Cleveland Browns Needs Presented By TheMMQB
Team needs by Andy Benoit; draft targets by Gary Gramling.
It might be tempting for the Browns to play mega free agent signee Jack Conklin at left tackle, where the departure of unreliable veteran Greg Robinson has exacerbated the need for help at that position. But moving the career-long right tackle Conklin to the left side would be a mistake. Because Conklin played so well last year, it’s easy to forget his enormous inconsistency as a pass-blocker in Years 1-3 of his career. That inconsistency is why the Browns were even able to sign Conklin in the first place; if the 2016 first-round pick had played anywhere near his 2019 level in prior years, the Titans would have exercised his fifth-year option. Conklin redefined himself last season by altering his mechanics, including his stance. Moving him to the left side would offset some of the tremendous growth he achieved in 2019. And remember, in today’s NFL, the difference between right tackle and left tackle is negligible. It’d be unwise to move an expensive player under the notion that left tackle is a more important position than right tackle.
This draft is top-heavy at offensive tackle. Tapping into that would not only fortify both edges of the offensive line, giving Baker Mayfield his best chance at recapturing some of the magic he teased as a rookie, it would also enable Chris Hubbard, one of the NFL’s smallest offensive tackles, to compete with Wyatt Teller for the starting job at right guard. With stalwarts like center J.C. Tretter and left guard Joel Bitonio already in place, the Browns’ O-line could suddenly jump from the bottom to top shelf. Imagine that with skill weapons like Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
Defensively, there are fewer needs than you’d guess for a unit that ranked 20th in points allowed last year. Safety would be one. Newcomers Andrew Sendejo and Karl Joseph play with the downhill aggression that new defensive coordinator Joe Woods and his pass D coordinator Jeff Howard will demand, but both are signed for just one year and have recent history with injuries. Getting a third option here—preferably a three-down starter—would add valuable security.
Staying in the middle of the defense but one level lower, at linebacker, you find Cleveland’s other area of need following the departure of Joe Schobert. 2019 fifth-round pick Mack Wilson’s surprising improvements in coverage last season have taken the edge off this need, but are the Browns comfortable with 2019 third-rounder Sione Takitaki assuming a three-down role? If they’re not, then finding a quality pass coverage linebacker becomes critical, as the Browns’ the potential lack of depth at safety means in pass situations they’ll have to play nickel (two linebackers) instead of dime (just one linebacker).
Top-100 Targets (Cleveland owns picks 10, 41, 74 and 97): If Conklin is indeed staying on the right side, the two top OT prospects with experience on the left side are Louisville’s Mekhi Becton (massive and nimble) and Georgia’s Andrew Thomas (exceedingly nimble). Alabama’s Jedrick Wills and Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs both played the right side in college. The safety position gets interesting on Day 2, where Minnesota’s Antoine Winfield Jr. is a versatile piece to enter the league as a third safety, while dynamic-but-raw centerfielder Ashtyn Davis and Senior Bowl and combine star Kyle Dugger out of Division II Lenoir-Rhyne would make outstanding developmental picks. Or could LSU’s Grant Delpit, thought to be a surefire first-rounder before a junior year marked by injuries and shaky tackling, fall out of the top 40? Similarly, rangy but raw linebackers Troy Dye of Oregon (needs to prove he can handle NFL physicality) and Davion Taylor of Colorado (undersized track star who came to the sport late in life) are Round 3 possibilities in a thin position group but might be a year away from contributing.
For MMQB's look at the entire look at the AFC North divisional needs.