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Bruce Feldman analyzes talented class of cornerbacks Browns could tap with 1st-round pick

With at least 4 cornerbacks projected to fall in the first round, what are the odds any of them will be available for the Browns at pick No. 26?

We're three weeks away from finding out who the Browns will select on Day 1 of the NFL Draft in Cleveland, and the remaining 21 days likely will contain the same conversations about what the Browns will do with pick No. 26: edge rusher, linebacker, cornerback or something else?

The most recent rounds of mock drafts suggest Cleveland pegging a defensive end or linebacker. Both positions contain a relatively deep class with plenty of players capable of falling in the first two rounds.

But it'd be foolish to eliminate the possibility of the Browns taking a cornerback, especially with recent predictions showing a slide in some of the top CB names on the board.

Bruce Feldman, college football insider for The Athletic and a sideline reporter for FOX College Football, analyzed the current status of the cornerback position on the latest edition of Best Podcast Available. He doesn't see much separation between the top four corners on the draft board — Patrick Surtain II, Jaycee Horn, Caleb Farley and Greg Newsome II.

The Browns appear to have no shot of drafting Surtain, a lockdown corner from Alabama who is widely projected as a top-15 pick. But the intrigue begins with Horn, the South Carolina standout who has recently been mocked to fall in the second half of the first round.

"From the people I talked to in the SEC, they thought Jaycee was more talented than Surtain," Feldman said. "There are coaches I talked to who thought Jaycee Horn was a bigger problem to deal with. Jaycee Horn will be ultra physical, handsy and a really competitive, dynamic athlete."

Horn recorded 23 pass deflections across 30 games with the Gamecocks, including two interceptions in his final season as a junior in 2020. He's been widely projected to fall after Surtain, but Feldman's report suggests Horn could be similarly impactful.

If NFL general managers and scouts view Horn the same way as Feldman, then the Browns would be lucky to find Horn on the board with their current first-round pick. Trading up or down is a possibility, however, and cornerback depth is always needed regardless of how the current roster stands.

In Feldman's opinion, any team that leaves the first round with Horn as their pick should be in good shape.

"Jaycee Horn to me is the guy that I think could end up being the prototypical lockdown corner, more than the other three (top cornerbacks)," he said.

Should the Browns stay at pick No. 26, the more likely cornerbacks projected to be on the board could be Farley or Newsome.

Farley, who opted out of his 2020 season at Virginia Tech, missed the school's pro day due to a back procedure and enters the draft with injury concerns, but he's still expected to land in the first round. Analysts believe he could be selected as soon as the early teens or as late as the final few first-round picks, and he's considered to have Pro Bowl potential after tallying 19 pass breakups in 23 games with the Hokies.

Feldman tabbed Farley in his 2020 collection of "freak" college football players and highlighted speed as his top attribute. 

"It wouldn't surprise me if he gets drafted by somebody maybe a little later than people initially thought because of the injury stuff and questions about how well he tackles." Feldman said. "Maybe two years from now, I could see watching a game that there's some great receiver Caleb Farley locks up, and all of a sudden, people are talking about, 'Where did this guy come from?' He just has some really unique gifts to have at that kind of speed and that kind of ability to accelerate."

A similar scenario could be ahead for Newsome, who has gained more traction as a mid first-round pick but has previously been mocked to the Browns, too. Newsome's early draft stock was, perhaps, hampered as a Northwestern product — the school hasn't produced a first-round pick since 2005 — but an impressive pro day and deep dive into his tape has appeared to move him up draft boards.

"From talking with people in the Big 10, you'd hear 'deceptively athletic,' and 'way more athletic than you think,'" Feldman said. "I think that's a function of Northwestern's profile more than anything else, but he was really good, and then he had a really impressive pro day."

No one will know until draft day just how tempted the Browns are to snatch a cornerback over upgrades to the edge rusher or linebacker positions. Cleveland has top players at all defensive positions after an aggressive start to free agency, though, and can afford to wait and see how the first half of the draft plays out before making its decision on which position to target.

Denzel Ward, Greedy Williams and free-agent acquisition Troy Hill provide solid potential, but depth is always needed in the defensive backs room. And Feldman believes the first round should provide at least four solid options at cornerback, should a team opt to take that route.