Cleveland Browns: On the clock with PFF’s Brad Spielberger

Anthony Farris
Rashod Bateman, Cleveland Browns draft. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
Rashod Bateman, Cleveland Browns draft. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /

Brad Spielberger from Pro Football Focus takes some time to discuss Cleveland Browns football and covers topics such as the draft, OBJ, and Jadeveon Clowney

As the NFL Draft countdown changes from days to hours, excitement from Cleveland Browns fans is reaching “Run William Run” levels. Recent draft success has played a major role in transforming the team from perennial laughingstock to realistic Super Bowl talk.

Hitting on early-round selections such as Myles Garrett, Baker Mayfield, Denzel Ward, Nick Chubb, and Jedrick Wills has the Browns penciled in as legitimate contenders for the foreseeable future.

Thursday night on the shores of Lake Erie (this year’s draft will take place in Cleveland), the Browns have another opportunity to add to their Lombardi-chasing roster. Will they stay at pick 26, or trade out?  Draft an edge-rusher, a cornerback, add more weapons to an already explosive offense? We’re now just hours away from our answer.

Brad Spielberger, a Salary Cap Analyst for Pro Football Focus (PFF) – a highly regarded grading and analysis site, joined me to discuss his thoughts on some of the top prospects in this year’s draft, who the Browns should target, the existing Cleveland roster and more. As part of his role with PFF, Spielberger also analyzes draft prospects and how they project at the pro level. Prior to joining PFF, he spent time in the Minnesota Vikings’ legal department.

Let’s dive in:

Q) Most mock drafts have the Browns selecting either a defensive lineman, cornerback, or linebacker with their first pick (26th). Do you think this is the direction the team should go?

A) I do think it makes sense, especially if Christian Barmore (from Alabama) makes it to No. 26 after the release of Sheldon Richardson. There’s arguably not another interior defensive lineman prospect that has the potential to consistently generate pressure on the quarterback from the 3-technique spot in their first few seasons after Barmore.

At edge, obviously, Jadeveon Clowney was a solid signing late in the offseason, but on a one-year deal you’d still like to address that spot opposite Myles Garrett for the foreseeable future. While there aren’t any truly elite edge rushers in this class, there are a bunch that could be strong additions at No. 26 (Jaelan Phillips, Jayson Oweh).

Cornerback is arguably the last potential weak spot on the Browns defense, and it would make a lot of sense to add another player to the position group. Troy Hill was a great signing, and while he played in the slot primarily in 2020, he does have experience on the outside as well. With Denzel Ward missing a handful of games each season thus far in his career, and Greedy Williams missing the entire 2020 campaign, an outside corner could be a great pick.

If Caleb Farley’s back injury potentially scares some teams away, Cleveland could perhaps take the risk and gamble on tremendous upside.

Q) If you’re picking for the Browns, who are the top 3 prospects you’re targeting?

A) If I was running the Browns, while I understand the defense was the far weaker unit in 2020, I wouldn’t ignore the offensive side of the ball. Minnesota WR Rashod Bateman could perhaps make it to #26, and that would be a great pickup for Cleveland.

Otherwise, I’d see if Miami edge rusher Jaelan Phillips slides due to his prior medical concerns, and I’d take the gamble there. Lastly, I’d hope that Northwestern CB Greg Newsome II falls to 26, in which case I’d sprint to the (virtual) podium to put that selection card in.

Q) Does the recent signing of Jadeveon Clowney make drafting a defensive end in the first round less of a priority?

A) The Clowney signing definitely helps, in that Cleveland has no pressing needs really and can truly go best player available in Round 1.

Clowney and Malik Jackson have the ability to kick inside as well, even with Andrew Billings and Jordan Elliott likely taking the majority of snaps at 3-technique following Sheldon Richardson’s release. The defensive line is in a good spot, and while Cleveland surely could benefit from further additions, it’s not necessarily a dire situation if none are made.

Q) You mentioned Rashod Bateman earlier. Would any of the other receivers (outside of those widely assumed to go in the top 15) be a good option at number 26?

