The Cleveland Browns’ Round 1 of the 2015 NFL draft was neither flashy nor sexy, but it’s just what they needed this year. The Browns focused on the trenches, taking defensive tackle Danny Shelton at No. 12 and then versatile offensive lineman Cam Erving at No. 19. Both players had long been linked to the Browns, making Round 1 far less of a surprise this year than it was in 2014. And though the Browns did address needs, there is more work yet to be done. Luckily, there are six more rounds’ worth of picks ahead, starting with Rounds 2 and 3 on Friday. What positions do the Browns still need to address, and who can meet them? Let’s take a look.
Last year, wide receiver draft class was one of the deepest in the event’s recent history. Though the Browns had a need at the position—especially with news breaking of another Josh Gordon suspension during the first round—they ignored wideout for the entirety of the draft. They cannot afford to do the same this year; Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline are serviceable veterans, but they won’t be long for the team. The Browns must find a young receiver to develop and call their own for years to come.
Thankfully, the 2015 draft class rivals 2014’s in terms of depth and level of talent. Though a number of quality receivers went in Round 1, such as West Virginia’s Kevin White, Louisville’s DeVante Parker and USC’s Nelson Agholor, the Browns haven’t been left out in the cold just yet. But if they wait longer than the second or third rounds to find a receiver, the pickings will get considerably slimmer.
Cleveland picks 11th in Round 2, or at 43rd-overall. With that pick, one of the following receivers should be available: Arizona State’s Jaelen Strong (who does have a broken bone in his wrist but nothing that seems all that serious), Ohio State’s Devin Smith, Missouri’s Dorial Green-Beckham, Auburn’s Sammie Coates and Michigan’s Devin Funchess. Coates and Funchess could be Round 3 options, but the Browns would be smart to take Strong, Smith or Green-Beckham should either still be on the board in the second round.
Smith is a one-trick pony right now, with straight-line speed and little else. But that one trick has been a useful one for him, with Smith scoring a touchdown on every four catches over the course of his collegiate career. He has 121 career catches for 2,503 yards and 30 touchdowns and had 33 catches for 931 yards and 12 scores in 2014. That means just 2.2 catches per game in 2014, and drops have been an issue. But he’d be a component of the Browns’ total offense—one that figures to be run-heavy, signaled in part by the addition of Erving in Round 1. As such, he’d be a useful weapon to take the top off of defenses and gives whoever may be under center this year for the Browns a proven scoring option.
Green-Beckham, on the other hand, has the size-speed-strength combo prototypical of a receiver. Though still raw in mastering all of his routes, he’s less limited at present than Smith. He does, however, come with significant baggage—a domestic violence charge that got him dismissed from Missouri. He transferred to Oklahoma but was ineligible for the 2014 season. As such, he has only two years of collegiate production, with 87 catches for 1,278 yards and 17 scores. He is a promising prospect, but the Browns will have to be convinced that his off-the-field risks are minimal or behind him completely, especially given their recent history with the Josh Gordon suspension and the NFL’s current no-tolerance climate towards domestic violence.
Strong may be the best choice for the Browns in Round 2 among the receivers still on the board. Raw in his routes—as many collegiate receivers are—Strong’s 6’4” frame and highly physical style of play helps mask his lack of speed. He can fight for the football before the catch, get vertical for contested passes and also has promise as a blocker in the run game. And with an impeccable work ethic, Strong can certainly be motivated to improve the weaker areas of his game, especially with the aid of NFL coaching.
Coates’ history of dropped passes and Funchess’ tweener status as a wide receiver/tight end could push both to Round 3. If that’s the case, either could catch the Browns’ eye, but Funchess may win out. Funchess could prove to be a physical presence as a possession receiver in Cleveland while Coates has the potential to be the next Greg Little. Just a whisper of Little’s name in the Browns’ war room may be enough to scare them off of Coates’ trail.
There is one scenario in which the Browns may be willing to forego receiver in Round 2, and that is if the continued fall of linebacker Randy Gregory continues to where the Browns pick at 43rd-overall. Gregory has red flags related to heavy marijuana use in college at Nebraska. But the true reason for his slide was about his on-field tape, which showed a lack of explosiveness confirmed by his scouting combine performance. Teams would have let Gregory’s past transgressions slide if he were a total package as an outside linebacker, much as the Denver Broncos did with Shane Ray in Round 1.
Gregory totaled 25.5 tackles for a loss and 17.5 sacks in two seasons with Nebraska. It was a productive two years, but he was also set up for that success. That can be replicated in Cleveland, though, especially if the Browns are willing to get more rotational at the linebacker position, much as they are on the defensive line.
Another pass-rusher could intrigue in either Rounds 2 or 3—Virginia’s Eli Harold. Harold is raw, but promising, with 141 combined tackles, 36.5 tackles for a loss and 17.5 sacks in three seasons, but he has double-digit tackles-for-loss numbers over his last two seasons and no fewer than 13 sacks in each, as well. Harold, though, is not as good at stopping the run, a clear Browns priority this year. Much like Gregory, the Browns may have to insert Harold situationally as a pure pass-rusher only as a rookie while he rounds out his other skills.
The Browns hosted the draft’s top two running backs, Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon, for pre-draft visits. Whether that was simply the Browns doing their due diligence given they possessed two picks in Round 1 or a sign of true interest, it doesn’t matter now, with both players off the board. But if the visits were also indications that the Browns would like another running back to add to their stable of Isaiah Crowell, Terrence West, Shaun Draughn and Glenn Winston, they could address it on Day 2 of the draft. If they do, Round 3 would make the most sense.
Of the backs still available, none is more dynamic than Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah. Abdullah totaled 813 collegiate carries, for 4,588 yards and 39 touchdowns, with 1,611 yards and 19 scores on his 264 carries in 2014. He also caught a career total of 73 passes for 690 yards and seven scores and is a talented kick returner, averaging 26.1 yards on his 61 returns. Though Abdullah is a bit on the smaller side, making him not the most ideal blocker, West and Crowell—and even Draughn—can pick up that slack, allowing Abdullah to simply be a weapon for the Browns’ rushing and passing offenses. But Abdullah may be destined for Round 2, which doesn’t seem to be a good place for Cleveland to take a running back, unless they truly see him as the best player available when they make their pick.