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Browns Mailbag

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Browns Mailbag: Why Denzel Ward made sense for Browns at No. 4

It’s another busy Friday with the start of rookie minicamp on the horizon.

We’re tackling four of your questions as we look back on the draft and ahead to the Browns’ new future.

When the Browns signed Carlos Hyde and then drafted Nick Chubb, (Duke Johnson Jr. as well) I quickly thought of the Miami Dolphins running back trio of Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Mercury Morris. What do you think of is this comparison? -- Bob K., Ravenna

I think it’s quite a lofty one, considering the trio won two Super Bowls and includes a Hall of Famer, but I can say the philosophy behind the group’s composition is similar. As a running trio, Czonka, Kiick and Morris played together from 1969-75 and really hit their stride during the 1972 and 1973 seasons. Czonka and Morris both cleared 1,000 yards during the Dolphins’ perfect 1972 season while Kiick, who was the biggest threat to catch passes out of the backfield, chipped in 521. The following year, Czonka was over 1,000 again while Morris and Kiick combined for a little more than 1,200. They spread the ball around, stayed fresh and found plenty of success. The Browns hope to do the same with their new running trio that brings a little bit of everything to the table.

Pegged as one of the top running backs in the draft, Chubb brings years’ worth of production to the table. Hyde has proved it for four years in the league and Johnson is one of the best pass-catchers out of the backfield in the NFL.

“This is a guy that if we are going to run the football the way that we plan on running it, you have got to have good backs,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said. “With him and Carlos and Duke, we feel like we have some guys that we can do that with.”

What are the chances the Browns slide Austin Corbett to guard and move Joel Bitonio to left tackle? -- Chris M., Warren

Cleveland’s keeping all of its options on the table as it evaluates the makeup of its offensive line. And it has a bunch of them because of the versatility of a number of the players competing for starting spots. Corbett, who played pretty much every snap of his college career at left tackle, likely will get a look first at left tackle, where the Browns have an immediate need, but will also consider him at guard, where most scouts projected him to play during the pre-draft process. Bitonio similarly played his entire college career at left tackle, but he’s been a left guard from Day 1 in the NFL. He’s established himself as one of the best young guards in the league, so it’d take a lot of confidence from the coaching staff to make that kind of switch during this stage of his career. Still, it can’t be ruled out at this point in the offseason.

“We are going to give him a chance to do both and see where he fits,” Jackson said. “He is a really good football player. I do not think you can have too many good football players. If we have to do some shuffling along the line, when it is all said and done, we are going to put our best five guys out there.”

Let's talk about the undrafted free agents signed by the Browns. I think the Browns got an absolute steal in DT Trenton Thompson from Georgia. How does he project in the NFL? -- Brent H., Cambridge

Thompson was among the team’s 13 undrafted free agents added to the roster Friday. He’s one of the few from that group who was invited to February’s scouting combine, a sign that teams believed he could be drafted. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein projected Thompson, who’s expected to be a defensive tackle in Cleveland’s scheme, as a fourth- or fifth-round selection. Ultimately, Thompson went undrafted after a career -- and senior season, especially -- filled with numerous injuries. He’ll have to stay healthy and compete at a high level in a tough group of Browns defensive tackles if he hopes to make the 53-man roster. That said, he enters as one of the highest-ranked -- at least in the pre-draft process -- members of Cleveland’s class of undrafted free agents.

Many thought the No. 4 pick would have been Bradley Chubb, but Browns decided to choose Denzel Ward. How much does Denzel Ward separate himself from the next DB to take him as the first secondary player in the draft? -- Another one from Brent H.

It was a big decision Cleveland made when it selected Ward over Chubb at No. 4, but it was done with a number of things in mind. The simplest answer is the one that’s been given repeatedly. The Browns absolutely loved Ward and saw a player capable of becoming a shutdown cornerback, something every team in the NFL covets. When general manager John Dorsey listed his top five most important positions before the draft, he put pass rusher and cornerback in the same breath. It’s also a position where the Browns need a lot of help, and Ward is simply the latest to join a position group that’s undergone a complete overhaul this offseason.

As for how he ranked at the top of his position group before the draft? I have zero access to the Browns’ big board, but a look at how the draft shook out reveals a 14-pick gap between Ward and the next cornerback, Jaire Alexander (Green Bay). All told, three corners went in the first round. The gap between Chubb and the next pass rusher was nine picks, as New Orleans traded up to land Marcus Davenport, making him the second and final player in that category selected in the first round.

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