Andrew Berry has always been steadfast in his approach to the NFL Draft in his two years as Browns' Executive Vice President of Football Operations and GM.
Front offices will always be tempted to hone in on certain positions of highest need with first-round picks and beyond, but Berry refuses to budge — he believes the approach should always be about picking whichever player will offer the longest-term impact to the team.
His first draft pick as GM with the Browns in 2020 provided the perfect alignment of that philosophy. Cleveland's highest need entering the draft last season was an offensive tackle. Luckily for Berry, who secured the Browns' selection with the 10th overall pick, the offensive tackle class was loaded with several top prospects. Four tackles were selected in the first 13 picks, and the Browns snagged one of them, Jedrick Wills Jr., to solidify the left tackle position, which lacked consistency since the retirement of legendary tackle Joe Thomas in 2017.
This year, the Browns' draft position is much different — they don't pick until No. 26 — but Berry's draft mentality will stay the same.
"It's less about filling a need or some level of instant-gratification on the roster, and more about a longer-term focus on the team," Berry said Friday in a video call with local reporters. "I like where we're picking, and not just at 26, but at 59, 89, 91, 110 and so forth. I think there are plenty of opportunities where we can add young players that can grow with us over the next several years."
Ever since the offseason began, mock draft creators and draft analysts have pegged the Browns to select a defensive player in the first round. With every offensive starter set to return to the roster in 2021, the predictions seemed reasonable, and they still do even after the Browns signed six defensive free agents to create room for significant improvement in 2021.
But Berry won't make the decision on which position to address until the Browns are officially on the clock. The front office is in no rush to lock into one when so much uncertainty lies ahead in the picks in front of them.
There could be a run on defensive ends before pick No. 26. The same could happen for cornerbacks, of which there are four strong first-round candidates who could all be off the board by the time the Browns are on the clock. After Micah Parsons, who is likely to be well out of the Browns' reach in the first round, the linebacker position holds several players who could slide into the second round. At safety, just one player, Trevon Moehrig, holds a consensus first-round grade.
The Browns have no reason to make their minds up now.
"Need and positional value, all that can play a role in (the picks)," Berry said, "but by no means is it the primary mode. Not even close to the primary."
That uncertainty, however, could lead to trades. Berry didn't rule out that possibility, but he didn't specify on whether he'd be more interested in trading up or down — which will never be revealed by a league GM.
With nine picks in the draft, the Browns certainly appear to have the cargo necessary to trade up if they are particularly high on a prospect. And if one player on the top of the board appears poised for a second-round slide, then the Browns could accumulate even more picks for the future and still be in position to secure a top player Berry believes will bring the highest long-term impact to Cleveland.
"I'm comfortable with the pick, I'm comfortable if we move out and I'm comfortable if we move up," Berry said. "It largely depends on circumstance, but I'm not married to any particular decision, especially (when we're) six days from knowing what the first pick of the draft is going to be."
The Browns' 2021 draft situation contains much more uncertainty than one year ago, when the front office was practically guaranteed to be in position to address their top need and select a player at a premium position where long-term consistency is crucial.
Now, that guarantee isn't as strong.
That's not a problem for Berry, though. With Berry's philosophy and trust in his scouting department and front office personnel, the first pick will always be about bringing a player they believe can build the best and longest career in Cleveland, not just in 2021.
"Your needs today aren't the same issue as tomorrow," Berry said. "I have definitely found that to be true throughout my football career."
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