One year ago from Friday, the Browns' new regime of Executive Vice President of Football Operations and GM Andrew Berry and head coach Kevin Stefanski began their first NFL draft by selecting Jedrick Wills Jr., an offensive tackle from Alabama, with the 10th overall pick.
Wills' selection proved solid in 2020, but so did the other six players the Browns selected after him. The success of the class was one of many reasons why Cleveland snapped an 18-year playoff drought, and each player now has a realistic opportunity to carve a bigger, more prominent role on the roster in 2021.
As we continue to look ahead to next week's 2021 draft, we're taking a look back at the remarkable productivity from last year's class and outlining what's ahead for them in Year 2.
Round 1, Pick 10: T Jedrick Wills Jr., Alabama
What did they do?: Wills started 15 games and provided consistent play at the left tackle position, a luxury the Browns had struggled to find since the retirement of six-time All-Pro Joe Thomas in 2017. One of the biggest storylines following Wills' first-round selection was whether he'd be able to make a smooth transition from right tackle, where he played the entirety of his college career, to left tackle, a position that carried more pressure and skill, as it involved protecting the blindside of quarterback Baker Mayfield. Wills, who's still just 21 years old, proved he was up for the challenge and played a heavy role in one of the top-ranked offensive lines in the NFL.
What's next?: Browns coaches praised Wills for his ability to pick up on his new position all season, but they always ended those sentiments by saying he has room for improvement. That's not anything alarming for Wills — those were the expectations for him all season. In addition to more consistent technique, the Browns likely want Wills to show more discipline at the line of scrimmage after accruing 11 penalties, eight of which were false starts, last season. Wills should greatly benefit from having a second-straight season under the guidance of offensive line coach Bill Callahan, who's coached for over four decades and is one of the most well-known offensive line coaches of all time.
What was said: "He is progressing. I would not say it is perfect yet, but I think progress is more important than perfection right now. Incrementally, he is getting better with the techniques that were thrown at him. I think the main thing right now is the week-to-week adaptation versus the elite pass rushers in the league." - Callahan on Wills in September of last season
Round 2, Pick No. 44: Grant Delpit, S, LSU
What did they do?: Delpit's rookie season unfortunately ended in training camp after he suffered an Achilles injury during a warm-up portion of practice. He was expected to carry a versatile role in the defense after showing success in the slot, near the line of scrimmage and defensive backfield across three seasons in Baton Rouge. Delpit spent the rest of the season rehabbing his injury and preparing for his return in 2021 training camp.
What's next?: The Browns are bullish Delpit will be able to return and immediately compete for a starting role in the safety room despite missing a full year of reps. He'll join Ronnie Harrison Jr., who joined the Browns at the beginning of last season via trade, and veteran free-agent acquisition John Johnson III as the top safeties on the roster and potentially give the Browns an option to deploy three safeties on a heavy chunk of snaps in 2021.
What was said: "The toughest part was just knowing that you work your whole life just to get somewhere, and then anything can happen off the wall and you're forced to sit back and watch. I've put so many hours in the weight room. I'm doing everything I can to get on the field." - Delpit in a recent interview on Best Podcast Available
Round 3, Pick No. 88: Jordan Elliott, DT, Missouri
What did they do?: Elliott was the only rookie to play in all 16 games in 2020 and registered 15 tackles. He provided reliable depth behind Sheldon Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi in the defensive tackle rotation and should be in line for a bigger opportunity in his second season.
What's next?: Richardson and Ogunjobi are no longer on the roster, which now includes only four defensive tackles. The Browns likely will add to the position at some point in the draft next week, but a competition for a starting role is ahead for Elliott, who is set to battle with free-agent addition Malik Jackson, Sheldon Day and Andrew Billings for those spots.
What was said: "I was really excited about Jordan's progression through the year. Jordan proved to us that he's going to work, he's going to be tough and he's going to be consistent and reliable. The jump that he's going to make from Year 1 to Year 2, I have no doubt that's going to happen. He's hungry. He says all the right things. I know he's working, and he's proven that to us. We always knew that Jordan was going to be in this room heading into this offseason. He's a big athlete that can affect the game in a bunch of ways." - Defensive line coach Chris Kiffin
Round 3, Pick No. 97: Jacob Phillips, LB, LSU
What did they do?: Phillips played in nine games and battled through a knee injury for a portion of his rookie season, which he completed with 25 tackles and one quarterback hit. When he was healthy, he showed spurts of quality production at linebacker and displayed the speedy and consistent tackling abilities the Browns liked from him at LSU. His best performance came in Week 17, when he recorded a team-leading 10 tackles to help push the Browns to their playoff-clinching victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
What's next?: Phillips likely will be one of the top players set to compete for a starting linebacker position alongside free-agent signee Anthony Walker. It's unknown whether the Browns will prefer to utilize two or three linebackers for the majority of their snaps, and those decisions might not be made until after the draft, where the Browns could select a linebacker with their first-round pick or early on Day 2. Regardless of who's added to the group, coaches are optimistic that Phillips can take a big jump in his second season.
