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Analysis: Draft board falls Browns' way, and the defense keeps getting better

Cleveland just keeps adding talent and depth to its remade defense

Andrew Berry said the room was split.

Mind you, they weren't divided on Greg Newsome II. Berry's group was in full agreement the Northwestern cornerback was a player who fit exactly what the Browns were looking for — a young, tight-covering defensive back who embodied the team's required "Smart, Tough, Accountable" mantra.

The group was split on whether Newsome would be available when the Browns were on the clock with the 26th pick — the latest they've picked since 1995. Half thought he could be. The other half figured he'd be gone.

"We thought he might fall within striking distance," said Berry, the Browns' EVP of Football Operations and GM. "We by no means were sure, but obviously, we were pretty happy to take him once we knew he was going to be available."

That happiness was apparent in the moments after Berry made the pick. Working from his office at the team facility in Berea, Berry flashed a smile and gave a big thumbs up for the millions of viewers watching all across the world. Berry landed the ninth overall defensive player and fourth cornerback with the 26th pick thanks to a surplus of talented quarterbacks, wide receivers and other talented offensive players who comprised the vast majority of picks before the Browns.

Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski, one year after seeing Berry hammer away at the offense in free agency and the draft, was similarly excited to see yet another new, promising addition to what could be a completely remade defense in 2021.

"He fits culturally – being smart, tough and accountable. He fits schematically," Stefanski said. "He has the body type to play man, to play zone. He makes plays on the ball. There are a lot of things about his game that we are really excited about."

After adding six significant additions to the defense in free agency, Newsome became the seventh. And, well, the Browns have eight more picks left in the 2021 NFL Draft, so there figures to be a few more players of note left to discuss in the coming days. 

Specifically, Newsome is the third player — second cornerback — added to a secondary that was hamstrung by injuries — both serious and nagging — from the very start of training camp. That's why Berry was quick to stress the selection of Newsome had little to do with the status of Greedy Williams, Cleveland's 2019 second-round pick who missed all of last season with a shoulder injury. 

This wasn't about one player and one spot. It was about supplementing a position group that can truly never have too much depth.

"Cornerback is a group where we want to be deep and we want to have a lot of guys who can cover," Berry said. "I think we saw the value of having really good cover corners last year, and that is an area where we want to be deep over time."

Newsome showed that ability the moment he arrived at Northwestern, where he started four games as a true freshman before blossoming as a sophomore. Though he finished his career with just one interception, Newsome provided black-hole coverage all throughout a junior campaign that ended with him earning First-Team All Big Ten and Third-Team All-American honors. Perhaps most impressively, Newsome didn't allow a single completion on third down.

"One of the things that we do like about Greg is he can find the ball and ultimately play the ball down the field," Berry said.

Now, Berry and Stefanski will want to see Newsome do the same in a Browns uniform. In previous years, Newsome might have seen a clearer path to immediate playing time. As the seventh (and counting) new face on Cleveland's defense, Newsome will have to earn his role, whatever it ends up being, when the team hits the field for training camp.

"We know we have added some players and it is going to be a great competition on the roster," Berry said. "But what that means for the fall, we have a lot of work to do before we get there."

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