The 2017 NFL Draft has come and gone, and the Cleveland Browns may have made the biggest splash of all 32 teams. The Browns were already the primary spotlight of this year’s event because of their ownership of the first overall pick, but the transactions that followed helped to paint a clear picture for Cleveland’s future. The Browns began the night on Thursday with two picks in the first-round and ended up making three first-round selections, while also acquiring an additional first-round selection for the 2018 NFL Draft. For the first time in years, Browns fans came away from the draft with what seems to be consensus optimism.
There’s a lot to love about what the Browns were able to do in this year’s draft. With the top overall selection, the Browns kept it smart and simple by selecting the best player available in Texas A&M Myles Garrett. Though that pick was not a shocker, it should still be applauded, given the Browns draft history. Garrett should be a terror for years to come, and should finally give the Browns the elite pass rusher that they have long lacked.
Instead of making a selection with the number 12 pick in the draft, with names like Deshaun Watson and Malik Hooker on the board, the Browns elected to continue cleaning out the cupboards in Houston by trading that pick for the Texans’ 25th overall pick slot in this year’s draft, as well as their 2018 first round pick. While some may question the move because of the great talent that was on the board at 12, the Browns were still able to fill a huge need by picking up 2016 Heisman finalist Jabrill Peppers. Peppers was one of the best players in college football during his time at Michigan, thanks to his extreme athleticism and versatility on the field. The Browns were able to look past a failed drug test at the NFL combine (diluted sample) and went with arguably the most talented player left on the board at 25.
Even after picking up two elite defensive talents in the first round, the Browns were not done for the evening. The Browns swapped a second rounder (33 overall) and a fourth rounder to jump back into the first round to nab 20-year-old Tight End David Njoku from the University of Miami. Njoku is an athletic tight end with a great set of hands who could immediately contribute to the offense. Njoku was a national champion high jumper in high school, so if that is any indication look for him to get plenty of red zone looks. It must be noted that Njoku will face immediate expectations with the recent release of former starting tight end Gary Barnidge. Barnidge was a key component of the offense for the past couple of years, but Njoku looks to be capable of answering the call at tight end.
Cleveland made most of its headlines in the first round, but not content after a 1-15 season, the Browns’ brass kept the hits coming in following round. The Browns may have found their future at quarterback in Notre Dame product DeShone Kizer. Kizer was once said to be the best quarterback in this year’s class by some scouts, and analysts, but he lost value to many after his Fighting Irish struggled in 2016. Still, this is an excellent pick especially considering his talent at number 52. With proper handling, Kizer may become the face of the franchise, and the long-sought answer to Cleveland’s quarterback troubles.
On day two, Cleveland also drafted defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi from Charlotte. Ogunjobi is hailed as the best player in UNC Charlotte’s short program history. He brings an intriguing and inspiring story with him to NFL, as he turned a life of potential obesity into a dream career in the NFL. Paired with Danny Shelton and the edge rushers on the roster, Ogunjobi can make a big impact on this rebuilding team.
The Browns addressed needs throughout the rest of the draft in the later rounds as well. Cleveland added Houston cornerback Howard Wilson, Florida State offensive tackle Rod Johnson, Florida defensive tackle Caleb Brantley, Arizona State kicker Zane Gonzalez, and North Carolina State running back Matt Dayes in round four through seven. Wilson has the chance to step in immediately and help out at corner, especially if Joe Haden is not healthy. Johnson is said to have talent much higher than his fifth-round slot suggests, as he will join a crowded offensive line scene. Brantley was a controversial pick, and potentially the only misstep of this class with a pending assault case on his hands. It is possible that he never even sees the field, depending on the outcome of the situation. Gonzalez was ranked as the top-rated kicker by numerous analysts, and could easily find himself to be the starter come fall if he beats out competition. Dayes will likely battle for a spot behind current backs Isaiah Crowell, and Duke Johnson Jr.
All in all, this looks to be the best draft in recent memory for the orange and brown. Though nothing is certain, and only time will tell if this class is as good as it looks, these young players appear destined to lead the city into the next era of Cleveland Browns football.
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