What the Cedric Tillman pick tells us about the Browns future

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The Cleveland Browns selected Tennessee wide receiver Cedric Tillman with the 74th pick in the third round. What does this move tell us about the team's expectations for the future?

In a class overflowing with small receivers, Tillman is one of just a few big-bodied X-style players available. Josh Downs from North Carolina was still on the board when the Browns were on the clock, but with the addition of Elijah Moore, the Browns weren't in any immediate need for a smaller, speedy receiver to dominate from the slot role.

The fact that the Browns had their eyes on Tillman, the 6-3 213-pound receiver, tells me the team is preparing for the very real possibility that their current big-bodied physical receiver may not be on the team after this season. Donovan Peoples-Jones, the Browns sixth-round pick in 2020, has developed into the second option in their passing offense and has shown his ability to be a reliable target on the outside.

Peoples-Jones only dropped three passes on 95 targets in 2022, and his average depth-of-target (ADOT) was 12.9 yards, which means when he was being targeted, it was downfield beyond the line to gain. His contested catch rate, however, was lower than you might expect at just 37.9% (11 of 29 such targets). But compiling 839 yards with Jacoby Brissett and a 700-day rusted Deshaun Watson was nothing short of spectacular for the third-year wideout.

Cleveland has a win-now window open to them, but the front office's job is to consider both the present and the future when making personnel decisions, especially during the draft. Barring injury, Peoples-Jones will have a full season with the real Deshaun Watson at quarterback, a passer who prefers to push the ball downfield in the area where Peoples-Jones operates.

The possibility for Peoples-Jones to have another close to, if not over, thousand-yard season is very real. And if he does, in the last year of his rookie contract, he could be at the top of the free-agent wide receiver market in 2024.

For a team with Amari Cooper and Elijah Moore, the Browns simply can't afford to pay Peoples-Jones wide receiver one money, especially if that's what his value could be on the free agent market. What Peoples-Jones has become for the Browns is incredible for a sixth-round pick, and his contributions to this team have made him a fan favorite in Cleveland. But his high level of play will most likely earn him a decent-sized second contract and a No. 1 receiver role for a team in need of that type of player.

Cedric Tillman has the tools and traits to step into the void left by Peoples-Jones if he does in fact land with a new team next off-season. Like Peoples-Jones, Tillman presents a reliable downfield target for his quarterback with just five dropped passes on 104 catchable targets over his five seasons at Tennessee. His ADOT was 14.4 yards in 2022, and his contested catch rate was 42.9%--though in 2021, his contested catch rate was up at 68.8%.

Selecting Tillman was the team's way of building depth at an important position in 2023 while preparing for the future in 2024 and beyond. Adding another big-bodied receiver who excels down the field in contested-catch situations can only help Deshaun Watson and the Browns progression toward a higher-volume passing attack.

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