Browns Draft Picks 2018: Grades and Analysis for Each Selection
The 2018 NFL draft has finally arrived, marking a major milestone for the Cleveland Browns. They're attempting to turn around a disastrous 1-31 start for head coach Hue Jackson over the past two seasons.
For the second year in a row, the Browns have the top pick. And of their nine total picks, five are set for Rounds 1 and 2.
Now, all the Browns must do is make the best use of their selections and hope that translates to better on-field results in a few months' time.
Here, we will be keeping track of every pick the Browns make over the three-day draft, with updates, analysis and grades for each selection.
Who will be their next young quarterback? And which other prospects will the Browns bring aboard? This is the one-stop shop for the Browns' 2018 draft experience.
List of Browns Draft Picks
The Cleveland Browns are heading into the 2018 NFL draft with nine selections. These are:
Round 1, Pick 1: QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
Round 1, Pick 4: CB Denzel Ward, Ohio State
Round 2, Pick 33: OL Austin Corbett, Nevada
Round 2, Pick 35: RB Nick Chubb, Georgia
[Round 2, Pick 64: Traded to Indianapolis Colts]
Round 3, Pick 67 (from Colts): DE/EDGE Chad Thomas, Miami
Round 4, Pick 105 (from Patriots): WR Antonio Callaway, Florida
[Round 4, Pick 114: Traded to New England Patriots]
Round 5, Pick 150: LB Genard Avery, Memphis
Round 6, Pick 175: WR Damion Ratley, Texas A&M
[Round 6, Pick 178 (from Colts): Traded to New England Patriots]
Round 6, Pick 188: DB Simeon Thomas, Louisiana-Lafayette
Though the Browns no selections in Round 7, their most important draft haul will come in Day 1 and early in Day 2, when the Browns make five picks within the top 70. The Browns traded their third of three Round 2 draft picks to the Indianapolis Colts for the No. 67 selection (Round 3) and the No. 178 picks (Round 6), also adding another Day 3 selection to their coffers.
Quarterback at No. 1 overall—in this case, Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield—was a no-brainer. The rest, however, are less easy to predict. Penn State running back Saquon Barkley may have been a target at No. 4, as well as North Carolina State edge-rusher Bradley Chubb, but the Browns chose to improve their struggling secondary via Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward. Offensive line was a Day 2 priority, a result of the retirement of longtime starter Joe Thomas in March; Cleveland thus selected Nevada's Austin Corbett to open the second round.
Regardless of who they select, the Browns are set up well to add high-impact, talented players to a roster in desperate need of them.
Round 1, Pick 1: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
As expected, the Browns used their top pick in the 2018 NFL draft on a quarterback. And as ESPN's Adam Schefter reported on Thursday morning, they chose Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield rather than Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen or any of the other top quarterback prospects in the class.
Mayfield, the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner and three-year starter for the Sooners, completed 69.8 percent of his 1,157 pass attempts at Oklahoma, throwing for 12,292 yards and 119 touchdowns to 21 interceptions. He also has some mobility, with 316 runs netting him 893 yards and 18 scores over the past three seasons.
There's no guarantee that Mayfield will prove to be the Browns' long-term answer for a quarterback position that has been nothing but a question mark for the team for nearly 20 years. As NFL.com's Lance Zierlein points out in his scouting report, "Spread quarterbacks have had limited success as have small quarterbacks. Mayfield falls into both categories and has to prove he can transcend those perceived deficiencies on the next level."
Stil, Mayfield is "accurate on all three levels," and shines when throwing deep. Mayfield "completed 53 percent of his throws of 21-plus yards over last two years" and "67 percent when on the move," and has all of the ideal intangibles for an NFL-level quarterback, particularly leadership and true competitiveness.
Now, the question is what the plan is for Mayfield moving forward. Browns head coach Hue Jackson said in March that veteran Tyrod Taylor will be the team's starter for 2018 and that "there is no competition." However, Mayfield's talent may push Taylor's command of the No. 1 spot during OTAs and training camp.
