Browns believe new regime’s alignment paid off in draft while picking players who fit schemes, desired culture

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The Browns hired Kevin Stefanski as head coach and Andrew Berry as general manager in January because ownership thought a partnership between the young Ivy Leaguers would create alignment.

But one of their first major tests didn’t come until the NFL draft, which began Thursday night and wrapped up Saturday evening. They’re confident they passed.

“Andrew and I see this thing very similarly,” Stefanski said during a Zoom video conference. “So when we’re talking about this draft, we have some cultural non-negotiables and then we have some schematic non-negotiables, and the coaches and scouts did a nice job of identifying guys that fit those two things.

“There’s a certain style of offense and a certain style of defense and definitely a certain style of special teams for the Cleveland Browns. When we’re going out, we want to see if we can identify the guys that can play to that style.”

To recap, in Berry’s first draft as GM, he picked seven players, the first four from the Southeastern Conference.

On Thursday night, the Browns selected Alabama offensive tackle Jedrick Wills in the first round (No. 10 overall). They’re confident he’ll be able to become their franchise left tackle after playing right tackle throughout high school and college.

On Friday night, they turned to the defense by picking Louisiana State safety Grant Delpit in the second round (No. 44 overall after trading down three spots). Then they chose Missouri defensive tackle Jordan Elliott (No. 88 after trading down 14 spots) and LSU linebacker Jacob Phillips (No. 97) in the third round.

On Saturday, they supplemented Stefanski’s offense by choosing Florida Atlantic tight end Harrison Bryant in the fourth round (No. 115), Washington center/guard Nick Harris in the fifth (No. 160) and Michigan wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones in the sixth (No. 187).

“Certainly you look at some of the spots where we wanted to get younger or wanted to bring in some competition at some of these positions, so we did that,” Stefanski said. “At the same time, you never know how the board is going to turn out, and you may take a guy you never thought would be there at that given moment. At the end of the day, if you trust the board, you’re usually right, and to this group’s credit, we really stuck to the board.

“We don’t agree on everything. There’s always some good conversations, and they’ve occurred even in the last couple days. We encourage push back from each other. We don’t want a bunch of yes men.”

Every analyst or scouting service has different opinions on players, too. For what it’s worth, a glance at a couple of notable rankings reflects well on Berry’s haul.

Dane Brugler, the draft analyst for the Athletic, ranked five of the seven players the Browns picked in his top 100.

They are Wills (fifth), Delpit (46th), Elliott (68th), Bryant (85th) and Harris (92nd). Phillips received a fifth-round grade and Peoples-Jones a fourth- or fifth-round value from Brugler. Neither made the cut for his top 100.

Popular analytics website assigned the following rankings to the prospects the Browns drafted: Wills (11th), Delpit (15th), Elliott (23rd), Harris (93rd), Bryant (147th), Peoples-Jones (159th) and Phillips (184th).

Stefanski, 37, spent the past 14 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings and watched veteran GM Rick Spielman run many drafts. Berry, 33, is the youngest GM in NFL history.

“There were times when guys were on the board which we did not think they’d be there, or there were times where you’re thinking of trading up and it didn’t work or you want to trade back and it didn’t work,” Stefanski said. “So I was really impressed how Andrew was able to navigate these last three days because it can be stressful. It’s more stressful than game day, I told him.

“But I think he did a great job, and I think he’s built for this. I think he’s got the right demeanor. He’s got the right amount of intelligence. … I was very impressed with how he operated. He knew when to have everybody be very quiet, and he knew when to take input. So he looked like a seasoned vet to me.”

Berry said it took a collaborative effort to execute the organization’s plan and vision for the draft.

“We’re pleased that we feel like we were able to add a number of young talented players to the roster this weekend who fit our offensive and defensive schemes,” he said. “We feel like we were able to address a number of needs across the roster on both sides of the ball. And then perhaps most importantly, we feel good about adding a number of individuals that embody the tough, smart, accountable culture that we’re trying to build upon here in Cleveland.”

Many are involved, but Stefanski and Berry are at the center of the new regime’s mission.

“I love working with Kevin, just period,” Berry said. “His insight, his calmness, his intelligence, it really doesn’t matter the situation that we’re dealing with, and certainly his presence is more than appreciated over the course of the last few days going through the draft.

“It’s not just his insight with how players married a scheme or his own individual evaluations. But he’s also such a great thought partner in terms of strategy, not just X’s and O’s but things we do on the personnel side or as we’re thinking through things on the clock. I really couldn’t ask for a better partner, really in any situation, and I’m really pleased with how our first draft has gone as a group.”

Berry traded twice. He added the fifth-round pick he used on Harris by moving back three spots in the second round (No. 41 to 44) via a deal with the Indianapolis Colts. He acquired a 2021 third-round choice from the New Orleans Saints by dropping down 14 spots in the third round (No. 74 to No. 88) and surrendering a seventh-round choice (No. 244).

The trade Berry didn’t make is even more notable. He kept an open mind about possibly dealing for seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams until he picked Wills, the No. 1 offensive tackle on the Browns’ draft board from the beginning, a nugget Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta disclosed Thursday.

Williams found a new home Saturday when Washington agreed to trade him to the NFC champion San Francisco 49ers for a fifth-round pick and a third-round choice in 2021.

Simply put, Berry explained the Browns preferred a tackle who could grow with their young core.

Like last season, they have plenty of talent. Whether they’ll be able to capitalize on it this time instead of flopping a la 6-10 under former head coach Freddie Kitchens is a question Browns fans hope the COVID-19 pandemic won’t prevent from being answered in 2020.

“Just because we’ve added players, it guarantees us really nothing,” Stefanski said. “So that’s where the work comes in right now with the coaches and the players in this virtual offseason. We have a ways to go. We’re definitely where we want to be, but I’m appreciative of the group we’ve been able to put together to this point.”


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