BEREA, Ohio — When general manager Andrew Berry returned to the Cleveland Browns in 2020, the team absolutely had to select an offensive tackle with their first-round selection, 10th overall.
Cleveland couldn’t keep its quarterback off the turf the previous season, and any hope of moving forward as an organization was predicated on solidifying its pass protection.
Three years after selecting now-starting left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr., the Browns don’t have a first-round pick in Thursday’s draft (8 p.m. ET on ESPN, ABC, ESPN App) following their trade for Deshaun Watson (they don’t have a second anymore, either, following the Elijah Moore trade this offseason).
But heading into Berry’s fourth season as general manager, Cleveland does have a more talented roster overall. And after addressing most of their remaining issues in free agency, the Browns can finally afford to prioritize talent over fit, while rounding out the edges of the roster in the upcoming draft.
“We are pleased with the progress of the team — I wouldn’t say otherwise,” Berry said Friday during his pre-draft news conference. “We liked a lot of the guys that we’ve added over the past couple years and feel fortunate to have been able to retain a lot of the guys that have grown over the past three years. … We certainly are [optimistic] with the group of individuals that we currently have in the locker room and view [the draft] as a chance to add to that group.”
In free agency, the Browns already added to the locker room in several key spots. They landed a much-needed speedy slot receiver in Moore in a trade with the New York Jets. Cleveland also bolstered its defense, signing defensive end Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson and safety Juan Thornhill, who should all slot into starting spots.
Though they still have work to do — namely improving the quality of depth across the front seven — the Browns enter this draft without any glaring needs. And with so few picks this year (eight) and the next (seven) following the Watson trade, Cleveland will especially be eyeing talent over need this time around.
“We do really look at those two specific ways to acquire players,” Berry said. “Free agency is about fulfilling immediate needs. The draft, we look at it as more longer-term planning and, ultimately, trying to maximize talent — especially when you’re in the situation that we’re in, where we’re picking later in the draft, it’s not like we can really dictate it. When you’re at the top of the draft, you can dictate it to a degree. I think it’s important for us to remain flexible and make sure our first priority is maximizing the talent we can add to the team.”
That hasn’t always been the case in Cleveland in recent years.
After no Browns tackle ranked in the top 38 in pass block win rate in 2019, Cleveland predictably took Wills with their first pick in 2020. Wills immediately won a starting job protecting quarterback Baker Mayfield’s blindside. Though Wills has yet to develop into a Pro Bowl-caliber player, he has at least shored up that position (the Browns are likely to pick up Wills’ fifth-year option before the May 2 deadline, according to multiple sources).
This year, however, it’s unclear what the Browns might do with either one of their two picks in the third round. Virtually any position, save kicker (the Browns drafted Cade York in the fourth round last year), could be on the table.
Berry could package his two third-rounders to move up and select a player ranked high on his board. He could collect more picks by trading down. Or, he could just take the best prospect available.
“I think it’s more situationally dependent on how the board falls, quite honestly,” Berry said. “Because we look at the draft more through a long-term lens, we probably in general would be more apt to move back than necessarily move up. But I wouldn’t say that we would be exclusively tied to that decision-making thought process.”
The Browns might not have any picks in the first two rounds this year. But they are in an enviable position. Boasting a more complete roster than Berry’s first draft three years ago.
Browns can finally prioritize talent over fit in NFL draft – Cleveland Browns Blog