AFC North 2022 draft impact greatest for Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens

Apr 29, 2021; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; A Cleveland Browns fan poses with No. 1 jersey at the Draft Stage exhibit at the NFL Draft Experience at First Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 29, 2021; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; A Cleveland Browns fan poses with No. 1 jersey at the Draft Stage exhibit at the NFL Draft Experience at First Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /
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Cleveland Browns
Oct 3, 2020; Starkville, Mississippi, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks wide receiver Mike Woods (8) is tackled by Mississippi State Bulldogs cornerback Martin Emerson (1) during the second quarter at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports /

In the rock ‘em, sock ‘em AFC North, the Cleveland Browns, Ravens appear to have added the most talent over the weekend.

What many of us are most interested in discussing is how the NFL draft will impact the Cleveland Browns and the the other AFC North teams in the upcoming 2022 season.

This year, the Browns added mega-talent if you view who they traded for. In effect, the Browns No. 1 draft pick was Deshaun Watson, who greatly upgrades the quarterback position, and who only carries a $10 million salary-cap hit for 2022.

Similarly, they added Amari Cooper for the cost of a fifth-round pick and an exchange of sixth-round picks. So looking at it from that standpoint, the Browns were big winners in the draft. No other AFC North team did anything remotely like that. Whether or not they can actually play football and solve play-calling issues remains to be seen, but they definitely parlayed draft picks into talent this season.

If fans of the Ravens, Steelers and Bengals want to point out that the Browns’ salary cap is an absolute mess in 2023 and beyond, that is true. But that hasn’t happened yet. This article is all about 2022. We will come back to the grim reality of 2023 in some other article, but for now, the topic is the 2022 season and which team has helped themselves the most.

Cleveland Browns roster need vs. draft value

The Browns pretty much-ignored roster needs as they drafted talent at positions where the roster was full while neglecting critical needs in other areas. You get the idea that they did not have a plan. Were they building through the draft? Trying to win right now? Drafting the best player available? Or what?

First, they traded their 2nd round pick (44th overall) to the Houston Texans for a third-round pick (68th) and two fourth-round picks (108th and 124th). The old school 1990s Cowboys draft value chart indicates that the Browns lost value, but DPD fans on Twitter were quick to point out that the more modern Fitzgerald/Spielberger model, which is based on historical data of how much the second contracts for these draft picks have been worth, shows that the Browns added value, hands down. Okay, so thank you fans for that insight.

But what did the Browns do with this extra value? The first thing they did was draft a nice cornerback, Martin Emerson. But then they looked around and said, “Gee, our cornerback room is full with Denzel Ward, Greg Newsome, Greedy Williams, Troy Hill, A.J. Green and now Emerson. We had better trade someone.” So they traded starting slot corner Troy Hill to the Rams.

The Browns trade of Troy Hill was a costly one because he had $5,625,000 worth of dead money on his contract in the form of bonus money, including two voidable years in 2023 and 2024 in which he had zero dollars of salary. That was guaranteed money. Ouch! The Rams, his new team, are going to pay only $1.5 million. The Browns get a fifth-round draft pick next season. Let’s break this down:

Browns Get: 2023 5th Round pick, save $4.125 million on the 2023 cap.
Browns Give Up: Troy Hill to Rams; pay $5.625 million on the 2022 cap.

So Martin Emerson combined with the Troy Hill deal brings a benefit to the 2023 squad, but there is a substantial negative financial impact on the 2022 squad, plus Troy Hill may arguably not be as good as the rookie (?) but he was not terrible. They are shifting resources to the future with this move. It could be viewed as a step to partially correct the imbalance caused by the trades for Watson and Cooper.

The Dawg Pound seems to like the help that the defensive line received in the form of defensive ends Alex Wright (University of Alabama at Birmingham) and Isaiah Thomas from Oklahoma, plus defensive tackle Perrion Winfrey, another Sooner.

Cade York may prove to be the Browns’ answer to Justin Tucker of the Ravens, who has been a major pain in everyone’s backside on his way to Canton. York is said to have 60-plus yards range, and the fact that he shares his name with a DPD staff member just adds to his charm. This is huge. Macho types hate kickers, but how well do you like losing by three points to Tucker, Chris Boswell, or Evan McPherson? So welcome to the POUND, Cade York! Hail yeah!

They also drafted a slot receiver, even though their offense does not really have a slot receiver in the base formation. The Dawg Pound likes David Bell, and his 4.77 40-yard dash time exactly matches Jarvis Landry’s, who made five Pro Bowls. We like Bell as an athlete, we do not care about the 40 times and surely Alex Van Pelt will find ways to use him. The price tag is also vastly lower than Landry’s.

