Sports

Stacked roster means Browns can simply take best player available

BEREA, Ohio – Many times before, the Cleveland Browns have been positioned to draft the best available player. This time around, though, the circumstances will be far different.

With a loaded roster, complete with few glaring holes, the budding Browns will strut into next week’s draft with a luxury they’ve seldom enjoyed since rejoining the league some two decades ago.

In the not-so distant past, Cleveland’s roster was so rife with weaknesses that adding the top talent available – whatever the position – essentially was the priority. Then last draft, the Browns had such a void at left tackle, selecting the best bookend on the board was a foregone conclusion, even before Jedrick Wills Jr. fortuitously fell to Cleveland at No. 10.

But after another banner performance in free agency, culminating in the signing of defensive end Jadeveon Clowney last week, the Browns can attack this draft with an enviable approach to their 26th overall pick:

They can simply grab the best player available.

“The Cleveland Browns don’t have a lot of desperate needs,” ESPN draft analyst Matt Miller said during an interview with the team’s in-house podcast last week. “They don’t have that many needs this year. That many holes.”

That many, if any.

Cleveland’s roster, of course, isn’t a perfect or finished product. And in the wake of several big-money free-agency signings over the past year – combined with several potential big-money in-house extensions looming – the Browns released defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson on Friday.

The move did save the Browns $11 million in cap space but also left a considerable hole in the middle of the defensive line. A league source told ESPN that Cleveland didn’t seriously attempt to restructure Richardson’s contract, the way it did with defensive end Olivier Vernon last offseason. But if Richardson for some reason doesn’t find an enticing offer elsewhere, the door was left for him to potentially return to Cleveland at a lower number.

Either way, even with Richardson currently gone, the Browns have a roster that appears to be the envy of much of the league.

In his first offseason in Cleveland last year, general manager Andrew Berry aggressively helped transform the Browns’ offensive line from an Achilles heel into one of the league’s best. In addition to drafting Wills, he signed All-Pro right tackle Jack Conklin. Behind those additions, coupled with the surprise emergence of Wyatt Teller into an All-Pro right guard, the Browns’ offensive line became one of only four units to rank in the top five in pass-block win rate and the top 15 in run-block win rate, as well.

With Cleveland finishing sixth in offensive efficiency last season, Berry turned his attention to the defense this offseason. In addition to landing Clowney, the Browns signed John Johnson III, arguably the top safety available in free agency. Berry also inked linebacker Anthony Walker, defensive end Takkarist McKinley, nickelback Troy Hill and defensive tackle Malik Jackson – all of whom will play key, if not starting, roles for Cleveland next season.

Up until last week, edge-rusher opposite Myles Garrett stood out as a remaining need for the Browns. Then, Cleveland snagged Clowney, who, for all his injuries and inconsistent production, ranked in the top five in pass-rush win rate in the NFL since 2018.

“You’ve got a pass-rusher now, and you say, ‘OK, that’s checked off the list,'” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. told reporters in a conference call last Thursday, not long after Clowney’s signing became official. “You don’t have to go that route.”

That said, the Browns could definitely still go that route.

Clowney and McKinley, after all, are only on one-year deals. Several talented pass-rushing prospects, like Azeez Ojulari, Kwity Paye, Gregory Rousseau, Jaelan Phillips or Jayson Oweh, could still be on the board when Cleveland picks too.

But the Browns no longer have to go that direction. Especially if a particularly coveted talent at cornerback, linebacker or even receiver falls to them at 26.

“It’s so offensive heavy,” Miller said of this draft. “More valuable defensive players are going to get pushed down a little bit. That’s good news for the Browns. At the end of Round 1. … you’re [going to be] getting a lot of quality starters on [the defensive] side of the ball.”

Underscoring Cleveland’s options, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay still has the Browns taking Rousseau in his latest mock draft. But NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah and Kiper both have Cleveland selecting rising Kentucky linebacker Jamin Davis.

“He’s a guy that has great range,” Kiper said. “He can fly to the football like a safety – a very good open-field tackler.”

Cleveland could certainly pounce on Davis or Tulsa’s Zaven Collins, a playmaking linebacker whom Kiper had mocked to the Browns previously. Cleveland could also go corner, most notably if Northwestern’s Greg Newsome II should he fall to them.

The Browns could even choose to bolster their offense via a speedy slot receiver, such as Ole Miss’ Elijah Moore, Florida’s Kadarius Toney or Louisville’s Tutu Atwell – though a burner like that might be available to them in the second round as well.

Or they could look to fill that hole at defensive tackle, perhaps with Alabama’s Christian Barmore.

Whatever the plan, the Browns have options — to add the best talent available to a roster suddenly overflowing with it.



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