In the sixth installment of the weekly “Mock Draft Wednesday” series1, I present you with mock draft version 6.0 of the Cleveland Browns 2020 NFL draft, with the team addressing both offensive tackle spots, a playmaking free safety, a stud along the interior defensive line, and edge rusher that had lofty numbers in Conference USA. In this scenario, it was assumed the Browns sign slot cornerback Chris Harris, Jr. to a two-year deal and wide receiver Rashard Higgins to a three-year deal in free agency.
The 6-foot-5, 315-pound tackle is primed to protect quarterback Baker Mayfield’s blindside for the foreseeable future. The former Bulldog and Jacobs Blocking Trophy award winner is currently Pro Football Focus’ (“PFF”) number one rated offensive tackle and eighth-ranked overall prospect for the 2020 NFL Draft. He is the highest graded draft-eligible offensive tackle from 2018-2019 (91.3), with only 37 quarterback pressures allowed on 1,075 pass-block snaps in three years as a starter (equates to an extremely efficient 3.4% pressure rate, per PFF).
Additionally, per Jordan Reid of The Draft Network: “Thomas’ combination of power, sturdiness, and awareness helped him become one of the best offensive tackles in the SEC from an early age. Possessing a thick trunk and a beefy upper half, he has the requisite strength throughout his frame in order to dislodge defenders at the point of attack. An above-average athlete, he also has the foot quickness in order to match and mirror as a pass protector. Hands that are like vice grips, his best asset is the movement he’s able to generate on the first level prior to climbing to others. With a consistent anchor, he can also nail his feet in the ground to halt the process of rushers attempting to attack him down the middle. As a result, his current traits make him an ideal candidate to play either tackle spot and experience success quickly. He has the characteristics to eventually become a top 10-12 offensive tackle in the league with continued development.”
Andrew Thomas, OT, #Georgia:
• Wide body w/vice grips for hands
• Off the charts I.Q. and savvy (++)
• Bruiser in the running game
• Powerful – Leaves dents in defenders
• Reliable pass protector
• Downhill movement generator (+)pic.twitter.com/Sei9yMVx90
— Jordan Reid (@JReidNFL) February 14, 2020
Outside of left tackle, free safety might be the most significant need for this Browns team in 2020. Currently, former 4th-round pick Sheldrick Redwine is the only free safety under contract, which isn’t ideal considering the single-high safety looks that will presumably be utilized by defensive coordinator Joe Woods. As such, the Browns select one of the best single-high safeties of the 2020 class in former California Golden Bear Ashtyn Davis.
Davis accumulated 171 tackles, seven interceptions, 12 pass breakups, and 19 passes defended over 48 game appearances. The former Joe Roth Award winner (an annual award given by Cal to a player that best demonstrates courage, attitude, and sportsmanship) has all of the desired traits in a free safety, with speed, change of direction, and explosiveness. Per Joe Marino of The Draft Network: “Ashtyn Davis wasn’t recruited to play football but found his way to becoming one of the Pac Twelve’s best defensive players as a walk on. His best fit at the next level comes as a traditional free safety that lurks over top and uses his athleticism to work in pursuit. In addition, he has matchup-specific appeal to work in man coverage from the slot.”
California S Ashtyn Davis is a former track star with impressive tackling form and a strong motor.
Able to play in the box or as a single high, his versatility and athleticism should be on full display at the @seniorbowl.
Here are some of his top plays against Oregon. pic.twitter.com/69z02cN8iD
— Carter Donnick (@CDonnick3) January 18, 2020
The Andrew Berry-led front office will seemingly move on from right tackle Chris Hubbard this season, which would avail an extra $4.9 million of the salary cap. The position of need could be addressed in free agency via the likes of former Tennessee Titan Jack Conklin, but that would come at a steep projected cost of $70 million over five years (Over the Cap). That is a lot of cash for a player who has a well-documented injury history and whose skill-set not be the best fit in a zone-blocking scheme.
