The NFL Draft is an annual three-day marathon.
For the Browns this year, it was more like a sprint. General manager Andrew Berry made his seven picks and a trade between Friday night at 9:45 and Saturday afternoon at 5:45.
Berry’s 20 hours of work — and the thousands that led up to the weekend — can’t be accurately judged for some time. But the end of draft season is a good time to reset the roster, explore the rookies’ potential impact and look at other items affecting the Browns.
Here are five thoughts:
Work left to do
Browns fans expecting and hoping for Berry to draft a linebacker and safety were disappointed. There’s an argument to be made they were the two greatest positions of need entering the weekend, yet Berry went elsewhere with his seven picks.
The draft was considered weak at both positions, so it’s hard to blame Berry for not chasing a need, especially when he didn’t have a pick until No. 74.
The Browns have their starting safeties in Juan Thornhill and Grant Delpit, but the only backups on the roster are D’Anthony Bell and Bubba Bolden. They were undrafted a year ago. Bell was really good on special teams but didn’t play much on defense, and Bolden only spent time on the practice squad.
Berry is sure to add to the position before training camp, and someone with experience would make sense as a third safety and insurance.
Linebacker is different. The Browns have most of their key guys returning from last year, but they’re all coming off season-ending injuries. Insurance seems prudent here, as well.
As for the picks he made, Berry received many kudos from analysts. The Athletic’s Dane Bruger noted the Browns got five players from his top 100 prospects despite starting late — Tennessee receiver Cedric Tillman No. 57, Ohio State tackle Dawand Jones No. 62, Baylor defensive tackle Siaki Ika No. 71, Northwestern cornerback Cam Mitchell No. 85 and Missouri defensive end Isaiah McGuire No. 94.
Without a first- or second-round pick, it’s difficult to expect a rookie to come in and win a starting job. But Cleveland’s picks should create a lot of competition for key backup spots.
Tillman was the team’s first choice, at No. 74, and Berry said he was surprised he was still available. Tillman missed six games last season due to ankle surgery, which could’ve hurt his draft stock.
Tillman is healthy but will have to earn playing time at a position that got crowded during the offseason. Starters Amari Cooper and Donovan Peoples-Jones return, Berry traded the No. 42 pick in the draft for Elijah Moore and signed veteran free agent speedster Marquise Goodwin. If Tillman can earn a significant role in the rotation, it will be a great sign for the future.
McGuire, taken at No. 126 in the fourth round, has an easier path. Myles Garrett and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo are the starters, but McGuire should compete with Alex Wright and Isaiah Thomas to be No. 3 in the rotation.
Ika, No. 98 in the third round, is the biggest of a large pile of massive bodies at defensive tackle. If he has the explosion and ability to penetrate the Browns believe he does, he’ll quickly earn quality playing time.
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Mitchell, Jones and Ohio State center Luke Wypler will fight for roster spots as backups. Mitchell could play the soonest on special teams and perhaps in the slot.
Down the road
Although the pressure is on Berry to win in 2023, he stuck to his philosophy of keeping an eye on the future.
Tillman seems like a perfect replacement if Peoples-Jones leaves after this season, which is the last on his rookie contract. Jones could be developed to replace either right tackle Jack Conklin or left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. in a couple of years. Wypler could replace Nick Harris as the backup center this year then potentially take over for starter Ethan Pocic down the line.
The rookies have to prove they belong on this level and they’re worthy of roster spots and eventually promotion, but the possible succession plans are easy to spot.
Just getting tougher
Remember when there was supposed to be a breather coming in the AFC North?
It never happened.
Quarterback Lamar Jackson’s huge extension last week in addition to what looks like another solid draft, led by lightning-quick receiver Zay Flowers, makes the Ravens a legitimate contender once again. The Bengals were already a power and still have quarterback Joe Burrow and his top weapons. And the Steelers are doing all they can to compete with Kenny Pickett as the worst of the North quarterbacks.
Pittsburgh jumped the Jets to get needed tackle Broderick Jones at No. 13, then jumped at the chance to take cornerback Joey Porter Jr. when he was still available at the start of the second round. He fits after his dad was a standout linebacker for the Steelers.
They continued to take promising players in defensive tackle Keeanu Benton, tight end Darnell Washington, outside linebacker Nick Herbig and cornerback Cory Trice Jr.
Out of town
The Browns’ decision to move the start of training camp in July to The Greenbrier and close it to the public is one with pros and cons.
The Browns have an extra week of camp because they’re playing in the Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 3 in Canton. Coach Kevin Stefanski wants to break up the monotony and create a better environment for the team to bond.
Off-site camps are a tradition for many teams, including the Vikings, with whom Stefanski spent more than a decade as an assistant. He’s witnessed the benefits of having everyone together at one place all the time. For a team that struggled with chemistry issues last year, this could help.
The downside is moving practices away from their die-hard fans. The Browns will have several open practices when they return from West Virginia, and much of the time away is extra compared to a normal year, but I’m sure some fans were counting on more chances to watch their favorite team for free.