Cleveland Browns: Draft adds to growing expectations for 2021 season
The Cleveland Browns added depth in this past weekend’s NFL Draft that will add to the growing expectations of the 2021 season and beyond.
General manager Andrew Berry continues to have success when it comes to building the Cleveland roster. In his second draft as the GM of the Browns, he knocked it out of the park, adding key pieces to key areas, mostly on the defensive side of the ball.
The theme of this year’s draft, much like the theme of the offseason, was to add defensive players that can either make an instant impact or one down the road.
Some of the 2021 NFL Draft selections can be starters while others can be key contributors from a backup perspective.
Now, before we get into the draft class, it should be known that we will not know how good or bad this draft class is for years, as said by head coach Kevin Stefanski.
"“We are excited because we stayed true to the process but we have to let this thing play out and we will see over the course of years, how we did.” — Stefanski"
Before the 2021 offseason began, there was excitement and hope for a fan base that has suffered for the better part of two decades after an 18-year playoff drought was snapped in 2020 along with a 26-year playoff win drought. The expectations of the team grew with the free-agent additions of John Johnson III, Troy Hill, Anthony Walker, Jadeveon Clowney, Malik Jackson, and Takk McKinley.
Cleveland isn’t used to picking later in the first round, but due to the success of the 2020 campaign, they had the 26th pick. With that pick, they drafted cornerback Greg Newsome II out of Northwestern. The 20-year old had a ton of success in college by limited opposing receivers.
In 2020, Newsome had the best passer rating of any cornerback in the FBS and didn’t allow a single touchdown pass. For as good as he is, the knock against him is his durability, as he missed at least three games in each of his three collegiate seasons, including eight in 2019. The Browns already have Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams, who both have trouble staying on the field. This pick adds depth to a CB room that needs it.
The second round of the draft might have produced the best value pick for the Browns. After trading up from No. 59 to No. 52, Cleveland was able to land linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah out of Notre Dame. Now linebacker probably isn’t the right classification for him, as he is a linebacker/safety hybrid player.
The 2020 Butkus Award winner (nation’s top linebacker), showed a ton of versatility for the Fighting Irish. He is an athletic beast and combine that with his versatility and ability to defend from multiple positions has to have defensive coordinator Joe Woods salivating on how to use him. The Browns considered Owusu-Koramoah at 26 and were pleasantly surprised he was available at 52.
Both Newsome and JOK were graded top-20 by Pro Football Reference’s pre-draft rankings.
With the 91st pick in the draft, Cleveland addressed another area of need by drafting speedy wide receiver Anthony Schwartz out of Auburn. This kid has track speed and was named the 2018 Gatorade National Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year.
The Browns receiver room is slower than one would like and this pick makes a ton of sense to help out in that regard. He can be used in deep go routes, which will help quarterback Baker Mayfield, as he has been the most accurate deep-ball thrower since entering the league in 2018.
Schwartz can also be used in gadget-type plays such as bubble screens and end arounds. He will need to develop more in his route running, tracking the deep ball better, and catching the ball. If he gets the ball in the open field or burns defenses over the top, good luck to anyone trying to catch him. He could potentially turn into a Tyreek Hill-like player for the Browns.
In the fourth round, the Browns focused on interior linemen on both sides of the ball. With the 110th pick, they selected offensive tackle James Hudson out of Cincinnati. He will be a swing tackle, meaning he can play either side, but will also be rotated in with the guards. Last season the Browns had offensive line injury issues, so this addition of depth should help. Hudson also has the ability to become a starter down the road.
Later in the fourth round (132nd pick overall), the Browns went back to defense with defensive tackle Tommy Togiai out of Ohio State. He’s known for his strong upper body and agility, but he is a bit undersized for his position. He can, however, be featured at the three-tech. He will have a chance to make the roster come the summertime.
The fifth round added more defensive depth. Linebacker Tony Fields II was drafted 153rd overall out of West Virginia. The linebacker room was arguably the weakest on the team, but that position is the least-important on the field. With that said, more depth was needed and with the addition of Fields, guys like Mack Wilson and Sione Takitaki will need to step up their games or risk being cut.
Georgia safety Richard LeCounte was taken with the 169th pick. He is another guy who adds depth behind Johnson and Ronnie Harrison. He isn’t the biggest guy, which could cause issues, but he is a guy who isn’t afraid of laying a thundering hit on opposing ball carriers.
With their last pick of the 2021 draft (211 overall), Cleveland took another hybrid player in Demetric Felton out of UCLA. He will be with the running backs, but will also see time with the receivers. He has dynamic playmaking ability out of the backfield or in the slot. In his four years at UCLA, he caught 99 passes for 958 yards and eight touchdowns. In his senior season, he rushed for 668 yards and seven touchdowns. Stefanski and offensive coordinator should have a field day scheming both Felton and Schwartz into the lineup.
Out of 18 different draft graders through various media outlets, 17 gave the Browns an A for their draft. The only person who didn’t give them an A was ESPN’s draft guru Mel Kiper Jr., who gave them a B.
Overall, this was a good draft, at least on paper for the Browns. Depth is key to any team succeeding in the NFL and Berry made sure to add value depth at key positions on both sides of the ball, mostly on defense.
There is a lot of work to be done from now until the start of the season in September, but fans should be overjoyed with what could be a very special season in The Land.
Speaking of Cleveland, the draft being held there was fantastic. Even if you weren’t physically in Cleveland for the draft, you could feel the excitement by watching from home or interacting on social media.