As the Cleveland Browns were limping toward the finish line of their disastrous 2022 season, the team already had one eye on the offseason.
The year began with many believing that veteran quarterback Jacoby Brissett could win just enough games for Cleveland before Week 13.
That’s when shiny new toy Deshaun Watson returned from suspension and would take the franchise back to the playoffs.
Unfortunately, by the time Week 13 arrived, the Browns were 4-7 and Watson’s return was ugly.
His first few games showed the nation that he was a quarterback that had not suited up for two years.
Cleveland split its final six games, and along the way, the roster was exposed for its missing pieces.
Team Needs for 2023
The defense suffered from costly injuries and the lack of an attack from the defensive line.
Defensive end Myles Garrett continued to shine, but the interior of the line, as well as Jadeveon Clowney, paled in comparison.
Cleveland drafted Perrion Winfrey and Isaiah Thomas last year and both are still learning their craft.
Clowney won’t return and it’s unlikely Taven Bryan won’t either.
The secondary will be without safety John Johnson III, who will be officially released on March 15.
The #Browns will release S John Johnson III at the start of the league year on March 15, barring a trade, sources say. Johnson was entering the final year of a three-year contract he signed as a free agent in 2021.
Still young at 27, he’ll have interest once free. pic.twitter.com/lQ9odcg5Py
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) February 28, 2023
Cleveland has good linebackers, but the position was depleted by injuries last season.
On offense, left tackle Jedrick Wills and center Ethan Pocic are question marks and it is strongly believed that running back Kareem Hunt will not be back.
It also wouldn’t hurt if Watson had another top flight receiver to throw to.
Looking ahead to 2023, the Browns have needs at defensive line/EDGE, linebacker, offensive line (particularly center and left tackle depth), safety, receiver, running back, and tight end.
Some of these spots most likely will be addressed in free agency, (which would benefit the team since it doesn’t pick until the second round due to the Watson trade).
However, here is a 2023 mock draft of the Browns, pre-free agency.
Round 2, Pick 42, Andre Carter II, EDGE/OLB, Army
Carter is a fascinating prospect who has made his way into Day 1 conversation in the past few months.
He is 6’6”, 265 pounds with room to add more weight in the pros.
One of the top-ranked pass-rushing prospects, Andre Carter II is grateful for his #NFL opportunity and will serve in the Army after playing, he says.
Carter will likely be a first-round pick.
— MLFootball (@_MLFootball) March 1, 2023
In high school, Carter was a wide receiver and tight end before transitioning to the defensive line and outside linebacker at Army.
As he developed on the defensive side of the ball, Carter improved each year.
After posting 14 total tackles, one interception, and one sack as a sophomore in 2020, Carter exploded in 2021 with 14.5 sacks, 41 total tackles, and a pick.
He was selected as an AP All-American, the first player from Army to make the list in over three decades.
Playing fewer snaps as a senior in 2022, Carter still had 41 total tackles, 3.5 sacks, and two passes defended.
Scouts note that Carter has a great wingspan that will keep ball carriers honest.
They also note he has great range from sideline to sideline, has quick/violent hands, is an aggressive tackler, great flexibility while maintaining speed, and has an explosive first step.
Another intriguing Day 2 Edge to watch is #Army Andre Carter II.
Recruited as a WR originally.
He has the raw physical tools scouts love.
6’7 260lbs. A prospect who will need to time/coaching to develop.
15.5 sacks in 2021 👀
— Jared Tokarz (@JaredNFLDraft) January 23, 2023
Most likely, Carter will play at outside linebacker and even at EDGE in the NFL when he gains more weight.
His weaknesses include exposure to cut blocks due to his height, not always using his legs to drive through a tackle, and issues fighting off blocks in run support.
Carter and other military personnel were granted an opportunity recently by the federal government to defer their service so they can pursue pro sports.
The talent is there with Carter and the Browns can develop him into a positive asset to eventually play opposite of Garrett.
Some NFL personnel directors think Carter could surprise people and go in the first round.
If he doesn’t, Carter is a diamond in the rough.
Round 3, Pick 98, Moro Ojomo, IDL, Texas
Ojomo couldn’t wait to get to college and became a freshman at just 16 years old.
He was a defensive MVP at the 6A level in Texas as a senior and was a three-star recruit as a prep player.
Each year Ojomo played for the Longhorns he improved, eventually starting 30 games and playing in 50.
As a fifth year senior in 2022, Ojomo had 33 total tackles, three sacks, and had 18 quarterback hurries.
Texas DT Moro Ojomo this season:
🤘 90.0 PFF Grade (5th)
🤘 90.3 Run Defense Grade (5th)
🤘 85.5 Pass Rush Grade (3rd)
🤘 18% Pass Rush Win Rate (3rd) pic.twitter.com/opNGwgiKWk
— PFF College (@PFF_College) November 23, 2022
Scouts league-wide have noted the 6’3”, 281 pound Ojomo is very good against the run and solid as a pass rusher.
He has powerful hands and throws blockers aside quickly to find the ball.
Ojomo has good flexibility and a powerful core to wade through the ruckus.
