Browns get Watson a new target, nab WR Tillman in NFL draft
BEREA, Ohio (AP) — The Browns are giving Deshaun Watson everything he needs.
After sitting out two rounds and eagerly waiting more than 24 hours to make its first pick, Cleveland selected Tennessee wide receiver Cedric Tillman at No. 74 in the NFL draft on Friday night.
“Another tool in our toolbox for Deshaun,” said Catherine Raiche, the team's assistant general manager and vice president of football operations. “It was definitely worth the wait.”
With its second pick in the third round (No. 98), Cleveland nabbed Baylor defensive tackle Siaki Ika, a 6-foot-2, 335-pounder who began his college career at LSU. He'll give the Browns some depth up front to hopefully strengthen a defense that was susceptible against the run last season.
Tillman's arrival comes after the Browns, who only had Watson on the field for six games last season following his NFL suspension, traded for receiver Elijah Moore, signed free agent receiver Marquise Goodwin and tight end Jordan Akins.
"I’m fired up,” Tillman said on a conference call. “Deshaun Watson is one of the best quarterbacks in the league. I’m really looking forward getting to all my teammates and new brothers and new coaches and stuff, so I’m excited.”
The 6-foot-3, 213-pound Tillman had 37 catches for 417 and three touchdowns last season, but was limited to six games because of an ankle injury. Tillman's size, ability to run multiple routes and strong character attracted him to the Browns.
Tillman comes from NFL stock. His father, Cedric, was drafted in 1992 and played four seasons in the league.
“He plays a brand of football we're trying to play,” assistant GM Glenn Cook said. "He’s a big, physical young man. It jumps out on film, the size and way he makes plays on defenders downfield.”
Tillman had 64 catches for 1,081 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2021. He had 10 receptions for 200 yards and a TD against Georgia's fierce defense.
He'll join a receiving corps in Cleveland that includes Amari Cooper, a player Tillman has followed since he was a star at Alabama.
Browns GM Andrew Berry said there were a number of players under consideration when Cleveland was on the clock.
“We just felt like Cedric was the right pick for us,” Berry said. “Very clean profile. He adds an element to that receiver room that we don’t currently have with just his excellent size. And so we were really, really excited when he was there at 74.”
The 23-year-old Tillman was already familiar to the Browns as team owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam are major Tennessee boosters.
Berry said the Browns considered making a trade in the third round.
As for Ika, he fits the profile new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz likes in his interior linemen — massive and mobile.
“His power just really stood out, even with the LSU film,” Berry said. "Even at a young age, he was a pretty big human being. And even though he didn’t necessarily know what he was doing, he was just kind of part of the rotation, you could see a really a big disruptive presence in the middle of the line of scrimmage.
“And when he was really allowed to attack, he did in the manner that we’re going to ask our defensive linemen to do. So we thought the skills were certainly transferrable.”
The Browns entered this draft without a first- or second-round pick, and that was by their own doing.
Desperate to find a franchise quarterback after so many failed attempts, Cleveland sent its 2023 first-rounder and two more (2022 and 2024) to Houston last year in the trade for Watson, who led the league in passing in 2020.
The all-in move has yet to pay off after Watson was suspended 11 games last season by the NFL for violating its personal conduct policy. He was accused of sexual harassment and assault by two dozen women in Texas.
Needing speed, the Browns dealt their second-round pick (No. 42) to the New York Jets in March for Moore. Cleveland also got back the 74th selection in the deal and used it for Tillman, who checked all the boxes.
“We had a really good feel for him coming out of the fall,” said Berry, adding the Browns spent time with Tillman at the NFL combine. “His background was pretty easy and really the thing that stood out, he was just like a consummate pro.”
The Browns have six picks left for Saturday: two in the fourth round, two in the fifth and one each in the sixth and seventh.
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Tom Withers, The Associated Press