Browns NFL draft wrap-up: Takeaways and analysis on Cleveland’s picks and process

The Cleveland Browns entered this draft with an eye toward the future and to fortify areas in which they had already invested heavily. They did not move from this position. During their abbreviated two-day project, they didn’t move at all.

For the first time in his five drafts as general manager, Andrew Berry made no trades. Berry viewed the Browns as being in an advantageous drafting position for the future and feeling no rush to make a move or address an immediate need. Rushing defensive tackles are hard to find, so Berry started and ended the draft with them. The Browns love collecting offensive linemen and know their best won’t play forever, so they added Zak Zinter to the collection.

Defensive tackle Mike Hall Jr. is a Cleveland native and living the dream, but the Browns didn’t choose Hall because of geography or familiarity. They think he’s a great fit for Jim Schwartz’s defense and is athletic enough to be a disruptive passer for years to come. During November’s Ohio State-Michigan game, Hall took an awkward fall into Zinter, resulting in a fracture of Zinter’s tibia and fibula. Now, Zinter and Hall are teammates. The Browns view Zinter as a tough, smart and athletic lineman who will be a future starter.

“Mike’s passion and energy and Zak’s constant presence will add to our locker room,” Berry said. “I can’t wait to see them compete on the training pitch.”


Browns 2024 NFL Draft Picks: Grades, Fits and Scouting Reports

Berry said the Browns explored trades on the final day of the draft, but the Browns opted not to add any picks or extra moves largely because they had their 2024 team largely in place – and they love it. They finished the draft Saturday by selecting wide receiver Jamari Thrash in the fifth round, linebacker Nathaniel Watson in the sixth and two players in the seventh round: cornerback Myles Harden and defensive tackle Jowon Briggs.

Thrash can work his way into the team’s long-term plans if he can separate himself like he did during his college career, and Watson could have a direct path to being a part of the United States’ special teams. Browns this season. Watson led the SEC in sacks and tackles last fall, but he was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving in early 2023 and was previously arrested on felony charges following a racing incident of drag racing while he was in high school. Berry said he wouldn’t comment on how other teams might have perceived Watson, but the Browns were comfortable with his character.

Hall is only 20 years old and has never been a full-time starter at Ohio State. But the Browns have gone far enough to know what they really want, to believe Schwartz will be in his role for a long time, and to apply long-term thinking to every draft and business decision they’ve made or not made. The next step for the Browns is to turn stability, organizational competence and competitiveness into long-term success and playoff victories. It’s a realistic goal, but the chances of achieving it immediately weren’t going to change much this weekend.


Round 2, 54th: Mike Hall Jr.DT, Ohio State

Round 3, 85th: Zak ZinterG, Michigan

Round 5, 156th: Jamari ThrashWR, Louisville

Round 6, 206th: Nathaniel WatsonLB, Mississippi State

Round 7, 227th: Myles HardenCB, South Dakota

Round 7, 243rd: Jowon BriggsD.T., Cincinnati

Best Value Pick

Watson is a sixth-rounder who has no guarantees. But he’ll have a chance to make the team covering kickoffs, and his combination of size, speed and physicality makes him a player to watch. The Browns know there’s a chance they’ll get little help from this draft right away, but in Watson they have the player who led the SEC in tackles and sacks last fall. It’s at least remarkable, right? After six years in college and a long wait in the draft likely bolstered by his criminal record, Watson arrives in Cleveland with a chance to make a name for himself — and perhaps stay in a thin linebacker corps. Berry said Watson could eventually be seen as the kind of player smart enough to call defensive signals.

The most surprising choice

Discuss. We come into such a bland draft here and it feels like the Browns were reaching too. Thrash wasn’t a return specialist in college, and while he was productive at the college level, he doesn’t have a single trait that stands out as exceptional at the NFL level. The Browns’ addition to their wide receiver group was going to happen, but it seems like with the entry-level prospects gone, the Browns could have opted for a running back, edge rusher or cornerback here instead. The Browns chose Zinter over a group of wide receivers they saw at the Senior Bowl — and at least a few who were pegged as potential second- or early-third-round picks. The team prioritized Zinter and the interior offensive line over wide receiver in this draft.

The biggest question mark

The Browns don’t think their roster is perfect, but they don’t see many holes and don’t have many questions. They knew they wouldn’t have much recruiting capital — and considered it a good thing that they were recruiting mostly for a year (or more) down the road. Still, Berry had to resist the urge to trade up Friday night and add at least one fourth-round pick. We won’t have a real answer as to whether sticking with Hall and Zinter was the right decision for a while, but for now we’ll assume the Browns really valued these players — and never believed that more a few recruits would. make their squad of 53 players this season. Zinter says he was cleared to resume football activities, and perhaps his leg injury caused him to drop a few spots. Maybe the Browns will end up with a long-term steal.

Remaining needs

If you think 2024 hinges on the health of Deshaun Watson, Nick Chubb and the team’s top defensemen and their pay grades, you won’t have much discussion here. The Browns’ top roster has enough talent and experience to return to the playoffs, and the team’s moves over the past two years indicate more veteran players will be added in the coming months. The Browns need more help at tight end, have almost no proven depth at linebacker and have uncertainty within the receiving corps. But as the post-draft additions of Za’Darius Smith, Rodney McLeod and Shelby Harris proved last year, Berry isn’t done. In March, the Browns focused on keeping their team together and adding veteran insurance at running back. We’ve seen that owners are willing to spend big to help the front office manipulate the salary cap and continue to add experienced players if and when Berry feels he has a realistic goal. “In any (position) room, we don’t feel like we’re done,” Berry said.

Post-project outlook

The Deshaun Watson trade is finally over – the picks anyway. The Browns gave up three first-round picks and six overall picks in the last three drafts, but pick 123 in this draft marked the end. The Browns have their own picks in the first four rounds next year, and they have a window of contention that only stays open if Watson can get healthy and play well consistently. Although most other teams in the league added depth and young talent that the Browns didn’t this weekend, the Browns have long prepared for this limited draft. They traded their picks in this draft for Smith and Jerry Jeudy, and they mostly like what they have in place assuming positive health and rehab reports in the coming months. The Browns didn’t want to trade their future draft picks on Saturday, and Berry will continue to have the green light to add to the middle of the roster in the coming months.

(Top photo by Nathaniel Watson: Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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