BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns won’t have a first-round pick in the upcoming draft due to the trade for quarterback Deshaun Watson.
But they didn’t have one last year, either, in the wake of the Watson trade. Cleveland then traded out of the second round as well.
How does the Browns’ unique 2022 draft class look after one year? We break it down heading into its pivotal second season.
CB Martin Emerson Jr., Mississippi State (Round 3, overall pick No. 68): Emerson was Cleveland’s highest pick last year. To this point, he’s also the gem of the class. The analytics wing of Cleveland’s front office, which coveted Emerson’s measurables (6-foot-1 height and 6-foot-7 wingspan) during the draft process, appears to have landed a long-term starting corner. The rangy Emerson won a starting job out of training camp and kept it. Emerson was steady and durable, and his ability to cover one-on-one was a notable reason why Cleveland topped the NFL in lowest opposing QBR (34.4) against man coverage.
DE Alex Wright, UAB (3, 78): Cleveland drafted Wright as a long-term project. But due to injuries, Wright had to play more than expected. Though he flashed promise, Wright still finished with a mediocre 5.8% pass rush win rate without a sack in 277 snaps rushing the passer. Wright is sure to stick in the end rotation. But Cleveland seems likely to pursue a veteran to replace free agent Jadeveon Clowney to pair opposite Myles Garrett. Maybe Wright can develop into a starter in time. He has the tools but still a long way to go.
WR David Bell, Purdue (3, 99): Bell finished his rookie season with 24 catches for 214 yards. At times, he displayed the hands that made him a prolific possession receiver in college. Bell had two receptions go for more than 15 yards -- and had zero go for more than 20 -- underscoring his limitations as a big-play threat. Bell’s run-blocking is underrated. But given its need for speed at receiver, Cleveland will likely pursue other options for its starting slot receiver in 2023.
DT Perrion Winfrey, Oklahoma (4, 108): Winfrey had a respectable run stop win rate of 34.7%, proving to be, at times, Cleveland’s most effective interior defensive lineman. But discipline issues plagued Winfrey’s rookie season (he was suspended by the team in Week 2 against the Jets and was a healthy scratch in Week 10 versus the Miami Dolphins). If Winfrey matures, he could develop into a key piece on the defensive line. After one year, that’s a big if.
K Cade York, LSU (4, 124): Since Phil Dawson left in 2012, Cleveland has struggled at kicker. By expending a fourth-round pick on York, the Browns were hoping they could finally solve that seemingly never-ending issue. York delivered in his debut, nailing a 58-yard field goal at the buzzer to beat the Carolina Panthers and former quarterback Baker Mayfield. After the opener, York was arguably the worst kicker in the league, making just 71.4% of his field goal attempts. York also missed a critical extra point in the fourth quarter of Cleveland’s Week 2 collapse to the Jets. The Browns are far from writing York off, but he’ll have to be much more consistent.
RB Jerome Ford, Cincinnati (5, 156): Ford gave Cleveland’s moribund return game a jolt when he permanently took over returning kicks in Week 10. He finished sixth in the league with an average of just over 24 yards per kickoff return. With Kareem Hunt likely gone, Ford will get an opportunity to win Cleveland’s backup running back job behind Pro Bowler Nick Chubb in 2023.
WR Michael Woods II, Oklahoma (6, 202): Woods caught five passes on 10 targets all season. But he worked his way into the receiver rotation late in the year after battling injuries in training camp. Woods now will have a chance to open next season firmly in the mix.
DE Isaiah Thomas, Oklahoma (7, 223): Thomas began to make his mark in Week 7, when he recovered a fumble that gave the Browns a chance for a game-winning drive in Baltimore. The following week, Thomas sacked Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow. Thomas was also a positive addition to the locker room and off the field, according to teammates and team sources.
C Dawson Deaton, Texas Tech (7, 246): Dawson tore his ACL during training camp and missed the entire season. Assuming they bring back starting center Ethan Pocic, Cleveland will enter next season with plenty of interior depth along the offensive line. That will make it difficult for Deaton to earn a roster spot coming off the injury.