Four grad scholars vying to become members of the Cleveland Browns this year

Nov 7, 2020; Manhattan, Kansas, USA; Oklahoma State Cowboys wide receiver Dillon Stoner (17) is tackled by Kansas State Wildcats defensive backs Kiondre Thomas (3) and Wayne Jones (4) during a game at Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 7, 2020; Manhattan, Kansas, USA; Oklahoma State Cowboys wide receiver Dillon Stoner (17) is tackled by Kansas State Wildcats defensive backs Kiondre Thomas (3) and Wayne Jones (4) during a game at Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports /

Four Cleveland Browns rookies attended grad school last year: LB Tony Fields II, RB Tre Harbison, DE Romeo McKnight, and CB Kiondre Thomas.

The Cleveland Browns have four rookies on the 90-player roster who were graduate transfers last season while playing an extra season of college ball. That is, they already had their bachelor’s degree and were either going for a master’s degree or at the very least were accumulating additional college credits towards a different college major.

The young scholars in question are linebacker Tony Fields II, defensive end Romeo McKnight, halfback Tre Harbison, and cornerback Kiondre Thomas.

Tony Fields, their fifth-round pick, graduated from the University of Arizona with BS degree in Literacy, Learning, and Leadership, and transferred in summer 2020 to West Virginia University, where he lit up the Big 12. He was selected by the Coaches and AP Polls as the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year and was Reese’s Senior Bowl All-America First Team and Coaches plus AP All-Big 12 First Team.

According to Ellis L. Williams, writing in, defensive end Romeo McKnight earned a B.S. degree in Business from Illinois State, and then transferred to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte where he is pursuing a Master’s degree in Political Science. McKnight’s 2019 season at ISU was truly dominant.

He was an All-Missouri Valley Football Conference First Team selection at defensive end. He ranked fourth in the league in sacks (12.0) and TFLs (16.5) and also added 64 tackles, including 36 solo stops. Those are very good numbers for a linebacker, but for a defensive end, they are mind-boggling. These are dominating numbers, but let’s not confuse the Missouri Valley Football Conference with the SEC.

By amazing coincidence, his UNC-Charlotte teammate Tre Harbison has a similar story. According to the UNC-Charlotte website, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Northern Illinois University and enrolled in the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program at Charlotte. Harbison attended Crest High School in Shelby, NC, so it was much easier for family and friends to watch him play at UNC-Charlotte rather than making the trek up to Huskie Stadium in beautiful but distant DeKalb, Illinois.

DPD is not quite sure how the Browns found out about Harbison and McKnight, but it’s an interesting coincidence that the receiver’s coach there was Montario Hardesty. Yes, that Montario Hardesty, who was a gifted running back for the Cleveland Browns back in the day, though unfortunately his career was cut short due to injuries. Hardesty has since moved on to coach the running backs at the University of South Carolina.

Cornerback Kiondre Thomas from the Kansas State Wildcats was a graduate transfer from the Minnesota Golden Gophers, so he has played in the Big 12 as well as the Big Ten Conferences. He also rang up a 4.44-second 40-yard dash at his Pro Day, along with a 6.94-second 3-cone drill and 4.35-second 20-yard shuttle, and 1.56 ten-yard split. HIs vertical of 37.5 inches is also very good among pro prospects.

To compare, his 3-cone drill time exactly matches first-round pick Greg Newsome II. His 40-yard dash time is slower by only 0.06 seconds and the 20-yard shuttle misses by 0.07 seconds. Newsome outweighs Thomas by six pounds. Newsome jumped 2.5 inches higher.

Gee, that does not sound like much of a difference between a first-round draft pick and an undrafted free agent. Newsome put on the better performance, but Thomas is no slouch. Yet, for whatever reason, Thomas was not an every-down player in college, usually sharing the position with other highly talented players. Maybe we should watch this situation closely this summer. Thomas’ agent is Paul Sheehy of Pro Star Sports.

What is going on here? Four players with an extra year of academic eligibility used for advanced education is a rather large coincidence. It’s a reflection of the value the Browns place on smart, determined players. To obtain a college degree of any kind, it takes not just talent, but a certain amount of perseverance and hard work. Those attributes will serve a player well in the National Football League as well.

That’s not to say that the Browns would not be willing to forgive an academic under-achiever in a particular set of circumstances, but it is fair to infer that Cleveland believes that intelligent players are better for the team than the less gifted ones. After all, studying and knowing a playbook has something in common with studying a textbook.

Doesn’t it seem that the players who make heads-up plays on the field also tend to be the ones who are smart off the field as well? Conversely, the players who do stupid things off the field seem to be the ones who line up off-sides, get called for taunting, or get faked out by their opponent.

It’s not a perfect correlation, but other things being equal, it’s probably better to have the smart players on our team’s roster rather than the other team’s.

It is not certain that the Browns will bring in graduate student-athletes again next year. However, what does seem to be a definite trend, though with certain exceptions, is that they are evaluating players from the neck up in addition to their Combine performances and college football stats.

Next. Browns completely overhauled defense heading into 2021. dark

The Browns are looking for smart players. And that’s not a dumb idea.