Cleveland Browns Successfully Target Defense And Speed In Draft

 Cleveland Browns Successfully Target Defense And Speed In Draft

The Cleveland Browns have almost no experience at drafting near the bottom of every round in the NFL Draft, but you’d never know it as General Manager Andrew Berry and his staff found plenty of upside while drafting on the downside of each round.

With the draft being held in the shadow of their own stadium in downtown Cleveland, Browns officials were ecstatic with their draft haul, particularly the first three picks which addressed the team’s three most pressing needs: a shutdown corner, a versatile, athletic, speedy linebacker, and a receiver who was the fastest player in the draft.

Selecting 26th in the first round, Cleveland’s lowest slot in 25 years, Berry was patient in landing his first-round pick, aggressive in reeling in a second-rounder, and opportunistic in the third round.

In the first round the Browns took ultra-confident, ultra-competitive Greg Newsome II, who was a three-year starter at cornerback for Northwestern.

“We felt comfortable sweating it out as Greg fell to us,” Berry said.

Newsome wasn’t so comfortable.

“I was expecting to go a little bit higher, so I was sitting there a little nervous,” he said. “The way I feel, if I’m not the first pick in the draft then everyone made a mistake. That’s the type of confidence I have. I could have been picked second overall and I still would have had a chip on my shoulder, and I’ll always keep that chip on my shoulder.”

Berry and Browns coach Kevin Stefanski are both big fans of chips on the shoulder.

“One thing striking about Greg is he’s pretty laid back off the field, but when he’s on the field he flips the switch,” Berry said. “He’s very, very confident, and highly competitive, which is something we love to see.”

That the Browns would use their first pick on a defensive player was no secret. That’s where the holes were on Cleveland’s vastly improving team, which reached the playoffs last season for the first time in 18 years. Prior to the draft Berry signed six free agents, all of them defensive players.

In the second round Berry added a second piece to his defense, but he had to scramble to do so. The target was Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, but when Browns officials felt another team was poised to swoop in ahead of Cleveland to take Owusu-Koramoah, Berry back-doored that attempt.

“I won’t go into the details, but we felt the need to go up and get him,” said Browns Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta, of the Notre Dame linebacker.

Cleveland did so through a trade with Carolina. Berry sent the Browns’ second-round pick, No. 59 overall, plus Cleveland’s third-round pick (No. 89) to the Panthers for Carolina’s second-round pick (No. 52) and fourth-round pick (No. 113).

With the 52nd pick, the Browns selected Owusu-Koramoah, who called being drafted by the Browns, “A glorious feeling. . . a monumental feeling.”

“I am very familiar with the Browns,” Owusu-Koramoah said. “I was watching throughout the season last year. Believe it or not, I was actually picturing myself in this scheme as I was watching them play last year, sitting down with one of my coaches from Notre Dame. It has been a blessing to see everything come to fruition.”

In the third round, the Browns selected the burner they needed for their offense, receiver Anthony Schwartz, from Auburn, whose time in the 40-yard dash, 4.2, stamped him as the draft’s fastest player.

“You turn on the film and Anthony just jumps off the tape to you,” Browns vice president of football operations Kwesi Adofo-Mensah said. “We like to think about the wide receiver position in terms of dimensions. We love the vertical presence and he’s not your typical track guy. He’s got a run-after-catch mindset. He wants to finish plays. You don’t always see that from guys like that.”

Schwartz gives the Browns a speed dynamic that was missing from the receiving corps last year after Odell Beckham Jr. suffered a season-ending knee injury in October.

“Every time you throw it deep, I’m grabbing it and it’s going to be a touchdown,” said Schwartz, who had 54 receptions for 636 yards and three touchdowns for Auburn last season.

“I think probably the theme of Day 2 of the draft with these two players really is speed,” Berry said. “Jeremiah, a versatile defensive player who can produce from multiple alignments, a high motor, great range, a quick processor and he is a perfect schematic fit for us at the linebacker position.

“With Anthony. . . he has world-class Olympic speed. He was a player who really impressed us throughout the spring process. Very, very smart. A very quick study. I think his best football is in front of him, but he has all of the characteristics we desire for a player to be a real primary vertical presence in our offense. We are excited to add both those guys to the team.”

The Browns also drafted the following players:

In the fourth round: tackle James Hudson (Cincinnati) and defensive tackle Tommy Togiai (Ohio State). In the fifth round: linebacker Tony Fields II (West Virginia) and safety Richard LeCounte (Georgia). In the sixth round: wide receiver Demetric Felton (UCLA).

“We really went into it to find player who fit their roles within our offensive and defensive systems,” Berry said. “Certainly, versatility is an added bonus, but really, we went with prospects that we thought were No. 1 very talented and No. 2 had the physical and mental characteristics to execute their responsibilities within our offensive and defensive schemes.”