Regardless, Cleveland has made what should be a long-term investment at quarterback and selected the one player they wanted most. For that reason, it's hard to criticize the Browns' decision with their first-overall pick.
Round 1, Pick 4: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
The Browns used their second of two Round 1 picks in the 2018 NFL draft on defense. And while it was assumed that edge-rusher Bradley Chubb would be the choice, they instead focused on the secondary and selected Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward.
Ward appeared in 26 games over three seasons, becoming a full-fledged starter in 2017. He totaled 67 combined tackles, 24 passes defensed and two interceptions, with 37 of those tackles, 15 of his defended passes and both of his picks coming in his final, junior season.
At 5'11" and 183 pounds, the biggest question about Ward's transition to the NFL is how his size could potentially be a liability. As NFL.com Lance Zierlein wrote in his scouting report, Ward's "lack of play strength combined with his elite footwork might be the deciding factor for a move inside," adding that his "frame is somewhat slight and he feels small in coverage at times" and that "physical receivers can body him around at the top of the route."
This makes Ward a candidate to serve as a nickelback, at least to begin his career. However, that is no slight against his skills; third cornerbacks are as important a defensive position as any in a pass-heavy NFL that has thus cause base defenses to essentially be sub-packages.
Further, Ward has exceptional speed, running a 4.32-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. That, combined with his "supreme athletic ability," allows him to keep pace with receivers and "matches changing route speed stride for stride." Most importantly, Ward doesn't allow many completions—quarterbacks completed only 32 percent of their targets in his direction over the past two years.
While the Browns passed on an elite pass-rusher in Chubb to select Ward, that doesn't mean they chose poorly. Cleveland needs to improve a secondary that ranked 19th in passing yards and 26th in passing touchdowns allowed a year ago, and one that lacks quality at the top of the roster. Ward is a talented, speedy player who should help the Browns quickly improve their secondary.
Round 2, Pick 33: Austin Corbett, OL, Nevada
The Browns chose to address their weakness at offensive tackle with the 33rd overall pick, taking Nevada's Austin Corbett. Corbett took over at left tackle for current Browns guard Joel Bitonio and, like Bitonio, projects more to guard at the NFL level. However, this does not mean he's incapable of taking on the left tackle job. It's likely that his positional versatility is what caught general manager John Dorsey's eye.
NFL.com's Lance Zierlein writes that Corbett has "above average football intelligence." He "makes assignment adjustments quickly when faced with late, pre-snap movement by defenders." However, Corbett's use of his weight and "core strength needs work." An AFC offensive line coach Zierlein spoke with praised Corbett for being "smart and just solid all the way around" and views him as a "long time starter in the league." However, that same coach said "I think he'll end up at center," which presents a new host of questions for the Browns.
Perhaps the Browns believe that Corbett will be a worthwhile competitor for the left tackle position that currently boasts Shon Coleman, Spencer Drango and Donald Stephenson as candidates. But this may also mean Bitonio or even current center JC Tretter could be in line for a positional switch.
It is interesting, though, that the Browns chose against Texas' Connor Williams, who was Bleacher Report's Matt Miller's top-rated offensive tackle, for Miller's fourth-ranked guard. This was a pick made with a plan in place, but it's hard to immediately know what that plan is until the Browns' brass explains it.
Round 2, Pick 35: Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
With the likes of Saquon Barkley, Sony Michel and Rashaad Penny all off the board in Round 1, the Browns chose to act quickly in Round 2 to address their need for depth at the running back position. At pick No. 35, Cleveland selected Georgia running back Nick Chubb. Chubb now joins Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson, rounding out the team's primary group of backs.
Chubb was a four-year starter for Georgia, rushing 758 times for 4,769 yards and 44 touchdowns despite missing the majority of the 2015 season with a left knee injury. He bounced back with two consecutive 1,000-plus rushing yardage seasons and ended his career with a 6.3-yards-per-carry average.
