What Are The Cleveland Browns’ Team Needs In The 2021 NFL Draft?
The 2021 NFL Draft starts on Thursday, April 29. As a lead-up to the draft, we’ll be giving a team-by-team breakdown for positional needs. For each team, we’ll give an overview of the current depth chart and how big of a need each position in the upcoming draft. You can find the rest of the team needs (as they’re updated) and the rest of our draft content in the 2021 NFL Draft hub.
Cleveland Browns 2021 DRAFT PICKS OVERVIEW
Round 1 (26)
Round 2 (59)
Round 3 (89)
Round 3 (91)
Round 4 (110)
Round 4 (132)
Round 5 (169)
Round 6 (211)
Round 7 (257)
Cleveland Browns Offense
By Rich Hribar
In year three, Baker Mayfield showed more of what he flashed as a rookie than in his second season as the Browns enjoyed their best season since returning to the league in 1999. No matter your opinion on Mayfield’s ceiling, he is unequivocally the best quarterback draft selection they have made since expansion. Barring something unexpected occurring from now until September, Mayfield is set up to be the first Cleveland quarterback to start three consecutive Week 1 games since re-joining the NFL and the first since Bernie Kosar over the 1986-1993 seasons.
Mayfield rebounded across the board off his 2019 efficiency numbers in completion rate (62.8%), yards per attempt (7.3 Y/A), and touchdown rate (5.4%). He enters 2021 in the final season of his rookie contract while the Browns will surely pick up his fifth-year option before the May 3rd deadline as the two sides negotiate a potential extension.
Veteran backup Case Keenum is still under contract for the next two seasons, as is QB3 Kyle Lauletta. In an unfamiliar place since returning to the league, the Browns do not need to pursue a quarterback addition.
Andy Janovich (FB)
Johnny Stanton (FB)
With Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt at the top of the depth chart, it is not a surprise that the Browns were sixth in the NFL in yards per running play (4.8 yards) and seventh in the NFL in expected points added via their rushing game (33.1).
Taken in the second round of 2018, Chubb enters 2020 in the final season of his rookie contract with the only future paths are an extension, franchise tag after the season, or hitting free agency as options. Chubb has averaged 5.4, 5.3, and 5.9 yards per touch over his first three seasons in the league, becoming the first running back in league history to average over 5.0 yards per carry in each of his first three seasons in the league while having over 150 carries each year.
Hunt signed an extension last offseason that has him on the roster through 2022, while both D’Ernest Johnson and John Kelly are restricted free agents after the season.
Running back is not an immediate need, but Chubb’s contract status paired with the lack of 2022 roster spots locked at the position, Cleveland could dabble in a late-round addition.
Due to the Browns being a run-oriented offense and Odell Beckham missing the majority of the season, Cleveland wideouts closed 2020 25th in the NFL receptions per game (11.3), 19th in receiving yardage per game (162.8 yards), and 16th in receiving touchdowns (14) as a group. Cleveland only targeted their wideouts 17.3 times per game (26th), but from an efficiency, did so effectively as they were sixth in the league in yards per target to their wideouts at 9.1 yards.
Beckham played in just six full games prior to missing the remainder of the season with an ACL injury. Turning 29 years old in 2021, Beckham has not played a season since 2016 that has not been wrapped around some injury narrative. On the field for the first six games, Beckham’s per-game averages of 3.8 receptions for 53.2 yards would have been career-lows would they have held up for a full season. Beckham is under contract through the 2023 season, but has zero dead cap hit numbers beyond this season.
Jarvis Landry will also be 29 years old this season and is signed through the 2022 season, carrying only a $1.5M dead cap hit next season. Landry has received at least 100 targets in each of his seven seasons in the NFL, but he has cleared 1,000 yards in just one of the past four seasons while his 4.8 receptions per game and three touchdowns in 2020 were career lows.
Cleveland only used 11 personnel on 44% of their snaps last season, which was 30th in the league. This a year after Kevin Stefanski’s 2019 Minnesota offense used 11 personnel just 25% of the time, which was the lowest rate in the league. Both of those offenses had injuries limit the viability of the WR depth charts to those rates, but Cleveland also is not going to jump into the top half of the league in regularly deploying three wideouts, either.
As depth behind Beckham and Landry, the team brought back efficient receiver Rashard Higgins on a one-year contract. 2020 sixth-rounder Donovan Peoples-Jones contributed a 14-304-2 line as a rookie who is locked up through 2023 while undrafted rookie Ja’Marcus Bradley is under contract for the next two seasons. The rest of the Browns wideouts all have expiring contracts after 2021.
Cleveland does not have an extreme need for immediate wide receiver help given both Beckham and Landry at the top of the roster, reliable and usable options behind them, and their overall lack of 3WR usage, but with Beckham coming off an injury and the ability to move on from Beckham, Landry, or both after 2021 could have them looking to add to the position for the future.
Where the Browns did not go deep into their receiver personnel compared to the league, they did use 12 personnel on 26% of their snaps, which was ninth in the league.
Cleveland targeted their tight ends 30% of the time, which was third in the league, but averaged just 6.4 yards per target on those passes to the position, which was 24th in the league.
In his first season in Cleveland, Hooper caught 46-of-70 targets for 435 yards and four touchdowns in his 13 games played. His 3.5 receptions and 33.5 yards per game were low marks since his second season in the league in 2017 while his 5.4 targets per came checked in at 18th at the position. Hooper signed a deal that has him in Cleveland through 2023.
