If the Browns are interested in picking an edge rusher with their first pick of the 2022 draft, they could have a few players with first-round grades waiting for them.
Several analysts have picked the edge rusher class to be the deepest group in the draft, and The Athletic's Dane Brugler is one of them. He ranked seven players with a first-round grade in his annual draft guide, “The Beast,” and predicted one of them to be drafted by the Browns with their first selection, the 44th overall pick, in his mock draft.
But even if the Browns wait for a future round to add DE talent, they'll still likely come away pleased with the potential of the player.
"I think this edge rusher group is the deepest position this year from top to bottom," Brugler said. "I think no matter the round, there's going to be somebody from the first round, second round, third round or even the end of Day 3 that you feel pretty good about."
Here's who could be available for the Browns on Day 2, where they hold the 44th, 78th and 99th overall picks of the draft.
Check out photos of possible Day 2 defensive ends the Browns might target in the 2022 NFL Draft
Logan Hall, Houston
Hall was Brugler's pick to land in Cleveland, and it's easy to see why.
He's one of the more versatile players near the top of the DE class and is capable of playing both defensive tackle and on the edge. Both positions are needs for the Browns, and Brugler believes he'll fit best on the edge with his power and speed to work around blockers. Those traits stuck out last season when he totaled 6.5 sacks as an interior lineman and led Houston with 48 tackles.
"He played more of a three-technique role at Houston, primarily as an inside guy," Brugler said, "but I think he has the versatility where you line him up on the edge and give him more of a runway. Let him use that length, those 35-inch arms and go right through blockers. He has that ability. He's a young player, still just 21 years old, and I think he gives you flexibility not only as a rusher on the edge, but also on passing downs and what he can do on the inside."
David Ojabo, Michigan
Ojabo entered the pre-draft process as a player expected to be drafted in the first round, but an Achilles tear at his pro day took a major hit to his draft stock and will likely force him to miss his rookie season.
That doesn't mean a team will avoid picking him in the second round, though. Ojabo is an intriguing prospect because of how new he is to the position and how successful he became in his first full season, recording 11 sacks last year with the Wolverines.
He's only been playing football for five years, so there's certainly more room for Ojabo to grow even more when he's fully healthy.
"With Ojabo, you hate to see the injury at the Pro Day with his Achilles, which probably is going to mean a redshirt for him his rookie year," Brugler said. "There's a lot of upside there. Usually, we're talking about a guy that still needs things to click, but he had 11 sacks last year for Michigan. It's not like this guy wasn't productive at all. He knows how to get to the quarterback, and you see an understanding of rush moves."
Boye Mafe, Minnesota
Mafe has raw talent, too, and may need a year to fully harness it for consistent playing time in the NFL, but his potential was highlighted through a seven-sack season last year.
Brugler gave him a second-round grade and believes his explosion off the edge is what sets him apart as a prospect.
"It's a little bit of a long-term commitment because you don't know if he's going to give you anything as a rookie," Brugler said. "I'm not sure if that's ideal for a team like the Browns that really need help right away, but it's a name that needs to be on the radar … At 6-foot-4, 260 pounds, his testing numbers were off the charts. You love from an athletic standpoint what he brings to the field. You wish that maybe his production was a little bit better and you wish he was a better run defender as well, but guys that move like that at that type of size, you're going to bet on that natural explosion. There's a lot that Boye Mafe has going for him."
Drake Jackson, USC
Jackson's pre-draft process so far has been defined by his weight, which fluctuated during his time with the Trojans and has changed drastically in the last several months as he shapes himself toward the kind of prospect Brugler believes are what NFL scouts picture him as.
"He burst onto the scene as a freshman at USC, and it was interesting because he played at more toward a 280 range," Brugler said. "Then they made a coaching change, brought in a new defensive coordinator and moved him to more of a linebacker role. All of a sudden, he's down to 240. They've been moving him back and forth trying to find the best weight for him. At the combine, Drake Jackson was 254 pounds. At his Pro Day, he was 273 pounds — almost a 20-pound difference. That tells me that scouts are telling Drake Jackson, 'Hey, bulk up and regain that power you showed as a freshman.' There's a lot to like about him as a pass rusher."
Nik Bonitto, Oklahoma
Bonitto broke out his final two years with the Sooners with 15 combined sacks. His best trait is his speed, which might make him more ripe as a stand-up linebacker.
Brugler believes he'll need time to develop no matter where he's positioned, but his quickness — he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.54 seconds — gives him early Day 2 value.
"If you are looking for that speed demon off the edge and bring that burst, Nik Bonitto is going to be appealing for you," Brugler said. "His ability to skim the outside corner of tackles and win that corner, that's what he does best."