It is that time of year again. After months of discussions, scouting, and arguing, we Browns fans finally get our favorite holiday of the year: the NFL Draft. This year is a little different because we know that not only do the Browns not have a first-round pick this year, but as it stands, they will not have one until 2025. Nevertheless, Browns fans have so many reasons to watch and focus on the first-round of the NFL Draft.
AFC North Divisional Impact
The AFC North will be hotly contested again this year. If the teams stay relatively healthy, the Browns, Bengals, and Ravens will all be competing to make deep runs in the playoffs.
Pittsburgh Steelers – What to watch:
the Steelers, despite the loss of Ben Roethlisberger to retirement, should never be overlooked. With that defense, Najee Harris, and Mike Tomlin as head coach, the Steelers are not going to just fade away without a franchise quarterback. All three teams have picks in the first round, giving them chances to improve their team before the Browns do.
The Steelers pick at #20 but have no shortage of areas they can address. The most obvious is quarterback. With Roethlisberger retired, the Steelers have turned to Mitch Trubisky as the quarterback. Trubisky is not expected to be the long-term answer at quarterback, but to be a bridge to a new, young quarterback. It is no secret that the Steelers like draft prospect Malik Willis. They followed him around at the Senior Bowl. It is unknown if they will be able to get him, but they could also be a landing spot for Kenny Pickett or Desmond Ridder.
Aside from the quarterback position, the Steelers could look to improve their secondary, the defensive line, or the offensive line. With Minkah Fitzpatrick on the roster, they could pair him up with one of the many good strong safety prospects like Lewis Cine.
Baltimore Ravens – What to watch:
The Ravens pick at #14. They will likely lean towards taking a defensive player, most likely a defensive lineman or a cornerback. Their secondary was absolutely decimated by injuries in 2021, but more talent could still be added. The defensive line is older, with Calais Campbell at tackle. I would be surprised if the defense wasn’t addressed first. To a much less likely, but needs to be discussed, option: quarterback. It may seem insane to even question this, but Lamar is in the last year of his contract and there are no signs that negotiations are close. If they can’t find common ground, the Ravens will have to franchise tag him. While it is very unlikely it gets to that, the lack of a long-term commitment to Jackson doesn’t rule out the possibility. The team is likely to take Jordan Davis if he is there or could go after Trent McDuffie.
Cincinnati Bengals – What to watch:
The Bengals are picking at #31 after a surprising trip to the Super Bowl. With Joe Burrow and a very talented group of skill position players, the Bengals are poised to make noise for a while. Their biggest weakness going into the offseason was the offensive line, which was evident to everyone watching the Super Bowl. They addressed this throughout free agency and will likely add depth in the draft, unless they want to take Tyler Linderbaum.
Their biggest needs are additional playmakers on defense, specifically at corner. They locked up Jessie Bates but could always grab a running mate for him. The Bengals don’t need much to make another run but will look to build on last year’s success.
Competition in the AFC
AFC Playoff Contender Competition
If the Browns are serious about being Super Bowl Contenders, they must to make it through a very loaded AFC. Some teams, similar to the Browns, have traded away their first-round pick in efforts to improve their team. The Broncos traded for a quarterback (Russell Wilson) while the Raiders and Dolphins went after wide receivers (Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill). Here are some teams in the AFC that could improve with a solid first round of the draft.
Los Angeles Chargers – What to watch:
The Los Angeles Chargers are one of the up-and-coming teams in the NFL. With a young quarterback in Justin Herbert and some solid young players, they aren’t far from being a scary team. The Chargers could look to improve their defensive line or get another weapon for Herbert at pick #17. Jameson Williams would be amazing in the powder blues, as could someone like Devante Wyatt.
Tennessee Titans – What to watch:
The Titans are always competitive behind a strong running game led by Derrick Henry. Unfortunately Henry is most of their offense as a limited Ryan Tannehill isn’t able to get the best out of AJ Brown, a gifted young receiver. The Titans could go after another wide receiver that could help open up the offense. Someone like Jahan Dotson could fit nicely and open up some running lanes for Henry. They could also look to improve their offensive line with Zion Johnson or Kenyon Green at guard.
