The Cleveland Browns have received a makeover this offseason. General Manager Andrew Berry has been extremely aggressive in pursuit of improvement following Cleveland’s inability to qualify for the postseason in 2021. Berry appropriately responded by swinging a pair of blockbuster trades that reinvented an underperforming offense. First came the deal that saw the Browns acquire disgruntled wide receiver Amari Cooper from the Dallas Cowboys in exchange for a late Day 3 selection. Berry would then provide Cooper and the offense with a significant upgrade at the quarterback position by acquiring Deshaun Watson from the Houston Texans.
Berry parted with several immediate and future draft selections in the Watson deal, but Cleveland still owns four selections in the top-120 in the 2022 NFL Draft. As Cleveland looks to continue filling out its offense, the slot position is begging for an upgrade following the release of veteran receiver Jarvis Landry. It’s a position that carries more importance than ever before. The Browns created an astounding $14.9 million in cap space by releasing Landry, but must now consider drafting an appropriate replacement. Getting younger and cheaper at the position was always a goal for Berry.
We’ve identified three slot receivers Cleveland could target in the 2022 NFL Draft.
SKYY MOORE, WESTERN MICHIGAN
If the Browns have interest in drafting Western Michigan’s Skyy Moore, Berry will have to do so with his first selection (No. 44 overall). Moore has aced the pre-draft process by showcasing his high-level abilities at every stop. At the NFL Scouting Combine, Moore ran the 40-yard dash in a blazing 4.41 seconds and measured in with gigantic 10.25 inch hands, which qualified as the largest hands among his position in attendance. A 125-inch broad jump also showcased Moore’s explosion.
On film, Moore is a twitchy and elite athlete that gave defensive backs all they could handle on a weekly basis. Moore’s quick releases off the line of scrimmage routinely allowed him to create separation while providing his quarterback with an easy target in the passing game. Moore’s ability to then create for himself after the catch made him a threat to reach the end zone on a snap-by-snap basis. Moore has received some first-round buzz, but I believe he’ll be available when the Browns come on the clock at 44th overall. Pairing Moore in an offense alongside Watson and Cooper would help Cleveland elevate their game to the next level.
KHALIL SHAKIR, BOISE STATE
Khalil Shakir was Boise State’s offense throughout the 2021 season. He recorded a staggering 77 receptions for 1,117 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Shakir averaged a healthy 14.5 yards per catch and was the ultimate chain-mover for the Broncos. Boise State’s second leading receiver (Stefan Cobbs) didn’t even total half of Shakir’s output in the yards (421) and receptions category (34), truly proving that their passing offense essentially ran through Shakir.
Shakir traveled to Mobile, Alabama in January for the Senior Bowl and proved he has the talent to handle stiffer competition than he typically battled against at Boise State on a weekly basis. Opposing cornerbacks in Mobile struggled to match Shakir’s initial quickness off the line of scrimmage. A quick-twitched and nuanced route runner, Shakir possesses the separation quickness necessary to swiftly make an impact from the slot at the next level. Shakir has some long speed to his game as well, proven by his 4.43 result in the 40-yard dash at the Combine. Should the Browns decide to address some other positional needs before turning their attention to the slot receiver spot, Shakir could be available when the Browns come on the clock for their fourth team selection at 118th overall.
CALVIN AUSTIN III, MEMPHIS
The most electric fun-sized receiver in the 2022 NFL Draft, Memphis’ Calvin Austin III is a dynamic receiver that has scored a perfect 10 at every pre-draft event he’s attended throughout the process. It began at the Senior Bowl for Austin, who routinely put opposing cornerbacks in a blender despite losing the size and stature matchup pre-snap. Austin refuses to be intimidated by bigger and more physical cornerbacks. The 5-foot-8, 170-pound Austin was simply one step ahead of every cover-man he encountered throughout competitive practice reps in Mobile. Austin then put on a show at the Combine by running the 40-yard dash in a lightning fast 4.32 seconds. The Memphis, Tenn. native also leaped a 98th percentile broad jump of 135 inches and an equally impressive vertical jump of 39 inches.
Austin is an elite athlete that runs carefully crafted routes. Memphis’ coaching staff asked Austin to run the entire route tree and he responded by simply posting back-to-back 1,000-plus-yard campaigns. Austin could be available when the Browns take to the podium to make their second selection at No. 78 overall. Austin would satisfy Cleveland’s need for speed in the slot.