Andrew Berry had a broad smile on his face as he sat down Friday for his annual pre-draft press conference inside the media room at the CrossCountry Mortgage Campus.
"It's everybody's favorite press conference," Berry said, "where you ask questions and I barely answer them."
Understood. Information is currency during draft season. That said, Berry answered some questions Friday — a number of them — and we're highlighting the top storylines as the Browns sit just six days away from the start of the 2023 NFL Draft.
1. Browns are 'flexible,' focused on 'maximizing talent'
Relatively speaking, the Browns are in uncharted territory entering this year's draft. Yes, with their first pick scheduled at No. 74 midway through the third round, they're set to make their first selection at roughly the same point they did in last year's draft. Unlike 2022, though, the Browns know that well in advance, as they didn't part with their 2022 second-rounder until the day of the actual draft.
Even though the circumstances have changed — dramatically, at that, compared to previous years — the goal hasn't.
"The draft, we look at it as more longer-term planning and, ultimately, trying to maximize talent," Berry said. "I think especially when you're in the situation that we're in, where we're picking later in the draft, it's not like we can really dictate it. When you're at the top of the draft, you can dictate it to a degree. I think it's important for us to remain flexible and make sure our first priority is to maximize the talent we can add to the team."
Berry said the Browns' draft board consists of roughly 125 players but acknowledged the team's situation drops that number by a significant margin.
"Look, I love Will Anderson and if he drops to 74, we'll take him," Berry said of the Alabama pass rusher, whom many project to be a top-five selection, "but we know that is not going to happen."
The result, Berry said, is a "subset of players you actually end up focusing on" as realistically available at where the team will be picking throughout the three-day event. CB Martin Emerson Jr., the team's first selection in last year's draft, was a prime example of one of those players.
"You think about who are the players that we really like that could actually be available at our picks and would match based on how you value certain positions or certain player risk profiles, whether it's skillset injury or whatever, all of that plays into it," Berry said. "He was one of those players that even before we traded out of 44, that we thought we would have a chance at potentially on Day 2 that we really liked. Then, fortunately, it just worked out when we traded back."
2. Room for 8?
The Browns are currently slated to pick eight times in the 2023 NFL Draft.
That begged the question: Does this Browns roster, coming off a busy free agency period that featured key additions to numerous spots, have room for eight rookies? Especially when the roster is trimmed to 53?
Berry, whose draft picks since 2020 have largely maintained their roster spots, said it was too early to say.
"I think each year is a little bit different in that regard. Who knows?" Berry said. "You get wiped out because of injury in camp or a guy surprises you in either direction, it may change how you think about adding youth to the roster. We don't really go into it with the mentality of 'can seven or eight guys make the team?'
"There are some years that we started off with seven (picks) and ended up with six. I think a lot can happen between certainly now and the end of the weekend, but also now and when you start the season."
3. Talking QBs
The Browns are set at QB1, but there's been plenty of movement when it comes to the future of who's behind Deshaun Watson in 2023 and beyond.
First, the Browns made a key signing when they brought back Josh Dobbs, who spent most of 2022 with Cleveland before finishing up the season in Tennessee.
"That was a big one for us," Berry said. "Backup quarterback — I think as everyone has seen over the past three seasons — has been something that we've prioritized. Again, it's the most important position in sports. Having Case (Keenum) in 2020 and 2021, having Jacoby (Brissett) last year, you just never know.
"Josh is a guy that we felt very comfortable with his development last year. We know his makeup, the relationship between the starter and backup is really important in that room. We really thought that he really fit like a glove."
Prompted about reports the Browns have used some of their allotted prospect visits on quarterbacks, Berry stressed the team is always seeking to maximize the information it acquires in the weeks and days leading up to the draft.
"For us as we think through what easily ends up being about 125 guys on the board, we just want to make sure that we have everything on all the guys, because you just don't know what the possibilities are going to be that the individual falls to you," Berry said. "Certainly, with quarterbacks, we like to spend a lot of time with them and we try to do that appropriately over the course of the spring and in different venues. It's the most important position in sports and no different than adding depth and competition at receiver or defensive line or corner or linebacker or offensive line. We are going to do the same thing at quarterback."
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4. Talking LBs
Almost all of the Browns linebackers that started the 2022 season weren't around for the end of it.
It started with a crushing, season-ending injury to team captain and defensive leader Anthony Walker just three games into the year. Jacob Phillips, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Sione Takitaki were lost at different portions of the season, leaving the Browns with a skeleton crew by the time things wrapped up in Pittsburgh to close the year.
Berry said all of the members of the group have done a "phenomenal job" rehabbing from their respective injuries and expects them to be "ready to go" by the start of 2023.
"With Anthony in particular, I think everybody who has been around the team understands how important he is, in terms of not only his play, but his leadership and communication skills," Berry said. "With Sione, I think the added experience that he was able to get last season playing multiple spots and doing a really nice job, until he got hurt.
"The silver lining to the injuries is that we enter this year with more depth, in terms of that communicator spot. We are very excited to have both of those individuals back on the team."
5. The horse vs. the goose
Berry dropped one of his most creative analogies Friday when he was asked about the success rate of mid-round selections.
The reality, Berry said, is the vast majority of third-fifth round picks don't become starters in the NFL. That's why Berry often talks to his scouts about horses and geese, and why the Browns are always looking for more horses.
"A goose, it can walk, it can fly, it can run, but it waddles when it walks. It doesn't really fly really high and it doesn't run real fast," Berry said. "A horse, it can't swim, it can't fly, but it's a really great runner. If we were talking about players, we would take horse traits, because if we're putting together a roster, we'd ideally like a player that can be above average in some way. Even if it's a very narrow sense, because when you put together the team, the aggregate allows you to maybe the cover of the skill set you have."
Check out photos of Browns players working out during the first week of offseason workouts