Cleveland Browns draft: Shop for corners early, DTs and LBs later

KALAMAZOO, MI - AUGUST 31: Ifeatu Melifonwu #23 of the Syracuse Orange in action during a game against the Western Michigan Broncos at Waldo Stadium on August 31, 2018 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Syracuse won 55-42. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
KALAMAZOO, MI - AUGUST 31: Ifeatu Melifonwu #23 of the Syracuse Orange in action during a game against the Western Michigan Broncos at Waldo Stadium on August 31, 2018 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Syracuse won 55-42. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /
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Cleveland Browns
Workers in the beginning stages of setting up the grand stage next to Lake Erie behind FirstEnergy Stadium in preparation for the upcoming NFL Draft on Wednesday, April 7, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio. [Phil Masturzo/ Beacon Journal]Nfl Draft3 /

Good corners become really scarce by about Round 3, but not so for defensive tackles and linebackers. The Cleveland Browns should plan accordingly.

By statistically correlating the value that NFL teams place on their cornerbacks with the round that they were drafted in, it can be predicted cornerbacks will be a hot commodity for the Cleveland Browns in Round 1 and Round 2 of the NFL Draft.

Help at defensive tackle and linebacker, the other problem spots in the Browns depth chart, can be found later in the draft and even among undrafted free agents (UDFAs).

The three candidate positions of need are cornerback, defensive tackle, and linebacker. That’s not to say that the Browns would not draft some other position if he was a clearly superior athlete, but the Browns have enough defensive ends, running backs, and wide receivers — and they are not seeking to replace Baker Mayfield, but thank you for your suggestions anyway.

So that is why the discussion is limited to those three positions, because I believe that it is 90% likely that the Browns’ first draft pick will come from one of these three positions.

The numbers are obtained by working the problem backward.

The top 20 cornerback salaries were obtained using figures supplied by, and then their salary was compared to the round they were drafted in. The salary is taken as a reasonable proxy for their value.

If you prefer, you could substitute some other metric such as grades from Pro Football Focus (which I chose not to use because not all fans have access to that information), or some other grading system.

Or it could be broken down according to years in the league, type of defense played by the team (3-4-4, 4-3-4, or the ever-popular 4-2-5). But for now, I kept it simple with just three types of players — cornerbacks, inside linebackers as defined by, and defensive tackles.

The results show some interesting trends. First, an amazing 60% of top 20 cornerbacks are first-round picks. Among defensive tackles, only 30% are first-rounders. 25% of Top 20 linebackers were taken in the first round. That tells you if the Browns think they want a top 20 cornerback, they probably should think about drafting one in the Round 1 or if not, certainly by Round 2.

Among cornerbacks, only one of them came from  Round 4, and he was 20th overall. The rest were second-rounders (four) and third-rounders (three). What that tells us is that it is highly improbable that a cornerback drafted in Round 4 can become a star. In Round 5 or later, drafting a cornerback might be an attempt to get a special teams player or perhaps a free safety.

Something else to notice is that if Excel is asked to draw a trendline through the data points, the slope is $1.37 million per round. This is the steepest slope of the three positions investigated and strongly suggests that the drop-off in talent for cornerbacks is very sharp.

That is, a second-round pick might make the top 20, but on average, they are worth about $1,37 million less than those who were first-rounders. The third-round picks are worth about $1.37 million less than the second-rounders. It’s a small data sample, but the trend is rather strong.

Why is that?

Possibly much of what it takes to be a great cornerback involves combine stats that allow the scouts to make very accurate judgments about them. Namely, a lot depends upon raw speed and agility. If the prospect is slow and does not do well in the shuttle and agility drills, it’s very hard to be a good cornerback in the NFL. The teams make good decisions on cornerbacks.

This year it might be a little different because the times from Pro Day are not quite as reliable as the highly standardized tests at the Combines. Still, by and large, teams seem to know what they are doing when they draft cornerbacks and there are very few surprises.

If they do draft a late-round cornerback, they have in mind to make him a safety, or situational defensive back, but he hardly ever develops into a number one cover corner.