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Draft on Tap

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Draft on Tap: Browns look at their current draft picks as long-term investment in players

GM Andrew Berry shared some perspective on the 2024 draft at NFL Annual League Meeting

Draft on Tap Story #1

With the initial wave of free agency in the rearview mirror, the next marker of the offseason is the NFL Draft, which is set to take place April 25-27.

The Browns are in their final year without a first-round pick, and currently have five picks in the 2024 draft beginning in the second round. They will pick at No. 54, No. 85 in the third round, No. 156 in the fifth round, No. 206 in the sixth round and No. 243 in the seventh round.

While they've addressed different roster questions with free agency – bringing back key defensive players on their defensive line and adding depth to certain positions like quarterback, running back and wide receiver – the Browns will look to add young talent to their roster through their picks.

Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager Andrew Berry said he doesn't feel the need to steer their first pick at No. 54 towards a certain position group. Instead, there's a need to flexible at that part of the draft. While the early picks in the first round can be predicted to a degree, there reaches a point where it loses the level of predictability depending how teams approach their later picks, if certain players fall or trades occur.

Berry has been in this situation before when the Browns did not have a first-round pick and found ways to be flexible and add talent. In 2022, the Browns selected CB Martin Emerson Jr. as the 68th overall pick in the third round.  

"I don't think anyone thought that we were going to take a corner," Berry said. "But you just can't be so rigid or dogmatic. And I've told you guys this before, we don't think of the draft as (addressing) need necessarily. We think about it as more like long-term investment in the roster. And I think that's a perfect example of why."

In his second season in Cleveland, Emerson led the team with four interceptions and tied to lead the team with 14 passes defensed for the 2023 season. He is also tied for fifth in the NFL for 29 passes defensed since 2022.

The long-term investment piece is an element the Browns dove into last season as well when their picks came on the second and third day of the draft. In the 2023 draft, Cleveland took WR Cedric Tillman and DT Siaki Ika with two picks in the third round, OT Dawand Jones and DE Isaiah McGuire with two picks in the fourth round, QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson and CB Cameron Mitchell in the fifth round and C Luke Wypler in the sixth round.

They spent time developing each of their rookies during their first seasons. And when injuries surmounted last season, they individually earned opportunities to start or for increased playing time.

Jones stepped into the starting role at right tackle in Week 2 after the Browns lost T Jack Conklin to a season-ending knee injury in Week 1. Thompson-Robinson started three games his rookie season, including Week 11 against the Steelers when he led the Browns to a win over Pittsburgh. Tillman found some opportunities in the receiving corps as the season progressed as he finished the season with 21 receptions for 224 receiving yards.

Head coach Kevin Stefanski noted the importance of how his staff has utilized their later draft picks and developed them to be depth players on the roster.

"I think you've seen with our rookie class we're willing to really use all our resources that we have," Stefanski said at the combine. "If you can draft a third-round pick or a fifth-round pick and turn them into first-round talent, quote-unquote, you're winning on the margin. So, development of players is really a big part of our operation."

It's the same approach the Browns can take this year with their later draft picks.

The Browns also have a gap in their picks during the draft, as they do not have a fourth-round pick. Between their third-round pick at No. 85 and their fifth-round pick at No. 156, there are 71 picks. Yet, Berry said that while the potential for movement of their picks isn't off the table, it isn't likely.

"I'd say it's probably less so because of the gap in picks because we think about it less in terms of, let's say the aggregate number of picks between our selections and more about, let's say, the ranges of the draft where you're getting similar talent, or historically, where you get similar talent," Berry said. "Once you get to that point in the draft, the likelihood that you're getting a starter or a role player, it flattens pretty significantly – and probably a lot earlier than people maybe externally realize. So, that's not really a huge consideration for me."

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