NFL.com's Lance Zierlein believes that Chubb "has the size and mindset of a primary ball-carrier but lacks any one element of his game that jumps off the tape." But as a complementary back to Hyde and Johnson, he's a good fit for Cleveland's offense.
Chubb, continued Zierlein, "does a good job of running through arm tackles and initial contact with lower body strength and contact balance" and "shows proper level of discipline to keep runs between the tackles when called for rather than trying to bounce everything outside." But Chubb is not a pass-catching back—or at least wasn't used that way by Georgia, where he caught only 31 passes for 361 yards and four scores over four years.
But with Hyde and Johnson capable of handling third-down duties, Chubb's specific skill set may just be what the Browns need, especially after letting Isaiah Crowell leave in free agency. And just because Chubb wasn't asked to work on passing downs in college, that does not mean he doesn't have the capability if given the opportunity and the proper coaching. If Chubb was drafted to be the Browns' primary, three-down back, this pick may seem a bit of a stretch. But because he's instead a piece of the puzzle, the selection makes sense.
Round 3, Pick 67 (Trade from Colts): Chad Thomas, DE/EDGE/, Miami
The Browns opted to move down from their late second-round selection, No. 64 overall, and into the top of the third round, trading with the Indianapolis Colts to move to No. 67 while also adding another sixth-round selection for Saturday. With the pick, the Browns took Miami defensive end/edge-rusher Chad Thomas, who was Bleacher Report's Matt Miller's seventh-ranked edge-rusher on his final big board.
Thomas, a 247Sports 5-star recruit coming out of high school, became a bona fide starter in his second season with the Hurricanes and broke out in 2016, continuing that production into his senior season. He has 103 total combined career tackles, 26 tackles for a loss, 10.5 sacks and seven passes defensed. He totaled 4.5 sacks in each of his last two seasons and earned 12.5 of his tackles for a loss during 2017.
In his scouting report, NFL.com's Lance Zierlein writes that Thomas possesses "all the physical and athletic traits that a team could look for along the edge and he's versatile enough to play in an odd or even front," with the "desired NFL size with well proportioned, athletic body type that can keep adding muscle." His "smooth lateral movement can mirror running backs," and he has a "booming burst to close out quarterbacks and running backs when he locks them in." He is also "athletic enough to drop into space as stand-up linebacker," all of which could make Thomas a three-down player in Cleveland depending on formation.
Zierlein does warn that Thomas "gets by on athletic ability" and thus has "unimpressive production despite size and athletic traits." An AFC Scout also noted to Zierlein that Thomas "will be a very good NFL player or a bust" and cited his musical prowess (he plays nine instruments) to question his commitment to football.
Outside interests, though, are signs of well-rounded human beings, and it's clear the Browns have few concerns about his desire to work and improve. If he can play to his ability on an NFL level, Cleveland has made yet another move to build up a front seven quickly becoming a true on-paper threat ahead of the 2018 season.
Round 4, Pick 105 (trade from Patriots): Antonio Callaway, WR, Florida
The Browns traded up with the New England Patriots to start their third and final day of the NFL draft, moving from pick 114 in Round 4 to 105 (giving up a sixth-rounder) to select Florida wide receiver Antonio Callaway.
Callaway is an exceedingly talented receiver with whom the Browns met earlier in April, according to Josh Norris of Rotoworld. But he's also loaded with red flags. Callaway spent all of the 2017 season suspended for his role in a credit card fraud ring. He was previously charged with marijuana possession in 2017. And in 2015, he was investigated for sexual assault though was ultimately never charged.
He then failed a drug test at the NFL Scouting Combine in February.
However, Callaway's on-field prowess paired with whatever the Browns learned from him during his predraft visit clearly spoke louder than any of his past transgressions. In two seasons, Callaway totaled 89 receptions for 1,399 yards and seven scores. He also returned 55 punts for 653 yards and two touchdowns and returned six kickoffs for 176 yards and one score.
