Getting a couple of gems
The Browns went dumpster diving for 6½ hours Saturday at the National Football League college draft and emerged with a mixed bag of talent.
There were some questionable picks and a couple of extremely smart ones as the Browns moved vicariously and resolutely up and down the board.
After sorting our all the garbage in the final four rounds of the three-day, seven-round extravaganza, the Browns came away with a cornerback, offensive tackle, defensive tackle, running back and placekicker.
Tallying up the haul over the three days, they addressed both sides of the ball in adding three defensive linemen, two new members for the secondary, a tight end, running back, quarterback, offensive tackle and kicker to the roster.
Saturday’s journey through the four rounds uncovered Houston cornerback Howard Wilson (fourth round), Florida State offensive tackle Roderick Johnson (fifth), Florida defensive tackle Caleb Brantley (sixth), and Arizona state kicker Zane Gonzalez and North Carolina State running back Matthew Dayes in the seventh.
Linebacker (inside and outside) and wide receiver were the only positions not addressed, suggesting the front office and coaching staff are comfortable with the makeup of those positions.
The selection of Wilson in the fourth round (after the Browns traded back into the round with Denver to get him), is somewhat suspect since the rail-thin cornerback tore an ACL a couple of years ago. He started only 16 games for the Cougars.
Contrast that with corner/safety Desmond King, a four-year starter at Iowa, who was still on the board when Wilson was taken. Apparently the Browns preferred the height of the 6-1, 180-pound Wilson to the 5-10, 200-pound King, who has the reputation of being a tough kid. King was taken by the Los Angeles Chargers early in the fifth round.
Johnson is the second Florida State offensive lineman drafted by the Browns in the last couple of years. Cameron Erving was the second of two first-round picks in 2015. Hopefully, Johnson will turn out more productive than his Seminole predecessor. But it will take some time.
The 6-7, 300-pounder comes aboard as a project and most likely will be brought along slowly under the tutelage of future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas at left tackle. Johnson’s greatest flaw is pass protection, an art at which Thomas excels.
The Browns, who entered the lottery with 11 selections and used 10 as they adroitly moved up and down the draft, might have struck gold with their sixth-round pick of Brantley, but it comes with a caveat.
The 6-3, 305-pound Brantley, originally projected as a second-round talent, was involved two weeks ago in a physical confrontation with a woman Gainesville, Fla. He was charged with misdemeanor battery after striking her unconscious.
The Browns say they are investigating the incident further and will make a determination on what to do with the pick pending the result of that investigation. It is possible they might rescind (forfeit?) the pick should they find sufficient proof that would warrant such a move.
“It’s something we got comfortable enough at this point to make the decision (to select Brantley),” said Browns boss Sashi Brown. “That doesn’t mean Caleb is necessarily going to be on our roster as we move forward. We expect he’ll come in here, we’ll have plenty of conversation about this and we’re happy to add him at this point in the draft.”
If Brantley somehow emerges cleanly from this situation, he will provide a dynamic the Browns have not seen along the defensive line since the days of Michael Dean Perry a generation ago.
Brantley is cat-like quick off the snap, sometimes so quick he is flagged. He would be a perfect partner at defensive tackle with Danny Shelton, who routinely drew double- and sometimes triple-team blocking in the Browns’ 3-4 scheme the last two seasons.
New defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ 4-3 look with Shelton and Brantley side by side would eliminate those double teams in a hurry. How that turns out now will depend on the results of Brown’s investigation.
“This is something that can’t continue,” said Brown. “We will continue to investigate . . . and, provided we can get comfortable, we’ll keep him on the roster. If we can’t, we’ll move on.” Stay tuned.
The pick that excites me the most is the seventh-round selection of Gonzalez, the best kicker in the nation and winner of the Lou Groza Award, named after the late Browns great kicker and offensive tackle.
Having watched Gonzalez kick for Arizona State the last four years, I can assure you he will be the club’s placement specialist this season, replacing Cody Parkey, and many seasons after that.
He nailed an FBS record 96 career field goals in 116 attempts for the Sun Devils, including 23 of 25 last season. Seven of those field goals traveled more than 50 yards and he was 13 of 15 from 40 yards or more. His strong right leg produced touchbacks 75% of the time the last couple of seasons for the Sun Devils.
The selection of Dayes is strictly a gamble. With Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson Jr. on the Cleveland roster, his best shot is on special teams. Perhaps it was his 1,166-yard performance as a senior at North Carolina State that drew the Browns’ attention with the penultimate pick in the lottery.
So after three long days and nights of investing in the Browns’ future, we come the end of yet another college draft for the Browns, one that is certain to be better than last year’s only because it appears as though the front office has improved its ability to select talent.
Saturday’s grade: A solid C that could improve depending on what happens with Brantley.
Sunday: A comprehensive look and evaluation of what took place for three days in Philadelphia.