The Cleveland Browns made strides on both offense and defense by adding major players in the 2018 NFL Draft. As the 2019 draft draws nearer, the Browns should look to a different philosophy this year.
The No. 17 overall pick in the NFL Draft is foreign territory for the Cleveland Browns. Since their 1999 return to the league, the Browns’ first-round pick has only come 17th or later three times in that span. The Browns used those picks on Jeff Faine in 2003, Alex Mack in 2009, and most recently, Phil Taylor in 2011.
Since drafting Taylor in 2011, the Browns have picked inside the top-10 in all but two drafts, when they selected Danny Shelton and Corey Coleman in 2015 and 2016, respectively. Even then, the Browns traded down twice to take Coleman, and were originally in the No. 2 overall spot, and poised to take now-Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz.
You can argue that trading down from the No. 2 spot was what sent the Browns into the two-year downward spiral that they’re just now recovering from. But the Browns came into 2018 with a solid draft philosophy: Find a franchise quarterback, and then fill out the roster’s most important positions with the rest of your high draft picks. After that, just draft for the best player available.
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This led to an explosion of talent heading to Berea, and perhaps most importantly, quarterback Baker Mayfield donning No. 6 for Cleveland. The Browns got their core players set for the next decade, and they no longer have to use such a draft philosophy. Rather, they have to reinvent themselves for the 2019 NFL Draft, which might be even more difficult than finding premium players.
Come April, the Browns will be drafting for their present, rather than their future. The future is here now, in the form of Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, Denzel Ward and Myles Garrett. It is likely that those four will define Cleveland football for years to come, and the Browns’ goal is now to acquire the pieces that will complement those premium talents.
Now, more than ever, the Browns will have multiple options on their draft choices. While selecting at No. 17 does not guarantee a superstar talent, it can still, fortunately for the Browns, provide a complementary piece on a roster. Looking at the current big board and mock drafts, the Browns will likely be torn between a defensive tackle and a wide receiver.
This class is deep on the defensive line, especially at defensive tackle, but the Browns will not be getting a top defensive tackle here. Right now, the consensus pick for Cleveland looks to be Jeffery Simmons from Mississippi State. Although Simmons’s measly two sacks and one forced fumble aren’t the most glamorous, the 21-year old’s 6-4, 300-pound frame gives him an NFL-ready body that will eat blocks and stop the run.
The other widely-accepted pick for Cleveland, Arizona State wide receiver N’Keal Harry, could be a huge help on the offensive side. The Browns have nice chunks of an All-Pro receiving corps, and Harry’s talent could put them over the top. He provides the muscle in comparison to Jarvis Landry’s finesse and the speed of Antonio Callaway and Rashard Higgins.
Whatever the Browns choose to do with the No. 17 overall pick, they must keep in mind that their core is already in place. The 2019 NFL Draft should play to the strengths of that core, rather than trying to bolster that core itself. The Browns no longer have to worry about just getting better, but rather where they need to get better. The draft philosophy in 2019 is going to be totally different for Cleveland, and likely the opposite of the 2018 draft’s simple goals.