INDIANAPOLIS — The Browns are scheduled to pick No. 10 on the first night of the draft April 23. New general manager Andrew Berry was adamant he’s open to trading down or up.
“We’re going to be flexible in that regard,” he said Tuesday during the scouting combine.
A trade down should surprise no one given the increase in influence of chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta and the re-embracing of analytics, which values amassing a volume of selections. During the drafts in 2016 and ’17 run by Sashi Brown and governed by analytics, the Browns traded down three times in the first round.
They started with the No. 2 pick in 2016, passed on quarterback Carson Wentz and eventually picked receiver Corey Coleman at No. 15 after two deals and acquiring four extra picks. In 2017, they took defensive end Myles Garrett at No. 1 but dealt No. 12 to the Texans, who took quarterback Deshaun Watson. The Browns chose safety Jabrill Peppers at No. 25 and got a first-round pick in 2018.
Berry was a key piece of the front office at the time and aligns philosophically with DePodesta. But he insisted trading up is also possible in his first time having final say. The Browns did give up a fourth-round pick to move up a few slots to No. 29 in 2017 to draft tight end David Njoku.
“Any strategic maneuver that allows us to reach our goals, acquire good players and the right people for our organization, we’re not going to be bound to be staying static, going down, going up,” Berry said. “We’re going to do anything possible that allows us to improve the roster.”
Berry was pressed on whether analytics favors trading down as a general principle.
“Philosophically I’m really down to acquiring the best players possible and the best fits for our organization,” he said. “For me, not necessarily. For me, we’re going to be strategic and we’re going to be thoughtful with any decision that we would make on the board. That doesn’t mean it’s going to hamstring us just in moving one direction.”
Berry stressed he learned to be aggressive in “every area of player acquisition” during the 2019 season spent working under Eagles GM Howie Roseman.
A BOSS’ REVIEW
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer provided a scouting report on new Browns coach Kevin Stefanski, who was an assistant under Zimmer for the last six seasons.
“Well, I think Kevin’s very organized. I think he’s very detailed. I think all those things will help,” Zimmer said. “I think he’s not afraid to ask for help if he needs it. He’s not going to go in there and be a dictator, he’s going to go in and tell his philosophy and how he wants to do it and then he’ll ask opinions of other people.”
Zimmer inherited Stefanski, who started in Minnesota in 2006, kept him and eventually promoted him to offensive coordinator in 2019. Zimmer views the staying power with the Vikings as a positive.
“Most of the time, us coaches, we move around way too much — a lot of times not by choice,” he said. “So for him to be able to stay that long I think is great.”
Stefanski fits seamlessly with the Browns’ analytics approach, but Zimmer has a different opinion.
“Rick (Spielman) loves them,” Zimmer said, referring to Minnesota’s GM. “Analytics is a tool. He likes to use it because it’s a good buzzword for him.
“When we look at tendencies, we can say they’re analytics, but I have a hard time (with) someone telling me to go for it on fourth-and-5 when you’re up by two scores and they don’t know the team that they’re playing against. And if you do go for it and you don’t get it, they don’t get fired. I do. So that’s my take on it.”
Freddie Kitchens, who was fired Dec. 29 after going 6-10 in his only season as coach of the Browns, is back at the combine as Giants tight ends coach. He worked with first-year Giants coach Joe Judge in 2005 at Mississippi State.
“Freddie is a tremendous coach,” Judge said. “Freddie has a very good personality that touched a lot of guys in different ways. Freddie is a very tough-minded man and he’s a tough coach. You watch the teams he’s been a part of, they play with a toughness. They run the ball. They get after you.”
LOOKING UNDER ROCKS
Stefanski uses a fullback in his offense, which creates a challenge for Berry. College systems that use fullbacks are rare, so there’s not much of a pipeline for the NFL.
“Fullback is maybe a little more of a manufactured position in the NFL today, whether you have former defensive linemen, former linebackers, hybrid tight ends, fullbacks, bigger running backs who maybe couldn’t make it in the NFL as a primary ball carrier,” Berry said. “So there are a number of creative solutions to fill that position, and that’s obviously something Kevin has mentioned as a need on the roster.”
The Browns will scour other positions for potential fits.
“Our scouts are very hyperconscious as we’re going through February meetings, as we go out in the spring of players who may not quite be athletic or talented enough at their primary home but can convert to fullback and be a very successful player in the NFL,” Berry said.
CBS’ Jason La Canfora tweeted that he expects the Browns to pursue veteran backup quarterback Chase Daniel when free agency begins March 18. Daniel (6-foot, 229 pounds) is 33 years old and has started five games in 10 years, including one last season with the Bears.
** The recovery time for receiver Jarvis Landry following hip surgery is 6-to-8 months. He wants to cut the recovery time to five months.
“I sent Dr. Larson a video last week. I’m about to be your fastest recovered patient that you’ve ever had in the history of hip surgeries,” Landry said in a video on his new YouTube channel. “He laughs at me and ‘Take it easy, Juice.’ You know what I mean? But I’m serious.”
A six-month recovery would put Landry on the field in early August after surgery Feb. 4.
** Berry brought in former boss and Colts GM Ryan Grigson as an adviser during the draft process. He’s expected to stick in a permanent role after the draft.
“A very respected talent evaluator across the league,” Berry said. “Think he can provide a wealth of wisdom during this draft cycle.”