The Cleveland Browns have several holes to fill this offseason, most notably across the front seven of the defense.
Free agency, which opens with the new league year on March 15, will solve some of the issues, but the bulk of the work will likely be done during the NFL Draft, which takes place this year in Kansas City, Missouri, from April 27 to April 29.
The Browns do not currently have a selection in the draft’s first round for the second consecutive year, thanks to the trade for quarterback Deshaun Watson. Still, they are in possession of eight draft picks, which should give general manager Andrew Berry some currency to work with on draft weekend.
Cleveland’s current picks are in Round 2 (No. 42 overall), Round 3 (a compensatory pick from the Minnesota Vikings after Minnesota hired Kwesi Adofo-Mensah as their general manager), two picks in Round 4 (one acquired in a trade from Minnesota), two choices in Round 5 (one acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Rams), a pick in Round 6 and one in Round 7.
Got all that?
With more than three months to go until the Browns are on the clock, there will be countless speculation about who Berry will select, but in his most recent mock draft, The Athletic’s Dane Brugler has Cleveland selecting defensive tackle Mazi Smith from Michigan, which certainly would fill a need on the defensive line.
#Michigan NT Mazi Smith (#58) was awesome Saturday vs. Maryland. Credited with 8 tackles and 4 pressures.— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) September 25, 2022
Ranked No. 1 on @BruceFeldmanCFB Freak List, Smith’s freaky testing numbers are showing more and more on the field. pic.twitter.com/q5n6TuDNne
Smith, who is listed as 6-foot-3 and 337 pounds, was a captain his senior year, finished with 45 tackles and a half-sack, and was an anchor in the middle of the Wolverines defensive line, according to Pro Football Focus:
Smith has long-term NFL starter written all over him. When he wants to drop anchor, there’s little chance of moving him against his will. That ability alone is growing more attractive to NFL defenses trying to stop the run with light boxes.
The only question left for Smith is why four years in with one of the best athletic profiles you’ll see from a nose tackle hasn’t translated to affecting the passer more. He’s registered only 23 pressures on 368 pass-rushing snaps this season, and that may never be his game at the next level.
Smith also pled guilty in December to a misdemeanor charge of attempted possession of a loaded firearm inside a motor vehicle, which stemmed from an October traffic stop in Ann Arbor. How Berry and the Browns view that remains to be seen.
Other defensive tackles to keep an eye on*, according to PFF’s ranking of the top 10 prospects at the position, include Baylor’s Siaki Ika, a 6-foot-4 and 358-pound redshirt junior; Pittsburgh’s Calijah Kancey, a 6-foot and 280-pound redshirt junior; Bowling Green’s Karl Books, a 6-foot-4 and 300-pound redshirt senior; Texas’ Moro Ojomo, a 6-foot-3 and 284-pound redshirt senior; Wisconsin’s Keeanu Benton a 6-foot-4 and 315-pound senior; Texas’ Keondre Coburn, a 6-foot-2 and 344-pound redshirt senior; and Illinois’ Jer’Zhan Newton, a 6-foot-2 and 295-pound redshirt sophomore.
*Some of those names will likely not make it onto Berry’s draft board due to Cleveland’s age guardrails, which favor selecting younger players to maximize their NFL potential before hitting the wrong side of 30.