snaps. Browns scout Josh Cox said that he was fine from further distances at his Pro Day. “There is a sound that the ball will make when it is coming off their foot if they have a really strong leg. He has a cannon. I’m not worried about it at all.”

OT Drew Forbes

In the sixth round, the Browns found Prospect X. What is Prospect X? If you haven’t done so already, check out this article from Sports Illustrated, which is a feature-length piece on Forbes and his honorary status.

The thing that everyone says about him is that he is a nasty blocker. He plays to the whistle and has very good athleticism for an offensive lineman. Scout Colton Chapple said that he thinks Forbes is athletic enough to play left tackle, and can kick inside if necessary -- but stressed that decisions like those are up to the coaching staff. Forbes could compete for the team’s starting left tackle job. Yes, they paid Greg Robinson to return for another season, but he isn’t locked in to that role definitively.

CB Donnie Lewis Jr.

In the seventh round, the Browns final draft pick was cornerback Donnie Lewis Jr. He suffered a broken foot in January, so will be on the sidelines until training camp. He saw a lot of targets come his way in college, and defended them pretty well while also showing skills to be a ballhawk.

Being a seventh-round pick and not available until training camp, Lewis faces more of an uphill battle to make the roster than the rest of the team’s picks. He’ll also begin as the team’s fifth cornerback in a best-case scenario.

6. 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 18 posts with a total of about 3,909 comments!

  • 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
  • 2018: 343,647 pageviews, 154,165 visits
  • 2019: 173,216 pageviews, 70,978 visits

By those numbers, you can see the extreme value that having a first round pick carries with the draft. If you recall the television ratings earlier, even though Cleveland viewers still tuned in overall, the audience was about half of what it was last year when the Browns took Baker Mayfield and Denzel Ward in the first round. You see a nearly identical dropoff in readership, too. We had our fun with Beckham — and from listening to fans on social media and in person every day, they just want the season to get here already!