The old adage that defense wins championships may or may not be true, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a title-winning team that didn’t build heavily through the draft. Rookie classes, naturally, are evaluated on the perceived upside of the NFL newcomers, but which rookies are ready to contribute right out of the gate? And, how do they fit in with their new team schematically?
To help us forecast the immediate future of these NFL neophytes, we enlisted the help of draft guru Dave-Te Thomas who has served as a scouting personnel consultant to NFL teams for multiple decades.
Today, we continue PFR’s Impact Rookie series with his insight on the Cleveland Browns’ draft class:
Whether the formula works, or not, Cleveland came out of the draft after making a flurry of trades with fourteen youngsters to vie for roster spots. By trading down from the second overall spot, the Browns definitely added quantity, but you can see that they still have a primary need – quarterback. The Eagles packaged a deal with the Browns and went home happy with their quarterback catch in North Dakota’s Carson Wentz. Meanwhile, Cleveland invested $15MM in a quarterback who could go down as one of the biggest draft day mistakes ever, Washington castoff Robert Griffin III.
For a sum of $15,072,000 in 2016, Cleveland enters training camp with a quarterback stable that includes Griffin (7.5 mil), Josh McCown (4.7 mil), Austin Davis ($2.025 mil) and Cody Kessler (847K). While the coaches are saying all nice things about Griffin coming out of mini camp, one has to wonder if they’re not sold on him since they also kept McCown.
By the time the team was able to pick in the first round, they were not in love with the quarterback left behind (Paxton Lynch) and went after filling their second-biggest need at wide receiver, bringing in the electrifying Corey Coleman. The Browns stepped away from the usual “best available athlete” draft mode used by most teams, as they went for needs with their first four selections. Checking off the big need at receiver with Coleman, UCLA’s Jordan Payton and Colorado State’s Rashard Higgins, the team turned their attention to the defensive line that featured one of the worst sack units in the league.
In fact, they doubled down at the defensive end position, first, taking Oklahoma State’s Emmanuel Ogbah in the second round, followed by Penn State sack artist Carl Nassib in the next phase. There is talk of turning Ogbah into an outside linebacker, rather than playing him on the front wall, but the team should look back at their recent draft history to see how they utterly failed in their attempts to convert Barkevious Mingo, the team’s first pick in the 2013 draft, into a stand-up second level performer.
That plan could change by training camp, as recent pectoral muscle surgery by Desmond Bryant will sideline the starting left end for four-to-six months. That could give both their second and third round selections great opportunities to join the first unit. Early money says it will be Nassib, who rocked the backfield to the tune of 15.5 sacks during his breakout 2015 season. Ogbah chipped in with thirteen sacks and nineteen quarterback pressures. Last year, Cleveland finished with 29 sacks, which ranked 28th in the NFL.
When you look at the Browns’ entire draft picture, unless the first four players contribute immediately, if could be a head scratcher by the end of the season and yet another front office blow up. They invested a fourth round pick in Princeton tight end Seth DeValve, who was rated no better than the 47th-best tight end in the draft on most war room boards. He enters camp listed fourth on the depth chart and will battle five other tight ends for what will likely be three spots on the roster. The rest of their draft picks might be the perfect formula to put an insomniac to sleep.
There are plenty of question marks in this group, but these players could put exclamation points on their frosh seasons in the NFL:
First Round – Corey Coleman, WR (Baylor University, No. 15 overall)
Whether it is a fellow former Baylor Bear at quarterback or the aging veteran (perhaps the rookie from USC can make some noise later in the year, if all else fails), the Browns knew they could not go into the season with their obvious lack of depth at the wide receiver position. Knowing they needed a playmaker who could replace the 68 receptions recorded by Travis Benjamin, who left via free agency, their logical choice was Coleman, preferring the little speedster over other blue chip first round talent like Will Fuller, Josh Doctson, and Laquon Treadwell.
Sports hernia surgery prevented the Bears prospect from playing past the 2015 regular season schedule, but despite missing bowl action, he pulled in 74-of-127 targeted passes (58.27%), as he had twelve passes batted away from him and dropped four others. Even though Baylor quarterbacks often misfired (37 targeted passes to Coleman failed to reach him), his 74 grabs rank fifth on the school season-record list. He finished ninth in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision ranks with 1,363 receiving yards and he led the nation with a school-record 20 touchdown catches, shattering the previous mark of fourteen by Kendall Wright in 2011.
Among Coleman’s 74 receptions, he recorded 47 first downs (63.51%), converting 9-of-17 third-down opportunities. He gained at least ten yards on 38 grabs, including going distances of 20 yards or longer on 20 of those receptions. In addition to his 20 touchdowns, he had key catches to set up five other touchdown drives.
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After he generated 216 yards behind eleven receptions in the Kansas State contest, Coleman started to feel the effects from a nagging groin injury. During the course of his next four appearances, he failed to reach the end zone and averaged 46.25 yards per game on a total of sixteen catches. The sports hernia discovery would keep him out of action vs. North Carolina in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Soon after, Coleman announced that he would not be returning to school in 2016 and had entered the draft.
Coleman’s best asset is his timed speed, as he has more than enough quickness to elude in the open field, with adequate strength to fight for the ball in a crowd. He is the type of player that teams covet – one with the rare playing speed to stretch the defense, showing the burst needed to beat angles. He demonstrates excellent athleticism for his position, as few opposing defenders can mirror him on deep routes due to his speed. He not only has the speed to threaten the deep secondary – he also has the body control, lateral quickness, and change of direction agility to make the underneath catches.
The former Baylor star he has good eyes for locating the soft areas to settle in and shows good awareness for the comebacks. He is quick to recognize coverage and adjust to what the secondary gives him. He also is alert enough to know when he has to work back to the ball, especially when dealing with an erratic quarterback. Coleman is a classic deep threat, used mostly to stretch the field. He gives good effort working underneath, but there are still times when he will short arm when going for the ball over the middle or when facing the quarterback.
He can make some noise in 2016, particularly if Gordon is not reinstated.
Continue reading about the Browns’ rookie class..