The Cleveland Browns have numerous holes to fill on draft weekend and Pro Football Focus does a solid job of filling those needs.
Three weeks from today we will all finally know for certain which college players the Cleveland Browns selected in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
At the risk of getting lectured to on Browns Twitter, while no one knows for certain what executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown has in store for the draft, several safe assumptions can be made as to what the Browns should do that weekend in Philadelphia.
Free agency addressed the issues along the offensive line, but the Browns still need to do something about the quarterback position, can use an impact player along the defensive line, and need help at safety almost (but not quite) as much as they need a quarterback.
Pro Football Focus is profiling three draft needs for each team and, as it just so happens, quarterback, edge defender and safety are the areas they highlighted.
Starting at the top, PFF points to Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes as the man that the Browns need, with Pitt’s Nathan Peterman clocking in as a late-round consideration:
"Expecting the Browns to take Texas A&M ED Myles Garrett No. 1 overall, the Browns could target Mahomes as their QB at No. 12. Coming from an air-raid system, Mahomes was initially overlooked as a system QB with a big arm before draft evaluations started up, but once evaluators dug into his tape and who he is off the field, Mahomes shot up draft boards. A year removed from quitting baseball to concentrate on football full-time, Mahomes’ PFF grades took off as he impressed on a throw-per-throw basis, increasing his big-time throws and decreasing his turnover-worthy throws. An intelligent prospect with one of the most talented arms on the planet, Jackson would be the perfect coach to iron out his wrinkles and groom Mahomes into the QB the Browns have been waiting for."
Mahomes is gaining traction as a first-round pick and an attractive option for head coach Hue Jackson after passing for more than 9,700 yards and 77 touchdowns the past two seasons in the Air Raid offense. He checks off all the boxes that Jackson wants in a quarterback, although one big downside is that, according to PFF, Mahomes was third in the nation last season in turnover-worthy plays.
While it may not be a stretch to see the Browns grabbing Mahomes, the idea of them selecting Peterman leaves us cold. 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.
Related: Browns draft profile Malik Hooker
As for the secondary, PFF’s top pick – Ohio State’s Malik Hooker – would go a long way toward curbing the Ohio State fanboy lust for more Buckeyes on the Browns:
"A fascinating safety prospect, Hooker jumps off the tape with elite athleticism but much more importantly has tremendous deep cover range and instincts. As evidenced by his multiple sideline interceptions that he tracks from the opposite hash, Hooker is easily the best pure free safety prospect since Earl Thomas in terms of his range and playmaking abilities. Thomas is more instinctive coming forwards and a better tackler but Hooker should be able to develop those in time. Strictly a deep safety early in his career, Hooker’s skillset is something that teams dream about."
If the Browns take a pass on Hooker, or he is no longer available when they are on the clock, the alternate choice of Utah’s Marcus Williams would be a good way to go.
The 6-foot-1 and 190-pound Williams was a first-team All-Pac-12 and a first-team Pac-12 All-Academic selection in 2016, so he checks two of the boxes that the Browns are looking for from their players. He has been a starter at free safety since his freshman season, making 28 starts and missing just two games in his career.
Williams is projected to be a second-round selection if he enters the draft, so the Browns won’t be looking at him in the Top 10. But with a pair of second-round picks and a huge hole in the secondary, he could be in play for the Browns on day two of the draft.
As for the edge defender, does anyone really need to ask at this point? The top selection is Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett, who has become the consensus No. 1 pick among just about every draft “expert.” (And won’t it be a hoot when the Browns decide to take a quarterback at No. 1 overall instead?)
It is the late-round target, however, that is intriguing as PFF taps Trey Hendrickson from Florida Atlantic:
"A player worthy of targeting in the third round, FAU’s Hendrickson blends athleticism and impressive productivity from a non-Power 5 school. With impressive grades as a pass-rusher the past two seasons, Hendrickson show vast improvement as a run defender in 2016 to ease some concerns about his run-stopping ability. Tops in PFF’s pass-rushing productivity mark in 2016 at 20.5, Hendrickson racked up 9 sacks, 13 hits and 78 total pressures on just 297 pass-rush snaps. Consider Derek Barnett’s 78 total pressures came on 368 pass rushes, it shows how productive Hendrickson was in college, albeit beating up on Conference USA foes. That said, Hendrickson’s athleticism, production, and ability to win with multiple moves should garner the Browns attention."
If the Browns have taught us anything in the past year, it is that the covet players that were highly productive in college. Hendrickson may not have the high profile of having played in the SEC, but as a late second- or early third-day selection he could very well be on the Browns radar.
The 2017 NFL Draft will take place April 27-29 in Philadelphia. The Browns currently hold 11 selections, including five of the first 65 picks.