The buzz surrounding the draft has been subdued in Northeast Ohio. The anticipation is nowhere close to what it was in years past, especially 12 months ago when the Browns held the Nos. 1 and 4 picks.
The lack of a first-round pick following the March trade for receiver Odell Beckham is the biggest reason. The high expectations for the season are another important factor, with the hope of reaching the playoffs overshadowing the promise of a handful of rookies.
General manager John Dorsey’s next three days will look completely different than a year ago, but he insists the preparation was exactly the same.
“We’ve always felt the process is the same regardless of what position you’re in,” he said last week. “We’re going to do our due diligence. We’re going to turn over every stone, as we say. And we’re going to go through the processes of building that draft board the same year in and year out. It’ll never change.”
Dorsey has done a remarkable job restructuring the roster, but it remains a work in progress. The draft is still important, if no longer vital, and plenty of talent can be added with eight picks at his disposal.
But without a first-round selection — 2008 was the last time the Browns didn’t draft in the first round — Dorsey’s early options are limited. He knows he can’t move into the top 10 without mortgaging the future, so he’ll have no choice but to sit and watch for the first couple of hours of the draft, which begins Thursday night at 8.
Then the fun could start.
Dorsey is aggressive by nature and won’t be content watching 48 quality players vanish before he’s scheduled to take his first, so a trade up from No. 49 is a good bet. The question is whether he would covet a particular player or two enough to go all the way into the bottom of the first round, which would probably require him to give up No. 49, a second-round pick next year and another piece.
He could also sit out Day 1, reassess his board before Friday night and make a move toward the top of the second round.
The multitude of moving pieces makes it impossible to know how the draft will play out for the Browns, but here are five things to watch:
Most of the holes have been plugged in Dorsey’s 16 months on the job. But the defense lacks depth — and perhaps a starting linebacker — so it should be no surprise if he spends the majority of his draft capital on that side of the ball.
It would be a stunner if Dorsey’s first pick — whether at No. 27, No. 29, No. 39 or No. 49 — is an offensive player.
The defensive line class is loaded with talent at tackle and end, and the offseason additions of end Olivier Vernon and tackle Sheldon Richardson won’t stop Dorsey from drafting at either spot, possibly with his first two picks.
Cornerback is another area where a team can’t have enough good players — and the Browns don’t have enough. An early pick would look good alongside Denzel Ward, Terrance Mitchell and TJ Carrie.
Safety isn’t as pressing a need as it was before veteran Morgan Burnett was signed, but a strong safety to groom behind Burnett makes sense.
If Dorsey makes a major move and rewards fans for staying up Thursday night, the right player will have to be available in the bottom third of the first round.
He really likes Mississippi State defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons and could go after him, even though he’s expected to miss his rookie season after tearing an ACL working out.
Simmons isn’t the only intriguing defensive line prospect. If the one he covets — Mississippi State defensive end Montez Sweat, Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell, Ohio State defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones are possibilities — slid far enough, Dorsey might have to act on his temptation.
At cornerback, Temple’s Rock Ya-Sin or Georgia’s Deandre Baker could draw a move.
Running back Duke Johnson wants to be traded. Dorsey is willing but wants the right return.
The draft could present that opportunity.
Whether it’s straight up for a player on another team, to move up a few spots in the middle rounds or as part of a package to get into the first round, Dorsey should include Johnson in a deal.
There’s value in holding onto Johnson until Hunt serves his eight-game league suspension, but it’s not enough to let the drama and animosity linger.
POSITION OF WEAKNESS
A surprising name surfaced as a possibility to be traded: middle linebacker Joe Schobert.
First of all, he made the Pro Bowl in 2018 and has exceeded expectations as a fourth-round pick. Secondly, linebacker is the position with the least amount of depth on the roster.
TheMMQB’s Albert Breer said the Browns aren’t shopping Schobert but his name has come up in trade discussions. A deal only makes sense if the Browns aren’t planning to re-sign him after his rookie contract expires after this season.
Even then, they would need a plan for the middle layer of the defense on a team with playoff aspirations.
Schobert and Christian Kirksey have track records as starters but haven’t been big-time playmakers. Genard Avery is penciled in as the starter on the strong side but spent most of his rookie year playing defensive end.
Then there’s a big drop-off.
The plan at linebacker is already fuzzy, and would get a lot murkier without Schobert.
HOW MANY IS TOO MANY?
The way the roster looks, there’s no way eight rookies will make the team in September.
So why draft that many?
Dorsey could use a couple of picks to move up in certain rounds, or to accumulate extra picks in 2020. A draft class of five or six sounds right.