The Browns entered the 2018 offseason looking to make moves to not let an 0-16 season happen again. So far, they have been one of the most active teams in the offseason. Cleveland has signed nine players since the new league year began in March. On top of those signings, the Browns have also added three players via trade. Let’s look at how these additions could affect how Cleveland approaches the NFL Draft.
Browns trade for Tyrod Taylor; sign Drew Stanton
Cleveland has rebuilt their quarterback room this offseason. Tyrod Taylor will be the team’s starting quarterback in 2018 while Drew Stanton will be his backup. Taylor has one year remaining on his contract, and the Browns signed Stanton to a two year contract. They are currently the only two quarterbacks on the roster, but that will change on April 27. Cleveland will have their choice of the four top quarterbacks, but it appears the decision will come down to Sam Darnold or Josh Allen.
Whoever the Browns pick, they likely will not play until 2019 or at the very end of the 2018 season. Taylor is likely only a bridge quarterback for Cleveland and manage the position until the rookie is ready to take over. The signing of Stanton gives Cleveland a security blanket in case Taylor gets hurt, as he has shown he can manage games to keep his team competitive. But he will also play the mentor role for the rookie, which lets Taylor solely focus on winning games. So these two additions are not meant to prevent the Browns from drafting a quarterback, but to help the rookie adjust to the NFL without being rushed to play.
Browns sign Carlos Hyde
Cleveland let Isaiah Crowell walk in free agency, which left the team with little depth at the position. Duke Johnson could have surpassed him as the starter, but he is better used as a versatile piece to attack mismatches on the defense. So Cleveland brought in Hyde to be the starting running back. With Hyde and Johnson in the backfield, running back may not be at the top of the priority list for John Dorsey to address in the draft.
Sitting at the top of many draft boards is Saquon Barkley. The Browns will not pick him first overall, but he could be available with the fourth overall pick. But with Hyde and Johnson on the roster, the Browns may not see value in adding Barkley to a committee of three backs.
Barkley will be an option at four, but he likely would be the second or third option at that spot. If the Browns want to add a running back, it would make more sense to find one during the second day of the draft. Cleveland could be in position to draft Ronald Jones, Sony Michel, or Kerryon Johnson with picks 33 or 35. If they feel they should wait on a running back to address other needs, Nick Chubb and Rashaad Penny could be options at the end of the second round or if the Browns trade into the third round.
Browns trade for Jarvis Landry, sign Jeff Janis
In 2017, Cleveland lacked receivers that can get separation consistently until Josh Gordon returned from suspension. With Gordon on the outside, the Browns added Landry to be a sure-handed receiver in the slot that can get them chunks of yardage when they need it. The top three receivers on the roster are currently Gordon, Landry, and Corey Coleman. They signed Janis to add depth to the group and be a vital player on their special teams. There are also holdovers Rashard Higgins and Ricardo Louis.
With the players just listed, that puts Cleveland at six wide receivers at the position. That is typically the max a team tends to keep on their 53-man roster. There is always the possibility of a trade. But looking at the current roster, the additions of Landry and Janis could prevent the Browns addressing wide receiver high in the draft. It would be more likely they wait until day three of the draft to address the position. DaeSean Hamilton, Javon Wims, and Trey Quinn would be solid additions late in the draft.
Browns sign Darren Fells
A signing that will not draw much attention, but Fells fills a need on the Browns offense. With David Njoku and Seth DeValve lacking as blockers, Fells will primarily be a blocking tight end. Randall Telfer’s spot on the roster is already highly in question. Cleveland also added Gavin Escobar in January. With the depth at the position, it is hard to see Cleveland using anything but a late round pick on a tight end. If a tight end they value falls later than expected, then they may pull the trigger. But otherwise, the position most likely will not be a focus in the draft.
Browns sign Chris Hubbard, Donald Stephenson
With the retirement of Joe Thomas, there will be a focus on the offensive line in the draft. Hubbard will be the starter at right tackle and Stephenson will be used as a backup tackle. Left tackle is an open competition, but Cleveland does not have the best in-house options. Drafting a tackle will be a priority early on in the draft for Dorsey.
With the top offensive tackle Connor Williams likely to be picked in the teens of the draft, Cleveland will not be in a position to draft him unless they trade down from four. They have the draft ammunition to move into the 20’s of the first round, as the 33rd overall pick will be valuable. Mike McGlinchey and Kolton Miller are two tackles that will fall into that range. But if the Browns miss out on those players, Tyrell Crosby and Jamarco Jones could be options in the second round.
Browns sign Chris Smith
Smith will be a versatile piece in Gregg Williams’ defense. He can play inside or on the edge and get to the quarterback. But he will be nothing more than a rotational player. Cleveland traded Danny Shelton, but Trevon Coley and Larry Ogunjobi are solid up the middle. They also have Jamie Meder and Caleb Brantley as tackle depth. With Williams at the helm, he will likely move some of his defensive ends inside to create mismatches. Drafting a pure defensive tackle likely won’t be a focus. Instead, they may want to add versatile players that can play on the edge or inside.
With Emmanuel Ogbah and Myles Garrett having injury problems in 2017, Cleveland may want to add depth on the edge in the draft. If Bradley Chubb is available with the fourth overall pick, it may be hard to pass on the potential of a Chubb and Garrett pass rush, with Ogbah and Smith subbing in to give the two a rest. All four also have the size to move inside to create mismatches. Cleveland also has Carl Nassib and Nate Orchard on the roster.. But Cleveland may have a best player available approach in the middle to late rounds, and pass rushers are always a need. Ade Aruna and John-Franklin Myer are solid developmental guys on day three.
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Browns sign T.J. Carrie, Terrance Mitchell, E.J. Gaines; trade for Damarious Randall
Carrie, Gaines, and Randall are all expected to become starters in the Browns defense. Randall will play alongside Jabrill Peppers at safety, and Carrie and Gaines will be the starting corners. Both are solid players, but neither can be called shutdown corners. Cleveland lacks a dynamic cornerback of that caliber, and that could be a focus in the draft.
Denzel Ward and Minkah Fitzpatrick could be options with the fourth overall pick. If the Browns trade down from four, Ward and Josh Jackson will certainly be at the top of the board. They could also wait to see what corners fall into the late first or early second round, such as Jaire Alexander, Mike Hughes, and Isaiah Oliver. With as much of a focus Cleveland has put in the secondary, a corner in the first or second round is a high possibility.
Overall effect of signings
Cleveland did a great job of adding depth across the entire roster during free agency. Despite obvious needs at quarterback and left tackle, the Browns can take a best player available approach. But what they need to be careful about is knowing the limitations of their signings. Cleveland still needs a dynamic, ball-hawking shutdown corner and a pass-rushing threat opposite of Garrett. But they can take a best player available approach while being wary of the talent they need at some positions.