BEREA (92.3 The Fan) – Jimmy Fallon can crack all the jokes he wants about the Browns not being ready for the NFL Draft but they actually looked like they knew what they were doing this year.
And that is not a typo or meant to be another punchline.
Not only did Sashi Brown, Paul DePodesta, Andrew Berry and Hue Jackson make 4 trades and pick 10 more players, they filled in a few gaping holes on the roster too.
The early returns from several national publications give the Browns their highest draft marks in years. While at this point grading a draft class mere hours after it’s picked is extremely arbitrary, here’s a breakdown of the class of 2017 and why things could begin to look up for the league’s perennial cellar dwellers sooner or later.
1 – Myles Garrett – Defensive end, Texas A&M
The consensus best player in the draft is a Brown and it is now on Garrett to live up to the hype. Garrett, who totaled 32 1/2 sacks in 3 seasons for the Aggies, has already set the bar pretty high as he looks to set the rookie sacks record, win defensive rookie of the year, defensive player of the year and add multiple pro bowls to his resume for Cleveland. He loves to hit and has already set his eye on taking down one of the Browns’ nemesis – Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Garrett at 1 was a layup and the Browns didn’t try to outsmart everyone, they took it. That is progress.
25 – Jabrill Peppers – Defensive back, Michigan
After giving up a chance to draft Ohio State safety Malik Hooker at 12, the Browns took Peppers when they moved down 13 spots following a trade with Houston. Peppers is dynamic and versatile. Not only will the Big Ten defensive player of the year, linebacker of the year and returner of the year – a first in conference history by the way – be penciled in as the starting strong safety this season but he is expected help special teams coordinator Chris Tabor as a returner too. Imagine that, a rookie actually returning punts and or kicks. Oh and he will probably get a few touches on offense too. Peppers is an exciting prospect and combined with the Texans’ 2018 first rounder, time will be the judge if it was worth it but on paper it is another shrewd move orchestrated by DePodesta and Brown.
29 – David Njoku – Tight end, Miami
Njoku is regarded as the second-best tight end of the class right behind Alabama’s O.J. Howard. The rookie from Miami, who doubled his production in 2016 from his redshirt freshman season in 2015, is already penciled in as the starter following Friday’s release of veteran Gary Barnidge. Sure the Browns passed on Howard at 12 with their first trade but trading back into the first round to get Njoku is a pretty nice consolation prize.
52 – DeShone Kizer – Quarterback, Notre Dame
The Browns have traded 2 quarterbacks in 2 drafts – Carson Wentz to Philadelphia in 2016 and Deshaun Watson to Houston in 2017 leaving many to ask, ‘What are they waiting or looking for at the position?’ Thankfully they addressed it by selecting Kizer, who at least fits the prototype at 6-foot-4, 233-pounds. After Brian Kelly criticized Kizer leading up to the draft by saying he should have stayed in school because he’s not ready for the NFL, the Browns have made it clear that he is not the long-lost savior of the franchise and they won’t be in a hurry to play him before he is ready. Kizer also appears to be humbled by a difficult and unimpressive 2016 season and being the fourth QB to come off the board. Jackson prides himself on his ability to coach young quarterbacks and we’ll get to see if he can turn Kizer’s size and strong arm into something. Regardless if Kizer pans out or not, it was worth a shot considering he is the fourth member of the class.
65 – Larry Ogunjobi – Defensive lineman, Charlotte
Ogunjobi might be one of the best stories in the draft. Thanks to a nudge from his mother and high school coach, Ogunjobi put down the video game console, lost nearly 100 pounds and transformed himself into the first football player ever drafted from the upstart collegiate program in Charlotte. With 49 tackles for loss, 13 sacks and 33 QB hurries on the college resume, Ogunjobi is an intriguing player to watch out for.
126 – Howard Wilson – Cornerback, Houston
Wilson was coveted enough by the Browns that they moved back into the fourth round to get him. He totaled 9 interceptions, 15 passes defensed, 77 solo tackles, 3 1/2 sacks and 2 fumble recoveries in 3 seasons for the Cougars. With plenty of questions in the secondary, Wilson will get the opportunity to play and possibly start.
160 – Rod Johnson – Offensive lineman, Florida State
Johnson is a developmental player and the Browns are not making that a secret. A former teammate of 2015 first-round pick Cameron Erving at Florida State, Johnson will work at left tackle behind Joe Thomas. Although Thomas has never missed a snap since being drafted in 2007 at some point the Browns have to think about his replacement and this was the perfect spot to do it. Whether or not Johnson is the player capable of it remains to be seen.
185 – Caleb Brantley – Defensive tackle, Florida
Pending the outcome of criminal proceedings following a misdemeanor battery charge in which Brantley is accused of retaliating from being shoved by a woman with a punch that allegedly knocked her unconscious and dislodged a tooth, he might not be a Brown very long. The team continues to investigate the matter and their findings – regardless of the legal outcome – will determine if he will even get a chance to make the team. Thought to be a second-round prospect, Brantley totaled 20 1/5 tackles for loss, 5 1/2 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and a recovery in 3 seasons but the accusations against him dropped him off many boards but not the Browns’.
224 – Zane Gonzalez – Kicker, Arizona State
The Browns drafted a kicker? They sure did and they picked a potential weapon that could turn stalled drives at the opponents 35 into 3 points instead of punts. Gonzalez made 7 of 9 field goals from 50-plus last season and 13 field goals from 40-plus, more than any kicker in the country. He made 96 of 115 attempts over 4 seasons – those are both FBS records. Considering Gonzalez is the 9th member of the class, the pick is equal to signing him as an undrafted free agent.
252 – Matthew Dayes – Running back, NC State
The 5-foot-8, 205 pound back totaled 2,856 yards in 4 seasons for North Carolina State and saw his production increase each year, including rushing for 1,166 yards in 2016. He scored 22 touchdowns in his last 2 seasons combined and also is able to catch the ball out of the backfield. Although being selected in front of Mr. Irrelevant, Dayes has the potential to eventually play his way into a role.