Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.
This weekend’s draft will be unusual for Browns fans because the team doesn’t have a first-round pick for the first time since 2008.
The Browns had multiple picks in the first round in 2018, 2017, 2015, 2014 and 2012.
So this year’s Browns draft has been met with a rare collective yawn. The 2019 schedule release generated tons more excitement than the draft this year. But it’s not as if GM John Dorsey is blowing off his second draft with the Browns.
Dorsey has eight picks, starting with No. 49 in the second round. He has one pick in Rounds 2, 3 and 4 and three picks in Round 5, plus a couple in Rounds 6 and 7.
Dorsey specializes in nailing picks in the second through fifth rounds. So his wheelhouse is still in play.
I don’t think Dorsey will use all eight picks. The roster has been upgraded to the point where only, say, five picks might make the final roster. Dorsey will either combine some picks to move up in a round – but not the first round – or trade one or two for higher picks in a future draft.
I’m picking the following five players to possibly end up with the Browns by the end of the week.
1. Cornerback Justin Layne, Michigan State, second round
Most draftniks predict Layne to be taken before No. 49. If that happens, my pick here would be another Clevelander, defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones of St. Ignatius High School and Ohio State. But given the choice of both, I think the Browns would side with the tall, long-armed cornerback from a program with a history of producing NFL cornerbacks. If everyone stays healthy, Layne might not penetrate the top three cornerbacks on the roster – starters Denzel Ward and Terrance Mitchell, and nickel back T.J. Carrie – but he is good enough to be developed into a potential starter as soon as 2020.
2. Tight end Dawson Knox, Mississippi, third round
I don’t think Dorsey is enamored with his tight ends. Sure, starter David Njoku is still young enough to justify his first-round draft status. His flair for the spectacular catch is enticing, and maybe Njoku keeps ascending into stardom. That’s the goal. The best offenses have two tight ends that can stretch defenses. It’s a luxury, to be sure. The Browns are stacked at all the other offensive skill positions, so they can afford the luxury of adding a second seam-splitter who can be a mismatch for defenses. Knox played in an offense that didn’t maximize the tight end position, but his 18.9 yards per catch average points to his athletic ability.
3. Offensive tackle Dennis Daley, South Carolina, fourth round
One of the myths about the Browns is that their offensive line needs plenty of help. Not so. But they could use a developmental tackle. Starters Greg Robinson and Chris Hubbard are fine. Backups Desmond Harrison and Kendall Lamm are OK. Harrison, who gave back the starting job after eight games last year, could still be the left tackle of the future. But if Harrison flames out, it would benefit the organization to have an alternative young tackle in the program. That’s where Daley could come in. He started 23 games the last two years at left tackle against SEC competition. He has an NFL body (6-5 and 317 pounds) and enough qualities to merit a middle-round pick.
4. Safety Marquise Blair, Utah, fifth round
The Browns have approximately $13 million in guarantee money devoted to starting safeties Damarious Randall and Morgan Burnett in 2019. Only Baltimore, Miami and New England have more dedicated to their starters. So, the idea that safety is a position of urgent priority in the Browns’ draft is off base. But Dorsey will want to identify a potential starter in case Randall leaves in free agency after 2019 and Burnett, 30, is ready to be replaced in 2021. Blair is a native of Wooster who can be molded for either the free or strong safety position.
5. Kicker Matthew Gay, Utah, seventh round
Why not spend the last pick on the best kicker? Look at the Browns’ last draft picks in the last five years – cornerback Simeon Thomas (2018), running back Matthew Dayes (2017), linebacker Scooby Wright (2016), cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olumo (2015) and cornerback Pierre Desir (2014). Only Desir has amounted to anything. The Browns have professed confidence in incumbent Greg Joseph, but they will bring in a competitor. Why not bring in the Lou Groza Award winner, an 86.2 percent field-goal kicker in two years at Utah who was perfect on 85 PAT tries? At worst, Joseph wins the job and Gay could be protected on the practice squad.