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Browns Mailbag

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Browns Mailbag: Talking free agency, draft picks, RBs and more

Senior Writer Andrew Gribble answers your questions every week

Just like that, we've reached the last Browns Mailbag of January.

We're knocking out FIVE of your questions on this snowy Friday at the CrossCountry Mortgage Campus.

Would it be fair based on last year's FA pickups that GM Andrew Berry will work to strongly fill positions that are considered to be lacking in starters in order to free him up for the Draft? In order to take the best player available as opposed to drafting for team needs by position? — Philip H., Saint Clairsville

It's a fair assumption and tracks with how the Browns have operated the past two years under Berry, but it's by no means a hard and fast rule. Berry, himself, has disagreed with that perception. To him, the draft — no matter what happens in free agency — is all about making a "long-term sustainable impact" on the team.

"I think free agency, at least for me, has a lot less of an impact on the draft than it is maybe perceived," Berry said last year. "That is not to say that it does not have some level of influence, but it goes back to what I said earlier that I really think of the draft as maximizing long-term sustainable impact on the team. Certainly, need or position of value, all of that can play a role in it, but by no means is it the primary goal and not even close to the primary weighting in terms of the draft decisions. Honestly, that is how teams make mistakes."

All that said, Berry has done a great job of adding significant pieces in free agency at positions of need in a depth injection over the past two years. In 2020, the biggest additions were RT Jack Conklin and TE Austin Hooper, both of whom went on to be every-game starters. In the ensuing draft, Cleveland added LT Jedrick Wills in the first round and TE Harrison Bryant in the fourth. In 2021, S John Johnson III and DE Jadeveon Clowney were the two biggest additions in free agency. In the ensuing draft, Cleveland used a fifth-round pick on S Richard LeCounte III and did not select a DE.

Does the Vikings getting Kwesi Adofo-Mensah as their new GM mean we receive a third-round draft pick as a minority candidate getting a promotion to another team? If so, could one assume it is at the back end of Round 3? — Philip H., Saint Clairsville

You are correct on both fronts. The Browns will receive one third-round compensatory pick in the 2022 NFL Draft and one in the 2023 Draft. The pick will fall somewhere behind all of the traditional picks in the round, perhaps in the early 100s overall. This brings Cleveland's total to nine picks in the 2022 NFL Draft, including two picks apiece in the third and fourth rounds.

Is Chris Hubbard going to recover and rejoin the Browns' offensive line? How about Jack Conklin? Is James Hudson III good enough to start? — Michael K., Manassas, Virginia

Hubbard underwent surgery on his injured triceps fairly early in the season and spent most of the year rehabbing behind the scenes. Needless to say, Cleveland sorely missed Hubbard last season because his injury wasn't the first or last at tackle. The eight-year veteran is poised to be an unrestricted free agent in March.

Conklin underwent surgery near the end of 2021 and is working to get back and ready for the 2022 season. He's just one year removed from an All-Pro season and played at a high level when healthy this past year.

Hudson, who began his college career as a defensive tackle, was thrust into a decent amount of playing time because of the team's aforementioned injuries at both tackle spots. He appeared in six games total and made four starts. He got better with each opportunity and played his best football of the year in the season finale.

"James really got baptism by fire throughout this year," Berry said. "I actually think he came along nicely and particularly ended his season in a really strong manner against Cincinnati. I think it's tough for a guy who is a former D-lineman, a fourth-round pick and played left tackle and right tackle for us, but it's good experience."

Over the course of this past season, D'Ernest Johnson proved he's very capable of being a starting RB. With the way our RB room is stacked right now, is there a chance the Browns allow Johnson to leave via FA or maybe a trade. — Steve L., Forest, Virginia

Johnson was simply outstanding in 2021, and the Browns needed him to be that way on a handful of occasions because of injuries to Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. In the two games in which Hunt and Chubb were both sidelined, Johnson averaged more than 20 carries and 122.5 yards. When he was tasked with filling in for one of the players, he more than held his own as well. 

"This team is full of fighters, and D'Ernest is one of them," Chubb said. "He has been through more than anyone probably on this team, but he never let anything get in his way. When his number was called, he showed out. He made big plays for us."

Johnson is a restricted free agent heading into the offseason. That means Johnson is free to sign an offer sheet with another team, but the Browns have the right to match it. The Browns have one of the best two-headed monsters in the NFL at running back, but 2021 showed how vital depth was at the position.

Drake London is my best WR option in Round 1. — Ekmongo K., Springville, Utah

You're not alone in that assessment but the experts are certainly divided on who is the top wide receiver in a draft class chock full of talented ones.

In our Mock Draft Roundup on Thursday, we looked at nine different projections for the 2022 first round. London was the first receiver picked in three of them and the second in three others. Garrett Wilson (Ohio State), Chris Olave (Ohio State) and Treyon Burks (Arkansas) were the other "top receivers" in this batch of mock drafts.

London is by far the tallest of the group at 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., who is among those projecting London to be the first wide receiver selected, writes London has the chance to be "special." His numbers at USC certainly matched that description, as London caught 88 balls for 1,084 yards and seven TDs in just eight games.

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