Possibilities for the Cleveland Browns at the 44th pick, my best guess of the selection
The Cleveland Browns are focused on the NFL Draft, general manager Andrew Berry said Friday. Even though they have irons in the fire to potentially fill holes in the roster, it’s unlikely anything will change until Thursday. So, with all the prep done, who are the Browns looking at with the 44th pick in the NFL Draft?
The Browns are going to stick to their roster and take the player they feel is the best with a long-term focus. All things being equal, I expect the Browns to come to a defensive end. It’s not only one of the most valuable positions on the pitch, but they desperately need a succession plan.
Even if they re-sign Jadeveon Clowney, they need more behind him and Myles Garrett, but they also need to find a way forward that doesn’t require them to enter free agency every year in search of a starter. If they can hit on the pick, it becomes a massive cost saving that helps offset the cost of Garrett’s deal, giving them more flexibility overall.
Houston’s Logan Hall is an intriguing option. He can play a strong baseline with the ability to hit inside like Clowney did. Hall has a good size and there are those who believe his best football may be ahead of him.
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However, I don’t think Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods is married to having that big base end that can kick the inside. On the contrary, Clowney provided a unique opportunity to operate that way and he matched his defense to the talent he had. When Woods was with the Denver Broncos, he was more than comfortable playing with Von Miller as a standing rusher.
The player who continues to stand out for me in terms of what the Browns seem to prefer is USC’s Drake Jackson. He’s not a finished product, but neither is Emmanuel Ogbah when the Browns selected him in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft from Oklahoma State. The Browns would probably still wish they had Ogbah, who’s had 18 sacks over the past two seasons, but who among us could resist trading a talented defensive end for a pedestrian defensive back in Eric Murray?
Jackson has two seasons of good production against a pretty good level of competition in the PAC-12. He possesses a great explosion, something the Browns have enjoyed in draft prospects and he’s only 21, which fits the Browns’ drafting philosophy. Jackson’s passing efficiency is promising and the fact that he has better agility and control than any of the other options at this point in the draft could make him a best-case scenario for the Browns.
If the Browns don’t get Hall or Jackson, they could look to acquire Kingsley Enagbare from South Carolina. Not the most compelling watch, Enagbare nonetheless has length, powerful hands and a proven track record of passer-rushing in the SEC.
The wide receiver also stands out as a possibility at 44. Georgia’s George Pickens is tantalizing the same way Kyrie Irving was coming out of Duke. Like Pickens, Irving didn’t play much in college, but flashes of ability allowed his imagination to run wild as to what he could become. Irving helped the Cleveland Cavaliers win a championship and there are plenty of people who could see Pickens doing the same for the Browns.
Pickens caught a total of 90 passes during his three years at Georgia and 49 of them were his freshman season, his best season. Pickens is a projection, but it’s not hard to see why it would work for Pickens in the NFL if he could just stay healthy.
Central Michigan’s Skyy Moore is a much easier projection right now because he can step in and play the slot, which the Browns could use. Slippery and capable of gaining yards after the catch, Moore could be a player who steps in and finds immediate success.
Despite what has been a troubling draft process, Arkansas’ Treylon Burks continues to be an intriguing option. The Browns did their homework and brought him in for a visit in the unlikely scenario that he goes down in the second round. Bottom line, Burks is a linebacker-sized receiver who emphasizes defending with the ball in his hands. Much of what the Browns have offensively has the potential to intimidate the opposition and Burks would fit right into that mindset.
Two players to watch who may be of interest to the Browns if they advance to the second round are Michigan safety Daxton Hill and Connecticut defensive tackle Travis Jones.
Jones plays the style of defensive tackle the Browns want, capable of causing problems against double teams. This would help defend midfield where the Browns don’t have a lot of personnel as well as protect linebackers, allowing them to steal and make plays.
This makes sense in terms of immediate needs, as this group of positions is currently abysmal, but this position tends to require an incubation period that can take up to three years. So, even if it fits the needs of the team, it’s probably a long-term choice, which hurts the selection. He’s also a two-player and while the Browns love the talent, they might want more from this pick.
Hill, meanwhile, has corner coverage traits at safety, which is exactly what the Browns expect from the position. They could hook him up to the slot while preparing him to be one of their deep safeties again in a year or so. It might even work as the main slots corner next year, as Troy Hill is set to become a free agent. His speed can allow him to be a game-changer in the same way as Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.
The Browns could absolutely make a trade from this position, possibly up or down. They’re unlikely to drop completely in the first round, but they could move up a few places if they target a specific player. It seems more likely the Browns will go down, adding asset drafts in the process.
Given the large number of options, the Browns might feel comfortable looking to earn picks while ending up with a player they want. In the 2020 NFL Draft, the Browns fell three spots from the 41st pick to the 44th pick, securing the Indianapolis Colts’ 160th pick in the draft. They selected safety Grant Delpit at 44, then center Nick Harris at the 160th pick. Both are expected to start for the Browns in 2022. Meanwhile, the Colts are more than happy with the trade, having selected reigning All-Pro running back Jonathan Taylor.
The Browns made a similar trade in the third round, sending the 74th pick and 244th pick to the New Orleans Saints to drop 14 spots in exchange for a 2021 third-round pick. In the 88th pick, the Browns have took defensive tackle Jordan Elliott and with the 2021 third-round pick, 91st overall, the Browns selected wide receiver Anthony Schwartz.
Handicapping the pick, I think Drake Jackson is the likeliest choice for the Browns, either with the 44th pick or after a trade. I’m not confident in that prediction, but Jackson fits so much with what the Browns liked about the outlook. He has the potential to be a star in front of Garrett, bolstering a defensive line that desperately needs an infusion of talent if this team hopes to challenge for the Super Bowl.