The Cleveland Browns are desperate for wide receivers, it’s that simple. They should almost certainly use their first-round pick on one of the many projected blue chip prospects, and should probably consider using a later pick on a receiver as well.
For now it looks like the team will run it back with Baker Mayfield for his fifth year, and he’ll need help if they want to evaluate him further for a long term extension. The Browns will have a compensatory late third-round pick, two picks in the fourth round, and one pick in each of Rounds 5, 6, and 7. At least one of those should be spent on another wide receiver after the first round.
Most consider late round picks to essentially mean taking a flyer on someone, but every once in a while there are guys that fly under the radar only to become major assets to their teams. Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, Antonio Brown, etc., there’s lots of examples in that department, but even finding someone like Donovan Peoples-Jones in the sixth round is more useful than most late round picks.
And with such a deep receiver class in 2022 there are bound to be several day two-three options to help bolster a very depleted receiver room in Cleveland. However, with receiver being a strength of the draft many teams might settle early rather than address another need with less draft depth in the first couple rounds.
Someone who isn’t projected by many to go in any of the first few rounds is Mississippi State’s Makai Polk. After two seasons without much opportunity at Cal, Polk transferred to play for the Bulldogs in Mike Leach’s Air Raid, and immediately became a favorite target of quarterback Will Rogers.
He led the team with 1,046 yards on 105 catches with nine touchdowns and made a huge difference in a team that struggled to find consistency through the air the year before his arrival. His route running stood out even in a pretty simplified Air Raid, especially when it came to finding the first down marker, and he showcased some remarkable ball tracking and catching skills.
His ability to go to a new school/environment and perform at a high level in the SEC in just one season speaks well to Polk’s adaptability, but even in a system designed to put up ridiculous numbers in the passing game he was just clearly a cut above the rest. He gave his team a very reliable option when the time came to move the sticks and pick up big gains. His averaging almost exactly 10 yards per catch shows some reliability in that department, and even without the profile of a surefire No. 1 receiver his well-rounded game makes him potentially a very useful player for teams lacking at receiver depth and/or willing to develop a prospect.
Standing somewhere between 6-3 and 6-4 and weighing around 200-lbs, Polk has the ideal frame for a receiver that can go up and win 50/50 balls. Though his speed isn’t what makes him stand out, he’s pretty good at creating separation as well. Given his limited playing time as a WR1 and usage in an Air Raid system, it might take some work with Kevin Stefanski and the coaching staff to get him to fit into a more complex offense, but most of the skills are there already.
Barring any remarkable change in the view of his draft stock it’s likely that Polk is a post-Round 3 receiver, which gives the Browns plenty of time to address other needs with their round two-three and compensatory picks. If he’s available after Round 4-5 the Browns should certainly “take a flyer,” but there’s the possibility he could even be available as an undrafted free agent.
He certainly deserves more attention than he’s been getting, but with a loaded class it’s harder to stand out.