We're in the thick of draft season, and it really kicks into high gear next week at the Combine in Indianapolis.
We're catching our breath before the big trip and answering three of your questions on this lovely, sunny Friday in Berea.
How can the Browns find an off-the-radar tight end to help them in the red zone? -- Rob M., Charleston, West Virginia
It all depends on how you define off the radar. In this day and age with the way the NFL is covered, is anyone truly off the-radar anymore? That said, I've got a couple of candidates that fit the bill in both free agency and the draft.
In its latest rankings of the top 100 free agents, CBSSports.com includes just three tight ends -- Austin Hooper, Hunter Henry and Eric Ebron. Hooper and Henry probably don't qualify as off-the-radar and likely will field some major offers. Ebron hasn't been very good in the red zone throughout his career. So our off-the-radar selections for this group are Seattle's Jacob Hollister and veteran Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert. Hollister emerged as a viable weapon after Will Dissly's season-ending injury and finished 2019 with 41 catches, 349 yards and three scores. Eifert, of course, has battled a number of injuries throughout his career but is a weapon when healthy. He peaked with 13 touchdowns in 2015 and has 24 for his career. More importantly, Eifert played in all 16 games last year and finished with 43 catches for 436 yards and three touchdowns.
As for the draft, almost all of the top players at the position might qualify for off-the-radar because there aren't a lot of household names -- outside of Notre Dame's Cole Kmet -- in this year's class. Perhaps the most off-the-radar name, though, is Adam Trautman, who very well might not be off the radar by the end of next week. Trautman is poised to be the first player drafted from the University of Dayton since the 1970s and is ranked in the top five at the position by a number of draft analysts. In his latest three-round mock draft, NFL.com’s Chad Reuter pegs Trautman to be off the board by the end of the third round.
After a decent preseason, it was frustrating to see D.J. Montgomery hit the IR. How is he doing? I'd like to see him get another long look from the new coaching staff. Maybe he can find a spot as a return man if healthy. I'm also curious about Donnie Lewis Jr. and his role for the offseason. Not sure if he's in the plans but DB always seems to be in demand. -- Eric D., Grand Rapids
You're right about the untimely injury for Montgomery. He was putting himself in a real position to make the 53-man roster before suffering that injury in Cleveland's preseason game against the Colts. He was with the team throughout last season and remains on the roster heading into 2020. He'll have a new position coach, new coordinator and new head coach to impress, but he certainly looked capable of doing so last year. As for returning, Montgomery doesn't have a ton of experience in that area, but special teams coordinator Mike Priefer has made it clear the Browns are looking to improve in a major way on kickoff and punt return, so all options will be considered.
Lewis, a former seventh-round pick, will also have a chance to impress a new set of eyes. Dogged by an injury during the offseason, Lewis never got much of a chance to get going in his rookie year. He spent the majority of time on the practice squad and never saw any real game action. You're right about never having too many defensive backs, and Lewis could help the Browns at nickel, especially after the release of veteran T.J. Carrie.
If you had to name a position: With the Browns having 7 picks in this draft, what position can the Browns gamble on and not add at that position in draft? (Taking into account the how players fall on draft day.) -- Jimmy W., Middleton
There's two ways to answer this question. There's the easy way by saying quarterback, punter or kicker, and there's the not-so-easy way by excluding quarterback, punter and kicker from the discussion. We'll go with the latter, and we're going to make it even harder by picking a position on both sides of the ball.
Let's start on offense. The Browns have been pegged by everyone under the sun to take a tackle with the No. 10 pick. Even if Cleveland doesn't use its first-round selection on a tackle, the odds are strong with landing one at some point throughout draft weekend. Though it's not as much of a certainty the Browns will address the interior part of their line in the draft, there's definitely a need there, especially when you consider the relative lack of options in free agency and the recent release of Eric Kush. The Browns have a lot of talent and financial commitments at wide receiver, but there's a need for more depth beyond Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. This is also one of the best and deepest classes of wide receivers in recent memory. On a Wednesday conference call, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. predicted as many as 30 wide receivers being selected by the end of the third round. That brings us to running back, where the Browns boast the two-headed monster of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Will there be some new faces joining Chubb, Hunt, Dontrell Hilliard and D’Ernest Johnson -- both of whom were undrafted, for what it's worth -- by training camp? Of course. They just don't have to be drafted rookies.
Let's roll through the same logic on defense. The Browns have Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon at defensive end but, as the second half of last season showed, could use some more depth at the position. The same goes for defensive tackle even though the Browns are in good shape at the starting positions with Sheldon Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi. Cleveland used two draft picks on linebackers last year but has some lingering questions with Joe Schobert, who could hit free agency next month. The Browns have just one safety (Sheldrick Redwine) who is guaranteed to be back and healthy for 2020 training camp -- veteran Morgan Burnett is recovering from an Achilles injury, J.T. Hassell is an exclusive rights free agent and the rest are free agents. So that brings us to cornerback, where the Browns are young and talented at the starting positions with Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams and have a solid veteran in Terrance Mitchell as key depth. We're picking cornerback not because the Browns are flush with depth at the position but because it's an area that could be supplemented via free agency in much easier fashion than some other positions. The aforementioned CBSSports.com free agency list includes 14 cornerbacks among the top 100.