Browns NFL Draft recap: Takeaways and analysis on Cleveland's picks and process

The Cleveland Browns entered this draft with an eye on the future and fortifying the spots they had already invested heavily in. They did not budge from this position. And in their abbreviated two-day draft, they didn't budge at all.

For the first time in his five drafts as general manager, Andrew Berry has not made a trade. Perry considered Brown to be in the right place to draft for the future and didn't feel pressure to make a move or address an immediate need. Defensive rushing tackles are hard to find, so Perry started and finished the draft with them. The Browns love to collect offensive linemen and know their best players won't play forever, so they added Zach Zinter to the group.

Defensive tackle Mike Hall Jr. is a Cleveland native living a dream, but the Browns didn't choose Hall because of geography or familiarity. They believe he's a great fit for Jim Schwartz's defense and athletic enough to be a disruptive pass rusher for years to come. In the Ohio State-Michigan game in November, Hall took an awkward fall on Zinter that left Zinter suffering a fractured tibia and fibula. Now, Zinter and Hall are teammates. The Browns view Zinter as a strong, smart, athletic lineman who will be their starter of the future.

“Mike’s passion and energy and Zach’s steady presence (will add) to our locker room,” Berry said. “I look forward to seeing them put it into practice on the training field.”

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Browns NFL draft picks 2024: grades, fit and scouting reports

Berry said the Browns explored trades on the final day of the draft, but the Browns chose not to add picks and extra picks in large part because their 2024 team is mostly there — and they like it. They finished the draft on Saturday by selecting wide receiver Jamari Thrash in the fifth round, linebacker Nathaniel Watson in the sixth round and two players in the seventh round: cornerback Myles Harden and defensive tackle Juwan Briggs.

Thrush could work his way into the team's long-term plans if he can break down the approach he did during his college career, and Watson could have a direct path to making the Browns' special teams units this season. Watson led the SEC in sacks and tackles last fall, but was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving in early 2023 and had an earlier felony arrest stemming from a drag racing accident when he was in high school. Perry said he wouldn't comment on how other teams might view Watson, but the Browns were comfortable with his personality.

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Hall is just 20 years old and has never been a full-time starter at Ohio State. But the Browns have come far enough to know what they truly aspire to, believe Schwartz will be around for the long haul, and apply long-term thinking to every draft and trade decision they make or don't make. The next step for the Browns remains turning stability, organizational efficiency and competitiveness into long-term success and postseason wins. This is a realistic goal, but the chances of achieving it immediately will not change much this weekend.

Selections

Round 2, 54: Mike Hall JrD.T., Ohio State

Round 3, 85: Zach Zintering, Michigan

Round 5, 156: Jamari ThrashW.R., Louisville

Sixth round No. 206: Nathaniel WatsonLB, Mississippi

Seventh round No. 227: Miles HardenCB, South Dakota

Round 7, 243: June BriggsDT, Cincinnati

Choose the best value

Watson is the sixth player who is guaranteed nothing. But he will have the opportunity to make the team through match coverage, and his combination of size, speed and athleticism make him a player to watch. The Browns know there's a chance they can get a little help out of this draft right away, but in Watson they got a player who led the SEC in tackles and sacks last fall. That's at least noticeable, isn't it? After six years in college and a long wait in the draft likely bolstered by his arrest record, Watson comes to Cleveland with a chance to make a name for himself — and perhaps stick as a top linebacker. Berry said Watson might eventually be considered the type of player who is smart enough to call defensive signals.

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The most surprising choice

Thrash. We got here in such a nice draft and it seemed like the Browns were arriving as well. Thrash was not a return specialist in college, and although he was productive at the college level, he does not possess a single trait that stands out as exceptional at the NFL level. The Browns were slated to add to their wide receiver group, but it appears that once the prospects from the top few levels were gone, the Browns may have gone instead with a running back, rusher or cornerback here. The Browns selected Zinter over a group of wide receivers they saw in the Senior Bowl — and at least a few who were rated as potential second- or early third-round picks. The team prioritized Zinter and the interior of the offensive line over wide receiver in this draft.

The biggest question mark

The Browns don't feel like their roster is perfect, but they don't see a lot of holes or have a lot of questions. They knew they wouldn't have a lot of venture capital – and they considered it a good thing they were drafting for a year (or more) in the future. However, Perry resisting the urge to trade up on Friday night and add at least one fourth-round pick was difficult. We won't have any real answer on whether sticking with Hall and Zinter is the right move for a while, but for now, we'll assume the Browns really value these players — and never thought more than a few of their rookies would. He made their 53-man roster this season. Zinter says he has been cleared to return to football activities, and his leg injury may have forced him to relegate in some places. Maybe the Browns will end up with a long-shot steal.

remaining needs

If you think 2024 depends on the health of Deshaun Watson, Nick Chubb, and the team's best defenders and their salary level, you won't get much of an argument here. The Browns' roster-heavy roster has enough talent and experience to return to the postseason, and the team's moves over the past two years indicate that more veteran players will be added in the coming months. The Browns need more help at tight end, have almost no proven depth at linebacker and have uncertainty within the receiving corps. But as last year's post-draft additions of Za'Darius Smith, Rodney McLeod and Shelby Harris proved, Perry isn't finished yet. The Browns in March focused on keeping their team together and adding some veteran insurance at running back. We've seen ownership willing to spend big to help the front office address the salary cap and continue to add experienced players if Perry feels he has a realistic target. “In any room (situation), we don't feel like we're done,” Perry said.

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Post-Draft Expectations

The Deshaun Watson trade — options ones, anyway — is finally complete. The Browns have given up three first-round picks and six overall picks over the last three drafts, but pick 123 in this draft represents the end. The Browns have their own picks in the first four rounds next year, and they have a window to contend that only stays open if Watson can stay healthy and play well consistently. Although most other teams across the league added depth and young talent that the Browns did not this weekend, the Browns have long been prepared for this limited draft. They traded picks in this draft for Smith and Jerry Jeudy, and mostly liked what they had assuming there were healthy and positive rehab reports in the coming months. The Browns did not want to trade future draft picks on Saturday, and Perry will still get the green light to add him to the middle of the roster in the coming months.

(Top image of Nathaniel Watson: Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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