Sometimes, it’s not all about the motion of the ocean but, instead, the size of the ship. When looking at the Cleveland Browns’ 2023 rookie class, you can tell that the approach by Cleveland’s general manager and executive vice president of football operations, Andrew Berry was that bigger is always better, especially in the NFL. Just about every player the Browns picked from there had size as one of their most effective tools, and while choosing prominently-sized players wasn’t a central piece of the Browns’ pre-draft planning, Berry will take the extra weight with the hopes of building a more powerful football team.
“Even though we drafted some bigger bodies, it’s not just like they’re big guys that can’t move,” Berry said soon after the 2023 NFL Draft concluded. “That’s something that we will always prioritize because I do think the NFL is becoming more and more of a space game. If you have big athletic players at any position group, you’ll take them.”
It all started with Cleveland taking 6-foot-3 wide receiver Cedric Tillman out of Tennessee in the third round. Tillman embodies a bigger body in motion and will give quarterback Deshaun Watson a new option in the passing game. Son of former Denver Broncos wideout Cedric Tillman, the younger Tillman proved he could catch the ball through contact underneath while imposing his size and utilize ball skills on opponents when pulling in the deep ball. He’s also a highly competitive wideout with an enticing blend of size, skill and toughness that fits what teams look for in an NFL starter.
“I think (size) makes a big difference, honestly,” Tillman said. “One-on-one, balls in the air, having my body, it’s easy for me to box guys out. Also, in the blocking game, a lot of guys can’t go toe-to-toe with me when I have the ball in my hands. A lot of corners and safeties don’t want to tackle me. I know that, and I just use it to my advantage.”
Soon after the Tillman selection, the Browns added size to the defensive side of the ball when they took Baylor defensive tackle Siaki Ika with the 98th overall selection — a girthy interior force with heavy hands and a combative nature at the point of attack. Ika is tailor-made for gap control with his wide frame and ready anchor. His talents as a run-stuffing defensive tackle could lead him to be a player new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz looks to use on non-passing downs.
If he can manage his weight, Ika could become an early starter and help improve a leaky run defense. Considering Cleveland struggled mightily defending the run last season, Ika’s chances to start could be sooner rather than later. In a video call after being drafted, Schwartz told Ika that he intended to turn him from a “dump truck to a Ferrari.” Schwartz wants to mold Ika into a disrupter all over the field and use his size since, at his best, he’s quick enough off the snap to penetrate and disrupt play design if teams try to block him one-on-one.
Joining Ika as a defender that uses his size as a weapon is Isaiah McGuire, who Cleveland took in the fourth round. McGuire’s a bulldozing power rusher, an edge defender with good size and length, can uproot tackles and collapse pockets with a forceful punch and explosive leg drive. While he’s not quite the run-stopper like Ika, McGuire can be a force in defending the pass with the Browns if Schwartz and his staff properly coach him up.
Soon after Ika, the Browns took Ohio State offensive lineman Dawand Jones, who has a gargantuan frame. Initially projected by some as a first-round selection, defenders accustomed to winning with power will need to switch up their approach against Jones. While his physical traits help cover up some of his athletic deficiencies, his power can be better unleashed with accurate hand strikes and a run scheme tailored to what he does best as a massive and powerful blocker.
When facing him in the trenches, Jones is a mountain requiring a long hike to conquer. But, he still is a work in progress and, for now, will be a high-quality backup behind starting tackles Jedrick Wills Jr. and Jack Conklin. Considering the injury issues Conklin dealt with last year and Wills’ inconsistencies, there’s a path for Jones to get serious minutes right away for Cleveland. Considering how heavily Kevin Stefanski relies on the strength of their running game, a lineman the size of Jones certainly fits the mold. The same goes for Luke Wypler, Jones’ teammate at Ohio State and another Browns rookie, who also uses his size and speed as a pass-protection weapon.
Wypler will take time to develop due to his lack of overwhelming physical traits. But, like Jones, he could develop into another high-quality starting offensive lineman for Cleveland. Sure, Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Cameron Mitchell are smaller than the rest of the rookie Browns. But they still measure in at 6 feet or taller, which is necessary at either position Thompson-Robinson or Mitchell play. The Browns will become more familiar with their super-sized rookies once their rookie minicamp opens up on May 12. But, even before they take the field, it’s crystal clear to Cleveland that size matters going forward.
Evan Dammarell is a sports journalist covering all things Cleveland right off the shores of Lake Erie. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. You can also email him at [email protected] He can also be found three to five times weekly on Locked On Cavs, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network.
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