Former 2017 first-rounder David Njoku enters the season on the final season of his rookie deal, fulfilling his fifth-year option that was picked up last offseason. Njoku will still only 25 years old this season, but the Browns already selected Harrison Bryant in the fourth round a year ago to compete with Njoku again this season with an eye on the future.
As depth, both Jordan Franks and Kyle Markway are signed through 2022 while Cleveland has restricted rights on Stephen Carlson. This is one of the deepest tight end rosters in the league.
LT: Jedrick Wills/Alex Taylor
LG: Joel Bitonio/Anthony Fabiano/Cordel Iwuagwu
C: J.C. Tretter//Javon Patterson
RG: Wyatt Teller/Michael Dunn/Drew Forbes
RT: Jack Conklin/Chris Hubbard
The Browns has built one of the best offensive lines in the league, closing 2020 second in ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate (71%) and 13th in their Run Block Win Rate metric (71%).
Drafting Jedrick Wills in the first round last season and signing Jack Conklin through 2022, Cleveland fixed their tackle position in on offseason.
At guard, Joel Bitonio was the sixth-highest graded guard in the league last season per Pro Football Focus and is still signed through the 2022 season. Right guard Wyatt Teller took a massive jump in year three as the top-graded guard in 2020 per the same site after ranking 46th the year prior. Teller enters this season on the final year of his rookie contract.
Teller is the only starting lineman on the roster that is not under contract through the 2022 season while the team has Iwuagwu, Patterson, and Taylor all as depth signed for the next two seasons.
Cleveland Browns Defense
By Dan Pizzuta
Interior Defensive Line
The Browns have a strong interior rotation, but none of the top three players are under contract past 2021. After a good season as a run-stopper, Sheldon Richardson had a much better second season in Cleveland as a pass rusher. He ranked 25th among defensive tackles in pressure rate last season, according to Sports Info Solutions. Over the past two seasons, Richardson has ranked first and second in solo tackles by a defensive tackle.
Andrew Billings signed a one-year deal with the Browns in the 2020 offseason but opted out and will make his Cleveland debut in 2020. At Cincinnati, Billings developed into a productive run-stopper with some pass rush upside.
This offseason, Malik Jackson was brought in on a one-year deal and he’ll provide more pass rush from the interior. He ranked 11th among defensive tackles in pressure rate last season. 2020 third-round pick also provides depth at the position.
Myles Garrett is Myles Garrett and that would help any pass rush unit. Garrett ranked third in ESPN’s Pass Rush Win Rate, though he was 23rd in quarterback hits and 50th among edge rushers in pressure rate. The disconnect has been finding a consistent threat to put across from Garrett on the line. Per ESPN Stats & Info, Garrett was double-teamed at the third-highest rate among edge rushers last season.
The Browns signed Takk McKinley as an option for that and when he’s been able to be on the field, the former first-round pick has been productive. In 2019, he ranked 35th among edge rushers in pressure rate.
Cleveland had the fourth-highest rate of rushing just four last season (78%), so with depth still needed at the position, the Browns could look to add with their late first-round pick or on Day 2.
The Browns, at least under the current regime, haven’t been a team that invests too heavily at linebacker. Early moves in free agency indicated Cleveland might want to play in some more dime personnel after doing that on just 3% of plays last season.
B.J. Goodson led this group in snaps last season but was only on a one-year deal. Malcolm Smith played well in his first year with the Browns and Sione Takitaki improved as a downhill player as 2019 fifth-round pick Mack Wilson saw his playing time decline. Cleveland also brought in Anthony Walker from the Colts, but not at a significant investment — just one year for $3 million.
Linebacker is popular mocked position for the Browns, but it’s hard to see them invest an early pick at the position when there are enough bodies to mix and match around their better defensive backs.
Denzel Ward was 54th among 148 qualified cornerbacks in adjusted yards allowed (which accounts for touchdowns and interceptions) per coverage snaps last season. That came with a few big plays allowed as Ward ranked 16th among that group in completion percentage allowed. More help in the secondary, especially at safety, could benefit Ward’s overall play in 2021. Even with all that, the Browns were fourth in DVOA against opposing No. 1 receiver.
Greedy Williams, a 2019 second-round pick, has the traits to be successful as an outside corner in Joe Woods’s defense, but he missed all of 2020 due to a damaged nerve in his shoulder. Williams might not be ready for June minicamps but it is still expected he can be healthy enough to start at corner this season.
Inside, the Browns signed one of the league’s best slot corners in Troy Hill. Hill ranked 17th in adjusted yards allowed per coverage snap in 2020 and 29th in 2019. He was signed for a two-year deal at just $9 million.
There could be more depth added behind the projected starting trio. M.J. Stewart has some starting experience and was on the field for 21% of Cleveland’s defensive snaps last season, without a start, but played more special teams. Corner is the third-most mocked position for the Browns in the first round, according to Grinding The Mocks, and it’s the most frequent position for mocks that go into Round 2.
John Johnson was the big free agent acquisition and his signing could change the entire structure of the Cleveland defense. Due to injuries and ineffectiveness last season, the Browns’ safety position was a mess. Johnson brings a skill set that can work all over the defense and last year he was the defensive play-caller for the Rams because he didn’t come off the field. Johnson also played the middle of the field when the Rams relied on their dime package.
Ronnie Harrison was picked up for a fifth-round pick in a preseason trade with the Jaguars. He was productive when he was on the field, but managed just 30% of the defensive snaps through 11 games played.
Grant Delpit was a 2020 second-round pick who suffered an Achilles injury in training camp and missed the entire season. Delpit was one of the most well-rounded safeties at LSU and his health would be a significant boost to the back end of the secondary that could use more three-safety looks throughout the season.