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Reviewing the Cleveland Browns’ 2020 NFL Draft

Chris Pokorny breaks down Andrew Berry’s first draft as general manager of the Browns.

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Erik Drost on Flickr

The 2020 NFL Draft went virtual for the first time last week, and the Cleveland Browns drafted 7 new players (not including undrafted free agents). A week removed from the event, here is a recap, along with my opinions, on how things went down:

1. The Browns’ 2020 NFL Draft Class: After not having a first-round pick in 2019, Cleveland was back to having a Top-10 pick this year. Their 2020 draft class is below, and we will touch on each of the picks in a bit.

  • 1st Round (#10): OT Jedrick Wills
  • 2nd Round (#44): S Grant Delpit
  • 3rd Round (#88): DT Jordan Elliott
  • 3rd Round (#97): ILB Jacob Phillips
  • 4th Round (#115): TE Harrison Bryant
  • 5th Round (#160): C Nick Harris
  • 6th Round (#187): WR Donovan Peoples-Jones

Overall, the draft class was graded quite high by draft experts. Pro Football Focus was particularly a fan (giving them an A+), especially after Cleveland’s first three draft picks were all Top 25 players on their big board. That’s pretty incredible. You can also see to the right above that on FanPulse, about 70% of Browns fans graded the draft as an A, with most of the rest grading it a B.

2. Virtual Draft in 2020, Cleveland in 2021? Just a few months ago, I was awe-struck about the thought of the NFL Draft taking place in Las Vegas. I had a connecting flight in Vegas overnight in mid-February, where I stood outside the Bellagio fountains and envisioned the stage that would be there two months later. My brother and I had contemplated flying out to Vegas for the draft.

Instead, the world as we know it changed, and everything is crazy right now due to COVID-19. At one point early on, I tried to have blind optimism that the NFL Draft could still go on as it usually does, but it didn’t take long to realize that public gatherings had to be shut down. The 2020 NFL Draft went virtual.

I thought there would be a lot of hiccups come draft day, but everything seemed to run very smoothly. There was also plenty of entertainment to be had, because viewers got to see inside the house/war room of head coaches, general managers, etc. across the league. My favorite parts ended up being any shot of Bill Belichick at his simple setup, with his dog sometimes taking his place or patiently waiting for a treat. The slow de-evolution of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell also provided for some comic relief. To everyone involved: well done.

55 million viewers watched the NFL Draft, which was a 35% increase over 2019. The state of Ohio crushed the leaderboard in markets tuned in to the draft for all three days:

Now, we look forward to the 2021 NFL Draft, which is scheduled to be held in Cleveland. Everything deserves an asterisk right now because we simply don’t know when life will return to “normal,” so to speak. This past week, it was officially announced that next year’s draft will take place from April 29-May 1, 2021. The city is planning for the event to go on, with all the festivities and bells and whistles.

According to Crain’s Business, the economic impact (prior to COVID-19) of hosting the draft was projected to be between $100 million to $125 million. Surveys indicated that 54% of visitors to the 2019 NFL Draft in Nashville were from out of town, and 60.5% were from out of town the year before that in Dallas. It is one of the biggest events aside from a political convention, Wrestlemania, a Super Bowl, or the Olympics that a city can host. That can be fantastic for Cleveland to get a jump start in getting its economy back on its feet post-COVID-19. But will the timeline work? Optimistic timelines hope that a vaccine will be developed in early 2021. Could Cleveland end up hosting one of the biggest events in a post-COVID-19 world? We shall see.

3. Pick-by-Pick, Day 1: Let’s get to the NFL Draft itself. Even though I personally touted OT Mekhi Becton prior to the draft, I also was clear that I’d be very happy with Day 1 of the draft as long as Cleveland selected one of the Top 4 offensive tackles at No. 10 overall between Becton, Andrew Thomas, Jedrick Wills, and Tristan Wirfs. I expected two tackles to be off the board by the time Cleveland was on the clock, but only Thomas was gone, having been taken by the Giants at No. 4 overall.

OT Jedrick Wills

With the selection of Wills and the free agent signing of Jack Conklin, the Browns have significantly improved their offensive line for the 2020 season. The days of complaining about the liabilities of Greg Robinson and Chris Hubbard at the tackle spots are behind us. With four high-caliber offensive linemen, you can afford to have more of a plug-and-play at the fifth spot (right guard), where Wyatt Teller or someone else can be better protected by the talent around him.

Wills has great power and athleticism, particularly excelling against the run. Jake Burns of the OBR has a full film breakdown of him here. The biggest question is the one that I had on him pre-draft: he was a right tackle in college, so how effective will his re-programming to left tackle be as a rookie? It may be particularly difficult to start off, considering teams are not having the normal OTA’s and minicamps they normally would to get ready for the upcoming season: right now, everything is virtual.

