The Cleveland Browns need to keep fixing a porous defense, which is just what they do in a three-round mock draft from Pro Football Focus.
The Cleveland Browns had more than their share of problems on defense during the 2016 season.
Under former defensive coordinator Ray Horton, the Browns finished:
- 31st in the NFL in touchdown passes allowed with 36
- 30th in points per game at 28.2
- 30th in sacks with 26
- 31st against the run at 142.7 yards per game
- 28th in average run per carry at 4.6
Cleveland started the process of fixing the defense earlier this offseason when they replaced Horton with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
The Browns will have ample opportunities to continue the process during the 2017 NFL Draft as they currently hold the No. 1 overall selection and five of the first 65 selections, part of a package of 11 picks overall.
It is those first three rounds that are the focus of a three-round mock draft from Steve Palazzolo at Pro Football Focus, who goes into overdrive in an attempt to plug some holes on the Browns defense.
With the No. 1 overall selection, Palazzolo plays it safe by selecting Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett:
"Production and athleticism match up to create a fantastic prospect in Garrett, who finished his career with 31 sacks, 35 QB hits, and 98 hurries on his 978 rushes while improving against the run in all three years at Texas A&M."
With Cleveland’s second first-round pick, No. 12 overall, Palazzolo turns his attention to the backside of the defense by selecting LSU safety Jamal Adams:
"With the top two quarterback options off the board, the Browns stick to the board and get a playmaker on the back end in Adams. He was the top-graded safety in the nation last season at 89.4 overall, showing the versatility to play in the box while playing multiple coverages. He adds a defensive chess piece capable of playing short zones, covering tight ends, or playing deep coverage."
While the Garrett pick has become a fait accompli at this point, the selection of Adams is a solid one. The safety situation for the Browns last season was bad as Jordan Poyer went down with a season-ending injury, rookie Derrick Kindred was inconsistent, Ibraheim Campbell looked like a player who will soon join the list of disappointing Ray Farmer draft picks, and Cleveland was forced to play 34-year-old cornerback Tramon Williams out of position.
Palazzolo stays on the defensive side of the ball in the second round as he has the Browns opening day two of the draft by selecting Michigan cornerback Jourdan Lewis:
"The Browns go back to the defensive well with Lewis, who can cover the shiftier route runners either on the outside or in the slot. He broke up 28 passes on 182 targets over the last three years while allowing a passer rating of 46.0 on throws into his coverage."
Not satisfied with just one cornerback, Palazzolo goes back again with Cleveland’s second pick in the second round, selecting Colorado’s Ahkello Witherspoon:
"The defensive overhaul continues in Cleveland as the Browns add length to their secondary in Witherspoon. At nearly 6-foot-3, he can press at the line and run with receivers downfield, all while adding strong ball skills that led to a nation-high 13 pass breakups in 2016."
Those are both interesting selections. While the Browns need help at safety, the need is not as acute at cornerback. Jamar Taylor was solid in his first season with the team, and while Joe Haden has slipped due to injury, he is still productive when healthy. So while it is not a stretch that the Browns would continue to focus on the secondary, picking two cornerbacks may be going a bit too far.
Of the two, Lewis seems like a more reasonable selection as he was a first-team All-American, a Jim Thorpe Award finalist and the Big Ten Conference Defensive Back of the Year as a senior. As for Witherspoon, his biggest attribute would be his height (6-foot-3) which would help him match up with the league’s taller wide receivers, but according to his draft profile at NFL.com, he has an aversion to hitting and tackling, which does not play well in the AFC North. (Just ask Justin Gilbert).
Finally, in what would be sure to set Browns Twitter on fire, Palazzolo opens the third round by selecting Pittsburgh quarterback Nathan Peterman:
"The Browns finally pick a quarterback, and while they’ll still likely be in the market next season, Peterman is worth a shot at this point. He impressed in a couple of key areas, including his accuracy at the intermediate and deep level, and recorded one of the highest percentages of big-time throws in the class."
The one edge that Peterman has over the higher-ranked quarterbacks is that he played in a pro style offense at Pitt. But he lost his job to Josh Dobbs at Tennessee before transferring to Pitt, where he was just average. With Cody Kessler already on the roster, Peterman would seem to be a redundancy.
Overall the idea of the Browns focusing on the defensive side of the ball in the opening rounds of the draft makes sense. They are solid in the running game, rebuilt the offensive line in free agency, and other than possibly needing a wide receiver, can wait until later in the draft to bolster the offense.