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Road to the Draft: Reflecting on last year's class before making this year's picks

Drafting is all about projection. But in the process of evaluating and penciling in prospects to spots on the roster, there's a value in reflecting. *[

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At last month's owners meetings, Browns coach Hue Jackson, executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown and chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta answered plenty of forward-thinking questions, but they also took time to look back on Cleveland's 14-man 2016 class, the largest group of draft picks since 1979.

"I think we look at the class as a whole and I think we were really, really pleased with what they were able to do, especially given where we took them in the draft," DePodesta said. "We didn't have 14 picks in the top two rounds, they were all spread out. In fact, we only had two in the top two rounds and the rest of them were all later in the draft. I think relative to the expectations of that spot in the draft, by and large individually and certainly as a group, exceeded their draft positions and we were happy about that."

There are two ways to best illustrate DePodesta's point. The Browns selected wide receiver Corey Coleman with the 15th overall pick in last year's draft. This year, the Browns will make two picks, including No. 1 overall, by the No. 12 spot in the first round. Last year, defensive end Carl Nassib was the the team's third pick of the draft at No. 65 overall. This year, the No. 65 pick will be the fifth addition.

When the Browns' roster was pared down to 53, all 14 players made the cut. Late-round selections Trey Caldwell and Scooby Wright III spent time on the practice squad, and Wright is no longer with the team. A number of them, including Coleman, Nassib and fourth-round safety Derrick Kindred, dealt with significant injuries. Coleman had a big game before his injury, catching five passes for 104 yards and two touchdowns, and was still one of the league's top rookie wide receivers even though he missed six games. Emmanuel Ogbah, the team's second-round pick at No. 32, led the team in sacks and seemingly played better every week. Third-round quarterback Cody Kessler started more games at the position than anyone despite entering the season as the third-string option. Fourth-round picks Joe Schobert and Ricardo Louis played valuable roles on special teams.

The Browns, who carry 11 picks into this year's draft, will have a new batch of rookies fighting for spots on an increasingly crowded roster. DePodesta made it clear the team expects the competition to bring the best out of both classes.

"Guys are going to have to do something to make our football team to the point where it might be tough for seven or eight to make our team," DePodesta said. "But I think one thing to realize is though is we have 11 picks right now, it doesn't mean we're going to select 11 players. And even next year, I know we have a lot of picks already for 2018, it doesn't mean each one is going to turn into a player."

Take a look at Mike Mayock's position rankings of rising players in the 2017 NFL Draft.

First Five

On Wednesday, NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock released his updated position rankings for the 2017 class. There was some moving and shaking in a number of spots after Mayock's analysis of the players at their respective Pro Days. Here are the five biggest risers heading into the final stretch of draft preparation.

1. QB Deshaun Watson (Clemson) - The national champion signal-caller moved up just one spot, but it was a big one, as he now sits atop Mayock's quarterback rankings. He took over the place previously occupied by Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer, who now sits at No. 4. Mitchell Trubisky (UNC) and Patrick Mahomes II (Texas Tech) are Nos. 2 and 3, respectively.

2. DL Chris Wormley (Michigan) - The interior defensive lineman made the biggest leap of anyone, going from No. 5 to No. 2. The Toledo native sits behind just Jonathan Allen (Alabama) in Mayock's updated rankings. A former Michigan captain, Wormley projects as an inside player after lining up at end for the Wolverines.

3. CB Gareon Conley (Ohio State) - Perhaps no one has seen his pre-draft stock rise as much as the former Buckeye. A lot of attention has been devoted to his former teammate, Marshon Lattimore, but Conley is right on his tail as Mayock's No. 2 cornerback, a two-spot jump from the previous rankings.

4. CB Tre'Davious White (LSU) - It's hard to find a player as all over the map as White, who has been projected as high as the No. 11 overall pick and as low as a second-rounder. White went from unrated by Mayock to No. 4 in a cornerback class that is deep but could be light on first-rounders.

5. OL Cam Robinson (Alabama) - The former Crimson Tide left tackle moved in a couple of ways. Robinson went from Mayock's No. 2 interior offensive lineman to his No. 1 offensive tackle. That could be a good sign for Robinson, a starter at Alabama since his true freshman season.

How many days until the draft?

15

Draft news you might have missed

Small school spotlight

DT Larry Ogunjobi (UNC-Charlotte) - One of the few small-school players to make ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay's three-round mock, Ogunjobi has drawn comparisons to Saints DL Sheldon Rankins, a former first-round pick. He started every single game over his four-year career and led the team in tackles for loss in each one of those seasons. This past year, Ogunjobi had 13.5 tackles for loss and landed on Conference USA's first team. NFL.com's Lance Zierlein believes Ogunjobi has starting potential but will need to add weight to his 6-foot-3, 305-pound frame.

Did you know?

The last draft that featured a team with two picks in the top 12 was 2000 -- and there were two. Washington used the No. 2 pick on LB LaVar Arrington and No. 3 on OL Chris Samuels while Baltimore picked RB Jamal Lewis at No. 5 and WR Travis Taylor at No. 10. That same year, the New York Jets had four picks in the first round, including Nos. 12 and 13.

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