Cleveland Browns' draft picks show potential for future starting roles

BEREA, Ohio – Before the draft, Cleveland Browns general manager Andrew Berry noted that free agency was about “fulfilling immediate needs,” while the point of the draft came down to “maximizing talent” for “longer-term planning.”

Having no pick in the first two rounds of last week’s draft, the Browns probably didn’t select an immediate starter, unlike in past years. But that doesn’t mean Cleveland won’t benefit from this draft down the line. In fact, almost every player the Browns took could have a path to a starting role within the next couple of years.

Let's break down what this draft could mean for Cleveland in future seasons:

Third round (pick 74): WR Cedric Tillman, Tennessee

Tillman is going to be a key player in Cleveland’s receiving rotation next season. He will likely step in as the top outside receiver off the bench behind starters Amari Cooper and Donovan Peoples-Jones. But eventually, perhaps as soon as 2024, Tillman could be asked to replace one of them. Cooper, who turns 29 this summer, has no guaranteed money left on his deal, yet has a cap hit of almost $24 million the next two seasons. Given that Peoples-Jones is entering the final year of his rookie deal, the Browns likely won’t be able to afford both him and Cooper in the long term. That explains why the Browns used their top pick on an outside receiver, and Tillman’s development will be paramount for the Browns’ future offenses.

Third round (98): DT Siaki Ika, Baylor

To help last year’s porous run defense, the Browns signed DT Dalvin Tomlinson to a four-year deal worth $57 million, including $27.5 million guaranteed in free agency. Berry noted that Tomlinson and Ika could play together up front. But the 335-pound Ika will likely begin his pro career playing behind, and learning from, Tomlinson. The Browns need Ika to contribute right away, given their lack of proven depth up front inside. And Cleveland is banking Ika can develop into a starter down the line, either alongside or in place of the 29-year-old Tomlinson.

Fourth round (111): OT Dawand Jones, Ohio State

Maybe Cleveland’s most intriguing selection, Jones has a big frame (6-foot-8, 374 pounds). The former high school hoops standout also didn’t give up a sack last season for the Buckeyes – one of five FBS right tackles with at least 700 snaps to not allow a sack. Still, Jones is a bit of a project; he did have seven blown run blocks last year, second most among FBS right tackles. The Browns signed right tackle Jack Conklin to a four-year extension in December. They also just picked up the fifth-year option on left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. For now, Jones will have an opportunity to become Cleveland’s primary swing tackle off the bench (James Hudson III currently has that spot). And if Jones realizes his potential, he could also become a starting option should the Browns decide to move on from Conklin or Wills in the future.

Fourth round (126): DE Isaiah McGuire, Missouri

The Browns have been searching for a long-term pass-rushing partner for All-Pro Myles Garrett. Cleveland signed Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, 28, to a three-year deal worth $12.5 million guaranteed this offseason. Okoronkwo has only 9.5 career sacks, but he did rank 13th last year in pass rush win rate (19.0%) despite facing the eighth-highest double-team rate (22.6%) with the Houston Texans. Either way, Cleveland needed more pass-rushing. With 2022 rookies Isaiah Thomas and Alex Wright the only other ends on the roster, McGuire will have to help right away. But he’ll have every opportunity to eventually become that permanent starting option opposite Garrett in time.

Fifth round (140): QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA

The exception to this year’s draft class, Thompson-Robinson won't replace Deshaun Watson in 2023 barring injuries, but the Browns still need to decide on Watson’s long-term backup with Jacoby Brissett now in Washington. For now, that’s Joshua Dobbs. But Thompson-Robinson should push former third-round pick Kellen Mond to be Cleveland’s preferred developmental QB on the practice squad, which could set him up to take over as Watson’s backup later on.

Fifth round (142): CB Cameron Mitchell, Northwestern

The Browns have depth at corner. But in the AFC, no defense can have enough quality players at that position. Berry lauded Mitchell’s versatility to play outside or in the slot, which could make him a key backup next season behind starting outside corners Denzel Ward and Martin Emerson Jr. and nickelback Greg Newsome II. Mitchell will have the chance to also position himself as the heir apparent at any of Cleveland’s corner spots in future seasons.

Sixth round (190): C Luke Wypler, Ohio State

Despite already having two starting-caliber centers in Ethan Pocic and Nick Harris, the Browns couldn’t pass up on the value Wypler presented as a sixth-round pick. According to Sports Info Solutions, Wypler didn’t give up a sack at Ohio State in his two years as the starting center. He also allowed only five pressures last season (three of those came in the loss to Michigan). At the least, grabbing Wypler was insurance for Harris, who is coming off a season-ending knee injury. At the most, Wypler could emerge as Cleveland’s starting center before the end of his rookie deal.