- The biggest need, the hidden need and what else the Browns should be looking for in the 2019 draft.
Two weeks ahead of the NFL draft, Andy Benoit and Gary Gramling are breaking down draft needs for all 32 teams. You can also see every team in a single post here.
Biggest Need: Strong Safety
Trading Jabrill Peppers to the Giants and waiving Derrick Kindred (who was picked up by the Colts) leaves the Browns with three former Packers at safety: Morgan Burnett, journeyman Jermaine Whitehead and Damarious Randall (a converted corner who is strictly a centerfielder). They also acquired ex-Chief Eric Murray (a fringe starter). Those are enough pieces to play with, but none are clear starting box safeties at this point. Whitehead is strictly a backup, Burnett is still capable but was deemed injury prone last year by the Steelers and Murray, talent-wise, is a good-but-not-great on his best day. New defensive coordinator Steve Wilks’s scheme is built on six-defender zone coverages behind a five-man rush (aka “fire zones”—many of Wilks’s employ a slot blitzer as the fifth rusher). This approach often requires zone defenders to convert their coverage into man. The more athletic Cleveland can be at strong safety, the better.
Hidden Need: Offensive Line
Left tackle Greg Robinson played surprisingly well last season—and just about anyone who coached Robinson on the Rams or Lions would tell you that counting on that again in 2019 from the former No. 2 overall pick would be, at best, a significant gamble. Then there’s the matter of replacing traded right guard Kevin Zeitler. Austin Corbett, the 33rd overall pick last year, is slated to, but some O-line evaluators are skeptical about how well Corbett’s game will translate to the pros. (We don’t know yet because Corbett played just 14 snaps over 11 contests last year.) Some of Corbett’s backers believed he could play guard or tackle, though the previous staff did not give him much consideration at tackle, despite searching far and wide for answers prior to acquiring Robinson. Corbett will likely sink or swim only at guard.
Also Looking For: D-Line Depth
Lost amidst the screaming and gushing over Cleveland’s suddenly sexy offense are the Browns’ improvements up front on defense. The trade for Olivier Vernon gives them a terrific run-stopper opposite rising star Myles Garrett, and pairing free agent Sheldon Richardson with Larry Ogunjobi should result in 8-10 explosive plays a game. All that’s still needed is a 20-snaps-a-game backup who can fill the rotational void left by Emmanuel Ogbah’s trade to the Chiefs. Cleveland’s D-line depth is decent enough that GM John Dorsey can take the most talented tackle or end available. All things equal, he’ll lean towards defensive end since Vernon, with a $15.5 million cap number in 2020, is unlikely to be here for more than one year.
Who They Can Get
The Browns don’t have a selection until No. 49, making it difficult to project which safeties will be left on the board. If Washington’s Taylor Rapp (whose athletic testing disappointed but whose tape shows a potential first-rounder) or Mississippi State’s Johnathan Abram (a box safety who might not appeal to everyone) fall to the middle of the second, Cleveland should pounce. Iowa’s Amani Hooker, who lacks ideal athleticism but can thrive in a zone-heavy scheme, could be Plan B. If looking for their next left tackle, there are some risk/reward developmental prospects—Alabama State’s Tytus Howard, USC’s Chuma Edoga and West Virginia’s Yodny Cajuste—that could pique their interest.
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