For Browns fans, as thrill rides go, it doesn’t get much more harrowing than the NFL Draft.
It’s the year’s single biggest breathe-into-a-paper-bag moment for Dawg Pound Nation.
It’s 10 miles of bad road, and then Joe Thomas. Ten more miles of bad road, and then Baker Mayfield, Denzel Ward and Nick Chubb.
It’s great names (Barkevious Mingo) and blame games (Corey Coleman?). Long snappers (Ryan Pontbriand) and bad actors (Johnny Manziel). Heavy sleepers (Justin Gilbert) and jeepers creepers (Kellen Winslow).
When it comes to the draft, heavily scarred Browns fans have learned to hope for the best, expect the worst and be happy with something in between.
They also have learned to hope that this year’s general manager can make some magic.
Can Andrew Berry be that magic man?
He’s off to a good start. With his first selection as the Browns’ draft pick picker, Berry rightfully, and thankfully, announced himself as a card-carrying member of the Baker Mayfield Preservation Association.
With the 10th pick in the draft, the Browns selected University of Alabama quarterback bodyguard Jedrick Wills Jr. The 6-foot-4, 312-pound mountain of nasty was one of the gang of four offensive tackles that were projected to go in the first round of the draft. When the Browns’ pick rolled around, three of the four were still on the board.
Off the board was Andrew Thomas, selected by the Giants at No. 4. The other three were Wills, Mekhi Becton and Tristan Wirfs. Starting with the Browns at 10, three of the next four picks were tackles. After Wills, the Jets took Becton at 11 and Tampa Bay took Wirfs at 13.
Whether the Browns got the best of that burly bunch of bruisers remains to be seen. All that matters now is that they didn’t try to get cute or creative with No. 10. They drafted a player at a position that was not just a crying need, but a sobbing need.
Naturally, Berry said he got the one he wanted.
“It’s really a good fit. His talent, his makeup and our need,” he said. “Jed is a well-rounded player with a great skill set. He’s perfect for us.”
So let’s synchronize our watches. The Browns had their pick of those three tackles and they went with Wills. Time will tell which team won tacklepalooza.
You could almost hear Mayfield, from wherever he was watching the proceedings, shouting “Yes!” as Wills’ name was announced. Although Mayfield probably would have celebrated had the Browns selected either of the other two available tackles.
Offensive linemen are hardly the sexiest picks in any NFL Draft. This year, fortunately for the Browns, it was a tackle-heavy draft, featuring four heavy tackles. As the first round descended to the Browns at No. 10, it looked for a moment like Clemson Swiss Army knife Isaiah Simmons, a position-less but heat-seeking defensive demon, might still be on the board at 10.
Had that happened, it would have been interesting to see which way the Browns would have gone, given that there’s currently not exactly a “beware of dogs” sign on the door of their linebackers room.
But the Cardinals snagged Simmons at No. 8, preventing any Browns scouts from pounding the table for him at 10.
That was fine with coach Kevin Stefanski, who said of Wills, “The first time I turned on his tape I envisioned him playing for our team.”
So Wills it is, and the fact that he’s a product of Nick Saban’s football factory can only help. Talk about players who are used to winning! Wills’ biggest challenge may be switching from right tackle — which he played only because it was the blindside of Bama left-hander Tua Tagovailoa — to right tackle. The Browns’ right tackle will be Jack Conklin, whom they signed as a free agent.
Having the firm of Wills and Conklin bookending both sides of the Browns’ offensive line will be a welcome security blanket for Mayfield, who, amazingly, somehow avoided leaving the 2019 season in a full body cast.
Berry, Stefanski and all the other employees at Haslam Acres are well aware of what the stakes are for Mayfield and, by definition, for the Browns in 2020.
A second consecutive bad year by the quarterback would raise the “maybe he isn’t The Guy” flag a little bit higher up the pole.
Last year the Browns upgraded the weapons around Mayfield. This year they’ve upgraded the road graders in front of him. Sexy? No. Necessary? Yes.
When you think about it, most offensive linemen, aside from centers, go through their entire careers without ever touching the football. They typically aren’t given nicknames, they don’t do TV commercials or date supermodels.
But they clear the way for, and protect, the players who do.
You may not wear a Jedrick Wills jersey to a Browns game — but he will.
That’s good for the Browns.