Every week during the 2021 NFL season, we’re going to — just being honest here — overreact to what we’ve seen on the field for a different NFL team and begin projecting NFL draft prospects at positions of concerning need.
Think of it as a mini one-team mock draft, with early (Rounds 1-2), middle (Rounds 3-4) and late (Rounds 5-7) prospects at each team’s respective position of concern.
This week’s NFL draft makeover is for the Cleveland Browns.
At the end of September, the Cleveland Browns appeared to be right where many thought they would following a breakout season in 2020 — the one we once thought might never come but the kind that completely changed the level of expectation for the perpetual underachievers.
They were 3-1, with only a late loss at Kansas City in a game the Browns led for more than three quarters of the game. Head coach Kevin Stefanski boasted a record of 15-7 — more victories than his three predecessors combined. The run game was the NFL’s best statistically. So was the defense, ranked first in rush yards and pass yards allowed.
Then the foundation started to crack. The Browns lost back-to-back games to the Chargers and Cardinals, allowing 84 combined points. Baker Mayfield‘s injured non-throwing shoulder worsened. Odell Beckham Jr.’s situation grew more troublesome by the day.
And that’s how we get to where the Browns sit now: at 6-6, in last place in the AFC North. On some days, the defense has been dominant, allowing 16 or fewer points seven times; in other games, they’ve been undressed, giving up 47 to the Chargers, 45 to the Patriots and 37 to the Cardinals. The same maddening inconsistency has blighted the offense, too, hitting the 40-point mark twice but failing to top 14 points in six games.
Mayfield’s situation is the most interesting as he heads into Year 5 in 2022. He was hot as a rookie, struggled in his second season, rebounded in a big way in 2020 and has fallen off this season. Some of it can be blamed on injuries, both his own and to those of his teammates. But it’s clear he hasn’t completely won over everyone in Cleveland for the long term.
Can the Browns find more consistency and build another Super Bowl-contending team? Assuming they don’t find some late magic in 2021, the 2022 offseason sets up as a big one. They should have ample salary-cap space to play with (even if a Mayfield extension happens) and will have a draft pick in every round, along with an additional fourth-rounder to play with.
We have some ideas on what needs must be addressed next year and how the Browns might achieve that through the 2022 NFL draft.
Early round prospect
Ohio State WR Garrett Wilson
At this moment, the Browns are slated to pick 15th overall in Round 1. In the past five drafts, WR1 has gone off the board at pick Nos. 5, 12, 25, 24 and 5. For what it’s worth, that’s an average position of 14.2. (And if we went back one more year, the Browns selected Corey Coleman 15th in 2016.)
So it feels about right that Wilson — who very well could be the first receiver taken next year — lands in this spot. Perhaps it’s a tad bit higher or lower, but the Browns certainly will be looking at a position that not long ago was considered a team strength but that looms as a prominent concern. OBJ is gone, and Jarvis Landry and his massive 2022 cap number might not be far behind.
Wilson is somewhat average, physically speaking. At a shade under 6-foot and 186 pounds, with sub-32-inch arm length, he’s actually below the league’s mean measurements for the position on all three. His testing numbers are likely to be slightly above average, including an estimated 40-yard dash time of 4.45 seconds.
But where he wins is with elite body control, natural route-running and separation skills and with his yards-after-the-catch ability. For an offense that could use more offensive weaponry, Wilson appears to be a perfect complement to what the Browns have in Donovan Peoples-Jones (big, athletic outside target), Demetric Felton (possible slot replacement for Jarvis Landry) and Anthony Schwartz (deep threat, if he can stay healthy), plus the tight ends.
There are not a lot of obvious comps for Wilson, but Calvin Ridley and Rashod Bateman are two similar players who come to mind when we’ve watched Ohio State tape the past two years.
Georgia DT Devonte Wyatt
The Browns have two impactful pass rushers in Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney, assuming he’s back after a revival season in Cleveland, along with a solid EDGE3 in Takk McKinley. More depth there would be nice, especially if Clowney set too high a price tag to return, but it’s not as pressing as the interior need.
Cleveland’s top three at DT this season has been Malik McDowell, Malik Jackson and Jordan Elliott. Outside of some flashes here and there, they’ve been pretty ordinary. But looking at those three, it’s clear the Browns have a type up front. They prefer length and athleticism over mass and raw power. (Although they did appear to go against that grain with untested 2021 fourth-rounder Tommy Togiai.)
If the Browns stick with that template for more DT depth, they circle around to a player such as Wyatt. At roughly 6-foot-3 with 32 1/2-inch arms, he’s not quite as long as the interior players the Browns currently deploy, but Wyatt possesses the requisite athleticism — including a terrific get-off that arguably ranks among the best in this draft class — that this front office seeks.
Wyatt has gone under the radar somewhat in media circles, but scouts know plenty about the fifth-year senior. He first broke out in 2019 for the Bulldogs as a sub-package rusher, and though Wyatt didn’t start a game at UGA until the 2020 season, he’s seen steady snaps inside for the past four years.
Although not a true pocket collapsing force, Wyatt brings heavy and violent hands to the party, plays with high energy and can brawl with stout guards using his very good upper-body strength. He also can line up anywhere from a shaded nose out to a 6-technique spot and win leverage battles at each of those spots, making for a good rotational contributor who can develop into a starting role over time.
Brown QB EJ Perry
A fun, late dart throw here, a Brown grad to the Browns. But this pairing is more than just trivial wordplay.
Perry is a fascinating QB prospect who won’t be on every NFL team’s top board, and some teams will evaluate him as a WR prospect, featuring 4.5-4.6 speed and good elusiveness and creativity as a ballcarrier. After all, there are not too many 2022 NFL draft prospects who can boast a 94-yard TD run (2019 vs. Bryant), a 64-yard TD catch (2021 vs. Yale) and a 57-yard TD pass (2019 vs. Holy Cross).
But we’d like to see Perry first get a shot at quarterback. For the Bears, he’s been asked to shoulder the entire load on a Bears squad that has zero NFL talent outside of him and that finished 4-16 the past two seasons. The Browns really could use a developmental QB — that is, assuming Mayfield remains their 2022 starter. Perry essentially is a more naturally talented, more athletic and stronger-armed version of Browns practice-squad QB Nick Mullens.
Perry’s interception totals are quite eye-opening — 27 picks in 862 pass attempts, with one or more INTs in 18 of his 20 starts. However, it’s clear watching Perry that he is playing that way because he has to. Brown wasn’t the best place to showcase his skills, and it’s arguable that they might not have won any games had he not been so aggressive.
You wonder what the 6-1, 210-pound Perry might have become had he not transferred from Boston College after he completed 27 of 38 passes for 277 yards and two TDs (and no INTs) and ran for 70 yards and a score in 2018. He opened some eyes in five relief appearances for Anthony Brown that season, including throwing for 98 yards against eventual champion Clemson.
If the QB thing doesn’t work out, Perry absolutely could be tried at receiver. That’s the kind of athlete he is, rushing for 1,132 yards (and that factors in lost sack yardage behind a leaky offensive line) and 15 TDs over two seasons.