Despite a valiant effort in the Cleveland Browns’ first Divisional Round playoff game in almost three decades, Cleveland fell short to the Patrick Mahomes-less Kansas City Chiefs—well, for most of the second half, at least.
Amid the distraught and sadness that comes with a playoff loss, the Browns proved they aren’t the Browns of old.
Cleveland, you have a hell of a football team.
Kevin Stefanski became a leader for Coach of the Year while providing a welcomed breath of fresh air following the Freddie Kitchens experiment. The resurgence of Baker Mayfield’s career paired with a dynamic backfield in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt has Cleveland primed for another productive year next fall. Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry pair to provide one of the best duos out-wide, and 2020 first-round selection Jedrick Wills has proven to be a stud at left tackle within the NFL’s top-graded passing (86.5) and rushing (81.2) offensive line, per Pro Football Focus.
Looking toward the draft, Cleveland has continuously used the event to stock up on prospects.
From fifth-round selection Rashard Higgins in 2016, who recorded a team-high 88 yards receiving on Sunday, to starting linebacker and third-rounder Sione Takitaki in 2019, general manager Andrew Berry seems primed in his second stint with the Browns to return them to NFL glory.
So, let’s get right to it. Using our Mock Draft Machine, I looked at which prospects Cleveland could target this April when the annual draft rolls around. Here is my seven-round mock, including scheme fit, on each prospect:
Round 1 (No. 26 overall): Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami
In this situation, Rousseau slips all the way to 26. Will it happen on draft night? Probably not, but he’s an absolute steal here if he does. Despite some criticism on just how raw he is as a pass-rusher, the 6-foot-5 Rousseau has all the tools to become a dominant edge defender.
How he fits: Working opposite Myles Garrett, the two would immediately provide one of the top edge duos in the entire league. Rousseau’s last available tape is from 2019 because of his opt-out of the 2020 season, but man was he impressive—recording 15.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss. He was everywhere for the Hurricanes and best fits within a defense that allows him to not only work outside as a 9-tech, but inside as well. With both Rousseau and Garrett at his disposal, Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods would have a field day with the variety of fronts he would be able to throw at opposing offenses. This is a dream scenario for Cleveland.
Round 2 (No. 58 overall): Jevon Holland, S, Oregon
Denzel Ward has been a nice addition, when healthy, for the Browns’ back-end. But often, the combination of Terrance Mitchell and Kevin Thomas were picked on. Holland worked both at corner and safety for the Ducks, a perfect fit in Woods’ defense that prioritizes versatile defensive backs.
Holland, like Rousseau, opted out of the 2020 season. His physical tools don’t jump off the page, but his football IQ always has him in the right position to make plays on the football.
How he fits: Woods has hinted at deploying a 4-1-6 defense. If so, he’ll need athletes like Holland, like Ward, in his defensive backs room. Andrew Sendejo and Karl Joseph have been productive in their first seasons in Cleveland, but an influx of youth is well needed, and Holland fits the bill.
Round 3 (No. 89 overall): Marlon Tuipulotu, IDL, USC
The Browns ranked 25th in DVOA defense, so yes, I’m going back to the well here in the third. Tuipulotu is a mauler up front. A three-year starter on the Trojans defensive line, Tuipulotu was named a Pac-12 First-Team honoree while finishing his career at Southern California with 8.5 sacks to go along with 104 tackles. According to our own Drae Harris, Tuipulotu displays a good bull rush and his relentless motor allows him to continue to pursue the football.
How he fits: Larry Ogunjobi could depart Cleveland if not retained in free agency, so adding depth to the front four would be wise. Sheldon Richardson is under contract through next season, and his presence would allow Tuipulotu to not only learn from the eight-year vet, but serve as a rotational piece before being thrust into a major role.
Round 3 (No. 91 overall): Paris Ford, S, Pittsburgh
Ford packs a punch. He has displayed a lot of the same traits that former Browns first-round selection Jabrill Peppers did in college. Elite physical tools, but very, very, raw as a pure centerfield defender looking forward within an NFL defense.
