Update: We now have our comprehensive coverage of the Browns 2017 draft up. Find that article here.
After all the buildup, speculation and doubt, April 27th finally came and with it the first round of the NFL draft. Rumors about a possible Trubisky trade were still swirling, but mere hours before the start of the draft officially began, this news surfaced per NFL’s Ian Rapoport:
Description of the player the #Browns are taking at No. 1 from someone in the know: “One who is clearly, clearly better than anyone else.”
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) April 27, 2017
As the draft drew closer, it was fairly apparent that Myles Garrett was indeed going to be the Browns pick at number one. Many felt like the Browns were going to pick Garrett at one and use the 12th pick to take a quarterback, with Trubisky and Mahomes getting a lot of favorable buzz from Browns fans.
Round 1, Pick 1: Myles Garrett, Defensive End, Texan A&M
At 6’4’’, 272 pounds with measurable that stunned at the combine, Garrett brings a freakish athleticism to this Browns defensive line. He logged a 41-inch vertical, which is up there with the best in recent memory for defensive ends. Despite his size, he was the fifth fastest end in the draft with a 40 time of 4.64.
With those measurable, Garrett has all the tools to be an explosive pass rusher and has the size to get up there and swat some balls down at the line. The Browns logged only 26 sacks last season, which was 30th in the league. In his three years at Texas A&M, Garrett totaled 32.5 career sacks, putting him at seventh all time in SEC history. Garrett has the ability and the history to be an elite pass rusher.
The Browns got this right, even if it was the most obvious number one pick since Andrew Luck back in 2012. Garrett’s sheer athleticism is going to have an impact day one for the Browns, especially for their pass rush potential.
Bears Trade Up-Pandemonium Ensues
After the Garrett pick, the night got a lot less predictable. The Bears made a stunning with the 49ers to move up one spot and take Mitchell Trubisky, the quarterback out of North Carolina. There had been rumors about the Browns moving up from twelve to snag him, so this news came as a surprise to a lot of fans who had already started picturing Trubisky in the orange and brown.
With Trubisky now off the board, the Browns watched the Chiefs trade their 27th overall pick, a third-rounder this year and a 2018 first-round pick to the Bills all to move up to 10th spot and take Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes was the other guy the Browns had their eye on. He had a cannon arm and was rated by most to have the best deep ball in the quarterback class.
With both Trubisky and Mahomes off the board, if the Browns were going to go with a quarterback at 12, it was feeling like it was going to be Deshaun Watson. He was dubbed by a lot of people the best quarterback in the draft overall and he has far more experience than a guy like Trubisky, but the Browns had other plans.
In a surprising move, they traded out of the 12 spot with the Houston Texans. For context, OJ Howard, Jonathan Allen and Reuben Foster were some big names that were all still on the board at that time. In exchange for giving the Texans the pick at 12, the Browns got the Texans 25th overall pick this year and received next year’s first round pick from the Texans.
Round 1, Pick 25: Jabrill Peppers, Safety, Michigan
With the 25th pick in the draft, the Browns selected Jabrill Peppers, safety out of Michigan. While most refer to him as a safety, Peppers was dubbed a “swiss-army knife” coming into the draft because he was so versatile. In college he received Heisman consideration for his contributions all across the field.
Writer Al DiFranco had this to say about Peppers:
Opinions on Peppers vary in NFL circles. Some see him as a ball-hawking safety similar to Troy Polamalu. He is extremely athletic and has great instincts. He is one of the fastest defensive players in this year’s draft class, running a 4.46 at the NFL Combine. His tackling is stellar – he hits hard and has good technique. He is passionate about the game of football. And by all accounts, he is excellent in the locker room and in the community, having won the Lott IMPACT (Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community and Tenacity) Trophy for the nation’s most outstanding defensive player who also possesses high character off the field.
The reaction from Browns fans was mixed, with many seeing Peppers as little more than a special teamer who succeeded in college because he played against inferior athletes. At 5’11’’ he doesn’t have the height many wanted from a safety, especially from a safety that is going to have to cover AJ Green twice a year.
Despite these worries, Peppers’ versatility can help the Browns all over the field. The Browns may have passed on a chance to get a top fifteen talent, but they snagged a first-round pick and an amazing athlete that can have an impact on all sides of the ball.
It’s the first round pick they obtained for next year that really makes this pick a good one. With the addition of Garrett and Peppers, it’ll be interesting to see how this defense evolves under the guidance of Greg Williams.
2017 NFL Draft: See who was taken on Day 1 – NFL Draft First Round Results
Around the NFL: Reaction to Bears trading up to take QB Mitch Trubisky
Extended Draft Coverage: Taking a look at the Bills’ first one trade with the Texans
Round 1, Pick 29: David Njoku, Tight End, Miami
As Browns fans were still squinting at the Peppers pick, the Packers traded the 29th spot to the Browns in exchange for the Browns spot at 33 and the fourth-round pick (at 108). With it, the Browns drafted David Njoku, tight end out of Miami.
Watch the NFL coverage of the Njoku pick here:
“With the 29th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns select … David Njoku, TE, Miami.“
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) April 28, 2017
Njoku brings a nice size to the Browns receiving corp, standing at 6’4’’ and sporting a 37.5 inch vertical. Last year, when Cody Kessler was making starts Gary Barnidge saw a lot of targets, so we know Kessler likes his tight ends. As of now, the starting quarterback is unknown, but Njoku will make a nice big target for whoever is throwing the ball to him.
He averaged 16.6 yards per reception in his two years at Miami, and with a 4.64 40-time he’s quicker than he’d seem.
Update: Since this story came out, news surfaced that the Browns would be cutting veteran tight end Gary Barnidge. Barnidge caught 55 passes for 612 yards and two touchdowns last season.
Especially if the Browns are drafting a rookie quarterback, having a big pass catcher is going to make a difference. Njoku has good acceleration and cutting while running routes, so look for him to have a big impact on third down plays and in the red zone.
This first round by the Browns was very well executed. They didn’t reach for a quarterback, and when they didn’t get their guy at 12 they traded down and collected another first round pick for 2018, which really puts this draft on another level.
They still picked up three players with first round talent, two of which are going to have a big role in strengthening that Browns defense.
Overall Grade: A
The full impact of these moves won’t be felt until the 2018 draft, but from any way one looks at it the Browns had a great first round. These three playmakers should start making differences day one.