The Cleveland Browns have an enormous opportunity to turn their franchise around starting on April 27 in Philadelphia. The 2017 NFL Draft is a chance for Cleveland to begin its turnaround from laughingstock to solid franchise. With five of the top 65 picks and a total of seven in the first four rounds, the Browns simply can’t afford to screw this up.
What follows is a mock for all of Cleveland’s picks in this year’s draft. This projection is what the Browns should do at each pick. It does not take into account trades and also is my consideration of who will be on the board. At each pick I balanced my projection of “best available” and “best fit” for the team.
Off the top I should also mention that I’m not a big fan of any of the quarterbacks in this year’s draft class, which is why I think the Browns shouldn’t waste yet another first-round pick on a mediocre signal-caller.
1st round (1) — Myles Garrett, DE/OLB, Texas A&M
This is the obvious pick. Garrett is the only player with true “star power” in this year’s draft. You need edge rushers to win in the pass-happy NFL these days, and Garrett is a physical freak who can get to the quarterback. The Browns simply can’t pass on him.
1st round (12) — O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama
This is where most observers have them taking a quarterback, but I’m going with a hard pass there. None of the signal-callers in this year’s draft are worth the 12th pick and if the Browns don’t work a trade they should get a playmaker, something the current roster is lacking. Howard is 6’6″ and 251 pounds, and also ran a 4.51 40. He’s got phenomenal hands and should make an impact immediately.
Eventually, the Browns will draft a quarterback, and they should focus on getting weapons who will surround him. Until that time, give Brock Osweiler or whoever winds up under center a chance to succeed with a target like Howard.
2nd round (33) — Adoree’ Jackson, CB, USC
Cleveland’s secondary stunk in 2016, so that must be a focus of this draft. Go out and get playmakers who can make a difference. Jackson needs polish as a corner, but he can step in an play the slot immediately. He also possesses the pure athletic talent to be a shutdown guy eventually. Meanwhile, he’ll immediately give Cleveland a Pro Bowl-level return man and Hue Jackson could draw up special packages to get him on offense. With Jackson and Garrett in the fold, the Browns will have gotten the two most explosive athletes in the draft.
2nd round (52) — Budda Baker, S, Washington
If Baker was bigger, he’d be the top safety in this draft. Despite being just a shade under 5’10” and only 195 pounds, he was one of college football’s best defenders over the past two seasons. He’s an oustanding tackler who makes plays all over the field, has an insanely high football IQ and can make plays on the ball.
Baker is not quite Tyrann Mathieu, but he’s that kind of player. Overlooked because of his size but a pure football player who gets it done between the lines. He would be yet another dynamic piece added to a beleaguered secondary.
3rd round (65) — Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma
Isaiah Crowell averaged 4.8 yards per carry in 2016 and Duke Johnson was at 4.9, but neither guy topped 200 carries. Crowell has yet to sign a new contract with Cleveland, meaning the team needs to add to its running back stable.
Perine is 5’11” and 233 pounds of pure grinder. He’s a power back who can get you tough yards up the middle, something the Browns will need to get defenses out of the backfield on passing downs. He’s a quick, downhill runner who can get away from defenders in the open field. He’s not a burner (4.65 40 at the combine), but that’s not what you’re drafting him for. He’ll keep the chains moving reliably. Which is exactly what Cleveland needs.
4th round (108) — Mack Hollins, WR, North Carolina
Corey Coleman and Josh Gordon are unreliable and Kenny Britt isn’t going to scare defenses. The Browns need at least one more receiver, and Hollins is a serous value at this point. At 6’4″ and 211 pounds, the North Carolina product has the size and big-play ability to make an impact early. He averaged 20.6 yards per catch during his college career and ran a 4.53 40 at the combine. He’s tough, strong and a huge target with big hands. He could be a steal this late.
4th round (142) — Elijah Qualls, DE/DT, Washington
Qualls is another value play here. He’s a solid, unspectacular defensive lineman who will give you a good push along the line and will show up reliably. He was first-team all-conference in 2016, then pumped out 33 bench reps while flashing a 5.13 40 at the combine. Qualls won’t wow you with athleticism but he’s stout and relentless. He’s just 6’1″ but carries 313 pounds well on his frame. He’ll immediately be a depth guy who can steal reps along the interior of the defensive line, and occasionally move outside in a pinch.
5th round (145) — Marquez White, CB, Florida State
The changing of the secondary continues. White is a super-solid cornerback, with decent size (6-feet and 195 pounds), who showed really well during the drills portion of his combine workout. He played basketball for the Seminoles during the 2013-14 season but decided to stick to football, where he wound up a 13-game starter in 2016 and earned honorable mention all-conference honors.
White is smart and solid in all aspects of the game. He’s not a “wow” athlete, but he makes up for that with his smarts. He’ll contribute on special teams and if he can get stronger he should be fine in run support.
5th round (177) — Isaac Asiata, G, Utah
The Browns strengthened the interior of their offensive line by signing J.C. Tretter and Kevin Zeitler this offseason. Now it’s time to add depth and bulk to that group. Asiata can play all three interior spots and at 6’3″and 323 pounds is a big, powerful body on the inside. He threw up 35 bench reps at the combine, and his long arms and short-area quickness make him a solid addition this late in the draft. He needs some polish, but he’s a guy who loves contact and battling in the trenches. Getting a three-year major conference starter with upside in the fifth round is a steal in any draft.
5th round (183) — Jessamen Dunker, OT, Tennessee State
Dunker went to Florida out of high school but an arrest for grand theft pushed him to the FCS where he starred at Tennessee State as a four-year starter. As a senior he was an FCS All-American, as he displayed elite athleticism at the position. At 6’4″ and 318 pounds he has good size for a tackle, with adequate arm length and hand size.
The kid can move for his size (4.98 40, 1.80 10-yard split), but he clearly needs high-level coaching to round off his rough edges. You can never have too many offensive linemen and Dunker is a solid tackle prospect with long-term upside.
6th round (187) — Delano Hill, S, Michigan
In the sixth round it’s time to find guys you think can stick on the roster. Hill is that. He played in 46 games over his career, including 26 starts. He is a big safety at 6’1″ and 216 pounds and ran a blazing 4.47 40 at the combine. Hill is a very good tackler but isn’t smooth in coverage. Had he been bigger, he would have made a great linebacker but, alas, he’s stuck as a safety. Still, he should make the roster as a special teams guy who can fill in at the back of the defense.