The days are winding down until the 2020 NFL Draft. As we get oh so near to our final destination, we'll be breaking down a position group that matters for the Browns when they're on the clock with one of their seven picks.
Our next stop is the tight ends, a position that was addressed in a big way during free agency.
Why the position matters for the Browns: If it weren't already clear how much tight ends mean to the kind of offense Kevin Stefanski wants to run in Cleveland, it became abundantly so at the start of the new league year. The Browns added the top tight end on the market with the signing of Austin Hooper, who is just entering his prime after his most productive season yet. He'll play alongside David Njoku, a former first-round pick who had his 2019 season marred by injuries. That's a nice top two, but the Browns will be looking to add more players to the position by the time training camp arrives. Stephen Carlson showed promise as a rookie, and Pharaoh Brown is back for another year, but a team typically likes to have around six or seven to examine before the season arrives. Last year in Minnesota, Stefanski liked to deploy offensive sets that featured two tight ends, making them valuable weapons in the passing game and key blockers for one of the league's best running attacks. That expects to carry over to Cleveland.
This year's top dog: Notre Dame's Cole Kmet, who began his college career as a dual-sport athlete, is coming off a big season and enters the draft as the top tight end prospect, according to most analysts. In 11 games this past season, Kmet caught 43 passes for 515 yards and six touchdowns. At 6-foot-6 and 262 pounds, he also packed a punch as a blocker in the Fighting Irish's running game. NFL.com's Lance Zierlein compares him to the Rams' Tyler Higbee, who had a breakout season in 2019. Kmet's mix of ready-made skills and upside make him an alluring option in a class of tight ends that may be a little light on NFL talent compared to other years.
Check out photos of the top tight ends in the 2020 NFL Draft
Rounding out the top five: There's very little consensus behind Kmet. Dayton's Adam Trautman has emerged as a hot name during the pre-draft process after showing he belonged at the Senior Bowl. Washington's Hunter Bryant is maybe more of a big wide receiver than a true tight end, but he's drawing comparisons to Evan Engram and Jordan Reed after a season in which he amassed 52 receptions for 825 yards. Zierlein compares Florida Atlantic's Harrison Bryant to All-Pro George Kittle -- a former fifth-round pick -- because of his "well-rounded" skill set. Another name to know is Thaddeus Moss, the son of legendary wide receiver Randy Moss. After missing back-to-back seasons because of a transfer and an injury, Moss emerged as one of the biggest weapons on LSU's national champion squad.
How many first-rounders?: In his latest mock draft, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. doesn't see Kmet being taken until the midpoint of the second round. The Athletic's Dane Brugler takes it one step further, projecting Kmet to be the first tight end off the board … early in the third round. Needless to say, there are few, if any, projections that have any of these tight ends landing in the first round. It wouldn't be totally out of the ordinary, however. Tight ends weren't taken in the first round of both the 2015 and 2016 drafts.
A sleeper or two?: Trautman is ranked as high as the No. 2 tight end prospect by some national outlets, but that doesn't mean his rise is any less remarkable. He's poised to be the first player drafted from the University of Dayton since the 1970s, and if he goes in the second round -- like Kiper projects -- he'll be the highest-selected player in school history. Perhaps the most exciting part of Trautman's game is his blocking. During an interview at the Senior Bowl, Trautman said it's what he loves to do best, and it shows. Still, he's just as much of a weapon as a pass-catcher. Even at the FCS level, 70 receptions for 916 yards and 14 touchdowns out of the tight end position are impressive figures.
Quote to note: "Versatility is a big word for us when it comes to our offensive attack. To have multiple tight ends allows you to do so many different things. I was fortunate last year to have multiple tight ends and deploy them in varying ways." -- Stefanski