What was said: "He's a versatile guy that can come in and play multiple positions for us. He did it last year as a rookie, and it goes to how he played on tape in college. He was a guy that was running around, communicating, competing and hitting the ball. You saw him do that in the NFL last year. We know what he's capable of, and he's a humble guy that works and loves the game, so the sky's the limit for Jacob." - Run game coordinator Ben Bloom
Round 4, Pick No. 115: Harrison Bryant, TE, Florida Atlantic
What did they do?: Bryant quickly carved a big role in the tight ends room with an impressive training camp and continued to showcase why he was one of the top tight ends of the 2020 rookie class. He recorded 24 receptions for 238 yards and three touchdowns, two of which came in the Browns' last-minute victory in Week 7 against the Cincinnati Bengals. Bryant also proved he's capable of assisting as a blocker, which was one of his biggest question marks as a draft prospect.
What's next?: The Browns' tight end room has yet to lose or add any players thus far this offseason, so Bryant appears poised to carry a similar role from his rookie year. He's set to join veterans Austin Hooper and David Njoku for the majority of snaps and will be another reliable receiving target for Mayfield.
What was said: "I have been really pleased with how his year is going. He is taking on a lot of different roles, especially with Hoop missing some games from the appendectomy and David missing some games early in the season, to jump in at multiple spots on a moment's notice, play a lot of snaps in this offense and do it at a really high level. I have been really pleased with not only the production but the growth that we have seen for him as a player as he has gotten more and more reps. He is doing a great job for us." - Tight ends coach Drew Petzing in December on Bryant's development
Round 5, Pick No. 160: Nick Harris, C, Washington
What did they do?: After opening training camp as the starting center because of an injury to JC Tretter, Harris continued to impress coaches with his versatility and quick development. He spent most of the season as a blocker on special teams, but was thrust into an every-down role at right guard early in Week 15 after Chris Hubbard suffered an injury on the second play of the game. Harris kept his section of the O-line intact throughout the 20-6 Sunday Night Football victory.
What's next?: The Browns are retaining each of their starting offensive linemen from last season, so Harris is expected to compete for backup roles in a competition that currently includes center Javon Patterson, guards Michael Dunn, Drew Forbes, Colby Gossett and Blake Hance and tackles Chris Hubbard, Greg Senat and Alex Taylor.
What was said: "I go into every game as if I am going to play. That is how you have to do it. You have to go in and prepare throughout the week as if you are going to play because you never know what happens. I make sure I go over center and guard things and just make sure that if my name is called that I am ready to go assignment-wise. When it comes to just the technique stuff, I get reps on the scout team at guard so those definitely help." - Harris after his Week 15 performance against the Giants
Round 6, Pick No. 187: Donovan Peoples-Jones, WR, Michigan
What did they do?: Peoples-Jones was arguably one of the top draft steals of Day 3 and immediately showcased his worth to the Browns as one of the top players of training camp. That led to coaches instilling trust in him as both a returner and deep-ball receiving threat, which led to 14 receptions for 304 yards and two touchdowns. His biggest moment, of course, came in the Week 7 win over Cincinnati when he caught the game-winning touchdown on a deep pass from Mayfield — a highlight that will forever be remembered with the 2020 season.
What's next?: The wide receiver room has yet to add any new faces for 2021, although that could change during the draft. Peoples-Jones should still be set for roles behind top veterans Odell Beckham Jr, who's returning from a season-ending ACL injury in 2020, and Jarvis Landry. Coaches believe Peoples-Jones has the potential to become an even more reliable receiver in 2021 and beyond.
What they said: "He is Mr. Reliable. He can line up anywhere, a very intelligent player. There are going to be opportunities for him moving forward just like that." - Stefanski after Peoples-Jones' game-winning performance in Week 7
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