Paul DePodesta is ready to tackle his first draft with Andrew Berry and Kevin Stafanski from his home office.
With the 2020 NFL draft now one week away, the Browns' Chief Strategy Officer will spend countless hours on an array of computers and will be in constant communication with the Browns' new executive vice president of football operations and general manager and head coach as the Browns decide which players they will select for their next draft class.
The draft — which will be completed virtual from April 23-25 — will certainly have a different feel as the league attempts to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but DePodesta knows the Browns still will be on the same page when it comes to draft strategy and analytics.
DePodesta spoke with local reporters on a conference call Thursday to discuss how the Browns are approaching the upcoming draft.
"While it's been a different process than what we've normally undertaken, our process was robust enough leading into this that it really didn't change much for us at the end of the day," DePodesta said. "I think we've got all the information we need and just as much as we normally have."
The Browns own the 10th overall pick of the draft and have been widely projected in mock projections to select an offensive tackle. DePodesta sees plenty of potential among the available tackles, but he cautioned that whichever player the Browns select first will be given ample time to develop.
"I think we have to expect that if you take any young player, regardless of position but certainly at the tackle position, they are not going to just be an All-Pro right away," DePodesta said. "You have the rare case — the Joe Thomas's of the world — and I think that is what we are all shooting for, but I think those are extremely unusual. I think you have to expect that there are going to be some growing pains for any young player."
DePodesta said the Browns have about 10 players on their draft board who they believe will become "really, really good NFL players." That means at least one of them will be available when the Browns are finally on the clock, but DePodesta didn't rule out the possibility of trading back, either, if they believe they can acquire more draft capital and still grab one of their top-ranked players.
That philosophy, however, can change anytime between now and draft day. Phone lines among general managers will be constantly ringing, and any shift of the nine picks ahead of the Browns could affect Cleveland's first-round decisions.
"We are very open-minded in general," DePodesta said. "We have moved down in the past. We have also moved up in the past. I wouldn't really put anything past us. I think we do have the philosophy that more picks are better. When you have more draws, you have a better chance of hitting on more guys. I think we believe in that generally, but that does not mean we will always be trading back as a result."
The Browns on Wednesday debuted their new uniforms for 2020 and beyond.
Asked if he had a personal opinion on whether the Browns trade back, DePodesta said it's impossible to say.
For now, DePodesta just wants to see which players are selected ahead of Cleveland.
"We think there is going to be a very good player there for us at No. 10 – a very good player – and I don't have one player on my mind right now," he said. "I may feel differently come next Thursday night if only a couple of those players are off the board versus a whole lot of those players, but I think we really feel good about what we might be able to acquire at No. 10."
The Browns already made strides toward patching their biggest holes on offense when they opened the free-agent signing period by adding TE Austin Hooper, All-Pro RT Jack Conklin and veteran backup QB Case Keenum. Defensively, the Browns have also signed LB BJ Goodson, CB Kevin Johnson and veteran safeties Karl Joseph and Andrew Sendejo, among others.
DePodesta felt "excellent" about the new signings and said the Browns opted to target offensive players first because it's what the free agent class presented them with.
"We've talked a lot about being a quarterback-centric organization," DePodesta said. "In this particular year, a couple of (the free agents) that checked all of the boxes for us happened to be offensive players. The first few signings certainly point to doing whatever we can to support the quarterback."
The Browns hope the draft will provide answers for the rest of the roster holes. This year's draft, however, will certainly have a different feel to it than previous years, and DePodesta acknowledged that the Browns have discussed what a shortage of usual offseason prep work might mean for rookies.
The NFL announced Monday that all teams will conduct a virtual voluntary offseason program instead of the typical in-person minicamps that follow the draft. DePodesta and the Browns are aware of how that might impact rookies, who won't receive valuable on-field instruction from coaches in their first weeks with the team.
"It is something we have talked a lot about internally," DePodesta said. "I don't know that it will have a dramatic impact on what we do just because I actually think our expectations for a rookie, even in a normal year, are pretty level set. Our coaches have done an unbelievable job of preparing for what is essentially a virtual offseason program for our players."
Just about every aspect of the draft process will be different for all NFL teams, but DePodesta feels confident about the Browns' preparation for selecting and training rookies in the coming months.
The next major step, though, will be completing the draft remotely, and DePodesta is ready.
"I think we will be in really good shape," he said. "In terms of picking players and the execution of our plan, I feel great about where we are and do not think the setup is going to hinder us in any way whatsoever."