While everyone is grading teams’ draft classes for this year’s NFL Draft, which is such a random thing to do seeing as how none of the players have yet to take a snap in the NFL, one NFL writer had a great idea.
It’s better to wait three seasons before you judge a draft class and seeing as how it’s been now three drafts since the 2018 NFL Draft, let’s look back at the draft class that started the turnaround for the Cleveland Browns. You could count the 2017 draft class which brought in Myles Garrett and David Njoku as the start but 2018 was the one that really got the ball rolling in the right direction.
Round 1, Pick 1 – Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
People can argue that Mayfield hasn’t been the best quarterback of the draft class and that’s fair to argue but there’s no denying that Mayfield was the right selection for the Browns at the time and still the right selection three years later. Despite dealing with the Hue Jackson/Todd Haley ordeal and the Freddie Kitchens experiment, Mayfield has thrown 75 touchdown passes to 43 interceptions through three seasons along with over 11,000 yards.
He turned the corner last year under head coach Kevin Stefanski and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt in 2020 and was one of the best quarterbacks in the second half of the season and the postseason. If he can come out of the gate in 2021 the same way he finished 2020, there’s no doubting the Browns selection anymore outside of Cleveland.
Round 1, Pick 4 – Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
Everyone thought this pick was going to be Bradley Chubb at the time but the selection of Ward made sense as the Browns didn’t have that shutdown corner at the roster while they did have already have a pass rusher in Myles Garrett along with Emmanuel Ogbah, and Carl Nassib who there was still hopes they’d make an impact on the defensive front.
Ward has become one of the underrated cornerbacks in the league being named to a Pro Bowl in his rookie season. Injuries and COVID-19 have limited Ward to missing at least three games in each of his three seasons but there’s no denying the talent he possess and how much of a vital part of the Browns defense he is heading into season four. Cleveland recently picked up his fifth-year option and there’s no doubt barring a major injury that he’ll be a member of the Browns for years to come.
Round 2, Pick 33 – Austin Corbett, Guard, Nevada
He didn’t work out for the Browns but Corbett has found a role in this league and is proving that he wasn’t as bad of a pick as fans made him out to be. Ultimately the problem was that the team simply couldn’t find a spot for him along the offensive line after trying him out at tackle, guard, and center.
By the time his second season rolled around, he still wasn’t a starter and the Browns shipped him to the Los Angeles Rams for a 2021 fifth-round pick which the Browns used on Georgia safety Richard LeCounte. Corbett started seven games at left guard in 2019 and then became the starting right guard last season appearing in all 16 games and was the 18th ranked guard in football according to PFF.
Round 2, Pick 35 – Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
People will say running backs don’t matter but you don’t find too many running backs like Nick Chubb. Since being drafted by the Browns, Chubb has become one of the best running backs in the league and if Derrick Henry didn’t exist, you could make the case Chubb is the best running back in the NFL.
Despite missing four games last year with a knee injury, Chubb rushed for over 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns while sharing carries with Kareem Hunt and is already over 3,500 yards over three seasons which only Jim Brown has more rushing yards in their first three years as Browns running backs.
Round 3, Pick 67 – Chad Thomas, DE, Miami (FL)
Thomas seemed to be more focused on his music producing than he was his football career, let’s all just be honest with ourselves. Watching his tape from his days with the Hurricanes, you could see glimpses of talent especially when it came to stopping the run and of course former Browns front office executive Alonzo Highsmith having ties to the Hurricane football program, it was easy to see why the Browns took a chance on him in the third-round.
Thomas only appeared in four games his rookie season. Despite having a scary neck injury during training camp in 2019, Thomas appeared in every game starting in eight games and making 26 tackles along with 4 sacks. The Browns waived Thomas last September and he did not appear in an NFL game during the 2020 season.
Round 4, Pick 105 – Antonio Callaway, WR, Florida
This selection caused controversy right from the start because of Callaway’s checkered past from his time at the University of Florida but when you watched the film, you could see the talent he could bring as a wide receiver. It didn’t help Callaway’s case that he was arrested for driving with a suspended license along with possession of marjiuana during training camp his rookie season.
Callaway had a solid rookie season with 43 catches for 586 yards and five touchdowns in 16 games (11 starts). However come 2019, Callaway’s demons were still there as he was suspended the first four games for violating the NFL’s drug policy. When he returned, he had eight catches for 89 yards in four games but after being late several times, the Browns released him in November 2019, after which he was suspended for ten games for violating the drug policy.
Callaway spent the majority of the 2020 season with the Miami Dolphins but never appeared in a game. He signed with the Kansas City Chiefs to a futures deal in January.
Round 5, Pick 150 – Genard Avery, EDGE, Memphis
This was one of my favorite picks by the Browns back in 2018 because of what he displayed during his Memphis days and what he could bring in terms of a pass rusher opposite Myles Garrett.
Avery put them on display during his rookie season making 4.5 sacks along with 42 pressures so many fans were excited about what he’d bring to the Browns defense during the next several seasons. However, he fell out of sorts with the new coaching staff and never saw the field in 2019 until the Browns traded him to the Philadelphia Eagles for a 2021 fourth-round pick (The Browns selected Cincinnati OT James Hudson).
Avery is a rotational piece now on the Eagles defense and now with a new coaching staff there in Philadelphia, it’ll be interesting to see what they’ll do with him.
Round 6, Pick 175 – Damion Ratley, WR, Texas A&M
Ratley was a nice developmental selection because of his measurables (6’2, 4.39 speed) but during his time in Cleveland he was always overshadowed by other wide receivers who were more talented. In two seasons with the Browns, Ratley had 25 catches for 344 yards and a touchdown.
Ratley spent time with the Giants and Texans last season before signing with the Lions in March as a free agent.
Round 6, Pick 188 – Simeon Thomas, CB, Louisiana Lafayette
Thomas never appeared for the Browns but did play in 12 games for the Washington Football Team. With a 6’3 frame and solid production at Louisiana Lafayette, it was easy to see why the Browns took a chance on him and may have had a plan for him but once he was waived, the Seahawks claimed him after the final cutdown in 2018.
The Browns 2018 draft class is obviously headlined by Mayfield, Ward, and Chubb and with very good reasons. They’re three of the cornerstones of this team and the turnaround of the franchise and organization. All three should be with the team for the foreseeable but of course, Chubb is the biggest question mark because of the belief that “Running Backs Don’t Matter”. There are some negatives that should be held against former general manager John Dorsey because Corbett didn’t pan out here and Callaway’s selection was a controversial one and didn’t ultimately pan out as well but overall it should be looked at as a very solid draft class by the Cleveland Browns.