How he fits: The aggressive, rangy safety looks to fit best in a split-zone defense. The hope internally is for Ward to develop into a pure CB1 who, when put on an island, shuts down the opposing WR1 game-in-and-game-out. Ford would thrive in Woods’ defense that allows safeties to line up in the box, pursue in the run, and compete sideline-to-sideline both in Cover 2 and single-high looks.
Round 4 (No. 109 overall): Hamsah Nasirildeen, S, Florida State
You can never have enough defensive backs. The wiry former Seminole is a steal here in the fourth round. He’s a top-75 prospect; to be available at No. 109 is value you simply can’t pass on.
How he fits: His floor is a slot corner working primarily in nickel and on special teams. His ceiling is an intimidating defender on the backend of a defense whose presence is game planned against. He has a chance to be a special player in the NFL. Nasirildeen touts outstanding length at 6-foot-4 with the innate ability to play in space—a must in the NFL—coupled with the twitch and footwork to work both inside and out as a corner or safety.
Round 4 (No. 129 overall): DeAngelo Malone, EDGE, Western Kentucky
Just as depth is important on the backend, it is up front as well. Malone, the 2019 Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year, was in a class by himself among mid-major defenders. He runs circles around offensive tackles, according to our own Joe Marino.
How he fits: At just 230 pounds, Malone is seemingly still growing into his 6-foot-4 frame. He has ample amount of room to add weight to his build, which will help when facing much better competition at the NFL level. Questions loom on whether he fits best with his hand in the dirt or standing up at linebacker, but Malone has freakish raw tools that, if developed correctly, could prove to be a steal in this year’s class.
Round 5 (No. 167 overall): Chatarius (Tutu) Atwell, WR, Louisville
You didn’t think it would be an all-defensive draft, did you?
Atwell is an elite YAC receiver who would provide Mayfield just what he’s missing within the Browns offense. At just 5-foot-9, Atwell led all ACC receivers in yards and touchdowns in 2019, just a year removed from playing quarterback in high school.
How he fits: Stefanski has revived the Browns offense and Atwell would thrive within his ever-evolving scheme. A dangerous athlete with the ball in his hands, Atwell was used at Louisville similar to how the Chiefs deploy Tyreek Hill. Jet-motion, screens, sweeps, Atwell can do it all along with a nice route tree that hinges upon his ability to create space in both man and zone coverage.
Round 6 (No. 205 overall): Brian Robinson Jr., RB, Alabama
As Nick Chubb enters the final season of his rookie contract, I wouldn’t be surprised if Berry adds a thumper like Robinson late in the draft.
How he fits: Like Chubb (227 pounds), Robinson (226 pounds) packs a similar punch at the point of attack with slightly more burst in the hole than the two-time Pro-Bowler. While at Alabama, Robinson split duties with Josh Jacobs and Najee Harris, and with more carries, should offer great depth alongside Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
Round 7 (No. 249 overall): Dax Milne, WR, BYU
I also liked T.J. Vasher here, the 6-foot-6 wideout from Texas Tech, but Milne’s production this past season was just too much to pass on. He was Zach Wilson’s favorite target in an air-raid BYU offense. Entering the 2020 season, Milne combined for just 31 catches in his first two years on campus. He shattered seemingly every category in 2020, accumulating 1,188 yards on 71 catches with eight scores.
How he fits: Not only outstanding in the middle of the field as a possession receiver, Milne showed flashes of sneaky speed to get on top of the defense. With lingering injuries following Beckham Jr., and Jarvis Landry coming off of a career-low year in receptions, additional talent out wide couldn’t hurt Mayfield.
It’s been a whirlwind of a season in Cleveland. With franchise building blocks set in stone on both sides of the ball in Mayfield, Chubb, and Garrett, the Browns’ upcoming rookie class could provide the step the Browns need on their climb to their franchise’s first AFC title game appearance since 1989.