NFL.com's Lance Zierlein wrote in his scouting report that Callaway's "talent and explosiveness gives him a good shot at making a roster at some point, but being able to stay on track and reach his potential is starting to feel unlikely. If he pulls it together, he could become a dangerous NFL talent." Zierlein also highlighted Callway's speed as well as his ability to get open on shorter routes and against man coverage.
If Callaway's worst days are behind him, then the Browns have themselves a truly exceptional new wide receiver. If they aren't, however, he won't be an on-field contributor this or any year, making this a wasted pick. Up next for Callaway: finding out the consequences of his failed combine drug test.
Round 5, Pick 150: Genard Avery, LB, Memphis
The Browns chose to add more depth to the defensive front with their lone fifth-round selection, drafting Memphis linebacker Genard Avery at 150th overall.
Avery is Bleacher Report's Matt Miller's 14th-ranked linebacker on his big board. While Avery isn't likely to be a rookie starter, instead sitting behind incumbent Jamie Collins on the depth chart, his upside as a pass-rusher could have him on the field on a situational basis. He should also spend time on special teams in 2018.
In four seasons at Memphis, Avery displayed his impressive defensive versatility. He amassed 230 total tackles, 44.5 tackles for a loss, 21.5 sacks and had two interceptions, both returned for touchdowns. As a senior, he had 80 total tackles, 22 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks.
NFL.com's Lance Zierlein describes Avery as "a big, athletic linebacker with a history of production whether he's playing inside or outside linebacker." He added that Avery's "consistency of production across the board is impressive" and that he "tested off the charts with 4.59 40, 36" vertical leap and 6.90 three-cone."
Avery has room for improvement, though, with Zierlein noting that his "instincts and diagnosis from inside linebacker is below average" and that he often "defaults to arm tackles." These can be improved via coaching and early special-teams experience will at least help the latter issue. As a depth player with positional versatility, the Browns will likely find a spot on their 53-man roster for him this season.
Round 6, Pick 175: Damion Ratley, WR, Texas A&M
The Browns used their penultimate pick in the 2018 draft to add depth to their receiving corps, selecting Texas A&M's Damion Ratley at 175th overall.
Ratley wasn't extremely productive in college, with just 47 catches for 920 yards and eight scores over three seasons. His best year came in 2017, when Ratley totaled 30 receptions for 694 yards and six touchdowns while averaging 23.1 yards per catch.
That per-catch yardage makes it no surprise that NFL.com's Lance Zierlein highlighted Ratley's speed, explosiveness and athletic ability.
However, Ratley's route-running and toughness were described as weaknesses, with Zierlein noting he will need to develop the latter to make an impact on special teams. If he can improve in both of these areas, he could stick around in Cleveland beyond the summer. For now, he's a standard late-round developmental prospect with quality size and speed, which makes him worthy of a draft pick.
Round 6, Pick 188: Simeon Thomas, DB, Louisiana-Lafayette
The Browns used their final pick in the 2018 NFL draft to add depth to their secondary, selecting Louisiana-Lafayette defensive back Simeon Thomas in Round 6.
Thomas is versatile, having played both safety and cornerback, and was a starter over the past two years. He has a career total of 90 combined tackles, two interceptions and 19 passes defensed, with 12 of the latter coming in the 2017 season.
At 25 years old, Thomas is an older prospect; he served academic suspensions and was affected by academic-related NCAA sanctions placed on Louisiana-Lafayette. His age is one reason why he slid to Round 6. But the Browns had clear interest, with Thomas meeting with the team in mid-April.
DraftAnalyst.com's scouting report on Thomas notes that he "quickly picks up coverage assignments, plays heads-up football and nicely locates the pass in the air." Thomas is also "feisty, physical and works hard to break up throws," but he "does not consistently play under control and guesses wrong."
Thomas can be developed into a sub-package defensive back with time and attention; for now, he will have to prove his mettle on special teams.