Now that a week has passed and the emotions have died down since the 2015 NFL Draft, it is time to really look at what the Cleveland Browns did. Though many expected general manager Ray Farmer to address wide receiver with one of his first two picks—Day 1 passed with the team adding no receivers.
After the team selected DT Danny Shelton and OL Cameron Erving in the first round, it was a foregone conclusion the team would leave Day 2 (rounds two and three) with a wide receiver. However, that was not the case—as Day 2 passed with the additions of DE/OLB Nate Orchard, RB Duke Johnson and DT/DE Xavier Cooper. In fact, it was not until the fourth round on Day 3 at pick No. 123 that team finally added a receiver, selecting Vince Mayle from Washington State.
Mayle would be the only receiver added in the 2015 NFL Draft class—one that saw Farmer make 12 rookie additions to his already young team. However, this does not mean the Browns failed to add potential weapons to their offense.
In the third round with pick No. 77, the addition of Johnson was certainly a surprise to many given the current roster situation at running back. But the former Miami Hurricane brings a different dynamic to the backfield, one that offensive coordinator John DeFilippo has been hinting at since the day he arrived. That dynamic is not only the ability to put his head down and fight for yards, but also as one of the premier pass catchers in the entire class of running backs.
Between the 2012 and 2014 seasons, Johnson racked up 2,599 yards and 20 touchdowns rushing on 381 carries. One of the most accomplished rushers in Miami history in just two seasons, Browns fans should be happy to add that type of production—but his 65 receptions for 642 yards and four touchdowns as a receiver should have the Dawg Pound salivating at what this kid can bring to the offense as an all-around weapon. Oh, and if that isn’t enough to get excited about—in 2012 he returned 27 kicks for 892 yards and two touchdowns.
The addition of Johnson to the “Baby Backs” from 2014 (Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West) gives the Browns one of the most intriguing running back situations in the league heading into camp. Neither Crowell or West have experience catching the ball out of the backfield, which by default means you can pretty much pencil Johnson into the rotation on third down and in passing situations. On top of that, his high level of production as a rusher—he has drawn comparisons to LeSean McCoy—could cut into the carries Crowell and West receive on early downs as well.
One aspect of the game that could make for some fun is Johnson’s ability to be split out wide as a receiver. Though he is only 5’9” and 206 pounds, putting the shifty back out in space could present some difficult matchups for defenses. It would also allow the Browns to have two backs on the field at the same time—likely providing nightmares for opposing coordinators in the process.
Next up on the weapons list is Mayle—aka, the best receiver in this class you likely never heard about (according to Washington State fans). With so many fixated on Amari Cooper, Kevin White, DeVante Parker and Devin Smith, the 6’2” and 224-pound Washington State product slipped through the cracks down to the third round. Despite reeling in 106 catches for 1,483 yards and nine touchdowns in 2014—148 for 2,022 and 16 touchdowns in his career—he fell to the fourth round thanks to a loaded class and questions about his speed (4.67 40-yard dash at the combine).
However, those concerns seem to not be a big deal when you watch him on film—as he looks to be a very gifted, natural receiver with excellent acceleration. In fact, after discussing him with two former writing colleagues of mine who both happen to be major Washington State fans, they had nothing but great things to say about him—stating the Browns got one of the hardest workers and best receivers they have seen at Washington State.
After Johnson and Mayle, Farmer and company next looked to the tight end position—one vacated by Jordan Cameron heading to Miami in free agency—later in the draft. Looking for strength in numbers, the team selected Malcolm Johnson No. 195 overall in the sixth round out of Mississippi State and Randall Telfer No. 198 overall in the sixth round out of USC.
Standing 6’2” and 231 pounds, Johnson has the ability to fill a dual-role as a fullback and tight end thanks to his versatility. In four seasons at Mississippi State, Johnson caught 79 passes for 1,148 yards and 10 touchdowns. Do not be fooled by Johnson not having the Rob Gronkowski size, this kid will fight for snaps early in his career as a safety valve in the passing game.
The final offensive addition in the draft, Telfer, is 6’4” and 260 pounds of pure nastiness as a blocker. He racked up 65 receptions for 648 yards and 12 touchdowns during his career, but where a lot of people think he will make an impact is as a blocker. He was known as an “aggressive, determined run blocker” throughout his career—and with the Browns focus on establishing the run with their three backs, he should be able to carve out a niche for himself in the team’s offense.
So while the team did not take a big-name receiver early in the draft, they certainly made some excellent additions to this team. Johnson and Mayle were the two key additions to the offense during the draft, but do not be surprised if you see both Johnson and Telfer make an impact at some point during their rookie seasons. And when it is all said and done, these four may have not been the offensive weapons you wanted—but they just might be the ones to help take the Browns to the next level in 2015 and beyond.
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