As a result, Matthew Peart from the University of Connecticut is the pick at number 74 overall. Peart stands 6-foot-7 and has a (combine-best) 86.5-inch wingspan, which is the ideal build for a pass-blocker in the NFL. He is one of the most athletic offensive tackles of the 2020 draft class, which bodes well for his fit in the aforementioned blocking scheme that will be deployed by Head Coach Kevin Stefanski. Lastly, Peart only surrendered eight sacks and five quarterback hits on 1,371 pass-block snaps with the Huskies (PFF). I love his fit with the Cleveland Browns, especially at a current third-round projected value.
The Browns rush defense allowed an absurd 5.00 yards per carry in 2019, which were the most in franchise history. As such, the interior of the defensive line could use an upgrade alongside veteran Sheldon Richardson and there may not be a better suitor in the middle rounds of the draft than former Mizzou Tiger Jordan Elliot. Per Benjamin Solak of The Draft Network: “Has great length throughout his frame, ideal mass, and not much bad weight at all. Uses length and upper-body power extremely well when initiating contact with his hands to shock offensive linemen into the backfield and disrupt blocking designs in the running game…High-ceiling even considering his impressive production/film so far in 2019; the sky’s the limit.”
Jordan Elliott: The only Power-5 interior defender with elite 90.0+ run-defense AND pass-rush grades. pic.twitter.com/QqwQBmqhiD
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) February 11, 2020
I don’t think #Missouri DT Jordan Elliott is talked about enough as one of the better DT prospects in this class. Strong, long and slippery.
Brown/Kinlaw is the top DT tier. And IMO, Elliott might start the second DT tier. He’s battling Blacklock, Madubuike, Gallimore, etc. pic.twitter.com/LvIgisYR5e
— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) February 6, 2020
Edge defender is a position of need for this team with no real rotational or potential starters behind Myles Garrett and Oliver Vernon (if retained).
In 2019, Highsmith had the sixth-best pass-rush grade in the country (91.4), coupled with 16 sacks that were the second-most (PFF). Granted, this was against Conference USA level talent, but the lofty numbers are worth mentioning. With some fine-tuning technique-wise by defensive line coach Chris Kiffin, the former 49er could add to his above-average agility and speed that tore apart lesser competition.
Round 6, Pick 168 (via Arizona Cardinals) – Lamar Jackson | Cornerback (Nebraska)
The Browns could utilize some depth at defensive back, as there are only a handful of viable options currently on the roster. Enter Lamar Jackson, who was a three-year starter with the Cornhuskers. Throughout his career, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound cornerback only allowed a completion percentage of 42.9% (PFF), while also accumulating 92 solo tackles, 22 passes defended, and five interceptions. Per Dan Kadar of SB Nation: “The first, obvious thing you notice about Jackson is his size. There just aren’t many 6’3, 215-pound cornerbacks out there. And the key to being that big at cornerback is utilizing it. Jackson often does in how he reroutes receivers and gets his hands on them at the line. If a team needs a corner who can handle 6’3 or 6’4 wide receivers, Jackson is your man. He is a little limited, though, as being an outside cornerback. He’s not the fastest on the field, and speedy receivers do give him trouble. His size also limits his flexibility and how quickly he can flip his hips and keep up on complex routes. Some may like him more as a safety.”
Round 7, Pick 222 (via Green Bay Packers) – Stephen Sullivan | Tight End (Louisiana State University)
In my opinion, the later rounds of the draft are when teams can afford to take “flyers” on players that underachieved, have untapped potential, or could be molded to fit a specific role. Former LSU Tiger Stephen Sullivan fits that description, as a player who all but disappeared from the Steve Ensminger offense during the 2019 National Championship run, only accumulating 12 receptions on 14 targets for 130 yards. Sullivan is a massive human being, clocking in at 6-foot-5 and 248-pounds with a wingspan of 85 inches (NFL combine best at the position group). The tight end would provide for another target in the red zone for quarterback Baker Mayfield with a wide catch radius and leaping ability (36.5-inch vertical leap at last week’s NFL Combine).
Who are your favorite prospects heading into the 2020 NFL Draft? What do you see as the team’s biggest needs?