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Reintroducing Browns’ draft picks and exploring their best potential fits
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Reintroducing Browns’ draft picks and exploring their best potential fits

Real football — or something close to it — is about to return to the Cleveland Browns’ practice fields in Berea, Ohio.

This weekend, the Browns host their six draft picks plus a small group of undrafted rookies and other players for their annual rookie minicamp. The draft picks and other players under contract will join the team’s formal offseason program next week. On May 21, Cleveland will hold its first of 10 organized team activity practices.

Rookie minicamp is mostly an orientation weekend with limited on-field activity. There’s an occasional veteran who participates as a tryout player or via injury exemption, but it’s mostly instructional and introductory. The Browns are trying to get their draft picks ready for the weeks and months ahead. With that in mind, we kick off rookie minicamp with a refresher and overview of the six draft picks and how each player best fits into the team’s plans.

The Browns explored other possibilities with their first pick of this year’s draft, but they always had Hall near the top of their list because of his athleticism and natural pass-rush ability. Cleveland will give Hall the full menu when it comes to learning the scheme and the responsibilities the team’s defensive tackles have in it, but Hall’s primary job is to rush the passer.

The Browns believe Hall’s ceiling is high in large part because he has rare explosiveness, and they view him as an ideal fit for defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s pressure scheme.

“I think when you look at how we play (that) position, how we ask our guys to get off the ball and how athletic and quick you need to be, that is what (Hall) is going to bring to the table,” Browns assistant general manager Catherine Raiche said. “(After the pick) Jim got on the phone with him and gave him a quiz and he was ready to roll. (Schwartz) told him he is about to be the engine of this defense, and I am not going to use the words they used, but let’s just say ‘mess things up’ in the front there. I think that is what he is going to bring to the table.”

Hall doesn’t turn 21 until next month. He could add weight over the course of his rookie contract, and add to his individual resume. But if Hall plays as a rookie, it will be as part of the team’s pass-down packages. Expect to see him working behind — and learning from — veterans Shelby Harris and Maurice Hurst this summer.

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Zinter played in a lot of big games throughout his Michigan career, and the Browns were aware of him as a prospect before Zinter decided to return to school for his final season in 2023.

Zinter, who mostly played right guard in college, first will learn and focus on the team’s guard spots. But he spent time early in his college career preparing to play center, and at some point this summer he’s likely to work in that spot.

“Very rarely will we bring a lineman in and have him work at one spot,” Browns general manager Andrew Berry said. “Especially young players. We want them to have positional flexibility. Zak is incredibly smart and someone that we expect to be able to handle the load of (learning) multiple spots.”

The Athletic‘s draft guru Dane Brugler wrote in his annual draft guide that Zinter “won’t impress with explosion or leverage, but he is big, smart and physical, which allows him to control defenders, especially in closed quarters.”

The Browns are again at least somewhat revamping their offense and receiving corps. They’re not counting on Thrash to be a superstar — or even an immediate contributor — but the folks in charge believe he can play inside, outside and on special teams. Thrash wasn’t a returner in college, but he figures to be given chances both to cover and return kicks this summer.

Versatility will be key to Thrash winning a role and a roster spot as a rookie, but the Browns believe he can stick because he can get open and he’s comfortable lining up across the formation. Thrash led his college team in receiving three times, twice (2021-2022) at Georgia State and last season at Louisville.

“With Jamari, the thing that stands out to us is his ability to separate naturally,” said Browns director of player personnel Dan Saganey. “He’s kind of proven that at two different (college) levels now, and then at the Senior Bowl as well.”

Who falls out of the wide receiver rotation if Thrash is ready to crack it? We’ll be tracking that during the summer.


Jamari Thrash led Louisville in receptions (63) and receiving yards (858) in 2023. (Trevor Ruszkowski / USA Today)

A six-year college player, Watson led the SEC in tackles and tied for the lead in sacks last season. There are snaps to be won in the Browns’ linebacker rotation, though Watson’s most immediate path to action is through special teams.

Cleveland had long tracked Watson, both throughout his college career and in the run-up to the draft. On paper, Jordan Hicks and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah are the team’s clear top-two linebackers. After that, the rotation seems unsettled.

“One of the things that we thought a lot about (with Watson) is when we lost Sione (Takitaki) in free agency this spring, was that when he (Takitaki) played both Mike (middle linebacker) and Sam (strong-side linebacker ) it added a little bit more stoutness in the middle of the defense, particularly at the point of attack,” Berry said. “And we think that Nathaniel, he’s got good range, he’s incredibly smart and he has good instincts, but he maybe provides a little bit of a diverse profile in that linebacker room because he does have a little bit more strength and power at the point or attack. So we see him as a player that has the potential to maybe develop into that type of role as a Mike, Sam, flex and ultimately be someone who’s a candidate to call the defense after he gets (comfortable).”

Brugler wrote that Watson was “a tackling machine” in college who had extensive experience on kickoff coverage.

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The first FCS player drafted by Berry, Harden was an outside cornerback at South Dakota but probably best fits as a slot corner and special teams player in the NFL.

The Browns saw Harden at the East-West Shrine Bowl as well as in multiple big games over his final two college seasons, including a matchup last fall with Missouri’s Luther Burden, a potential high first-round pick in 2025.

“Harden wasn’t really a sleeper to most NFL teams,” said Eric Galko, director of football operations for the Shrine Bowl. “I think around the league there was a lot of surprise that he lasted until the seventh round. You’ll see a lot of projections that he’s best inside in the slot because he has shorter arms, but he’s a smart, confident kid. He’ll show up the first day in Cleveland like he belongs.”

Though Harden was a four-year starter at South Dakota, he suffered season-ending injuries in 2021 and 2022 and only played in 29 career games. Brugler wrote that Harden “doesn’t offer ideal length or long speed” but is a “quick, confident … roughneck competitor” who “has the traits to earn a starting nickel job as a rookie.” He’ll be a long way from the top of the Browns’ depth chart this month, but he’s certainly one to track this summer.

He was on Bruce Feldman’s Freaks List, an annual collection of college football’s most athletic players. Briggs also had long been on NFL radars after a big 2022 season saw him earn first-team All-AAC honors.

Briggs started his college career at Virginia before transferring back to Cincinnati, his hometown school, for his final three seasons. In Cleveland, Briggs will start out behind at least six other defensive tackles — and the Browns started their draft with Hall. So they clearly wanted Briggs as part of their program when they selected him in the seventh round.

“Huge combine snub,” Galko said. “He’s an upfield penetrator type, which the Browns like, and he’s really a good athlete for a man his size. I think he played a little out of position (in 2023), but he has the tools and athleticism to be a guy who makes a rotation.

“It’s too early to say (the Browns) would be able to sneak a guy like Briggs through to the practice squad or whatever, but he’s the kind of guy who’s going to relish the chance to compete. He’ll make the guys around him and the guys blocking him better in training camp because he’s going to bring it every practice.”

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(Top photo of Michael Hall Jr.: Adam Cairns / Columbus Dispatch / USA Today)