A) I would take Rashod Bateman because he can be a true X on the outside or perhaps fill the Z role early on, but I wouldn’t take the (highly ranked) slot receivers such as Kadarius Toney or Elijah Moore. Cleveland could address slot receiver depth later in the draft if they felt compelled to.

Q) To piggyback off of that question, both Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. have large salaries for the 2022 season when both will turn 30 years old. Because of these factors, do you see both players, or either player, remaining in Cleveland (assuming they’re healthy) beyond the 2021 season?

A) Right now, I’d bet that only one of the two is on the roster in 2022. I would lean towards Odell Beckham Jr. finding a new home, but that may be skewed by the fact he seems to be subject of trade rumors every other day.

Q) You’re a Salary Cap Analyst. Would you extend Nick Chubb?

A) I don’t think it was a coincidence at all that Kareem Hunt’s extension runs one year beyond the expiration of Chubb’s contract, and I think Cleveland needs to stick to their valuation in any extension talks given that leverage.

Chubb is an exceptional runner of the football but doesn’t bring a ton to the table in the passing game, and that’s where modern NFL running backs can earn that top dollar. Nevertheless, given the market correction experienced this offseason at running back, perhaps there is a deal that both parties could be happy with.

If Chubb wants Christian McCaffrey money, I’d wish him well on his future endeavors. If he’s willing to negotiate in the Derrick Henry/Dalvin Cook/Aaron Jones market of $12-$13M per year with insubstantial guarantees, there’s no reason not to explore an extension.

Q) Do you foresee any players on the current Browns roster as being paid significantly more than their on-field production would warrant?

A) Not really, I think Cleveland has done a good job of managing their contracts after the latest reboot around 2017. I think it’s possible the front office felt that way about Odell Beckham Jr.‘s contract and would’ve considered moving on before he unfortunately tore his ACL, just because the offense is obviously a run-first attack and he and Baker at times have struggled to get on the same page.

But on the other hand, the wide receiver market has also continued to rise since Beckham’s 2018 extension, and he can be break off a huge play on any snap – which defenses have to always respect and be aware of. Otherwise, I think perhaps Austin Hooper got paid a little too much last offseason, but not so much so that you consider moving him.

Q) Finally, Browns fans should be thrilled if they wake up Sunday and this happened on draft weekend….

A) Browns fans should be thrilled if Andrew Berry finds a team in the early second round looking to trade up and secures additional draft capital to move down from No. 26. I know that may not be the most exciting answer, but if any fanbase is aware of the fact that first-round picks aren’t guarantees of anything it’s gotta be Browns fans.

This analytically-minded front office may find themselves in a spot where they don’t particularly love anyone remaining at No. 26, and solid offers could be on the table for their pick. The last time a team traded up to pick No. 26 was in 2019 when the Washington Football Team sent the Colts No. 46 and a 2020 2nd round pick. Indianapolis ended up getting incredible value, with the future 2nd becoming pick No. 34 in 2020, where they selected WR Michael Pittman.

I doubt Cleveland gets an offer this strong, but they could turn No. 26 into a top 45 pick and an additional top 100 pick. The Browns are in uncharted territory, with a salary cap that must now be monitored closely and maintained efficiently going forward. Baker Mayfield could be looking for $40M per year and Denzel Ward $20M per year, and stockpiling draft picks could be very wise.

The Browns enter Thursday night with nine draft picks. One pick each in rounds one, two, five, six, and seven. They have two picks in rounds three and four. As a team with surprisingly few holes and a roster whose average age was just over 25 (entering last season), it’s unlikely the orange and brown will leave the weekend having made all nine selections.

Expect GM Andrew Berry to aggressively use his extra picks to move up the draft board, trade for a veteran(s) or swap this year’s choices for 2022 draft compensation.

Finally, if you step away from the TV and hear an analyst gushing about someone having “oily hips”, being “nasty” or referred to as “plug n play”, rest assured that these terms are increasingly seen as the highest form of flattery in the eyes of an NFL draft hopeful.

4 biggest needs heading into the 2021 NFL Draft. dark. Next

And no one had oilier hips (for one season at least) than William Green.