Scouts also note Ojomo can stand too tall after the snap, which hurts his pass rush.
He also needs to work on his counter moves and develop better pursuit angles.
The Browns need more depth in the interior of their defensive line and Ojomo can give them that.
NFL Draft Sleeper 💤 #Texas Edge Moro Ojomo
Only 6’3 280lbs but plays bigger with some violent hands. High motor guy. Best suited for a 4-3 scheme. 5th year senior who is battle tested.
— Jared Tokarz (@JaredNFLDraft) February 27, 2023
He is currently in the top ten for interior defensive linemen in several pre-draft publications including Pro Football Focus.
Round 4, Pick 111, Parker Washington, WR, Penn State
It’s hard not to like Washington as a player and as a prospect for the Browns.
My favorite underrated WR prospect in this draft class is Parker Washington.
He’s not the most explosive receiver but the way he uses his frame and physicality at the catch point/his desire to get YAC could make him an underrated day 1 slot starter for whoever drafts him. pic.twitter.com/Sl02w36Yl5
— Sterling Bennett (@49ers_Access) March 1, 2023
He’s a shade under 6’0, weighs about 212 pounds and played in the slot and outside as a receiver in college.
Washington was a three-star recruit in high school and matriculated to Penn State after considering offers from several other football factories.
In 2020 and 2021, Washington lined up in the slot for the Nittany Lions and hauled in a combined 100 receptions for 1,309 yards and 10 touchdowns during that span.
Then, in 2022, the Penn State coaching staff moved Washington to the outside where he collected 46 passes for 611 yards and two scores.
He was an All-Big Ten honorable mention after the season.
Feels like Parker Washington is flying too far under the radar
☑️ Early Declare (Age 20)
☑️ Slot W/ RB Build (5’10 212)
☑️ Tough RAC
☑️ Excellent Hands
☑️ Plays Big @ Catch Point
☑️ Elite Body Control
Day 2 draft capital likely up next
— Joe O’Leary (@TheHQNerd) February 24, 2023
Ohio State fans may remember Washington from this past season when he torched the Buckeyes for 11 receptions, 179 yards, and a score (although OSU still came away with the win).
Washington has great hands and is good at short to medium routes and deadly on deep throws.
He can catch the ball in traffic, has fast feet, is elusive in the open field, has great vision, and has a strong/durable frame for a receiver.
Washington will need to develop his routes better in the pros and get better at creating separation from defenders.
He most likely stays primarily in the slot in the pros and would be a good compliment to Donovan Peoples-Jones and Amari Cooper.
Round 4, Pick 126, Olusegun Oluwatimi, Center, Michigan
I’m sticking with the Big Ten for a moment and selecting Michigan center Olusegun Oluwatimi.
What I like about Oluwatimi is that he’s played, and succeeded, in both the ACC and Big Ten conferences.
Originally, Oluwatimi was going to play collegiately at Air Force after high school.
He then changed his mind after a year and transferred to Virginia.
In three years as a starter for the Cavaliers, Oluwatimi allowed only seven total sacks and became the leader of the offensive line.
Before his senior season in 2022, he transferred to Michigan and immediately became a starter.
Olusegun Oluwatimi allowed ZERO sacks in pass protection this season🤯 pic.twitter.com/uiOoL7sPW2
— PFF College (@PFF_College) December 9, 2022
Oluwatimi was the backbone of the Wolverines line this past year and did not allow one sack while also taking home the Rimington and Outland Trophies.
No matter the NFL team or scouting service, Oluwatimi is noted for his high football IQ.
He has good hand placement and initial punch along with the awareness to spot blitzers and communicate with his teammates.
Oluwatimi has also been praised for his ability to get out and crush opponents on the run.
Not much surprises Oluwatimi as he has seen a variety of defensive talent and looks throughout his college career.
Impressive rep here by Michigan C Olusegun Oluwatimi against Wisconsin DT Keeanu Benton. Oluwatimi has won four straight reps against Benton. pic.twitter.com/E0Wuy0LuCa
— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) February 2, 2023
Scouts note that Oluwatimi needs to work on his pad level, leg drive, and kick slide.
Depending on what happens with Ethan Pocic (he’s a free agent), the Browns could take Oluwatimi and have a potential All-Pro.
Round 5, Pick 142, Ivan Pace Jr., LB, Cincinnati
With all the injuries Cleveland had at linebacker in 2022, the team could use more depth.
Pace is Ohio-born and bred and he has spent a large part of his young life in the Queen City.
After leaving high school in Cincinnati, Pace attended Miami University of Ohio where he had seven sacks as a freshman in 2019.
Pace then had his best year at the school in 2021 when he had 125 total tackles, four sacks and an interception.
Cincinnati LB Ivan Pace Jr on his physicality:
“I just run through dude’s faces.”
Sign me up. pic.twitter.com/qVelu6onO1
— Ryan Fowler (@_RyanFowler_) March 1, 2023
In 2022, he transferred to the University of Cincinnati and collected 136 total tackles, nine sacks, and four passes defended while becoming the AAC Defensive Player of the Year.
