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2020 NFL Draft Grades – Cleveland Browns

The Browns filled plenty of holes in the 2020 draft but they did so with boom-or-bust projects which complicate the grading (and improving) process.
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Given the months and months of build-up to the annual NFL draft, the rush to summarize a team’s rookie draft class in a few sentences and stamp a letter grade on it has never quite made much sense to me.

In the past, I’ve compared this process to patrons at a restaurant complimenting (or complaining to) the chef based on the menu, rather than waiting to actually taste the food.

In much this same way, it obviously takes time to properly evaluate a draft. Given all of the complexities of the 2020 NFL draft, specifically, this is especially true.

So, while we cannot skip years ahead to know for certain which players will ultimately exceed or fail to live up to expectations in the NFL, we can provide a much deeper dive into each team’s rookie class.

Therefore, over the next 23 days, will be providing a detailed breakdown of each of the NFL teams’ rookie hauls, following the original draft order. Each team will be evaluated on the quality, quantity and relative safety of their draft classes (including undrafted free agents), with specific players recognized as Best Player, Best Value and Best Project, culminating in one “final” grade.

Today’s team: Cleveland Browns

Head Coach: Kevin Stefanski

General Manager: Andrew Berry

Players selected in 2020:

Round 1, Pick 10 overall: OT Jedrick Wills, Alabama

Round 2, Pick 44 overall: S Grant Delpit, LSU

Round 3, Pick 88 overall: DT Jordan Elliott, Missouri

Round 3, Pick 97 overall: LB Jacob Phillips, LSU

Round 4, Pick 115 overall: TE Harrison Bryant, Florida Atlantic

Round 5, Pick 160 overall: C Nick Harris, Washington

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Round 6, Pick 187 overall: WR Donovan Peoples-Jones, Michigan

Key Undrafted Free Agents:

RB Brian Herrien, Georgia

RB Benny LeMay, Charlotte

QB Kevin Davidson, Princeton

CB A.J. Green, Oklahoma State

OT Alex Taylor, South Carolina State

Overview of the Browns’ 2020 draft: The Browns selected more players I would characterize as “projects” than any of the other teams which owned a top 10 selection in the 2020 NFL draft. That’s not an attempt at firing up the passionate Cleveland fanbase, that’s the truth. Even Wills, who I ranked 8 in this class overall and second among tackles (Andrew Thomas), is technically a project just due to the fact that he’s being asked to switch from right tackle to the left. And clearly, the Browns are projecting a return to cleaner tackling from a healthier Grant Delpit in 2020, as I am, which is why I ranked the Thorpe Award winner 26 overall, and therefore a steal at 44, where the Browns nabbed him. Arguably the biggest boom or bust pick of Cleveland’s draft came in the third round with defensive tackle Jordan Elliott, who some viewed as a possible Day One selection. Another worthy candidate would be former LSU inside linebacker Jacob Phillips, whose 200 tackles in two years as a starter and 4.66-second 40-yard dash, frankly, look better in type than he did on tape. That is how I feel about former Michigan wideout Donovan Peoples-Jones, as well, though Cleveland took him at a much more palatable risk point. The Browns added another trophy winner with Harrison Bryant in the fourth round. I love Mackey Award winner’s fit as an H-back in the Austin Hooper mold in this offense – if the Browns hadn’t already signed the former Falcon, pairing him with David Njoku and likely relegating Bryant to a backup role, at least for now. In many ways the opposite of most Cleveland’s picks, fifth round selection Nick Harris is a better player than tester. He will provide capable depth behind veteran JC Tretter at center as a rookie and could push for playing time earlier than most think. As I mentioned long ago in the opening, Cleveland’s class has a lot of projects. If one squints their eyes just right, you can project a number of these players as NFL stars. Unfortunately, there is plenty of risk with this class, as well.

Best Player of the Browns’ 2020 Draft: OT Jedrick Wills

Wills was the best right tackle I saw in college football last year and that is saying a lot, given the rare talent and depth of the 2020 class of blockers. For those unfamiliar with his game, start with the prototypical Alabama offensive lineman – big, physical, surprisingly athletic – and add a punch that would make Mike Tyson proud. Wills’ has absolute cinder blocks for hands which he uses to pound on opponents rather than simply mirror their movements. The tape and his impressive 5.05-second 40-yard dash time both indicate that Wills possesses the athleticism necessary to make the switch to left tackle, which is the plan with the Browns inking All-Pro Jack Conklin a month prior to the draft. None other than former Browns legend and future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas has agreed to help work with Wills to aid in this transition. There will likely be some rough patches early, but between Wills’ talent, pro-readiness and work ethic, as well as the quality of coaching and competition he’ll face each day in practice, it is easy to project Wills as an immediate starter and future franchise cornerstone.

Best Value of the Browns’ 2020 Draft: C Nick Harris

I’m not as sure about some of the other picks, but one doesn’t have to squint hard at all to envision Harris and the aforementioned Wills becoming two of Baker Mayfield’s favorite teammates and best blockers in the not too distant future. At a short and stumpy 6-1, 293 pounds, Harris doesn’t look the part of a starting NFL offensive lineman but he uses his natural leverage advantage to great effectiveness, getting push at the point of attack and anchoring like a ship at port. It is Harris’ remarkable quickness and agility, however, which will make Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt happy, as the four-year starter and Senior Bowl standout almost skips to the second level to peel off linebackers.

Best Project of the Browns’ 2020 Draft: DT Jordan Elliott

In terms of sheer upside, it is hard not to list the 6-4, 302 pound Elliott in this space. He signed with Texas amid great fanfare as a four-star recruit but only after committing to three others (Michigan, Baylor, Houston) and left the Longhorns after just one season in Austin, recording a total of eight tackles in six game appearances. Elliott transferred to Missouri, where he was reunited with Brick Haley, the defensive line coach he worked with at Texas. Elliott was forced to sit out the 2017 season in his transfer before flashing in his first active season for the Tigers, registering 24 tackles, including eight for loss and three sacks. Elliott re-committed himself prior to the 2019 season, shedding nearly 30 pounds and was named a team captain before he exploded for 44 tackles, including 10 for loss and another three sacks, emerging as one of the most feared defensive linemen in the mighty SEC. If the Browns drafted this version of Elliott, he is likely to be a steal at the 88 pick. Elliott plummeted to the mid third round, however, because not everyone is convinced that his newfound maturity and commitment will last once he starts depositing NFL paychecks. These concerns could be magnified in Cleveland, where Elliott is facing a deep and talented depth chart at defensive tackle to get into the action and a relatively inexperienced coaching staff, including the 37-year old Stefanski and defensive line coach Chris Kiffin, each of whom are rookies in these roles, themselves.

Overall Grade for the Browns’ 2020 Draft:

Previous 2020 NFL Draft Report Cards: Cincinnati Bengals |Washington Redskins | Detroit Lions | New York Giants | Miami Dolphins | Los Angeles Chargers | Carolina Panthers | Arizona Cardinals | Jacksonville Jaguars | Cleveland Browns | New York Jets | Las Vegas Raiders | Indianapolis Colts | Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Denver Broncos | Atlanta Falcons | Dallas Cowboys | Pittsburgh Steelers | Chicago Bears | Los Angeles Rams | Philadelphia Eagles | Buffalo Bills | New England Patriots | New Orleans Saints | Houston Texans | Minnesota Vikings | Seattle Seahawks | Baltimore Ravens | Green Bay Packers | Tennessee Titans | San Francisco 49ers | Kansas City Chiefs