It is never better not to have first and second-round draft picks but, for the Cleveland Browns, the last two drafts may have been the best years for that to happen.
In the end, all that matters for the Browns is if QB Deshaun Watson is elite. If he doesn’t show it on the field starting in 2023, everything else is almost pointless. That is what happens when you give up three first-round draft picks and a variety of other selections and then give Watson a huge contract.
Interestingly, the 2022 and 2023 NFL drafts are ones that lack the kind of high-level talent that we have seen in the past. Whether GM Andrew Berry knew that when he made his big trade or not, Cleveland seems to have dealt picks from less talented years.
Prospect grades do not decide how talented a player is when he gets to the NFL but it is one way that we can normalize across different draft classes. On the NFL Network, the grades are setup with simple ranges:
- 8.0 - Perfect prospect
- 7.3-7.5 - Perennial All-Pro
- 7.0-7.1 - Pro Bowl talent
- 6-7-6.9 - Year 1 starter
- 6.5-6.6 - Boom or bust potential
- 6.40-6.49 - Will become a good starter within two years
- 6.30-6.39 - Will eventually be plus starter
- 6.20-6.29 - Will eventually be average starter
Anything below 6.20 is likely a backup.
In 2023, NFL Network has DT Jalen Carter as their highest-graded player with a 7.05. He and DE Will Anderson (7.02) are the only two players with grades above a 7. The 20th-ranked prospect, DE Keion White, has a 6.43 grade (will be a good starter within two years).
In 2022, SS Kyle Hamilton (6.81) and DE Aidan Hutchinson (6.80) were the highest-rated players and the only two graded at or above 6.8. The 20th-ranked player, QB Matt Corral, received a 6.40 grade.
For comparison sake, 2021’s class had five players with grades above 7.0 and seven players, including Cleveland’s LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, graded higher than Hamilton’s grade the following year. The 20th-ranked player, DE Kwity Paye (6.44), was slightly better than either of the more recent classes.
Going back to 2020, another five players had grades above 7.0 and two others, OT Jedrick Wills and WR CeeDee Lamb, were graded higher than Hamilton. The 20th-ranked player (OT Tristan Wirfs) also had a slightly higher grade at 6.88.
NFL Network is not alone as Buffalo Bills GM Brandon Beane shared a similar thought about the top of this year’s draft:
Bills GM Brandon Beane wouldn't say how many, but said "It's not great" when asked how many first round grades they have this year on players in the draft.— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) April 18, 2023
It is unlikely that the potential quality of the draft classes in 2022 and 2023 impacted Berry’s thinking in the Watson trade. In the end, as we see with the Wills and Wirfs’ grades in 2020, grading a prospect is an inexact science. The 2022 class had some very good rookies in it including Hutchinson, Sauce Gardner, Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, Brock Purdy and more.
As Browns fans watch the early parts of the 2023 draft unfold, it will be interesting to think about who the team would have selected if they had kept their picks. As is true with every draft, it will also be interesting to see how this draft grades out after three full seasons in the league (the 2026 offseason).
For now, Cleveland has to hope that Watson turns the corner and the Berry can hit on a couple of selections in the third round and beyond (barring a trade-up).