It’s Cleveland Browns’ mock draft time! Dynasty fantasy football is a year-round affair. A sharp manager will be thinking about all aspects of the dynasty season. Those managers keen enough to look ahead will be the ones that can grab themselves an edge over the competition. Managers will spend much of the dynasty off-season discussing incoming rookies and the related topic, the NFL draft. It is easy for us to fall in love with the next workhorse running back or prototypical alpha wide receiver, but a manager in tune with the entire draft class will find themselves ahead of the game. Whether it is the next road-paving interior offensive lineman or genetic freak edge rusher, we can find ourselves at quite the advantage come April by building an entire picture of how the 2023 class will play out. Those that prepare ahead will not often be surprised at the outcomes.
Credit for the mock draft simulation goes to ProFootballFocus. The team needs have come from this site. Compensatory picks have not been assigned and will not be in this exercise.
2022 Season Recap
Despite how the 2022 season played out, it was slated to be interesting for the Cleveland Browns. Hot off the Deshaun Watson trade and suspension, the team went into the year knowing they would be splitting time at starting quarterback between two players. Jacoby Brissett had a fantastic year, given the circumstances, and with some help from the defense could have handed over the keys to Deshaun Watson with a winning record.
Watson finished his suspension and finished out the year as the starting quarterback. It has been almost two years since he played in the NFL, and the rust was apparent. The hopes in Cleveland are that Watson can knock off that rust. Otherwise, this trade could be better. The team finished short of the playoffs with one of the worst defenses in the league. Defensive coordinator Joe Woods was fired recently as the franchise looks ahead to 2023 and beyond.
2023 Free Agent Departures
The Cleveland Browns have several key players hitting free agency this offseason. Unfortunately, the salary cap for 2023 is very tight in Cleveland. That means the chances of many of these players returning to the Browns in 2023 are slim. These financial constraints will affect the football’s offensive and defensive sides.
On the offensive, key contributors hitting free agency include Jacoby Brissett, Kareem Hunt, Chris Hubbard, D’Ernest Johnson, and Ethan Pocic. Pocic took over at center when Nick Harris went down with a season-ending knee injury in August. The former second-rounder had a breakout year and will expect a payday. Jacob Brissett and Kareem Hunt are other players who may desire a bigger salary and workload by switching teams in 2023.
On defense, Jadeveon Clowney, Deion Jones, Anthony Walker, and Taven Bryan are all hitting free agency. That doesn’t even cover the number of depth pieces that will also be hitting the open market this spring. Don’t expect many of these players to return unless Andrew Berry can restructure some contracts. The draft will be an integral part of reloading this roster.
2.42 – Keeanu Benton, DL, Wisconsin
Run defense was a significant weakness for the Cleveland Browns defense in 2022. The one investment that could change that immediately is along the defensive line. Last year, the starting defensive tackles for the Browns ranked among the worst in the league. Without a first-round pick, the team is lucky that Benton is sitting at 42. Keeanu was a Senior Bowl standout last month in Mobile and a highly productive player at Wisconsin. New defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz would love to work with a young player like Keeanu Benton.
3.98 – Michael Wilson, WR, Stanford
Andrew Berry and the Browns’ front office continue the run of Senior Bowl talent with Stanford wide receiver Michael Wilson. Wilson could be the player the Browns receiving room needs to advance to the next level. Wilson is highly athletic and can add the speed that the team requires. That is, if his medicals all come back clear. Michael Wilson dealt with a slew of injuries to end his college career. He looked explosive and healthy at the Senior Bowl earlier this month.
4.111 – Karl Brooks, EDGE, Bowling Green
Once again, the Cleveland Browns invest in the defensive line. The team must do everything possible to help and support Myles Garrett. Karl Brooks is a highly productive edge defender, but there are questions about the level of competition in the conference he played. He is a fourth-year senior from Bowling Green, part of the MAC. Brooks projects as a developmental edge rusher at the NFL level. Myles may be the best mentor that any man can play alongside. The hope is that he can improve his skillset to become an every-week starter. He has the athletic gifts; he just needs refinement.
4.126 – Trey Palmer, WR, Nebraska
We dip back into the wide receiver pool with a second pick in the fourth round. Trey Palmer, a former 5-star recruit, would make a solid addition. Originally committed to LSU, Palmer eventually transferred to Nebraska for the 2022 season. He spent all his time at LSU living in the shadows of Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase, and Kayshoun Boutte. Not a bad group of players to be stuck behind. As the leading receiver, Palmer was able to amass 71 receptions for 1,043 yards and nine touchdowns in 2022. He has some excellent top-end speed, one trait that is severely lacking in Cleveland.
5.142 – Ivan Pace Jr, LB, Cincinnati
Ivan Pace is one of the most athletic linebackers in this draft class, and the combine will only further solidify that status. He uses this athleticism to make plays all over the middle of the field and has no issue beating backs to the edge in wide-zone running schemes. He was also the primary signal caller for the Bearcats, a position often called the “green dot” at the NFL level. Despite being a fifth-round pick, I would expect Pace to make an immediate impact on the Cleveland Browns. Pace and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah will be one of the most athletic linebacking combos in the league.
5.144 – Kenny McIntosh, RB, Georgia
With the departures of Kareem Hunt and D’Ernest Johnson, an investment in the running back room should be made. Jerome Ford wasn’t given much chance to prove himself last season and will be given every opportunity to earn the backup role. McIntosh comes in as a proven back that can perform at the highest level of college football. He is an excellent receiver and can serve in the Kareem Hunt role, while Ford provides a more traditional backup to Nick Chubb. This running scheme is elite, and whoever the primary ball carrier is, produces for fantasy football.
6.190 – Puka Nacua, WR, BYU
The wide receiver run continues as the Cleveland Browns invest in forming a room for Deshaun Watson. This also marks the fourth Senior Bowl standout that Andrew Berry is drafting. Nacua made numerous sideline catches in Mobile and was one of the best at his position. Puka split his college career between Washington and BYU and comes from a football family. Both of his brothers have spent time in the NFL, and both played at BYU. The trend of athleticism in this wide receiver room continues as Puka projects to make an immediate contribution in year one.
7.231 – Brayden Willis, TE, Oklahoma
With the final selection of Cleveland’s 2023 draft, Andrew Berry selects a multi-position specialist. Kevin Stefanski loves having a fullback on his team; now, that position remains empty. Luckily, a tight end is available towards the end of the draft that can play both roles. I would not expect Brayden Willis ever to make a fantasy contribution so that he can be mostly ignored for your dynasty rookie drafts.
2023 Fantasy Outlook
There has been a massive investment in the wide receiver room in this 2023 draft class. We could have overdone it, but upgrades need to be made. There will be great camp battles this summer as these talented players compete with the established veterans for a spot on the roster. I can see any of these receivers pushing the likes of Anthony Schwartz, David Bell, or Michael Woods off the team. The cream rises to the top, which will only help the situation for Deshaun Watson and the Cleveland offense.
Kenny McIntosh is a fascinating landing spot that will push him down rookie draft boards. He will become an excellent value in the third round of rookie drafts this offseason. He can immediately take over the role that Kareem Hunt served in last year and provide some weekly flex viability. If Chubb were to go down, expect Jerome Ford to take over his workload. However, in that situation, McIntosh would only be a single man away from being the primary guy in this backfield.
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I hope you enjoyed this piece in our Offseason Primer series. Be sure to check back often, as I will cover all fantasy-relevant positions. For more content like this, follow me on Twitter @DanT_NFL. DMs are always open for questions, comments, or craft beer recommendations!