The Browns' 2020 NFL draft class likely will be making an impact with the franchise for years to come.
That's not a bold statement after seeing what kind of production the group had in its first NFL season. The round number and pick selection didn't matter for this class — players across the draft spectrum found ways to contribute, and it's an understatement to say they didn't fulfill expectations in 2020.
From a first-round pick who met expectations in a new position and started all but one game, to a sixth-round draft pick who arguably made the catch of the season, the Browns truly received significant production from all levels of their draft class.
The book is still open in terms of how far their long-term production will go, but no one is doubting their potential.
"All of those guys have been contributors at points during the year," Browns Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager Andrew Berry said. "Those guys have worked hard. They have responded when their numbers have been called. It's good to see the guys be prepared in a year where it's not as typical for rookie players across the league."
Let's go down the list and review how each rookie fared in Year No. 1:
Round 1: LT Jedrick Wills Jr. - Started 15 games and both playoff games, but suffered an injury after the first snap in the AFC Divisional Round. Wills made a relatively smooth transition from right tackle, where he played for three seasons at Alabama, to left tackle. His season wasn't perfect, which is what the Browns expected, but it was strong enough to help Cleveland build arguably the best offensive line in the NFL in 2020.
Round 2: S Grant Delpit - Delpit suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in training camp and did not have a chance to make his NFL debut. The Browns still view Delpit as a key building block for the future, though. "We selected him because we believe in him and we think that he can have a really strong career here," Berry said. "We are looking forward to him being back on the field in 2021."
Round 3: DT Jordan Elliott - Played in all 16 games and both playoff games this season and logged double-digit snaps in all but two of those games. Elliott was a serviceable piece of the interior defensive line rotation and provided depth for the group's top veterans. He made 15 tackles and could have a larger role with the defense in his second season.
Round 3: LB Jacob Phillips - Phillips played in nine games, three of which were starts, and missed a chunk of the season due to a knee injury. The Browns drafted him for his tackling ability, which was his top trait coming out of LSU, and those skills paid off in a big way Week 17 versus Pittsburgh, when he led the Browns with 10 tackles for the playoff-clinching win. He finished the season with 25 total tackles and could carry an even bigger role in the linebackers room next season.
Round 4: TE Harrison Bryant - Bryant could be viewed as one of the top steals of the draft, which is what some people predicted after the 2019 John Mackey Award Winner — given to the best college tight end in the country — slipped to the middle rounds. Bryant made 24 catches for 238 yards and three touchdowns and was named to the All-Rookie Team by the Pro Football Writers of America. He showed improvement as a blocker, too, and has plenty of promise under head coach Kevin Stefanski's tight end-friendly system.
Round 5: C/RG Nick Harris - Harris waited patiently for his first major role with the Browns and he got it during Sunday Night Football against the New York Giants in Week 15. With Wyatt Teller and Chris Hubbard sidelined at right guard, Harris, who was drafted as a center from Washington, filled in masterfully and kept the pocket clean and rushing lanes large. He ended the season on Injured Reserve after suffering an injury the following week, but Harris' future with the offensive line remains bright.
Round 6: WR Donovan Peoples-Jones - Peoples-Jones was used primarily as a kick and punt returner for most of 2020. When he was used as a receiver, however, he was efficient. He was targeted 20 times and caught 14 passes for 304 yards and two touchdowns, including his touchdown catch in the final minute of a thrilling Week 7 win over Cincinnati that could be viewed as a turning point of the Browns' successful 2020 season. His role as a deep-ball receiver increased in the final quarter of the season, and he appears to have some early rapport with quarterback Baker Mayfield.
So … not bad, right?
Considering this rookie class didn't have their usual rookie minicamp and spent their first four months with the Browns exclusively from virtual settings, it's hard to not be impressed with their overall production.
"Those rookies will not forget their rookie season, I promise you that," Stefanski said. 'One of them told me it was a blur this morning, and I can definitely see that. There was a lot that went on. We did a lot of this over the computer, which is never easy for those guys. I thought they battled through it."
The entire class should benefit from having the same coaching staff, schemes and playbooks for a second consecutive year, which is a trend not many Browns rookies were able to experience over the course of the franchise's 18-year playoff drought.
Now, the drought is gone, and the strong season from the rookies is one reason why.
But Berry and Stefanski both still want to see more. Neither were willing to declare the class a slam-dunk success just yet — it's still too premature to declare the success level of any 2020 rookie class, although they both feel bullish about the jump those players can make in Year 2.
"It's still too early to call and truly assess really any rookie class," Berry said. "We do say that it usually takes three years, but the early returns certainly have been positive. We are looking forward to seeing them continue to improve as they are with us over the next few years."
Check out the best photos from the Browns game against the Kansas City Chiefs yesterday by the Browns photo team