Browns Rookie Top Steal of NFL Draft After Wild Start to Career - Sport News

Browns Rookie Top Steal of NFL Draft After Wild Start to Career

The Cleveland Browns struck it rich by selecting cornerback Martin Emerson Jr. in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft, and it appears they’ve done it again with offensive tackle Dawand Jones.

Unfortunate circumstances thrust the rookie lineman into a starting role less than half a game into his professional career, after former Pro Bowler Jack Conklin suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1. Since then, Jones has played 88% of the team’s offensive snaps and is the best rookie pass blocker in the league, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF).

“Highest graded rookie OL in pass protection this season: ♦️ Dawand Jones, CLE,” PFF College posted to X on Thursday, November 2.

Browns OT Dawand Jones Above-Average Pass Blocker in Rookie Year

Dawand Jones, Browns

Jones has played 261 snaps on passing downs through seven games, allowing a total of 12 QB pressures and 2 sacks. Referees have flagged Jones for just two penalties as well. Perhaps most importantly, the offensive tackle has allowed only two hits on his quarterbacks — a trait of crucial importance as Deshaun Watson returns to the starting lineup Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals after battling a rotator cuff injury for several weeks.

Jones’ pass-blocking grade of 72.4 is above average not just for rookies, but for all players at the position in 2023. He has been good to stellar in each game, save for the team’s Week 4 matchup against the Baltimore Ravens and last weekend’s win over the Seattle Seahawks, according to PFF.

The run game has been a different story for Jones. His run-block grade is well below average, though it has improved as the season has worn on — save for a regression last week against Seattle.

Despite a steep learning curve and some struggles in the run game, the Browns appear to have found a solid starter in Jones and did so on Day 3 of the draft. Cleveland selected the OT with the No. 111 overall pick in the fourth round. The 22-year-old will play the next four seasons on his $4.6 million rookie contract, which provides the Browns great value at a premium position for years to come.

Browns CB Martin Emerson Jr. Producing High-Level Season in 2023

Martin Emerson Jr., Browns

Jones is only the most recent example of Cleveland’s draft prowess, which has flexed its muscle in meaningful ways over the past couple of offseasons.

The Browns selected Emerson with the No. 68 overall pick near the top of the third round in 2022. The cornerback bullied his way into heavy playing time as a rookie, despite a talented secondary in Cleveland. Emerson played 72% of the team’s defensive snaps last season and tallied 15 pass breakups.

Emerson has been an even bigger part of the defense this year, playing 82% of the snaps on defense and tallying 21 tackles, 6 pass breakups and 2 interceptions through seven games. The CB has been stellar in coverage, holding opposing quarterbacks to a collective 38.9% completion percentage and a 41.7 rating on 36 targets, per Pro Football Reference. He has not surrendered a touchdown.

Draft finds like Jones and Emerson are important not only because they contribute to winning immediately, but also because they offer so much financial value. Emerson is playing in the second season of his $5.5 million rookie deal and won’t hit free agency until 2026.

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