Cleveland has really talked up the fact that Bill Calahan will be Wills’ offensive line coach, and that he helped Tyron Smith make a successful transition from right tackle to left tackle in college. Here is what former Browns LT Joe Thomas said about Wills:

4. Pick-by-Pick, Day 2: On Friday, the Browns had three draft picks: one in round two, the two in round three. The final pick of Day 2 was a result of trading RB Duke Johnson to the Houston Texans last year. Although I would have loved to keep Johnson at the time, Cleveland did get great value for him, especially considering they are set to have a full year of RB Nick Chubb and RB Kareem Hunt in 2020.

Listed below are the Top 45 players on our DBN Browns Big Board, with quarterbacks excluded. The players highlighted in green were selected on Day 1 of the draft, while the players in blue were selected on Day 2 prior to the Browns’ pick at No. 44 overall.

S Grant Delpit

As you can see on the big board, the Browns drafted the top player available in S Grant Delpit. Much like offensive tackle was penciled in as a sure thing by fans at No. 10 overall in pre-draft projections, a safety was almost considered a lock for the team’s second round pick as well. It just made sense, given the positions the team had not addressed in the offseason, coupled with the projected value. The safeties in this year’s class weren’t pegged as first-round picks, but rather high second-round picks. Sure enough, no safeties were taken on Day 1, allowing Cleveland to have their pick on Day 2.

Delpit’s weakness at the college level was his tackling — so much that when he was asked about it after being drafted, he was prepared to make light of it: “I’m so tired of hearing that I can’t tackle. I might tackle you for asking that question (laughter).” The optimists will say that the ankle injuries he played through were a factor.

After drafting him, Berry was asked whether he sees Delpit playing the free safety or the strong safety role. They wouldn’t commit to either, emphasizing that he can play both positions:

“The appeal is that he really does have the modern-day safety skillset from a coverage standpoint because of that versatility. ... It allows you a lot more flexibility as a defensive coordinator when you have a guy who can play the post proficiently, who can play in the line of scrimmage, cover tight ends and play big nickel.”

Pro Football Focus logged that Delpit forced an incompletion at a higher rate than any safety in this year’s class. In 2018, he had 5 interceptions and 7 passes broken up. Despite his tackling issues, though, the amount of run stops he had compared to other safeties speaks volumes about his versatility and ability to be an X-factor on the field:

Delpit will compete with veterans Karl Joseph and Andrew Sendejo, and second-year man Sheldrick Redwine, for a starting role. My expectation is that Delpit wins one of those jobs, with Joseph manning the other spot, but it’s early.

DT Jordan Elliott

The selection of Jordan Elliott is a case where Pro Football Focus was much higher on him than others were. Elliott was a 3rd round pick at No. 88 overall, yet PFF had him as the No. 23 player on their big board and the highest-graded interior defensive lineman in the past two seasons, excelling as a pass rusher and a run stopper. Berry said that Elliott is a good scheme fit for Cleveland and “has the right physical skill set to be a 3-technique in our defense with quickness gap, penetrating ability and who was very disruptive at Missouri.”

Some of the downsides to Elliott has been his maturity, durability, and conditioning for all four quarters, but he’s worked on that. Also, he doesn’t need to be a starter — teams should be four players deep at the defensive tackle position. Last year, Larry Ogunjobi and Sheldon Richardson carried way too much of the workload. Elliott adds to that mix, along with veteran free agent signing Andrew Billings. As far as playing in Cleveland goes, Berry said that Elliott’s agent would text him leading up to the draft, saying, “Hey, man, this this guy he really wants to be in Cleveland. He really wants to be a Brown.’”

ILB Jacob Phillips

If a player is reached for in the first or second round, I might have some gripes over it. But once you get to the third round or later, I don’t think about it too much, because the trick you can often do is flip the draft positions of a few players to mentally balance it out. For example — if TE Harrison Bryant was drafted here with Phillips going in the fourth round instead, no one would bat an eye.

Of all the positions on the Browns, inside linebacker remains the most questionable, with Mack Wilson and Sione Takitaki the favorites to start. With Phillips, the general assessment is that he was a solid tackler in LSU’s defense as an inside linebacker, but it’s not certain whether his physical skills will translate high enough to the NFL level, especially when it comes to change of direction as he excels more in straightline movement.

Phillips’ coverage ability was also not a strong suit in college, although Berry also said they like him in pass coverage.

5. Pick-by-Pick, Day 3: The Browns had three picks on the final day of the draft, and this was a spot where Cleveland could have gone any direction — it was a bit more unpredictable. That was especially evident when the Browns drafted a tight end with their fourth round pick.

