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Browns Mailbag

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Browns Mailbag: Draft or free agency? Where can Browns best fill positions of need?

We’re back from a bit of a hiatus -- the first caused by the coaching search and the second caused by an illness -- and we’re answering five of your questions on this “bracing for a winter storm” Thursday.

Let’s preface this with a preface we’ll be using a lot during the offseason. Any speculation of what general manager John Dorsey and Co. plan to do as they look to improve the Browns’ roster is just that: speculation. From our perspective, we’re just here to analyze the options he has in front of him, and there are plenty.

NFL.com on Wednesday released its initial rankings of the top free agents for the 2019 class. Using this as a baseline to judge the top strengths and weaknesses of the projected class, it’s fair to conclude there will be a handful of elite pass rushers available -- for a hefty price, of course -- as the top end skews heavily in favor of talented defensive players. The Browns, like most teams in the NFL, could certainly use more help from a pass-rushing standpoint. It’s just hard to imagine the majority of the players currently listed as projected free agents actually hitting the market. There are also a number of talented linebackers -- another area where Cleveland could look to add some depth -- projected to be free agents, including Ravens four-time Pro Bowler C.J. Mosley. A lot of business gets done between now and the start of free agency, so the Browns will have to continually adjust their free agency big board.

Three positions where the Browns could look to upgrade -- offensive tackle, wide receiver and defensive tackle -- aren’t as prevalent in the early free agency rankings but could be positions of strength in the upcoming draft. That’s definitely the case with defensive tackle, one of the draft’s deepest positions when it comes to first-round talent. USA Today’s Nate Davis put six defensive tackles in the first round of his latest mock. That includes Mississippi State’s Jeffrery Simmons, whom Davis pegged to the Browns at No. 17. Offensive tackle is much deeper than it’s been in previous years, so that could be another avenue Cleveland pursues as it looks to upgrade the talent and competition at the position, regardless of the upcoming decision by soon-to-be free agent Greg Robinson. Top-end talent at wide receiver is hard to find in free agency, and there aren’t many mock drafts that project one coming off the board before the Browns make their first pick. But as the Browns showed last year with the fourth-round selection of Antonio Callaway, there’s options on Days 2 and 3 if you identify the right player. Dorsey has done that more often than not during his run as general manager with the Browns.

The Browns running game took quite a turn for the better this year. I also know that Nick Chubb was the main reason. He had multiple long runs last year. If you remove the top three or four long runs for Chubb, what would be his yards per attempt? Would also wonder if comparing apples to apples, doing the same with the other running backs and compare. Do you think Chubb will be able to continue to supply these long runs next year or will defenses be ready for this? -- Elmer L., Bangor, Maine

This is a fun one. Let’s go with the four best runs and compare Chubb to some of the top running backs in the league.

If you take away the runs of 92, 63, 41 and 40 from Chubb, that leaves him with 188 carries for 760 yards. That still gives him an average of 4.04 yards per carry.

Here’s what happens for fellow rookie Saquon Barkley: Take away carries of 78, 68, 68 and 51 and it leaves him with 257 carries for 1,042 yards -- good for an average of 4.05 yards per carry.

Todd Gurley: Take away runs of 36, 29, 26 and 24, and it leaves him with 252 carries for 1,136 yards -- good for an average of 4.5 yards per carry.

How about Ezekiel Elliott? Take away runs of 41, 35, 32, and 26, and that leaves him with 300 carries for 1,300 yards. That’s good for 4.33 yards per carry.

Is Derrick Willies in the future plans of the Browns? -- Dean D., Moline, Illinois

Willies provided one of the brightest moments for the Browns during the first half of the season when he caught a third-and-long pass in overtime against the Ravens and turned it into a 39-yard reception that set up a game-winning field goal. A few days later, his season came to an unfortunate end when he suffered a collarbone injury in practice. Willies was around the team throughout the season while rehabbing the injury and will look to rejoin his teammates on the field when they reconvene for offseason workouts in April. Willies has the size and speed teams covet at the wide receiver position. He’ll have a chance to compete for a spot with the team.

As I mentioned in an earlier answer, the free agent market for wide receivers is not exactly a ripe one. That’s part of the reason why retaining a player like Breshad Perriman seems like a logical move for the Browns, who watched the former first-round pick blossom in an offense run by the team’s new head coach, Freddie Kitchens.

It’s hard to find a mock draft that puts a wide receiver as high as 17th, but there are a handful of options if the Browns look that way with their second-round selection. The Athletic’s Dane Brugler ranks Ole Miss’ D.K. Metcalf (6-4, 230) as the top player at the position. Keep an eye on Oklahoma’s Marquise Brown, a dynamo deep threat who hauled in more than 1,000 yards with Baker Mayfield as his quarterback in 2017.

It’s certainly an option, but only if either player is available when the Browns are on the clock at No. 17. Both Jonah Williams and Greg Little have been routinely projected to teams higher on the draft board than Cleveland, but there’s plenty of time for that to change. There’s also left tackles such as Cody Ford (Oklahoma) and Jawaan Taylor (Florida) who could be available at No. 17. Also something to consider: If you bring back Robinson and Desmond Harrison, who showed a lot of promise as a rookie, would you still invest a first-round selection at the position?

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