The 6’0, 239 pound Pace is blessed with the proverbial “motor” designation that scouts love.
He’s got great instincts, sheds blocks quickly, is fast, spins quickly out of trouble and delivers a wallop to ball carriers.
Every Ivan Pace Jr. pass-rushing rep through 2 days at @seniorbowl
— Mike Renner (@PFF_Mike) February 2, 2023
Scouts note that his smaller size means that Pace could get swallowed up by large NFL linemen.
He’s also prone to over pursuing ball-carriers and doesn’t have great sideline-to-sideline range.
The Browns can give Pace a home where he can thrive alongside the likes of Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.
Round 5, Pick 144, Quindell Johnson, Safety, Memphis
With the loss of John Johnson III, Cleveland will need more depth at the safety position.
After winning two state titles in high school, Johnson attended Memphis and played right away as a freshman in 2019.
Quindell Johnson: ONLY defender in the AAC to record 75+ tackling grades in each of the past three seasons💪 pic.twitter.com/0HCk3DNzj5
— PFF College (@PFF_College) July 11, 2022
In his first two years with the Tigers, Johnson had five total interceptions and 139 total tackles.
As a junior in 2021, Johnson added 104 total tackles and one pick, then collected 77 tackles and four interceptions this past year.
Johnson developed into a reliable backstop for Memphis and could be counted on to make big plays.
He has the ability to close on routes quickly, tackles well, has quick/fluid feet, smooth hip movement and can play in man or zone coverages.
Memphis Quindell Johnson just makes plays. He tackles well and is a solid defender. Good burst of speed when closing to attack the ball at the catch point. Good player! pic.twitter.com/yhPD6Xnz3J
— Robert Cardona (@CARDONAFAM29) May 9, 2022
The 6’1”, 206 pound Johnson also plays well against the run and isn’t afraid to stick his nose into the scrum.
Scouts note that he needs to work on his pursuit angles, recognize blocks quicker, and be better aware of getting beat over the top.
Johnson would be a good developmental player for the Browns as he gains pro experience.
Round 6, Pick 190, Luke Schoonmaker, TE, Michigan
Browns tight end Harrison Bryant enters his fourth year with the team in 2023.
He has been a reliable player along with David Njoku, but Cleveland’s long term plans for Bryant are iffy.
The Cleveland tight end room could use more depth and I went with Schoonmaker here.
— Michigan Football on UMGoBlue (@UMGoBlog) January 9, 2023
Honestly, I vacillated heavily between Schoonmaker and Florida’s Will Mallory.
Ultimately, I went with the 6’6”, 250 pound Schoonmaker because he appears to have more upside than Mallory, especially at this draft spot.
During his career with the Wolverines, Schoonmaker was more of a blocker than pass catcher.
However, he went from 17 receptions, 165 yards, and three touchdowns in 2021 to 35 catches for 418 yards and three scores in 2022.
With his size, Schoonmaker will stifle a pass rusher and can slip out for a pass for a first down in the middle of the field.
Looking through draft rankings and I’m still really surprised when I see Luke Schoonmaker not among top TEs
Plus blocker, natural hands catcher, plus athlete, and can win in-line and in space as a receiver.
— Eric Galko (@EricGalko) February 22, 2023
Scouts note his soft hands, good footwork and foot quickness, ability to track the football well and separate from defenders, and can seal edges well when blocking.
Of course, Schoonmaker’s limited use in the passing game in college means he’ll need more work on his route tree in the pros and he’ll struggle with man coverage in the NFL.
However, if Deshaun Watson gets back on track and throws the pigskin downfield more often this season, that will open up holes underneath for the Browns’ tight ends.
That bodes well for Schoonmaker.
Round 7, Pick 231, Devonnsha Maxwell, IDL, Chattanooga
I thought about looking for a left tackle or running back here, but decided that Cleveland needs far more help along the interior defensive line.
Maxwell played five years at defensive tackle for Chattanooga and really came on strong during his final two years.
In 2021, he had 26 tackles and 12 sacks and added 35 tackles and nine sacks in 2022.
Maxwell ended his collegiate career as an All-American, All-SoCon, team captain in 2022, and was invited to the Hula Bowl and East-West Shrine Game.
— East-West Shrine Bowl (@ShrineBowl) January 4, 2023
During his 42 starts with the Mocs, Maxwell had 187 total tackles, 55.5 tackles for a loss, 28.5 sacks, and five forced fumbles.
The 6 ‘2, 300 pound Maxwell displayed good hand use and punch, a top-notch spin move, ability to free himself quickly from blocks, an array of pass rush moves, good flexibility, and a motor to envelop ball carriers.
Looks draftable and could give the Mocs back-to-back draft picks. pic.twitter.com/BS2AN2q7mT
— Devin Jackson (@RealD_Jackson) September 26, 2022
Scouts note that he needs to lower his pad level, play faster, and work on his pursuit angles in the pros.
Maxwell was frequently a Dean’s List and Honor Roll student while at Chattanooga.
Whatever he lacks in the NFL, Maxwell has the smarts to improve his game.