The Cleveland Browns were prolific in the third and final day of the 2016 NFL Draft, selecting nine of their 14 new players in Rounds 4, 5 and 7. Four were selected in Round 4 and are the focus here, to see where they fit in the Browns’ current roster and the players who could be affected by their presence both immediately and in the longer term.
First up is linebacker Joe Schobert of Wisconsin, drafted with the 99th-overall pick. Pass-rush was an area of importance for the Browns to address this year—they used second- and third-round picks on players who will be bringing pressure on opposing quarterbacks. This trend continued into Round 4 with Schobert.
Schobert put up impressive numbers at Wisconsin despite being a walk-on and not having the ideal size to play linebacker. He had 154 career combined tackles, 33.5 tackles for a loss, 13 sacks and 10 passes defensed. He had 76 combined tackles, 20 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks in 2015. But he is versatile, capable of being an inside or outside linebacker. This could thus spell trouble for numerous other players currently under contract with the Browns.
Scott Solomon has already been released, a response to the myriad pass-rushers Cleveland has drafted. In addition to Schobert, the Browns added Emmanuel Ogbah and Carl Nassib earlier in the draft. Though Schobert projects to be linebacking depth and special-teams assistance as a rookie, players like the suspended (and easy-to-cut, financially) Armonty Bryant as well as Tank Carder could be subject to losing their roster spots thanks to Schobert’s presence.
The drafting of tight end Seth DeValve is also an interesting one, as it could have impacts on not just the other tight ends on the team but also the receivers. DeValve was a do-it-all pass catcher for Princeton, lining up everywhere on the field in what he described as an “H-back adjuster” role. So the “former” wide receiver essentially is anything but. And at 6’2”, he gives the Browns passing offense a big-man weapon that it has needed.
DeValve won’t be pushing Gary Barnidge off the team immediately, though it should be noted that while Barnidge hasn’t been ground down by multiple seasons of high-volume play he is an elder statesman at 30 years of age. His contract is front-loaded in terms of guaranteed cash, of course, so if DeValve can take on the Barnidge-level workload, Barnidge can be released after the 2017 season with just $812,500 in dead money on the books (while the Browns at the same time save over $5 million). Immediately, though, fellow tight ends Connor Hamlett and Randall Telfer need to watch their backs.
Wide receivers are also in danger of being displaced by DeValve. Cleveland selected four wideouts and DeValve in this year’s draft. Hakim Saalim has already been released and it’s hard to imagine both Taylor Gabriel and Andrew Hawkins sticking around for the 2016 season. The raw Terrelle Pryor could also be a candidate for release if his development from quarterback to receiver continues slowly. Marlon Moore and Darius Jennings both are also not safe, especially because alongside DeValve (and Corey Coleman, taken in Round 1) the Browns also selected Auburn receiver Ricardo Louis in Round 4.
Louis has a lot of upside but his use at Auburn varied and was sometimes limited, at least in Louis’ eyes. In his collegiate career, he caught 98 passes for 1,338 yards and eight scores and also rushed 68 times for 578 yards. He had his best season in 2015, with 46 catches for 716 yards and three scores while he was able to showcase the route-running that he was limited from displaying, thanks to scheme, in his previous years. It’s hard to expect significant production out of a fourth-round pick, but the way the Browns are overhauling their offense, it’s also hard to predict exactly who will be used where and how quickly. Louis could work outside or inside—or do both—which dials up the pressure for numerous other receivers on Cleveland’s roster. At the very least, this summer’s training camp battles at the position are proving to be one to watch closely.
The Browns also picked up a safety in the fourth round, selecting TCU’s Derrick Kindred. Cleveland is currently loaded at defensive back, so Kindred is no lock to make the 53-man roster this year unless he can prove his quality in covering passes—definitely not a strong suit—or being a core special-teamer. The latter seems more likely, as he’s a hard-hitting safety in the old-school mode. But with safeties being asked to do more these days, such as reliably cover receivers and tight ends, Kindred could be more of a project for the Browns’ coaching staff in his first season or two. The fact that Kindred played his entire senior season with a broken collarbone is indeed a testament to his toughness and dedication, two traits that will help him immeasurably as he fights to earn a roster spot in Cleveland this summer. Also, losing Tashaun Gipson in free agency opens a clear window for Kindred to be in competition to start.
There are no guarantees that fourth-round draft picks will succeed in the NFL. But the four selected by the Browns this year have opportunities other fourth-round picks simply don’t have. They are joining a rebuilding team with numerous positional vacancies that this regime has made clear is comfortable filling with brand-new faces. DeValve and Schobert, in particular, have compelling skill sets that could make impacts immediately, but all four Round 4 selections could, by the very act of being drafted, catapult numerous players off of Cleveland’s present roster.