The Cleveland Browns carried the momentum of their Round 4 hoarding of rookie players into Round 5 of the 2016 NFL Draft, selecting another four players in the round. This time, three were on the offensive side of the ball and one on defense; two were wide receivers. And it is the impacts of these two receivers that could have the biggest effects on Cleveland’s roster.
The first selected in the round was UCLA’s Jordan Payton, taken with the 154th-overall pick. The second was Colorado State’s Rashard Higgins, selected at No. 172 using a compensatory pick. These two receivers, plus Ricardo Louis and Seth DeValve, taken in Round 4, and Corey Coleman, taken in the first round, will serve to reshape Cleveland’s receiving corps over the course of the spring and summer.
As already noted, the Browns have made one subtraction at wideout already, releasing Hakim Saalim. More cuts are likely ahead, perhaps as soon as the Browns’ end their rookie minicamp over the weekend. But with the Browns currently at an 89-man roster (not counting any UDFA rookies added), there is no hurry for the team to whittle down their receivers yet. Competition is ahead, and it will be stiff, not just for the likes of Payton and Higgins, but also for the veterans on the roster.
While Higgins and Payton both clock in at 6’1”, there aren’t too many similarities in their respective games. Payton is the slower player, with issues maintaining separation from coverage using his feet rather than his strength. Higgins, meanwhile, is very good at separating and has strong after-catch skills. In four seasons at UCLA, Payton caught 201 passes for 2,701 yards and 14 scores and had 78 receptions for 1,105 yards and five touchdowns in his senior season. Higgins, meanwhile, had 238 receptions over three seasons at Colorado State, for 3,648 yards and 31 touchdowns. He had an astounding sophomore seasons, catching 96 passes for 1,750 yards and 17 touchdowns, but that production dipped in 2015, with 74 catches for 1,061 yards and eight scores. Still, it was a good year especially considering he had to contend with a new starting quarterback and new offensive system.
Payton’s ability to work underneath and as a possession receiver and Higgins’ pro-style offense pedigree should have some of the Browns’ current receivers very nervous. The six veterans—Brian Hartline, Andrew Hawkins, Marlon Moore, Taylor Gabriel, Terrelle Pryor and Rannell Hall are all threatened by the appearance of four new receivers (and five, if you count DeValve) being added by the draft. Only two of the six have dead money attached to their contracts if they are cut, and the hits are small—Hartline costs just $750,000 to cut while giving the Browns $3.75 million in additional cap space. Moore has dead-money charges totaling only $133,334 this year. While it’s not guaranteed—and probably not very smart—to replace all of these veterans with completely untested rookies, it’s fairly certain that Cleveland’s receivers room will look far different in September than it does right now.
Meanwhile, the other two players the Browns selected in Round 5 might have more trouble making the 53-man roster than the duo of receivers. Guard Spencer Drango has a lot of power, a trait necessary for an NFL offensive lineman, his technique and athleticism aren’t up to par with what a starter in this league must have. That doesn’t mean Drango cannot hang on the roster as a backup guard and sometimes-tackle, but there are a lot of experienced players ahead of him on the depth chart. If the Browns’ brass sees long-term potential for him and anticipates that some of these veterans will not be on the roster come 2017, perhaps Drango is worth a stash on the practice squad.
The practice squad could also be the home base for Louisiana-Monroe defensive back Trey Caldwell. At 5’9”, he’s small, and he’s totaled only 143 combined tackles, 6.5 tackles for a loss and two interceptions in four seasons. His 2015, however, was the best of his collegiate career; he totaled 52 combined tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss and an interception while also returning 14 kickoffs for 323 yards. His athleticism could win out, though, especially if he can make an impact on special teams as a rookie. But the Browns are not hard up for cornerbacks, which could make Caldwell’s chances to reach the 53-man roster very slim. Moving him to safety, however, could boost his chances, as the team is relatively thin at the position. If that’s the case, he’ll be battling with fourth-round pick Derrick Kindred, among others, for a backup role, assuming that Ibraheim Campbell, Rahim Moore, Don Jones and Jordan Poyer are the four vying for the two starting vacancies.