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The Browns can finally escape football purgatory by protecting Baker Mayfield

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A young defense also needed reinforcements if the Browns are going to end their long playoff drought.

Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Last season was supposed to be the year the Browns snapped their playoff drought. Instead, Cleveland collapsed in upon itself like a dying star and missed the postseason for the 17th straight year.

Almost everything that could go wrong did. The Browns lost their season opener by 30 points. Baker Mayfield regressed horribly. First-year head coach Freddie Kitchens was overwhelmed to the point where he was fired after just 16 games. Myles Garrett missed six games after his incident with Mason Rudolph.

On the plus side, there’s still plenty of raw talent for new head coach Kevin Stefanski to corral. That doesn’t mean there isn’t massive room for improvement, however.

Cleveland Browns (6-10), missed playoffs

Cleveland spent the last two seasons adding skill players to boost Mayfield’s offense. This spring, the Browns will have to make some upgrades across their offensive line to give him room to grow. Additions will have to be made to a defense that ranked 22nd in the league in overall efficiency as well.

Before free agency:

  1. Offensive line: Left tackle Greg Robinson is gone. Right tackle Chris Hubbard was a turnstile in 2019 (27 blown blocks in 13 starts). Upgrading either would be a major step forward for Mayfield, who was sacked 40 times in 2019.
  2. Safety: The Browns traded away Jabrill Peppers in the deal that brought Odell Beckham Jr. to town. They were able to get by with Morgan Burnett in his place last season, but he’s 31 years old and was just average last season. While Damarious Randall was better as a converted corner-turned-safety, he’s a free agent.
  3. Linebacker: The Browns’ starting front four brings a solid pass rush, but leaves something to be desired against the run. The easiest way to fix that would be to add some gap-filling linebackers who can step up and make stops at the line of scrimmage. Christian Kirksey and Joe Schobert filled those roles in the past, but each departed in free agency this spring.

What Dawgs By Nature wants most this offseason: The Browns have had mediocrity at best at the offensive tackle positions since the retirement of Joe Thomas two years ago, so it’s time they find their left or right tackle of the future. Signing Jack Conklin was a good start. The safety position is the top position to address on defense, as Randall is set to be a free agent and Cleveland used a rotation of several fill-in players at strong safety in 2019. — Chris Pokorny

After free agency:

The Browns secured one tackle when they signed former Titans right tackle Jack Conklin. They also added safety Karl Joseph, but he isn’t a long-term fix with just a one-year deal.

  1. Offensive tackle: Luring Conklin north was a great idea. It shouldn’t be tough to find a young, dynamic prospect to handle the opposite corner. The 2020 NFL Draft is loaded with insanely athletic tackles.
  2. Linebacker: Cleveland’s top three linebackers as of late March might just be Sione Takitaki, Willie Harvey, and Mack Wilson. If nothing else, the Browns are, uh, very young at the position.
  3. Offensive guard: Tackle got the most flak last fall, but Cleveland needs a boost on the interior of its line as well.

After the draft:

The Browns did what they needed to do with their first pick by taking Alabama’s Jedrick Wills Jr. at No. 10 overall. Wills is an immediate starter, though the concern with him is he’s only ever played right tackle and will have to make the switch to left tackle. Cleveland did not draft a guard, but it did get more OL depth on Day 3 with Washington center Nick Harris.

Donovan Peoples-Jones never reached his potential at Michigan, but the super athletic receiver could end up being a sixth-round steal. On defense, the Browns’ reinforcements all came from the SEC on Day 2: safety Grant Delpit and linebacker Jacob Phillips out of LSU, and Mizzou defensive tackle Jordan Elliott.

Dan Kadar’s draft grade: B+