If there's one position that hasn't been floated enough as a possible need for the Browns in their early picks of the 2022 draft, it's tight end.
The Browns have two talented players at the position already in David Njoku and Harrison Bryant, but it's important to remember that tight ends played a huge role in head coach Kevin Stefanski's offense the last two years. No team deployed three tight-end sets more than the Browns the last two seasons, so the departure of Austin Hooper from the group could leave a hole to fill in the draft.
The Athletic's Dane Brugler sees plenty of intriguing options, particularly in the middle rounds.
"We're not going to see a first-round tight end — we probably won't," Brugler said. "I don't even have a tight end that is a lock top 60 player in this draft, but towards the end of the second, third, fourth and fifth round, it is a loaded position. We're going to see a lot of tight ends come off the board."
If the Browns were to bite on Day 2 or possibly Day 3, here are a few options:
Trey McBride, Colorado State
McBride is considered the top tight end of the class but is unlikely to be drafted in Round 1. He checks all of the boxes most teams look for in tight ends, though, and was the 2021 winner of the John Mackey Award, given to the best tight end in the nation.
The biggest knock against McBride was he only caught one touchdown last season, but he balanced that out by compiling 1,121 yards and showcasing a reliable pair of hands and steady blocking ability. He was the 62nd overall talent in Brugler's annual draft guide, "The Beast," and could possibly still be available in the third round, which could intrigue the Browns.
"Maybe not elite in any one category, but he's good across the board and slightly above average across the board as a receiver and blocker," Brugler said. "He's got really strong hands and wins at the top of his routes. He doesn't have a ton of touchdown production, and that worries you a little bit. Between the 20s, that's when he's going to be a consistent chain-mover. There's a lot to like about Trey McBride and what he can bring to your offense right away."
Check out photos of tight ends the Browns could possibly target in the 2022 NFL Draft
Greg Dulcich, UCLA
After McBride, there are quite a few tight ends that could be in the sweet spot position for the Browns if they're hoping to use a mid-round pick on a tight end who could be an impact player as a rookie.
Dulcich falls in that category. Brugler gave him a third-round grade and sees plenty of potential in Dulcich as a receiving option after he corralled 10 touchdowns in his last two seasons with the Bruins. His value will rise with improvements as a blocker, but he has the tools to instantly benefit a pass game as a big 6-foot-4, 243-pound player capable of drawing size mismatches against defenders.
"If you're looking for more of a big-play threat and a guy who can stretch the seams and get those YAC yards, Greg Dulcich from UCLA," Brugler said. "He is that type of athlete where you line him up in the slot, you give him those crossers and catch-and-run opportunities, he has that natural explosion for the position. As a blocker, needs some work and development, but if you're looking for that guy with a big catch radius, he has the separation burst before and after the catch."
Jeremy Ruckert, Ohio State
Ruckert is a similar-caliber player as Dulcich, although his college stats aren't nearly as flashy.
That's more due to how frequently Ruckert was targeted with the Buckeyes, though. He only caught 54 passes across four seasons, but he found ways to make the most of them with 615 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. He has the potential to achieve even higher production in the NFL.
"He's a classic 'Will be a better pro than a college player?'" Brugler said. "He saw a lot of snaps and played a lot, but he just didn't see a lot of targets. When he was targeted in the passing game, good things usually happened. He has large and accepting hands and catches the ball cleanly outside of his frame."
Cade Otton, Washington
Otton's draft stock took a hit due to an ankle injury that sidelined him for the last two games of the year and required surgery. He wasn't able to participate in the Senior Bowl or Combine, but he's still considered one of the best TE prospects of the draft.
Otton totaled 1,026 receiving yards and nine touchdowns across four seasons and, at 6-foot-5 and 247 pounds, has the build to become a quality blocker in the NFL. Brugler believes his receiving game needs development, but he has the tools to be a quality mid-round pick at the position.
"He missed the Senior Bowl, Combine and pre-draft workouts and never had a chance to work out, so because of that, he's got that big discount sticker on him," Brugler said. "He might slip to the end of the third round, maybe even the fourth round. He's a catch-point finisher. You really like that about him. You see nuance in his routes and a guy who can win downfield. He can also win underneath and show that power and toughness you're looking for."