Browns NFL draft wrap-up: Takeaways and analysis on Cleveland’s picks and process

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Browns NFL draft wrap-up: Takeaways and analysis on Cleveland’s picks and process

The Cleveland Browns entered this draft with an eye on the future and to fortify spots in which they’d already invested heavily. They didn’t budge from that position. Over their abbreviated two-day draft, they didn’t budge at all.

For the first time in his five drafts as general manager, Andrew Berry didn’t make a trade. Berry considered the Browns to be in the advantageous spot of drafting for the future and not feeling pressed to make any one move or fill one immediate need. Pass rushing defensive tackles are hard to find, so Berry started and finished the draft with them. The Browns love to collect offensive linemen and know their top ones aren’t going to play forever, so they added Zak Zinter to the collection.

Defensive tackle Mike Hall Jr. is a native Clevelander who gets to live out a dream, but the Browns didn’t pick Hall because of geography or familiarity. They think he’s a great fit for Jim Schwartz’s defense and athletic enough to become a disruptive pass rusher for years to come. In November’s Ohio State-Michigan game, Hall took an awkward fall into Zinter that resulted in Zinter’s suffering a broken tibia and fibula. Now, Zinter and Hall are teammates. The Browns view Zinter as a rugged, intelligent and athletic lineman who will be a future starter.

“Mike’s passion and energy and Zak’s steady presence (will) add to our locker room,” Berry said. “I look forward to see them going at it on the practice field.”



Browns NFL Draft picks 2024: Grades, fits and scouting reports

Berry said the Browns explored trades on the draft’s final day, but the Browns chose not to add picks and additional stabs in large part because they have their team for 2024 mostly in place — and they like it. They finished the draft Saturday by selecting wide receiver Jamari Thrash in the fifth round, linebacker Nathaniel Watson in the sixth and two players in the seventh round: cornerback Myles Harden and defensive tackle Jowon Briggs.

Thrash can play his way into the team’s longer-term plans if he can separate the way he did during his college career, and Watson could have a direct path to making the Browns’ special teams units this season. Watson led the SEC in sacks and tackles last fall, but he was arrested on suspicion of DUI in early 2023 and had an earlier felony arrest stemming from a drag-racing incident when he was in high school. Berry said he wouldn’t comment on how other teams might have viewed Watson, but the Browns were comfortable with his character.

Hall is only 20 and was never a full-time starter at Ohio State. But the Browns have come far enough to know what they really covet, to believe Schwartz will be in his role for a long time and to apply long-term thinking to every draft and trade decision they did and didn’t make. The next step for the Browns remains turning stability, organizational competence and competitiveness into long-term success and postseason wins. That’s a realistic goal, but the chances of immediately reaching it were not going to change much this weekend.


Round 2, 54th: Mike Hall Jr., DT, Ohio State

Round 3, 85th: Zak Zinter, G, Michigan

Round 5, 156th: Jamari Thrash, WR, Louisville

Round 6, 206th: Nathaniel Watson, LB, Mississippi State

Round 7, 227th: Myles Harden, CB, South Dakota

Round 7, 243rd: Jowon Briggs, DT, Cincinnati

Best value pick

Watson is a sixth-rounder who’s guaranteed nothing. But he’ll be given a shot to make the team by way of covering kickoffs, and his combination of size, speed and physicality makes him one to watch. The Browns know there’s a chance they’ll get little help from this draft right away, but in Watson they get the player who led the SEC in tackles and sacks last fall. That’s at least notable, right? After six years in college and a long wait in the draft likely furthered by his arrest record, Watson comes to Cleveland with a chance to make a name for himself — and maybe stick in a thin linebacking corps. Berry said Watson might eventually be considered the kind of player who’s intelligent enough to call the defensive signals.

Most surprising pick

Thrash. We’re reaching here in such a bland draft and it feels like the Browns were reaching, too. Thrash was not a return specialist in college, and though he was productive at the college level, he doesn’t have one trait that stands out as exceptional at the NFL level. The Browns’ adding to their wide receivers group was going to happen, but it feels like once prospects from the top few tiers were gone, the Browns might have instead gone with a running back, edge rusher or cornerback here. The Browns chose Zinter over a bunch of wide receivers they saw at the Senior Bowl — and at least a few who were graded as potential second- or early-third-round picks. The team prioritized Zinter and the interior of the offensive line over wide receiver in this draft.

Biggest question mark

The Browns don’t feel their roster is perfect, but they don’t see many holes or have many questions. They knew they wouldn’t have much draft capital — and considered it a good thing they were mostly drafting for a year (or more) down the road. Still, Berry’s resisting the urge to trade down Friday night and add at least one pick in the fourth round had to be difficult. We’re not going to have any real answer on whether sticking with Hall and Zinter was the right move for a while, but for now, we’ll assume the Browns really valued those players — and never believed that more than a few rookies would make their 53-man roster this season. Zinter says he’s been cleared to return to football activities, and maybe his leg injury pushed him down a few spots. Maybe the Browns will end up with a long-term steal.

Remaining needs

If you believe 2024 comes down to the health of Deshaun Watson, Nick Chubb and the team’s top defenders and their playing to their pay grades, you won’t get a lot of argument here. The Browns’ top-heavy roster has enough talent and experience to get back to the postseason, and the team’s moves over the last two years indicate more veteran players will be added in the coming months. The Browns need more help at tight end, have almost no proven depth at linebacker and have uncertainty within the receiving corps. But as last year’s post-draft additions of Za’Darius Smith, Rodney McLeod and Shelby Harris proved, Berry isn’t done. The Browns in March focused on keeping their team together and adding some veteran insurance at running back. We’ve seen that ownership is willing to spend big to help the front office manipulate the salary cap and continue to add experienced players if and when Berry feels he has a realistic target. “In any (position) room, we don’t feel like we’re done,” Berry said.

Post-draft outlook

The Deshaun Watson trade is finally complete — the picks from it, anyway. The Browns gave up three first-round picks and six total picks over the last three drafts, but pick 123 in this draft marked the end. The Browns have their own picks in the first four rounds next year, and they have a window of contention that only stays open if Watson can get healthy and play consistently well. Though most other teams across the league added depth and young talent that the Browns didn’t this weekend, the Browns have long been prepared for this limited draft haul. They traded picks in this draft for Smith and Jerry Jeudy, and they mostly like what they have in place assuming health and positive rehab reports in the coming months. The Browns didn’t want to trade future draft picks Saturday, and Berry will continue to have the green light to add to the middle of the roster in the coming months.

(Top photo of Nathaniel Watson: Michael Wade / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)