Now, why the heck are the Browns drafting a running back?

Fans seem to like Jerome Ford from the UC Bearcats, who rushed for 1,320 yards and caught 21 passes for 220 yards. He also had 77 yards in 15 carries (5.13 yards/carry) versus Bama in the College Football playoff game, which is essentially an NFL prequel. But the running back room already has fullback Johnny Stanton, second-year man Demetric Felton (who caught over 80% of the balls thrown at him last season and had 205 yards from scrimmage, numbers which usually do not get a player cut from the team), D’Ernest Johnson, former Pro Bowler Kareem Hunt, and current Pro Bowler Nick Chubb.

So someone will have to be traded or cut in order to add Ford to the team. Perhaps this is where the Browns make back the cap space that they blew by trading Troy Hill. Let’s wait till the end of training camp.

It’s also not clear what to do with center Dawson Deaton, given that the Browns have two first-string players in Nick Harris and Ethan Pocic. Also, almost every backup guard that the Browns have can also play center (Chris Hubbard, Blake Hance, Michael Dunn, Hjalte Frohalt and Drew Forbes). They must like Deaton a lot, or perhaps the Browns are interested in cutting up to four of the names mentioned above.

Who is Michael Woods II? He had 400 receiving yards last season, and didn’t wow the Combine by running a 4.55 40-yard dash and posting a 34.5 inch vertical jump. Players with worse numbers have made it, but those are not normally draftable numbers. Perhaps the Browns have fallen in love with Oklahoma football this year. Except at the quarterback position.

Conversely, the Browns didn’t address a potential problem at right tackle. Plan A is for Jack Conklin to recover fully from his injuries and regain his Pro Bowl form. This guy has been a major contributor to the team, no question about it. But he has had troublesome knee injuries throughout his NFL career, and he is coming back from a patellar tendon rupture, which is very serious. For those who are curious, case studies in the American Journal of Sports medicine say that the success rate is about 80% for a robust return to play. But it’s not 100%.

The Browns tried Blake Hance at Conklin’s spot as well as rookie James Hudson, but neither were highly successful. Chris Hubbard is coming back from a torn triceps. He played an entire season at right tackle for the Browns back in 2018, though this fan believes he is actually better suited for right guard, especially at the ripe old age of 31.

Cleveland is well-fortified in the interior of the offensive line, but thin at tackle. The Browns gave up 49 sacks, and it seemed like about 48 of them came from T.J. Watt of the Steelers running over the right tackle position. Face it, the Browns could not even slow him down last season. In fact they didn’t do so hot against his big brother J.J. in Arizona, either. Having a Plan B at tackle should be important.

Similarly, the Browns two tight-end offense is manned by only two tight ends (after the departure of Baker Mayfield’s favorite, Austin Hooper) with meaningful NFL experience: David Njoku and Harrison Bryant.

Miller Forristall has 29 snaps in the NFL and Nick Guggemos has none whatsoever at age 26, but is said to be quite athletic and was on the track team in college. No offense to Forristall and Guggemos but — shouldn’t we be just a wee bit concerned about the depth at tight end, or are you that confident that Forristall and Guggemos have got this? The correct number of tight ends on the roster for a two-tight-end team is four.

So if you look at trading draft picks and adding Watson and Amari Cooper, the Browns added a ton of talent. If you look at who they added on draft day weekend, their haul (using the term loosely) was baffling and disappointing. By drafting a corner and trading one for a late-round pick next season, they did not really improve the team this season, nor did they save cap money. Similarly, they will probably trade away a running back before the end of training camp, but they already had a good situation there.

Draft stats are from Pro Football Reference.

Round 3, Pick No. 68: Martin Emerson, CB, Mississippi State
Round 3, Pick No. 78: Alex Wright, EDGE, UAB
Round 3, Pick No. 99: David Bell, WR, Purdue
Round 4, Pick No. 108: Perrion Winfrey, DT, Oklahoma
Round 4, Pick No. 124: Cade York, K, LSU
Round 5, Pick No, 156: Jerome Ford, RB, Cincinnati
Round 6, Pick No. 202: Mike Woods, WR, Oklahoma
Round 7, Pick No. 223: Isaiah Thomas, EDGE, Oklahoma
Round 7, Pick No. 246: Dawson Deaton, C, Texas Tech

The next question Browns fans need answered is, what is so great about the Ravens draft? A lot, as it turns out, but let’s not give them too much credit, especially if we are just asking how much impact the draft will have on this year’s team.