Part of the Browns 2021 struggles are due to last year’s rookies.
The Browns have a problem, well, problems. One of the problems they’re dealing with that no one is talking about is the underwhelming and flat-out poor play from the rookie draft class of 2020. As of right now, the only player who’s actually having a “good” year is Donovan Peoples-Jones and he was taken in the sixth-round of the draft. While he’s playing fine, he’s far from an elite play-maker and is arguably better served as a team’s third or fourth option.
Not the second.
The rest of the players taken from the draft are average at best, and far from reliable starters. The worst of these may be Jedrick Wills, who has failed to live up to the lofty expectations that come with being a Top 10 NFL Draft pick. Heading into Week 11, Wills is fourth in PFF scores of all tackles and guard taken in the first two rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft, not counting Andrew Thomas.
Since Thomas was taken before the Browns were even on the board, it’s unfair to count him. We’re looking just at who was still on the board when Wills was taken. With that in mind, Mekhi Beckton (67.3), Tristan Wirfs (76.9), and Robert Hunt (60.0) all have higher grades, and second round tackle, Ezra Cleveland is just .5 behind Wills (58.0). Thomas has a higher grade as well, making Wills technically fifth but as the Browns had no chance of taking him, it’s again unfair to include him.
Considering how bad the Browns tackles have been protecting Baker Mayfield (30 sacks in 2021) and the fact that Wills has seemingly regressed as a pass-blocker, this is a huge issue. He’s only in his second year and he’s already taken a massive step back. Now, his linemate Jack Conklin had a similiar start to his career but he played much better as a rookie compared to Wills, and eventually came back to All-Pro status with Bill Callahan as his position coach.
If Wills can’t succeed with Callahan, how is he going to on a different team (assuming he follows in Conklin’s career trajectory)?
The Browns 2020 draft class is struggling mightly in 2021
Wills PFF grade of 58.5 is pretty bad but the rest aren’t better. As we’re just looking at the grades from 2021 so far, linebacker Jacob Phillips and interior linemen Nick Harris have not played a single down so far this year and with Phillips’ injury, likely won’t. Harris is behind J.C. Tretter, Joe Bitonio and Wyatt Teller on the depth chart, and has had injury issues all year, as well as recently testing positive for Covid.
Everyone else has no excuses. Defensively, Grand Delpit (51.5) and Jordan Elliot (59.2) have been barely passible players on special teams and look like stretches, at best, as starters. There’s this fan believe that guys who suffer catastrophic injuries like Delpit, or were taken late in the draft are going to be competent starters (see the 2021 draft class). A possibility does exist for those situations to come to fruition but more than likely these guys won’t get a second contract, let alone finish the first.
For second and third-round picks, Delpit and Elliot are severely disappointing.
Shockingly enough, the two best players from the 2020 draft are Harrison Bryant (62.6) and Peoples-Jones (69.0). Both men have value to the team but neither man is an elite play-maker or is even showing the ability to become such. Peoples-Jones can’t get open and Bryant is used far more as a blocker than as a pass-catcher.
They’re guys who can cobble together a good career in Cleveland, assuming they don’t price themselves out of the team, but it isn’t likely that these two men will ever turn into Pro Bowlers.
As for the Browns’ top pick, Wills, I had optimism that he could be a long-tenured, but average starter, for the Browns for the next decade but if his play doesn’t improve, it’s unlikely he’ll get a ffith-year with Cleveland; let alone a second-contract.