AFC North: Pre-camp look at the Cleveland Browns
Ahead of official training camps among the AFC North rivals of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Steel City Underground looks at each divisional teams’ NFL Draft results, free agency, and key moves made within those franchises.
The Cleveland Browns had plenty of struggles last season, finishing the regular season with an 8-9 win-loss record (as did the Baltimore Ravens), and doing much better at home than they did on the road. In their second season under head coach Kevin Stefanski and general manager Andrew Berry, the Browns weren’t able to return to the NFL playoffs in their 69th season in the National Football League. With a fairly busy offseason and a nine-selection 2022 NFL Draft, we’ll look at the Browns as they prepare for training camp later this summer.
Browns begin in third round, draft nine
The excitement that was the Draft in Las Vegas was muted for Browns fans not directly in attendance. They didn’t have a selection in the first round this year due to the trade made with the Houston Texans for embattled veteran quarterback Deshaun Watson. Cleveland, then, traded out of the second round as well. They picked three players in the third round, two in the fourth round, one in the fifth round and sixth round, and finalized the event with two seventh-rounders.
No. 68: Martin Emerson Jr. (CB, Mississippi State) *from Texans
No. 78: Alex Wright (DE, UAB)
No. 99: David Bell (WR, Purdue) *Resolution 2020 JC-2A selection
No. 108: Perrion Winfrey (DT, Oklahoma) *from Texans
No. 124: Cade York (K, LSU) *from Eagles via Texans
No. 156: Jerome Ford (RB, Cincinnati) *from Ravens via Vikings
No. 202: Michael Woods II (WR, Oklahoma) *from Cowboys
No. 223: Isaiah Thomas (DE, Oklahoma) *from Lions
No: 246: Dawson Deaton (C, Texas Tech) *from Bills
Rookies expected to contribute right away
Of the players selected in the NFL Draft this year, Stefanski is putting his money on York replacing waived kicker Chase McLaughlin right away. York was highly consistent throughout his collegiate career and the Browns desperately hope to improve special teams this upcoming season. He is the most NFL-ready player that Cleveland drafted in 2022.
The next rookie that looks to have an immediate chance to make an impact in 2022 is Bell, who was the 2021 Big Ten receiver of the year. His FBS-high 67 catches on crossing and shallow routes compliments veteran Amari Cooper‘s ability to be a downfield threat very well. After minicamp, it looked like Bell may be the Browns’ starting slot receiver this fall in place of departed Jarvis Landry.
“Whether it’s outside, inside, in the backfield if they want to hand me the ball a little bit – I doubt it – but where coach decides to put me, that’s where I see [myself playing].” – David Bell
Emerson’s selection had some scratching their heads due to the depth that the Browns had a cornerback. Once nickleback Troy Hill departed to the Los Angeles Rams, however, it became clear that Emerson will be paired with Greedy Williams to press for a starting spot opposite Denzel Ward, allowing Greg Newsome to slide into the mix.
The rookies that look to work their way in
Once the Browns agreed to a one-year deal to bring Jadeveon Clowney back for 2022, the need for Wright to immediately contribute went down significantly. The Browns can ease the pass rusher into the roster and give him time to acclimate. That is even more significant with Thomas who posted back-to-back seasons with eight sacks; he’ll likely be utilized situationally as a pass rusher this season.
Whether it was a signal that Stefanski isn’t sold on D’Ernest Johnson and Kareem Hunt being their long-term answer at running back or not, Ford will reportedly be given opportunities to push for a backup role behind Nick Chubb in the offensive backfield.
Signings that indicate areas of needed depth, clarity
There is continued uncertainty surrounding Watson’s legal battles and when the Browns may have the veteran quarterback in a uniform and on the field playing in a regular-season game in 2022. Cleveland still had not made a definitive move with Baker Mayfield. That led to them signing insurance. Jacoby Brissett was brought over from the Miami Dolphins in March. Joshua Dobbs was brought in from the Pittsburgh Steelers in April. Undrafted rookie Felix Harper (Alcorn State) was signed in mid-May and recently released.
The defensive tackle position is also an area that is thin. Taven Bryan (Jacksonville Jaguars) signed in order to help Sheldon Day, the seventh-year defensive lineman. Jordan Elliott enters his third season in the league, which allowed Cleveland to bring undrafted rookies Glen Logan and Roderick Perry II in to work next to Winfrey who was selected in the fourth round of the draft.
Jakeem Grant (WR, UFA, Chicago Bears), Luther Kirk (S, Atlanta Falcons), Parnell Motley (CB, Detroit Lions), Ethan Pocic (C, Seattle Seahawks), Reggie Robinson II (CB, Houston Texans), Isaac Rochell (DE, Indianapolis Colts), Stephen Weatherly (DE, Denver Broncos), Javon Wims (WR, Las Vegas Raiders), D’Anthony Bell (S, UDFA), Mike Harley Jr. (WR, UDFA), Travell Harris (WR, UDFA), Brock Hoffman (C, UDFA), Shaun Jolly (CB, UDFA), Silas Kelly (LB, UDFA), Zaire Mitchell-Paden (TE, UDFA), Ben Petrula (T, UDFA), Isaiah Weston (WR, UDFA), and Marcus Santos-Silva (TE, UDFA).
*note: transactions are as mentioned above at the time of this article’s writing and are subject to change.