As the Cleveland Browns approach cut down day, there are three players fans should know, because they may well end up making this team.
The Browns signed big names in free agency and appeared to have draft well as all of their picks look like safe bets to make the final roster, which is easier said than done with the amount of talent on this team. Working the margins, finding players after the draft or signing free agents that were overlooked by other teams could prove another route for the team to gain an edge.
Alex Taylor, Offensive Tackle
Taylor played at South Carolina State and he's a former basketball player who is still building an NFL body. At 6'8", he towers over most guys on the field, but he's also quite lean. There's room to add weight to his frame. At the Senior Bowl, he looked thinner than he does now with the Browns.
Taylor wasn't drafted and the Browns grabbed him as a free agent. At the time, it looked he was signed with the intent that he'd end up on the practice squad and he could keep changing his body over the next year while improving his technique.
Taylor looks way ahead of schedule. He's still lean, but he does look thicker and he's got a better base. Watching the coverage of camp, Nathan Zegura and Josh Cribbs kept mentioning he has good feet as a former basketball player. That might be true, but currently, his value is in his explosiveness.
At 308 pounds, he ran a 5.09 40 and had a broad jump of 116". His flexibility and ankles aren't awful, but they weren't good either. A 7.77 3-cone isn't great, measuring hip flexibility and overall balance. He also had a 4.79 shuttle, which isn't great either.
Given his basketball background, the ankles are of more concern than the hips, but the hope is he can continue to improve those areas to get quicker and lower his center of gravity.
What stood out about Taylor at the Senior Bowl was how hard he fought to be a run blocker. So often, former basketball players making the transition to the NFL can be tentative, trying to wait for the opponent to move before they do. Taylor fires off the ball and takes it to the opponent. His pad level was too high and his lack of strength could be problematic, but the amount of effort he put into it was notable.
Taylor mirrored pretty well and opponents couldn't get around him, nor should they given his length. The issue in pass protection was dealing with power or opponents that transitioned from speed to power. Hardly a surprise, continuing to get stronger and improve his anchor, these are issues that can be addressed.
Taylor has a great teacher in offensive line coach Bill Callahan in Cleveland. He's clearly worked really hard and he's looking the part. In the stadium scrimmage, he was playing some first team right tackle and second team left tackle. It's increasingly difficult to believe that if the Browns were to release him, someone wouldn't claim him on waivers.
As a result, if the Browns want to keep him and they should, he's going to have to make the active roster. He's 23 years old and his best football should be ahead of him. Chris Hubbard has been playing both left and right tackle as a backup, which makes it so Taylor would be the true fourth tackle if they keep him. The Browns shouldn't have an issue trading Kendall Lamm, which would be the other shoe to drop in keeping Taylor.
Donovan Olumba, Corner
Olumba was with the Dallas Cowboys last year and the Browns signed him as a free agent. At the time, it seemed like he was just a body, but the fact he was a hair under 6'2" and 79" wingspan stood out, especially because he is notably thicker than Greedy Williams at around 200 pounds.
Nevertheless, looking at the corners the Browns brought in, combined with the undrafted signing of A.J. Green, it seemed like Olumba was more than a long shot to make the team.
Olumba was climbing up the depth chart throughout training camp, getting reps with the second team. Injuries to Kevin Johnson, M.J. Stewart and then Greedy Williams created more opportunities for Olumba to get on the field. He's made the most of it and really uses size well.
Up against Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry at times, he's had some wins. Ideally suited to play on the boundary in this scheme, he fits with the type of corner the Browns seem to want out there. Obviously, this group didn't draft Greedy Williams, but they don't seem to hate his length opposite Ward.
Coming out of Portland State, Olumba's straight line speed was pretty ordinary at 4.62. What stands out about Olumba is his hip flexibility. Olumba posted a 6.91 3-cone, which is impressive at his size and shows good balance. He also tested well for explosiveness, posting a 36" vertical and 126" on the broad jump.
