The hope of any draft is that you strike gold and find that diamond in the rough for your team. That’s been the case since the beginning of time and for the Cleveland Browns it’s one area that they keep trying to get right.
They haven’t struck gold on too many draft picks in the past but maybe this could be the year. Cleveland doesn’t have a first-round pick in this year’s 2023 NFL Draft because they gave it away to bring in Deshaun Watson to play quarterback. However, the team does have eight picks in all including a second-round pick, a couple of third-round picks, and several later-round ones.
In the last few drafts, the Browns have done a better job of finding some players that are already making a difference like cornerbacks Martin Emerson (Mississippi St.) and Greg Newsome (Northwestern). But there are question marks for other draft picks like left tackle Jedrick Wills.
We all hope that the Browns are doing their homework, like many of their fans are doing right now in seeing what college prospects would look good in the Orange and Brown uniform. There is always a plethora of talent to sort through and find just the right player for that team.
Let’s dive into the defensive side of the ball for Cleveland in this look at several draft prospects that could be gems for the team:
1. Drew Sanders, LB/Edge Arkansas
The Browns have many needs in this draft. While their linebacker room has got some good talent in it already like Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Anthony Walker(recovering from injury), they still need more at this spot and Sanders could be a nice addition to the group.
He actually started his collegiate career at Alabama and then transferred to the Razorbacks after his sophomore campaign. He totaled 103 tackles including 13.5 for losses. He was a pain for the quarterbacks too as he sacked them 9.5 times. On top of that, he forced three fumbles, recovered another fumble, and had five pass deflections while using his size at 6’5 to help.
With the Browns bringing in defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz this year, a player like Sanders, who is still growing into his body frame and can play at different spots but has the hunger to track down the football with relentlessness might be a player to try to grab early in the draft. He’s projected to be a second or third-round pick. The Browns hopefully have some interest in this rising star.
2. Mazi Smith, DT, Michigan
When you read about Smith, the first thing you see over and over again is that he’s a great run stuffer and helped his defense out in taking up a lot of space in the interior of the defense. If you are a Browns fan, you know your team needs a couple of run stuffers. It’s one of the worst parts of the defense and has been a real problem.
Smith has been described as a monster and a player that has the physical capabilities to push his blockers back into the backfield of his opponent. When he plays against zone run games, he’s got good abilities to track the runner from the backside as well. Most scouts suggest he could move right into an NFL starting lineup on the line, especially on first and second downs.
The Browns have really struggled with finding talented players at the defensive tackle spot. They did draft Perion Winfrey last season and the fourth-round pick showed some promise by the close of the season. Having Smith join Winfrey on that line and maybe have the Browns also grab a player or two in free agency might be a good move by the club.
3. Jalen Graham, Safety, Purdue
The Browns secondary was not great this past season and they haven’t been good for a while for that matter. While they have Grant Delpit returning to play in the secondary as the strong safety, the team might be making some moves with their other safety John Johnson. Johnson came to Cleveland two seasons ago in a free-agency move that seemed at the time to be a great decision.
However, the former LA Ram hasn’t lived up to expectations and has found himself in the middle of controversy far too often, while being labeled one of the leaders of the defense. Johnson could be released or traded by the team and help save the team some funds.
In his place, the Browns could look to bring in a player like Graham, who had a steady career at Purdue. He’s not projected to be drafted until the later rounds, but his game seems like it would project well to the Browns. He has a good knack for finding the ball and tracking his opponent. When teams rush he can get downhill and is an excellent tackler. Thinking about players like Delpit and Graham playing in that secondary sounds very appealing if you’re a Browns fan.
4. Jeremiah Martin, DE/Edge, Washington
Martin has had a solid career playing for the Huskies up in the Pacific Northwest. He’s a big 6’4 and 265 pounds athlete who has great technique at the defensive end position. He’s got great instincts and can read the play well. He has a motor and plays to the whistle always giving all-out effort.
He started his collegiate career with the Texas A&M Aggies. While he played some there, it wasn’t until he transferred to Washington in his fifth year that he really started to excel. He finished with 41 tackles including 11 for losses and 8.5 sacks.
Like so many players in this year’s draft, many of them took the fifth season because of the 2020 Covid season. It will be interesting to see how that affects some players in the draft. The Browns have had a history of drafting players in the draft that are a bit younger, so we’ll see what they do this year with so many talented older players like Martin.
The Browns will likely need to add a defensive end or two and Martin sound like he has the drive to get better. His projected to be drafted in the fourth or fifth round so keep an eye on Martin for the Browns come draft week.
5. Ronnie Hickman, Ohio State, Safety, Cornerback
Last year the Browns surprised most of the fan base when they drafted cornerback Martin Emerson in the second round to start the team’s draft picks. Emerson had a great rookie campaign. The team still needs to build up this portion of the team as well. While Emerson, Greg Newsome, and Denzel Ward are the presumed starters they could use a draft pick on this rising star in Ronnie Hickman. Hickman also played safety for most of his career and could fill a hole in that area of the team if a veteran like John Johnson leaves.
Hickman is projected to be drafted in the third to fourth rounds and would be a nice addition to the Browns secondary. He’s a great tackler and can take on the bigger tight ends that roam the middle of the field. Hickman stands at 6’1 and has the strength to get to the runner if teams run the ball and get to the second level. He defends well on his wide receiver and reads the offensive plays quickly. He also has tremendous speed and long strides that help him get to the defender and break up passes.
Hickman was a regular starter at Ohio State. He finished his career as a Buckeye with 157 tackles, and three interceptions, including one he ran back for a touchdown. While he didn’t play great down the stretch for the Buckeyes, he still should be considered as a great player with skies the limit skills.
With so much talent being drafted in a few months, the Browns should be able to find a few great ones. It’s finding that one or two that will spell big returns that will be those gems. Let’s start crossing our fingers Cleveland fans that “this” is the year!
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