TE Harrison Bryant

Already having David Njoku and Austin Hooper, Cleveland decided to add another tight end to the mix. Every team should have three fairly reliable tight ends, but when one is selected in the fourth round with the pass-catching ability that Bryant has, he could see a fair amount of playing time in 2020. If you have any doubt about his receiving abilities, look no further than this:

One of the reasons Bryant slipped is that he’s viewed as too much of an in between player. Is he too small as an inline blocker at the NFL level? He’s also not expected to be a wide receiver at the NFL level, even though he can take some reps wide:

With that said, Brent Sobleski believes that Bryant can be a multi-dimensional threat, with a high IQ and very coachable demeanor:

Browns Assistant Director of Scouting Glenn Cook said that Bryant “is an athletic, natural sure-handed guy, really tough and competitive after the catch,” but added that “it got to the point where we were staring at the board and you kind of couldn’t ignore the fact that he was still up there.” In other words, the team liked his abilities, but view him as a bit of a project — when he slipped far enough, they were willing to gamble on him.

C Nick Harris

Harris was Cleveland’s 5th round pick. It’s nice for once for Cleveland to have enough starting talent on the offensive line that when a lineman is drafted in a later round, we can rave about his potential down the road as opposed to if he’ll start this year.

The universal praise regarding Harris is that everyone views him as just a perfect fit for the zone blocking scheme that head coach Kevin Stefanski is installing. He was a center in college, and even though he might get some reps at guard, Cleveland has initially said that he will stay at center.

JC Tretter is still under contract for a couple more years, but there’s nothing wrong with having solid depth at the position. Maybe it’s possible at some point too that Harris is a better fit, and then something is explored with Tretter (moving him to guard, or trading him). But it is way too premature to think about that too much now; Tretter is a well-rounded starter.

PFF says, “If there’s a center you want playing out in space either in the running game or on screens, it’s Harris. The scary thing is that he’s just scratching the surface technique-wise.”

WR Donovan Peoples-Jones

Cleveland’s final draft pick is Peoples-Jones, a good pick to add more contenders to the wide receiver room. Since the pick was made, the Browns also wisely re-signed WR Rashard Higgins. Although he’s caught some typical (and dumb) ribbing for playing for Michigan, that stuff should quickly blow over. In several film cut-ups by DBN’s Mike Krupka, Peoples-Jones makes nice catches along the boundary:

As Dane Brugler of The Athletic put it, Peoples-Jones almost needs a runway to utilize his speed, as he has long strides and “lacks the tempo, deception and short-area quickness to win as a route runner vs. NFL-level corners.” Head coach Kevin Stefanski liked his experience in playing outside and inside receiving roles, but also jumped right to talking about his physical skillset to be a special teamer, which tells you that the expectations aren’t anything out of the ordinary for him. He certainly doesn’t lack confidence, though:

6. Undrafted Free Agent Class: Although the Browns have not officially reported their undrafted free agent signings, we tracked a list of reported signings following the draft. Jake Trotter of ESPN dug out the signing bonuses that were given to some of those players, though, showing how much intrigue they had for some of them:

7. DBN Grades & Kiper’s Overall Grade: After each draft pick, we would ask our readers to grade each pick with an A, B, C, D, or F grade. Here is a summary result of each of those polls from the DBN community, broken down by pick:

After the draft, ESPN’s Mel Kiper gave Cleveland a B+. This was his assessment:

Cleveland disappointed big time last season, going 6-10, which cost the jobs of most of the coaching staff along with general manager John Dorsey. The expectations for quarterback Baker Mayfield’s Year 2 were substantial, and he didn’t live up to them, throwing way too many interceptions and never quite jelling with new wideout Odell Beckham Jr. Well, if Mayfield and the Browns’ offense don’t get going in 2020, it might never happen in Cleveland.

New general manager Andrew Berry spent huge money on a new right tackle (Jack Conklin) and tight end (Austin Hooper) in free agency, and the Browns got their left tackle of the future in Jedrick Wills Jr. at No. 10. He is my top-ranked offensive tackle and No. 7 overall prospect. These tackles are serious upgrades over Greg Robinson and Chris Hubbard from last season, and Hooper should get a bunch of targets. Now it’s on new coach Kevin Stefanski, who put Kirk Cousins in a great position to succeed in Minnesota.

Cleveland also got some nice players on Day 2. Grant Delpit (44), who at one point I thought might be a top-10 pick, has a chance to start. Jordan Elliott (88) has some juice as an interior penetrator. Jacob Phillips (97) didn’t get the pub of his teammates at LSU, but it was him, not first-round pick Patrick Queen, who led the Tigers in tackles. On Day 3, tight end Harrison Bryant (115) caught a ton of passes for Florida Atlantic the past couple of years, and wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones is an upside pick.

Berry also added an extra fifth-round pick by trading down three spots early on Day 2, plus a 2021 third-round pick after the Saints traded up. This is a really solid class, with a couple of starters and intriguing late-round picks.

8. 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 17 posts with a total of about 6,073 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
  • 2020: 204,418 pageviews, 77,182 visits

Lastly, hat tip to one of our DBN readers, who compiled the type of first-round staff mock draft grades that I usually would: