By most accounts, the Cleveland Browns had a successful 2021 NFL draft. They addressed their 22nd-ranked pass defense by grabbing Northwestern cornerback Greg Newsome II, then traded up in the second round to snag Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.
After adding free agents like Jadeveon Clowney, John Johnson III and Troy Hill—and drafting other defensive prospects like Ohio State defensive tackle Tommy Togiai—the Browns should have a vastly improved defense in 2021.
NFL Media draft analyst Chad Reuter gave the Browns an "A' grade for their draft class, while Pro Football Focus lead analyst Mike Renner tabbed Owusu-Koramoah as one of the biggest steals in the draft:
For Cleveland, however, the defensive overhaul—and the draft bargains—didn't end with Round 7. After the draft, the Browns signed former Florida State defensive tackle Marvin Wilson—a prospect many regarded as a middle-round pick.
Wilson could prove to be one of the steals of undrafted free agency.
Why Did Wilson Slide?
The first question that fans may ask is how and why did Wilson fall out of the draft? If he was considered worthy of being drafted anywhere between Rounds 3 and 5, he shouldn't have been available post-draft. There are a couple of potential reasons to consider.
The most obvious is Wilson's injury history. He had his 2019 season cut short after undergoing hand surgery. His 2020 campaign was prematurely ended by a leg injury. NFL teams can and often are hesitant to draft players who could be an injury risk.
However, talent often trumps medical concerns, as evidenced by the Tennessee Titans' selection of Caleb Farley. The Virginia Tech cornerback underwent back surgery this offseason and still wound up going 22nd overall.
Had Wilson played at an elite level in 2020, he likely would have heard his name called. The problem is that he didn't. Wilson had just 17 tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack in six games. His Pro Football Focus grade dropped dramatically.
So, while Wilson was an impact defender in 2019 and 2019, he regressed this past season. That, coupled with injury concerns, likely scared teams away. At least, it was enough to prevent them from using a draft pick on Wilson.
Where's the Upside?
Wilson not being drafted doesn't mean that teams didn't want him. According to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, the Browns gave Wilson a $30,000 signing bonus and a guaranteed base salary of $162,000. By comparison, 2020 sixth-round pick Donovan Peoples-Jones received $186,608 in guarantees.
What Wilson received is a lot for an undrafted free agent, which as Pro Football Talk's Michael David Smith recently pointed out, suggests that he was heavily coveted.
"That’s a massive guarantee for an undrafted rookie, and evidence that Wilson had multiple teams bidding on his services," Smith wrote.
If Wilson was considered undraftable, why did teams view him as such an undrafted gem? The answer lies in Wilson's 2018 and 2019 game tape.
Heading into 2020, Wilson was considered an elite defensive tackle prospect. ESPN draft analyst Matt Miller—then writing for Bleacher Report—considered Wilson a first-round prospect in his way-too-early 2021 mock draft.
Coincidentally, Miller mocked Wilson to Cleveland.
"Marvin Wilson can play anywhere between the tackles and do it at a high level," Miller wrote. "The Browns can unleash him as a 3-technique, where he'll wreak havoc and free up Myles Garrett and a group of speedy linebackers to make plays."
What a difference a year makes.
The reality, though, is that Wilson can get back to being the player he was before 2020. According to Zierlein, carrying extra weight may have been Wilson's problem:
"Former five-star recruit who flashed good power, talent and motor in 2019 to back that rating up. However, Wilson wore excess weight in 2020, which slowed him and made him much less effective. His 2019 tape shows a classic stack-and-shed interior lineman with the strength and anchor to help control the line of scrimmage for 4-3 or 3-4 defenses."
Wilson will still have to prove that he can remain healthy and needs to clean up some technique issues. However, if he can shed some pounds, he can potentially be the same disruptive player he was in 2019—when he amassed 44 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and five sacks in nine games.
How Does Wilson Fit in Cleveland's Defense?
Now that he's a Brown, fans may be wondering what Wilson has to offer Cleveland's defense. The short answer is that he can be a valuable rotational player with upside.
"Under the tutelage of defensive line coach Chris Kiffin—who previously served as the San Francisco 49ers pass-rush specialists coach—Wilson could be much, much more.
"It’s clear that Wilson can take another step forward and develop into a balanced defender that is a featured part of an NFL defensive line rotation if everything comes together," Joe Marino of The Draft Network wrote in his pre-draft profile of Wilson.
Kiffin, who has coached defensive-line standouts like DeForest Buckner and Myles Garrett, should know how to get the most out of Wilson. Like Sheldon Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi before him, Wilson might not be a defensive centerpiece, but he could become a vital contributor.
With Richardson and Ogunjobi both departing this offseason—Richardson remains unsigned—Wilson will get the opportunity to contribute immediately.
If Wilson takes to his coaching and gets to an ideal playing weight, he can be a real problem for opposing offenses. He showed this ability in 2018 and 2019 and should be just as disruptive sandwiched between Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney.
Wilson can penetrate the backfield and gobble up ball-carriers at the point of attack. He should see plenty of one-on-one blocking with Garrett and Clowney on the edges and will get plenty of chances to make his own game-changing plays.
The next steps will be up to Wilson, but landing with the Browns gives him the opportunity to develop into an NFL star. Cleveland, meanwhile, gets itself one heck of a steal in undrafted free agency.