,With the 2017 NFL Draft exactly one month away, it appears the Cleveland Browns and their draft strategy is beginning to shape into form.
Armed with the most salary cap space at over $108 million, the Cleveland Browns re-signed former New England Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins to a new four-year, $50 million extension and addressed holes at wide receiver and offensive line thanks to the signings of WR Kenny Britt, C J.C. Tretter, and RG Kevin Zeitler.
Going into free agency, the 1-15 Browns could have gone in a number of directions. While wide receiver Terrelle Pryor chose to defect to the Washington Redskins on a one-year, $8 million deal, despite Cleveland reportedly offered more money, there is still a gaping hole at the X-receiver spot.
And then there is the whole Josh Gordon issue.
Despite adding Britt and last year’s first-round pick in WR Corey Coleman, Cleveland lacks a quality third wideout to potentially replace Gordon.
Whether this is addressed in the draft remains to be seen. Do not be shocked if the Browns target a WR such as Mike Williams, Zay Jones, Corey Davis or Juju Smith-Schuster.
Below is my first Browns seven-round mock draft.
1.) Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M: As stated in my last mock, Cleveland is in desperate need of a pass-rusher on the edge. Cleveland tabs the 6’5 270-pound, Garrett, to pair opposite Emmanuel Ogbah and a recently re-signed Jamie Collins. This trio may be too much for defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to pass up.
Depending on how Garrett performs during his pro day and private workouts, Garrett is still a lock.
12.) O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama: The best player likely to be available at No.12, and a rare luxury pick for the Browns, the 6’6, 248-pound former Alabama tight end is an impact player that Cleveland cannot afford to pass on.
While this slot may still be taken by former Clemson QB Deshaun Watson or former North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, if Howard is on the board and the Cleveland Browns are just not sold on a QB in the first round, Howard has to be the pick.
The reasons as to why Howard should and may be the best option at No.12 for the browns are many. The NFL is going to more two tight-end sets, Gary Barnidge is getting older, second-year TE Seth DeValve failed to make an impact, etc, etc, etc.
In addition to giving newly-minted starting quarterback Cody Kessler a reliable target in the passing game, Howard is also a mismatch waiting to happen, which is something that the ever creative Hue Jackson will drool all over.
33.) Davis Webb, QB, Cal: Projected as a possible late first to high second pick, the Browns land the QB that they have been quietly linked to since Hue Jackson coached him down in Mobile at the Resse’s Senior Bowl in former Cal quarterback Davis Webb.
At 6’5 and 245 pounds, Webb is the perfect, big-armed big-bodied QB for the Browns to help Cleveland contend in the physical AFC North. While this is not a knock against Kessler—whom I’ve been a fan of since Day 1—Webb has a better deep ball and some touch on top of it.
Coming from Cal’s vaunted Bear Raid spread offense in which he passed for 4,295 yards, 43 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, do not be surprised if Webb is a target for the Browns either in the top of the second or the third round.
52.) Zay Jones, WR, East Carolina: Perhaps the best wideout not named Mike Williams, John Ross or Corey Davis, Zay Jones could be perhaps the top steal in the second round for the Browns.
6’2 and 198 pounds with a broad catching radius and an ability to make plays, Jones would be the perfect replacement for the troubled Josh Gordon.
65.) Marcus Williams, FS. Utah: One of the top-rated safeties in the entire draft, the 6’1 202-pound ball-hawking safety from Utah. After having a solid season in which he recorded 64 tackles, three passes defended, five interceptions and two forced fumbles.
Due to losing out on Tony Jefferson and T.J. McDougald in free agency, grabbing Williams in the third round is a must.
108.) Alex Anzalone, OLB, Florida: Thanks to his flowing blond locks and fierce tackling, the man known as “Thor” may be a late-round steal for the Browns. A proverbial heat-seeking missile against the run and solid against the pass, the 6’3 241-pound PA-born Anzalone has battled a series of injuries, including missing six games in 2016 to injury.
For the season, Anzalone recorded 40 tackles with 3.5 tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks and two passes broken up. If he can recover fully and stay healthy, Anzalone may be a diamond in the rough for the Browns
142.) Damontae Kazee, CB, San Diego State: Perhaps one of the most underrated defensive backs in the entire NFL draft, the two-time Mountain West Defensive Player of the year in San Diego State cornerback, Damontae Kazee.
Kazee, a 5’11 174-pound corner, recorded 63 tackles and seven interceptions, has been heralded as one if the nation’s most underrated defensive backs.
Quietly linked to the Browns in various mocks. Thanks to the lack of quality secondary help, Kazee slips to Cleveland here.
145.) Kareem Hunt, RB, Toledo: While bigger names such as Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, and Christian McCaffrey are due to steal the spotlight, former Toledo running back Kareem Hunt may be the best value pick at RB in the entire NFL draft.
Names such as Alvin Kamara—whom I wrote about here—and the controversial Joe Mixon may also be in play for the Browns, Cleveland pulling the trigger on a former local high school and MAC product—via Willoughby South High School—such as the explosive 5’10 237-pound Hunt, who rushed for 1,475 yards and ten touchdowns is a no-brainer.
In addition to his explosive running style, Hunt is also a quality receiver as he caught 41 passes for 403 yards and one touchdown.
177.) Adam Bisnowaty, OT, Pittsburgh: Cameron Erving at right tackle, and Joe Thomas getting long in the tooth. Need I say more?
Cleveland adds some much-needed bulk on the OL and a potential starter at right tackle and an eventual heir apparent to Thomas, once he decides to hang up his cleats in the former 6’5 307-pound Pitt offensive tackle.
183.) Elijah Qualls, DT, Washington: Could there be a 1-2 interior Washington Huskie-led defensive front in Cleveland? Three years after selecting former Husky nose tackle Danny Shelton twelfth overall in the 2015 NFL Draft, Cleveland looks to bulk up their interior pass rush and run stuffing with another former U-Dub space eater in 6’1 320-pound Elijah Qualls.
Thanks to shifting to a 4-3 defensive front and the need to add more bulk on the DL and stopping the run, Qualls is a steal in the fifth round for Cleveland.
During his junior year in Seattle, Qualls recorded 38 tackles and three sacks.
187.) Eddie Jackson, SS, Alabama: Another value pick for the Browns late in the draft. If Cleveland decides to go secondary once again they will not be disappointed with Jackson from Alabama. Jackson is one of the nation’s hardest hitters.
The former 2016 College football Playoff national Championship Game MVP, Jackson recorded 46 tackles and six interceptions. In 2015 and 24 tackles and one interception during the 2016 season.
A converted safety, after playing cornerback, Jackson’s coverage instincts and versatility in returning punts—two of which for touchdowns– could be an asset for the Browns