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2020 NFL Draft

Ray Farmer: Browns want rookies who drive competition at all spots

Over the course of the last couple of weeks, general manager Ray Farmer and the Cleveland Browns have hosted 30 NFL draft prospects inside the team facility in Berea, and the message has been clear.

"The National Football League is different than college football," Farmer told the media Thursday during his pre-draft press conference. "You come into an organization, you make friends, you have friends, but at the end of the day you are here to take that guy in front of you's job."

Farmer's message isn't just words, either.

Last year, the acquisition of free agent running back Ben Tate was viewed as a move that automatically made the former Texan the full-time starter in Cleveland. But Farmer selected Terrance West in the third round and added Isaiah Crowell as an undrafted free agent.

By the time October turned to November, the Browns viewed both West and Crowell as such adequate NFL starters that the club released Tate. Crowell finished the year with eight touchdowns, second among all rookies in the league. And even while splitting carries three ways, West posted 673 rushing yards.

A similar situation materialized at nickel back last season, a vital position in Cleveland's defensive system.  

Before training camp, the Browns signed two former New York Jets who played effective football in Mike Pettine's scheme. Isaiah Trufant (who ended up on injured reserve) and Aaron Berry were expected to be among a core group of rotational cornerbacks but undrafted rookie K'Waun Williams emerged from the fray, and, to quote Farmer, took their jobs.

Farmer acknowledged not every rookie is expected to jump in right away and steal a veteran's thunder. Last season's first-round picks, Justin Gilbert and Duke Johnson Jr., both admittedly did not meet the expectations laid out before them. But the Browns aren't going to be an impatient organization. Both of these players could eventually morph into reliable starters.  

"I like the idea of slow, fresh-brewed coffee," Farmer said. "I'm going to grind my coffee beans, I'm going to get my filter out. I'm going to pour it in and let it simmer. And I'm going to get a good cup.

"The reality is that everyone wants the first ones to be great players right away: Sometimes that happens, sometimes it doesn't. From my perspective, do you feel like you want those guys to come in and contribute more? Yeah, absolutely. You'd love for everyone to come in and play and be great.

"I don't think that they are done. I think they have more to offer."

Rookies who ended up playing critical roles for the Browns' 7-9 season in 2014 included starting left guard Joel Bitonio, rotational linebacker Chris Kirksey, wide receiver Taylor Gabriel and even quarterback Connor Shaw, who started the final game in Baltimore.

This is the Browns at their core: Stockpile a position with as much talent as possible, and let the players duke it out.

"We make the decisions that we think we need to make to improve our football team," Farmer said. "Driving competition is a part of that.

"So I do want player A to compete with player B and player B to complete with player C. And player C might end up being player A at the end of the day. Nobody expected it, nobody anticipated it. But the idea is to drive the competition on our roster."

So while the Browns upgraded their wide receiving corps and defensive line with quality veterans last month in free agency, don't be surprised if rookies are added to the group.

And be even less surprised if those draft picks made by Farmer end up with a larger role than anticipated.

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