The Cleveland Browns had a very interesting 2023 campaign. Despite rampant injuries across the offense, Kevin Stefanski’s team finished an impressive 11-6 and earned the top wild card berth in the AFC.
The playoff run ended quickly with a blowout loss in Houston, one that shone the spotlight on some of the Browns’ biggest offseason needs. GM Andrew Berry won’t get to address any of those needs until the second round of the 2024 NFL draft since the Browns already traded away their first-round pick to Houston as part of the Deshaun Watson deal. Cleveland has just two selections in the first four rounds.
Where might Berry and the Browns look in the draft? Here’s one early pathway they can explore.
Second round: Xavier Legette, WR, South Carolina
Legette went from a guy who seemed like a throw-in on preseason watch lists into a viable Day 2 prospect with a breakout final season for the Gamecocks. His big frame (listed 6-3/227) serves him well as a target on comeback routes and crossers over the middle as well as in the red zone.
Legette needs some work on his releases from the line and finding openings against zones, but his hands and ability to bull through tackles after the catch are mighty appealing for the Browns. A lot depends on the offensive system a new coordinator brings into Cleveland, as well as on Legette’s athletic testing; he could wind up being selected much earlier than 54th overall if he tests and interviews well in the draft process.
Third round: Javon Foster, OT, Missouri
This is probably higher than you’ve seen Foster in mock drafts if you’re an avid draftnik. Projecting the promising Tigers OT No. 85 overall is a bet on the traits and growing skill of one of the most underrated prospects in the draft.
Foster’s footwork and body control both improved in his senior season, his sixth with the Tigers. His advanced age and occasional habit of falling off run blocks to his outside are viable detriments. The Browns and OL coach Bill Callahan have done a great job at developing middle-round picks in recent years, and Foster’s bulk, tenacity and effective use of his length on the edge are all traits the Browns seem to value.
Fifth round: Marshawn Kneeland, DE, Western Michigan
Kneeland might be best known for spurning Deion Sanders as a potential transfer to Colorado. It’s easy to see why Coach Prime wanted the Broncos strongman.
Kneeland offers length and powerful hands and shoulders. He uses them very well to create space for himself to attack either side of the blocker, and he can close on the ball in a hurry. Kneeland has surprising strength and a pretty polished football IQ for a player who entered college as a tight end. Arrow pointing up, and Kneeland fits the bill of a player who can set an edge opposite Myles Garrett but also play to his inside shoulder in a speed-rush package.
Sixth round: Two picks
First pick: Carson Steele, RB, UCLA
Second pick: Evan Anderson, DT, FAU
At this point in the draft, Berry has tended to look for players who provide a specific skill or role to fill and (hopefully) expand upon.
Steele is a physical freakshow, capable of squatting 675 pounds, and he should top all RBs in the bench press reps at the combine. He transferred to UCLA from Ball State and kept producing as an inside-out type runner with great balance through contact. He can also catch the ball well and makes up for not being overly fast by changing speeds and strides well. Sounds a little like what I wrote about Kareem Hunt many years ago when the Browns RB came out of Toledo…
Anderson is an active nose tackle in the mold of one-time Browns DT Andrew Billings. Listed at 326 pounds by the Owls after starting out college at over 350, his ability to collapse a pocket from the inside and shed blocks to get an arm (or more) on an interior run is impressive.
Seventh round: Beanie Bishop, CB, West Virginia
Bishop led the FBS with 24 total passes defended, including four interceptions. He’s well-traveled, playing three years at Western Kentucky, one at Minnesota, and his final year for the Mountaineers. The 5-11 Bishop is a high-variance type of CB in coverage; there aren’t a lot of uneventful plays in his direction, for better and for worse. His improved run defense in Morgantown helps him get drafted to a Browns team looking for a diamond in the rough to potentially replace A.J. Green as a depth CB.