Browns Mailbag

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Browns Mailbag: What can be expected from David Njoku, Browns TEs in new offense?

It's a four-question, Valentine's Day edition of the Browns Mailbag...

Do you think the new coaching staff would ever consider switching David Njoku to a wide receiver? With his blocking issues, I think he'd be better suited as a third wide receiver. Ricky Seals-Jones and Pharaoh Brown would be more than adequate at the TE position, allowing Njoku to focus solely on being a better receiver. -- Brad A., Newark

Based on new Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager Andrew Berry's comments in a recent interview on Cleveland Browns Daily, that kind of switch likely isn't in the cards anytime soon. Berry, who was in his second year as Vice President of Player Personnel when the Browns traded back into the first round of the 2017 draft to land Njoku, spoke highly of Njoku's potential following a disappointing 2019 campaign.

"We still have a lot of confidence in David," Berry said. "Obviously last year didn't go according to plan. He feels that way and we feel that way. Obviously he was hurt for a significant stretch. We still have a lot of faith there. We think he's a very talented player. I look forward to seeing Kevin (Stefanski), (tight ends coach) Drew Petzing work with him to ultimately get him to his ceiling."

One year after catching 56 passes for 639 yards and four touchdowns, Njoku was limited to five catches for 41 yards and a touchdown in an injury-marred 2019. Njoku missed 10 games during the heart of the season with a wrist injury that put him on injured reserve. He was a healthy scratch for two of the final four games of the season and caught just one pass for 4 yards during that stretch.

Njoku's season was just one of a number of issues Cleveland's tight ends encountered during a bumpy 2019 campaign. Demetrius Harris, Seals-Jones and Brown all missed various amounts of time with injuries, and Stephen Carlson didn't emerge until the second half of the season. As a unit, the group compiled 41 catches for 497 yards and nine touchdowns.

Last year in Minnesota, veteran Kyle Rudolph and rookie Irv Smith played significant roles in Stefanski's offense. They combined for 75 catches, 678 yards and eight touchdowns while providing a valuable presence in a Vikings rushing attack that was among the best in the NFL.

Wherever Berry has been, going all the way back to his days with the Colts, tight ends -- plenty of them, at that -- have been a priority. With Stefanski in place alongside him, that will carry over into 2020 with the Browns.

"From our perspective, tight end can really be a hybrid position because it's almost like half-line and half-receiver," Berry said. "You can create some real mismatches in both the run and pass game if you have the right athletes in those spots. 

"The nice thing with tight ends, you can run two backs, one tight end. You can be in 12 personnel -- one back, two tight ends -- and can really get to formations you'll typically see with three receivers and one tight end if you have that versatile mismatch guy on your roster."

What are the chances of getting a good tackle from someone else other than the draft? -- Robert A., St. Clairsville

As we've written a number of times already this year, finding a tackle in free agency is no easy task. Acquiring one via trade is even tougher because teams are rarely willing to part with a solid player at such a premium position. 

Earlier this week, The Athletic unveiled its list of the top 100 free agents in this year's class. Among them were nine tackles: Jack Conklin (25), Anthony Castonzo (29), Bryan Bulaga (30), D.J. Humphries (32), Germain Ifedi (47), Halapoulivaati Vaitai (56), Jason Peters (83), Andrew Whitworth (84), Daryl Williams (100). Odds are, players such as Conklin, Castonzo and Bulaga, won't even be available when free agency opens. Vaitai was not a regular starter. Peters and Whitworth, respectively, are 38 years old. 

It's always a tough market for tackles, and this year is no different. That's not saying the Browns won't try to address the position via this route, but grooming and developing your own is always the preferred path.

What Big Ten player from a school other than Ohio State would be a good fit for the Browns? -- Lyle L., Albion, Pennsylvania

Let's go with the easiest possible pick and save the deep digging for later editions of the Mailbag when we're closer to the draft. How about Iowa tackle Tristan Wirfs? He's been projected to Cleveland in a number of mock drafts. He could help the Browns at a number of spots on the offensive line, left tackle very much included. 

Here's what NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah had to say about Wirfs, whom he ranks 13th, in his latest ranking of the 50 best players in this year's draft class.

Wirfs is a big, powerful offensive tackle. In pass protection, he launches out of his stance and hasn't had issues versus outside speed rushers. However, he has experienced issues against inside counter moves. He over-sets and struggles to redirect back inside, allowing too many pressures in the games I studied. When he can land his punch, it's over. His hands are so strong and he has the power base to end the play right there. In the run game, he is very strong and aggressive. He creates a ton of movement, but also will overextend and fall off at times. He's on the ground too much. I love his aggressive demeanor, but he needs to play more under control. Overall, I believe he can survive at tackle, but he'd benefit from playing with neighbors on both sides. I think Wirfs has All-Pro potential at guard.

Round by round, how many picks do the Browns have? -- Ronald C., Englewood

The Browns boast seven picks in the 2020 draft. That includes four selections in the first three rounds because the team holds Houston's third-round selection via the Duke Johnson trade. Those picks are slotted at No. 10, No. 41, No. 74 and No. 90.

Cleveland holds its own picks in the first four rounds but doesn't have any of its fifth-, sixth- or seventh-round selections. The fifth- and sixth-round selections went to Buffalo in the trade for Wyatt Teller and the seventh-rounder went to Tennessee in the Taywan Taylor trade. The Browns own the Cardinals' sixth-round pick (Jamar Taylor) and Green Bay's seventh-rounder after swapping a seventh-rounder they acquired from Buffalo in the 2018 Corey Coleman trade in a deal that sent OL Justin McCray to Cleveland before the start of the 2019 season.

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