In other words, Olumba might not win the 100 meter dash, but he's really quick. If he uses his hands well to reroute receivers and prevent them from getting past him on a free release, he's more than capable of sticking with them and blanketing them in coverage.
Right now, Olumba looks like a player the Cowboys desperately wish they had back. And he's making a case to make the Browns roster, which could directly impact A.J. Green, Terrance Mitchell or both.
Green has done well for himself in camp. It just happens to be a terrific group of corners and they can't keep everyone. That's not to say Green won't make the roster as he certainly could, but it will be an incredibly difficult decision.
Mitchell has been fantastic in camp, but he's older at 28 and is in the last year of his contract. He could be in demand in free agency after this season and he almost certainly won't be back with the Browns.
Mitchell is a player that could draw interest in trade. His $3.66 million cap figure isn't going to be for everyone, but there are teams that have plenty of space and need someone who can come in and play right away, which is what Mitchell offers.
The bottom line for Olumba is he has been impressive in camp, he seems to be a great match with what Joe Woods wants in his defensive backs and he could definitely make this team.
Willie Wright, Interior Offensive Line
Wright was a player the Browns signed last year as an undrafted free agent. He played tackle at Tulsa, where he was effective, but simply short at 6'2 5/8". He's listed at center, but he's played guard and that's where he's been exclusively this year.
His athletic profile coming out of college was excellent. A 5.07 40, his broad jump was 114" and his vertical was 33". These are great numbers when it comes to speed and explosiveness. His 7.57 3-cone is pretty good. The weakest area for him was his shuttle at 4.71. Wright has good hips and balance while his ankles are okay, but not problematic. Wright also has 34 3/8" arms which stand out on his body.
Wright has been playing with the second team pretty much all of camp. Of course he benefits from the Browns losing Drew Forbes, Colby Gossett and Malcolm Pridgeon opting out of the season. Nevertheless, for what the Browns want to do, Wright has the athleticism to be a good fit in their zone scheme.
If Wright is a viable option at center, that's one more benefit he offers the team to keep him. Wright stood out as the type of player that could be developed into a contributing player given some time. That schedule might have been moved up by COVID-19, but he's got the tools to be an NFL player and someone that could have the upside to start at some point.
Porter Gustin, Edge Rusher
Of the players listed, Gustin is the safest bet to make the team. When the Browns lost Myles Garrett to suspension and Olivier Vernon was down with his knee, Dorsey just started grabbing up players to throw on the field and see what they could do. Gustin was clearly the best of that group.
Coming out of USC, Gustin tested really well. At 6'4 1/2" 255, he ran a 4.69 40 and put up an impressive 31 reps on the bench press, which is often an indication of dedication to the weight room as opposed to anything else.
His agility was excellent, which is something he often showcases on the field. Gustin posted a 6.97 3-cone and a 4.22 shuttle, which are both great. He put up a 36" vertical and 120" broad jump, which are excellent.
Gustin also posted terrific production for the Trojans. In 2016 as a sophomore, he posted 43 solo tackles (8.1 percent), 13 tackles for loss (18.3 percent) and 5.5 sacks (21.1 percent). The problem with Gustin is he only played a combined 10 games over the next two seasons due to injury, which is why he went undrafted. In his senior year, Gustin was having a dominant season before he fractured his ankle. His seven sacks and ten tackles for loss in six games were still enough to lead the team that year.
Gustin's athleticism stood out last year with the Browns, but he didn't turn it into much production. This year, in camp, he looks impressive. He's so effective at using his quickness to keep opponents off balance and consistently working half the man. Gustin gives Jack Conklin a great look and has been able to beat him at different points.
Gustin is exactly what a team is looking for in a depth pass rusher. High energy, fast and can get to the quarterback. Only 23 years old, he's in the same situation as corner Kevin Johnson. When healthy, he can play at a pretty high level and has the tools to be a starter in the NFL and the Browns are hoping both can stay healthy this season. Gustin looks like a lock to make this team at this point. It would be stunning if he didn't.