In the National Football League, priority number one is making sure that you can win your division, because you play those three teams twice a year, making up over a third of your schedule, and there’s no better route to the postseason than winning more games than your rivals.
While there are many facets to building a football team, there is none more significant than talent acquisition, and the NFL Draft is the biggest arms race there is in terms of constructing a roster.
With the 2015 NFL Draft now passed, it’s time to take a look at the AFC North and see how the Pittsburgh Steelers’ division rivals fared, finishing with the Cleveland Browns.
Round 1, Pick 12 (12): NT Danny Shelton
There’s no debating that the Browns came out of this draft with an impressive haul of talent, and it started with a bisection of BPA with need in the form of NT Danny Shelton at the 12th overall spot. Cleveland’s run defense had been underperforming for years, and Shelton is a plug-and-play starter there. AFC North centers are not happy about this.
Round 1, Pick 19 (19): OL Cameron Erving
And chances are Cameron Erving will be having his share of battles against Shelton in practice. Erving has the size to play all along the offensive line, but will likely be a day one starter at guard with the way Cleveland’s line breaks out. He also gives the Browns leverage if they lose either Mitchell Schwartz or even Alex Mack after this season. And he’s plus injury insurance for Mack, as center may well be his best position overall.
Round 2, Pick 19 (51): OLB Nate Orchard
The Browns lost Jabaal Sheard, and they may have upgraded their pass rush rotation on the cheap with Nate Orchard, who would have been my round two target for the Steelers if they went cornerback in the first round.
Round 3, Pick 13 (77): RB Duke Johnson
Smartly recognizing that they will need to adjust their offensive philosophy after being unable to find value at quarterback, Duke Johnson adds to an encouraging young running back stable behind a potentially very good run blocking offensive line. Johnson should emerge as the best of the bunch.
Round 3, Pick 32 (96): DE Xavier Cooper
This was a poor draft overall for true 3-4 defensive end help, which was another position of need for the Browns, so when Xavier Cooper was available at the tail end of day three, they made the move up to get him.
Round 4, Pick 16 (115): SS Ibraheim Campbell
Although the Browns have their starting safeties, they did lose some depth in free agency, and Ibraheim Campbell fills out that depth chart with upside and a history of college production.
Round 4, Pick 24 (123): WR Vince Mayle
The one knock on the Browns’ draft is that they weren’t able to, or outright failed to, address the wide receiver position before day three, evidently being overconfident in their free agent acquisitions at the position. Mayle has good size to fit the profile they were looking for in free agency and could fight for time as a number four as a rookie.
Round 6, Pick 19 (195): TE Malcolm Johnson
But the reality is that the Browns’ offense this season will involve a lot of running, which is why they doubled up on tight ends late in the draft. Of course, Malcolm Johnson project more as a Will Johnson-type rather than a Y end.
Round 6, Pick 22 (198): TE Randall Telfer
Randall Telfer, on the other hand, is an interesting tight end whose best college ball came early on and trailed late. Getting him in the sixth round knowing that he has played better than he has shown recently is a fair gamble.
Round 7, Pick 2 (219): ILB Hayes Pullard
Hayes Pullard is small, but he was highly productive in college. The Browns just added some big bodies along the defensive line that could help keep him clean to the ball.
Round 7, Pick 24 (241): CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu
When you’ve already drafted 10 players, you can use your last seventh-round draft pick on a cornerback with big medical red flags that otherwise has potential first-round talent. This was a no-brainer move that every team should have at least considered making, in my opinion, but the Browns were probably in the best position to do so.