We’re thawing out, finally, and our fingers are ready to type some answers to four of your questions on this pre-Super Bowl Friday.
I just watched a video on Hakeem Butler, wide receiver for Iowa State, and he is both tall, 6-foot-6 inches, and fast. How can a fan like me communicate with John Dorsey or his scouting staff to alert him/them to someone like Butler? It would be a shame if the Browns did not at least look at him as a 2019 draft prospect. -- Ronald T., Cincinnati
Dorsey and the scouts are big, big Browns Mailbag fans, so you’re in good hands.
Butler certainly looks the part, and he couldn’t have imagined a better personal finish to his Iowa State career, catching nine passes for 192 yards in an Alamo Bowl loss to Washington State. He finished his junior season with 60 catches for 1,318 yards -- good for an average of 22 yards per reception -- and nine touchdowns. His yards were nearly double what he combined for in his first two seasons and the nine scores equaled what he’d accumulated in the previous two years. Draft analysts, though, are divided on Butler’s pro prospects. Among wide receivers, he’s ranked as high as third and unranked (most rankings include just 10 players at the position) in others. The Draft Network’s scouting report of Butler, a former two-star recruit, lists his top strength as his contested catch ability and biggest weakness as change of direction skills.
Do you think there still could be a sleeper on the Browns existing roster or practice squad? -- Mark F., Ashtabula
This is a fun one. I’ll give you four to ponder.
RB Dontrell Hilliard - He’s been with the team since May of last year and kept his spot on the active roster after being elevated to it in early October. His opportunities, which included a role as kick returner, were sparse, but he made the most of them. His talent and potential played a part in Kitchens’ inspiration to roll out a package that put all three of the team’s running backs on the field at the same time.
LB Tanner Vallejo - Claimed from the Bills after roster cutdown day, Vallejo filled an important role on special teams and thrived when he was called upon after a rash of injuries decimated the linebacking corps. He’s entering his third season and will shoot to have a more expanded role under new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks.
WR Derrick Willies - He shined in one of the Browns’ biggest wins of the season, catching a 39-yard pass from Baker Mayfield in the late part of an overtime victory over the Ravens, before his season came to an unfortunate end a few days later. Willies should be healthy and ready to compete when OTAs commence.
DL Chad Thomas - The third-round pick out of Miami was inactive for most of 2018, but Dorsey and Thomas’ teammates have been adamant about his potential. Asked about both second-round offensive lineman Austin Corbett and Thomas, Dorsey said, “I would say it's brighter than you all think it is because I think both of them are very talented individuals who have a chance to help this team moving forward … Because they didn't play a lot their first year doesn't mean they won't contribute. Maybe that's a mark that we're getting a little bit deeper.’’
Would the Browns consider taking a Tyreek Hill level player in Marquise “Hollywood” Brown in the first round of the draft? He could very well still be on the board at pick 17. -- Jacob S., Eastlake
It’s impossible to rule out any possibility at this point in the process, and Brown certainly qualifies. And you’re right about him potentially being available when the Browns are on the clock at No. 17. In our latest round of mock drafts, Brown was pegged lower than 17 in all of them, and some didn’t have him landing with anyone in the first round. The speedy, 5-foot-10, 168-pound Brown cleared 1,000 yards in both of his seasons with the Sooners. The first one, of course, was with Mayfield as the quarterback.
Mr. Gribble, who are the Browns' free agents this season and which ones are they actively hoping to re-sign? -- Joseph C., Adelanto, California
The Browns don’t have a ton, but there are a few notable names in the group. Here are the unrestricted ones.
LB Ray-Ray Armstrong
TE Orson Charles
DL Carl Davis
DB E.J. Gaines
OL Kyle Kalis
WR Breshad Perriman
OL Greg Robinson
WR Rod Streater
QB Tyrod Taylor
OL Earl Watford
Dorsey, in recent meetings with reporters, has expressed a desire to bring back both Perriman and Robinson, both of whom helped resurrect their respective careers with strong finishes in 2018. Others from the list could certainly return, too. At the Senior Bowl, Dorsey said he’d had preliminary conversations with the representatives of Perriman and Robinson. Kitchens indicated he’d love to see both back.
“I do not want to put words in their mouth whatsoever, but I know I enjoyed being around those guys, I know Baker enjoys being around those guys as guys, as people first,” Kitchens said. “Then they played well, and they played well for the Cleveland Browns. So hopefully, all parties involved, they understand that just as we do. I mean, they were other places that they did not play well at for whatever reason, so I think at some point, it is going to come back to that.”