With the draft less than two weeks away, teams are wrapping up their extensive research on this year's class.
One of the finishing touches is the local pro day. The Browns held theirs Friday in Berea, inviting 36 players from colleges in the surrounding area.
Local pro days can include first-round prospects and also some players who might not even get drafted. Former star Giants receiver Victor Cruz is an example of the latter.
Steve Malin, Browns director of college scouting, was with the Giants when Cruz, a Massachusetts standout, worked out at the team's local pro day.
"It was an opportunity for us to bring a kid back home from Paterson (New Jersey), play for his hometown, and then from there he wrote his own chapter of his book," Malin recalled.
This year's group in Berea included another Massachusetts star, wide receiver Andy Isabella. He and Cruz aren't all that different, though Cruz was larger (6-foot, 202 pounds) than Isabella (5-foot-9, 188 pounds). Another difference: Isabella is much more likely to get drafted.
Thirty-six prospects hailing from schools or cities near Cleveland made the trip to Berea on Friday to work out for Browns personnel staff and coaches. Take a look at some of the best photos from the action.
Draft position doesn't necessarily guarantee success, though, which is part of why teams invite smaller-school prospects as well. The local Division II and III programs received representation in the form of Notre Dame College defensive end Vincent Ellis, John Carroll defensive lineman Jimmy Thomas, Mercyhurst cornerback Dante Redwood, Gannon running back Marcus Jones, Charleston cornerback Jonte Pooler and Charleston defensive end John Cominsky.
"It allows us to look at that next tier of athletes and also start recruiting them," Malin said, "and let them know 'hey, there's opportunities here for you at the end of the draft to come in and compete for a roster spot.'"
Plenty of these prospects are invited to the local pro day because they hail from Northeast Ohio, even if they went to school outside of the region. That's essentially the baseline for this day: Either you went to school around here, or you're from around here. Such is the case for Pooler (Stow), Cominsky (Barberton), Isabella (Mayfield), Kentucky tight end C.J. Conrad (LaGrange), Kentucky receiver Dorian Baker (Cleveland Heights), Cincinnati defensive tackle Marquise Copeland (Cleveland), Ohio State outside linebacker Dante Booker (Akron), Ohio State defensive tackle Dre'Mont Jones (Cleveland), Michigan State's Andrew Dowell (North Ridgeville) and Fordham corner Dylan Mabin (Macedonia), among others.
"I think highly of the process of a local day," Malin said. "I think that that is something that is a positive thing, not only for us as an organization, but it also allows those kids to come back to their hometown. ... They're competing. That's what you want is you want to see them compete in a different environment. The pro days are over, the season is over. This just gives us another opportunity to put them under the microscope and see how they perform."
There's also the added benefit of getting a second live look at the local prospects, and the coaching staff's first opportunity to get to know the players. In those moments, sometimes a hidden ability will jump out. Sometimes that's all it takes to earn a rookie minicamp invite, and the opportunity to write their own stories as Cruz once did in New York.
"There's examples of guys that you put eyes on them and then all of a sudden you're like 'man, this guy moves better than what I thought,' or 'man, this guy is a big guy,'" Malin said. "And then being able to grab a player off the practice field and take him to the meeting room and carry it a step further and talk to them about their football IQ, I think that's an invaluable part of the process."
With a relatively small window of time for this event to take place before the draft arrives on April 25, it isn't the easiest to organize. Malin made sure to emphasize how much credit Browns personnel coordinator Dan Zegers deserved for getting the group of talented prospects into the building in Berea.
The full list of participants is below:
|WR||Johnnie Dixon||Ohio State|
|G||Michael Jordan||Ohio State|
|C||Dakota Tallman||Eastern Michigan|
|OL||Malcolm Pridgeon||Ohio State|
|DE||John Cominsky||Charleston (W. Va.)|
|DE||Vincent Ellis||Notre Dame College|
|DL||Dre'Mont Jones||Ohio State|
|DL||Jimmy Thomas||John Carroll|
|NT||Kalil Morris||Kent State|
|OLB||Dante Booker||Ohio State|
|OLB||Brandon Harris||Bowling Green|
|OLB||Andrew Dowell||Michigan State|
|OLB||Jim Jones||Kent State|
|CB||Jonte Pooler||Charleston (W. Va.)|
|K||Sean Nuernberger||Ohio State|