3 draft needs for the Cleveland Browns
A year after drafting 10 of the top 120 players on Pro Football Focus’ final big board, the Cleveland Browns hold the No. 1 overall pick and five in the top 65. After a 1-15 season, head coach Hue Jackson and executive vice president Sashi Brown need to deliver in 2017 and with a loaded defensive draft class, the opportunity is ripe. The Browns still have several holes and needs after tearing down the roster last offseason in order to accumulate draft assets. After addressing needs on the offensive line in free agency, a weak position in the draft, Sashi Brown can concentrate stacking the defense.
Need: Starting quarterback
After taking a flier on Robert Griffin III 2016 and drafting Cody Kessler in the third round, the Browns are still searching for the face of the franchise. While Kessler’s play last year earned him a legitimate chance to start in 2017, he still has question marks on his prospects as a franchise QB. Of course, Cleveland’s luck would be that there is no sure-fire top prospect in this draft like in each of the past two draft classes.
Early-round target: Patrick Mahomes II, QB, Texas Tech
Expecting the Browns to take Texas A&M ED Myles Garrett No. 1 overall, the Browns could target Mahomes as their QB at No. 12. Coming from an air-raid system, Mahomes was initially overlooked as a system QB with a big arm before draft evaluations started up, but once evaluators dug into his tape and who he is off the field, Mahomes shot up draft boards. A year removed from quitting baseball to concentrate on football full-time, Mahomes’ PFF grades took off as he impressed on a throw-per-throw basis, increasing his big-time throws and decreasing his turnover-worthy throws. An intelligent prospect with one of the most talented arms on the planet, Jackson would be the perfect coach to iron out his wrinkles and groom Mahomes into the QB the Browns have been waiting for.
Mid- or late-round target: Nathan Peterman, QB, Pittsburgh
If the Browns choose to build the roster up in the first round or if their guy doesn’t fall to them, Peterman would be an excellent mid-round choice. Peterman is able to make NFL throws while arguably being the most pro-ready QB in the class because of his mental makeup and ability to read defenses and throw with anticipation. The reasons Peterman isn’t talked about as a first-round QB are because of his size, his transfer from Tennessee in order to start, and average arm talent. Peterman fits Jackson’s system because he is one of the best deep-ball throwers in this class with a 54.8 adjusted completion percentage and topping the ranks in our advanced accuracy charting.
Need: Starting edge defender and depth
This is where the draft lines up perfectly for what the Browns need as this class has a deep edge defender group that could very well see close to 10 players go in the first round alone. Very good players will drop into the later rounds and that’s where the best scouting staffs will find excellent value. The Browns drafted Emmanuel Ogbah with the first pick in the second round in 2016 but he was the only consistent pass-rusher for the team. Adding talent and depth to a unit that failed to produce more than 3 sacks for anyone not named Ogbah and is switching defensive coordinators to an aggressive and attacking style defense is a must.
Early-round target: Myles Garrett, Edge, Texas A&M
The mack-daddy of all no-brainers, Garrett is a physical phenom and pass-rushing force. He has graded extremely well for three straight seasons while racking up 31 sacks and 35 hits in his career. A sure tackler, he missed just 13 in his career and improved every season in that regard. Garrett blends elite athleticism with a variety of pass-rush moves as he uses his hands incredibly well, uses speed to bend the edge and counter that with inside moves and bulrushes. Garrett improved every season as a run defender and has the ability to have a Joey Bosa-like impact as a rookie.
Mid- or late-round target: Trey Hendrickson, Edge, Florida Atlantic
A player worthy of targeting in the third round, FAU’s Hendrickson blends athleticism and impressive productivity from a non-Power 5 school. With impressive grades as a pass-rusher the past two seasons, Hendrickson show vast improvement as a run defender in 2016 to ease some concerns about his run-stopping ability. Tops in PFF’s pass-rushing productivity mark in 2016 at 20.5, Hendrickson racked up 9 sacks, 13 hits and 78 total pressures on just 297 pass-rush snaps. Consider Derek Barnett’s 78 total pressures came on 368 pass rushes, it shows how productive Hendrickson was in college, albeit beating up on Conference USA foes. That said, Hendrickson’s athleticism, production, and ability to win with multiple moves should garner the Browns attention.
Need: Starting safety and defensive back depth and versatility
Another of the stars aligning for the Browns in the draft, cornerback and safety quality and depth is very high in this draft class. First-round-caliber CBs will fall into Day 2, as will top-tier safeties. While the Browns need both, safety is a much more pressing need as they were frequently burned over the top and busted several coverages throughout the season. The Browns have drafted mid- to late-round prospects the past two years in Derrick Kindred and Ibraheim Campbell but both best suited as box safeties as their coverage skills limit their versatility. New defensive coordinator Gregg Williams loves safeties with speed and versatility so expect the Browns to be active in acquiring safety talent.
Early-round target: Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State
A fascinating safety prospect, Hooker jumps off the tape with elite athleticism but much more importantly has tremendous deep cover range and instincts. As evidenced by his multiple sideline interceptions that he tracks from the opposite hash, Hooker is easily the best pure free safety prospect since Earl Thomas in terms of his range and playmaking abilities. Thomas is more instinctive coming forwards and a better tackler but Hooker should be able to develop those in time. Strictly a deep safety early in his career, Hooker’s skillset is something that teams dream about.
Mid- or late-round target: Marcus Williams, S, Utah
Another deep safety prospect but with the size and frame to play in the box, Williams put up some impressive grades and stats in his career against Pac 12 competition. One of the better tacklers, Williams missed just 5 tackles in 2016 (4 in the passing game) while notching 5 interceptions. Of the top 10 safeties in coverage, only he and LSU’s Jamal Adams also ranked in the top 10 in run-defense grades. If Cleveland misses out on Hooker or even Adams, Williams provides excellent value in the mid-rounds as a versatile safety that shows good instincts and range.