Over the next few weeks, as the 2021 NFL Draft gets closer and closer, we're spotlighting a different position group each day at ClevelandBrowns.com.
Our Road to the Draft series will dive deep into the top players available at each position group. In this series, we'll be analyzing what the Browns have on hand and how that may affect the team's decision making with its nine selections.
We're starting with the cornerbacks, a position that saw quite a bit of change since the start of the new league year.
What's happened: Just a few days into the new league year, the Browns signed Troy Hill, one of the top slot corners available. The Youngstown product led the NFL last season with three defensive touchdowns and, perhaps more importantly, played a vital, every-game role in the slot for a Rams defense that ranked first in the league in pass defense and first in team defense.
Hill's addition came in the midst of the Browns saying farewell to three key cornerbacks from last year's team: Terrance Mitchell (Texans), Kevin Johnson (Titans) and Tavierre Thomas (Texans). Mitchell led Cleveland's defense in snaps played last season, almost never leaving the field while serving as a solid option against opponents' top receivers. Johnson was Cleveland's top option in the slot while Thomas was one of the Browns' top special teams players for the past three seasons.
Additionally, the Browns re-signed Brian Allen, who joined Cleveland's roster for the playoffs. Allen has appeared in 17 games since 2017, most of which came with the Steelers.
Where that leaves things: Along with Hill and Allen, the Browns are set to return their top starters from 2019, Pro Bowler Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams, along with M.J. Stewart, Robert Jackson and A.J. Green.
Williams, the Browns' second-round pick in 2019, missed all of the 2020 season because of a nerve injury in his shoulder but is on the path to a full recovery. He was effective as a rookie despite being heavily targeted and started all 12 games in which he was available. Stewart, claimed via waivers before training camp, made two of the Browns' most memorable interceptions of 2020, picking off a pass late in the Browns' playoff-clinching win over the Steelers and then doing it again in the Wild Card win in Pittsburgh. Jackson played admirably when the Browns needed him to during those same games, when a number of the team's top defensive players were sidelined on the COVID-19 list. Green, one of the most coveted undrafted free agents of 2020, was activated for two games and spent most of his rookie season on the practice squad.
For a third straight season, Ward was spectacular when healthy and was certainly missed when he was sidelined for a combined five games between the regular season and playoffs. After making the Pro Bowl his rookie season, Ward has maintained that level of play while pushing through a handful of injuries.
Who's still available in free agency: A number of notable veterans remain on the market, and a significant name was added to the list when the Steelers parted ways with Steven Nelson, an every-game starter for the past two seasons.
Some other notable names include Richard Sherman, Casey Hayward, D.J. Hayden, Josh Norman, Buster Skrine, Brian Poole, Bashaud Breeland and Gareon Conley.
What's next: The Browns hold nine picks in the 2021 NFL Draft, starting with the No. 26 pick. Odds are, the Browns will be adding at least one cornerback to their room via the draft — they've selected at least one cornerback in all but one draft since 2008 — and it wouldn't be completely surprising to see them add multiple players to the position, especially when you factor in the undrafted free agency that follows the draft. Adding Hill fortified the Browns' options in the slot, especially when Stewart is factored into the mix. Hill also has experience playing on the outside and can hold his own there if it's concluded he's the best possible option. That said, the Browns subtracted more than they added during the first portion of the offseason. There's work left to be done and plenty of avenues to do it through.
Whether or not the Browns add a cornerback in the first round remains to be seen. While they may not be able to snag one of the top three or four players at the position with the No. 26 pick, there promises to be plenty of starter-quality players available late in the first round and beyond.
Some players to know beyond the common names linked to the Browns on Day 1: Tyson Campbell (Georgia), Ifeatu Melifonwu (Syracuse), Elijah Molden (Washington), Eric Stokes (Georgia), Camryn Bynum (California) and Paulson Adebo (Stanford).