With the 2019 NFL Draft in the rear-view mirror, it's a chance to get an early look at the 2020 NFL Draft for the Cleveland Browns. It's an opportunity to get familiar with a few prospects that could be on the radar, but also looking at what's on the horizon in terms of needs and questions that need to be answered.
The Browns are in position to be a contender in 2019 and everyone is hoping that when they get to the 2020 draft class, they are picking 32nd every round. Whether they take a meaningful step forward or go all the way, the team is still going to compete the following year and have some areas to improve.
One of the big questions facing the Cleveland Browns for 2020 is offensive tackle. Greg Robinson is either going to play well enough to get free agent offers the Browns can't possibly afford or he will play at a level where the Browns simply don't want him back. And they've got some interesting prospects like recently drafted Drew Forbes and undrafted free agent Brian Fineanganofo, but from here, it's unrealistic to expect either is ready to step in and protect Baker Mayfield at a high level in a year.
Tristan Wirfs, OT Iowa
6'5" 320lbs (Listed)
Age: 20 (Born January 24th, 1999)
Offensive tackle stands out as a massive priority for next year. As a result, they go ahead and grab Iowa offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs. Iowa has a pair of talented offensive tackle prospects with Wirfs and Alaric Jackson. Jackson is actually the left tackle, but there are many who believe Wirfs is the better prospect and looks more than capable of flipping.
Wirfs looks the part of a prototypical tackle and is fantastic in pass protection. He shows remarkable patience and body control, able to move fluidly with great hands and power.
His run blocking, meanwhile, is a complete juxtaposition. Wirfs can fire off the ball well, but he can play out of control and ends up resorting to attempting to dive to cut block when he's out of position. Wirfs is nasty, will drive opponents into the ground, but just needs to get more consistent in making the initial block, hitting moving targets. If he can do that and tests well as an athlete, he could be an outstanding prospect when he decides to enter the draft.
The Browns added what they hope is a franchise altering piece to their offense in Odell Beckham. After 2019, the Browns are likely to lose one, perhaps two of the other receivers on their roster. Rashard Higgins signed a restricted tender, but if he has a similar season as he did in 2018 or better, other teams will offer more than the Browns are able.
Meanwhile, Jarvis Landry faces pressure to live up to the hefty price tag on his contract. If he's unable, the Browns may look into a restructure and Landry may want to get more money elsewhere. That would leave the Browns with Antonio Callaway, who shows immense potential but is a concern with his off field history and a group of receivers that haven't proven anything in the NFL.
Tyler Johnson, WR Minnesota
6'2" 200lbs (Listed)
78 receptions for 1,169 yards (43%) in 2018.
In a effort to keep Baker Mayfield loaded with weapons, they could look to make an early draft pick at receiver that would simultaneously cost very little in terms of their salary cap. Tyler Johnson of Minnesota was one of the most productive receivers in the country this past season, period.He's also got pretty good size and shows ability after the catch, which fits Mayfield really well.
Johnson shows remarkable ability tracking and making plays on deep balls as well as being able to find space and maneuver through traffic underneath.
It's not clear just how much long speed Johnson has but he shows great agility in creating separation as well as after the catch. He also has a huge catch radius and soft hands.
Johnson's versatility also makes him attractive as it relates to the Browns. He has experience playing and excelling both on the boundary and in the slot. Not only are the Browns facing the possibility of losing receivers, but Freddie Kitchens loves having the ability to move guys around and has shown he can create situations that put his players in position to succeed. Johnson could be a big beneficiary.
Johnson's production is elite, so it's really about just improving physically and adding to his skill set in his final season with the Golden Gophers. If he tests well athletically, he will have one of the best prospect profiles among receivers in 2020.
Linebacker was an area the Browns looked to address in the 2019 NFL Draft. Sione Takitaki has a ton of talent and potential, likely to start out as a SAM backer and then potentially grow into a more full time role with experience. Mack Wilson has the bigger name but far less in terms of evidence that he'll be productive.
Meanwhile, short of a combination of massive improvement and a restructure, Chris Kirksey looks to be in his final year with the Browns and Joe Schobert, who is fantastic, will be a free agent after this coming season. The hope is he will be locked up long term, but it's possible that he could move to WILL linebacker once Kirksey goes and then Takitaki or someone else could be good enough to play MIKE.
De'jon Harris, LB Arkansas
6' 244lbs (Listed)
Age: 21 (Born November 1st, 1997
66 solo tackles (15.4%) in 2017
Harris is a strong, instinctive linebacker that tackles everything in the middle of the field, but can go out and make plays out wide. Harris has put together back to back great seasons in terms of solo tackle market share. Sione Takitaki's 14.1% this past season is elite and Harris's sophomore campaign was better.
Harris is built for the physical nature of SEC football, taking on boss blocks and being able to deal with the consistent interior attack from a number of powers like Alabama and Georgia.
Harris is a downhill player that reads plays and feels his way through traffic at a remarkable level, able to make tackles near the line of scrimmage, giving up little ground.
He's also shown the ability to make plays in the passing game as well. Harris, like Joe Schobert, might be a player that plays heavier in college and then loses a bit of weight going to the NFL. The NFL is more consistently spread out and maximizing his agility could be more important than his bulk. Assuming the 244 pound mark is legit, Harris might be someone that gets through this season and gets down around 235.
If the Browns do the right thing and extend Schobert and potentially move him to WILL, they could have Takitaki and Harris competing for the MIKE backer job with the other ending up at SAM.
Harris has put together an incredible resume so far at Arkansas and he has a chance to elevate himself in the coming year as one of the top linebacker prospects in the country. In the mean time, he looks like someone who would look great in orange and brown.
One of the most delicate positions on the roster for the Browns is safety. Damarious Randall hasn't gotten the contract extension he thinks he deserves and there is at least a real possibility that he'll be gone after this season. Outside of Randall, the Browns have a fourth-round rookie in Sheldrick Redwine, an average starter in Morgan Burnett and a role player in Eric Murray. The Browns have to keep attacking the position in an effort to find more sustainable answers.
Jalen Thompson, S Washington State
6' 190lbs (Listed)
41 solo tackles (8.1%), 8 PBUs (21.6%), 2 INTs (16.6%)
Jalen Thompson has gone from Freshman All-American to only get better in each of the past two seasons. Slightly undersized in terms of weight, Thompson knows how to find and play the football. In the past two seasons, he has six interceptions
His solo tackle market share was better as a sophomore and hopefully he can put together a season where he puts up excellent production across the board.
Thompson has been excellent playing in the slot and offers some versatility in that respect, which fits into what the Browns currently have. They have a few defensive backs that can play all over the defense as well as multiple players filling one full job in strong safety.
Thompson offers the ability to backup the free safety position, play the pure coverage role of the strong safety and could find opportunities to contribute as a slot defender. If Sheldrick Redwine were to shine this year and the team moves on from Randall, the Browns could have Redwine at free and Thompson at strong in obvious passing situations to give them more coverage, more ability to play the ball.