Buffalo Bills – What to watch:
Buffalo has been a dominant team in the AFC East ever since Brady left the Patriots. Josh Allen has helped transform that offense into a dangerous passing attack. The team, however, has lacked a serious run threat other than Allen. This is why they need to invest in a running back. I imagine that they will take Breece Hall. It just seems like a perfect fit.
Kansas City Chiefs – What to watch:
The Chiefs traded away one of the most unique playmakers in NFL history when they traded Tyreek Hill to the Dolphins last month. While they cannot replace Hill with one player this year, they have to get a receiver that can open things up. Their roster is good, but not the most talented in many areas.
Patrick Mahomes’ talent has covered up a lot of issues. The Chiefs do not have much pass rush outside of Frank Clark. A secondary pass rusher could really help, as could a stud in the secondary. If the Chiefs came out of the first round with guys like Boye Mafe and Christian Watson, two big holes will be filled.
Positional Runs and Falling Prospects
Every year there are positions that have a number of players that go early, causing teams to reach for players at those positions earlier than they are projected because they don’t want to miss out. These runs on positions often push players down the board and benefit teams like the Browns who draft later.
Conversely, there are always players that slide further in the draft than what was expected for one reason or another. Sometimes it is medical. Sometimes it is off-the-field issues. Sometimes it is a player who has a picture wearing a bong mask that is released the morning of the draft, such as Laremy Tunsil in 2016.
As these positional runs happen and players start to fall, that’s when the possibility of trading up increases, particularly for a player in a position of need.
Putting It All Together
As stated frequently on The Dawgs Table, the primary needs for the Browns are defensive tackle, defensive end, wide receiver, and to a lesser extent, offensive tackle and defensive back. So here are two scenarios that demonstrate how things could go in the first 40 picks.
The Best-Case Scenario:
Offensive Linemen fly off the board.
There are 6 projected tackles (Ekwonu, Neal, Cross, Penning, Smith, and Raimann), 2 projected guards (Green, Johnson), and a center (Linderbaum) projected to go that high. That is 9 players.
Defensive Backs are picked early.
If there is a run on cornerbacks early, it could push several of the next tier into these top-40 picks. Gardner, Stingley Jr., McDuffie, Booth, McCreary, Elam, Gordon and even Woolen could go. As for the safeties, Hamilton, Hill, Cine, Brisker and Pitre could go. That would be 13 players.
Quarterbacks in high demand.
Even though the draft is not strong at the quarterback position, it is still a quarterback-driven league. If Willis, Pickett, Ridder, Howell, and Corral all go early, that would be 5 players.
Linebackers shockingly go early.
If this happens and Dean, Lloyd and maybe Tindall go in the top-40, that’s 3 more players.
Best Case Scenario: Conclusion
This scenario would have 30 players off the board not of need for the Browns. This is highly unlikely, but this would push plenty of good players down to the Browns.
The Worst-Case Scenario:
Defensive Ends are picked en masse.
Walker, Hutchinson, Thibodeaux, Johnson, Mafe, Ebiketie, Ojabo, Karlaftis, and even Drake Jackson go early. That’s 9 players.
Defensive Tackles are taken early.
Davis, Wyatt, Jones, Hall, and Winfrey fly off the board. Another 5 players.
Wide Receivers go fast.
Williams, Wilson, Olave, London, Burks, Dotson, Moore, Pickens and Watson all go. 9 more players gone.
Worst-Case Scenario Conclusion:
This scenario would take 23 players at the 3 biggest positions of need for the Browns. This would really handcuff the Browns and limit what they could do.
What will actually happen:
Realistically, what will happen is some combination of both of these scenarios, with positional runs at offensive tackle, cornerback, wide receiver, and defensive ends. That said, it is good to know that good players will still be there at pick #44 and that Andrew Berry will be the guy making the pick. As always, In Berry I Trust.