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Mel Kiper Jr. on how signing Jadeveon Clowney could impact Browns' draft plans

Kiper believes the Browns may no longer need to target an edge rusher in the first round — or the second

The Browns addressed one of the biggest questions surrounding their defense Wednesday with a free-agent splash — Jadeveon Clowney is coming to Cleveland, where he'll be given an opportunity to start and take a sizable load of snaps in 2021.

But Clowney's acquisition created another question surrounding how the Browns might use their first-round pick two weeks from now in the NFL Draft: Has the likelihood of selecting an edge rusher in the first round decreased?

ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. believes the answer could be yes. 

"You've got a pass rusher now, and you say, 'OK, that's checked off the list,'" Kiper said Thursday in a conference call with reporters. "You don't have to go that route. You have linebackers, and you need a speed receiver. They could also address defensive tackle and cornerbacks — because of the depth —  maybe a little later."

So, if defensive end moves down the list of draft needs, who could the Browns target?

Kiper released his Mock Draft 4.0 on Tuesday, one day before Clowney signed with the Browns, and he still stands by his Browns predictions for the first and second round. He pegged Cleveland to select Kentucky LB Jamin Davis in Round 1 and Western Michigan WR D'Wayne Eskridge in Round 2.

Davis, who started 10 games for the Wildcats in 2020, has had a late but quick rise up mock draft boards. His name wasn't listed on any mock drafts at the beginning of the offseason, but his speed — he ran a 4.47 at the 40-yard dash in Kentucky's pro day — and gaudy final-year statistics, which include 102 tackles, three interceptions and five passes defensed in 2020, have provided a recent jolt to his draft stock.

The Browns have clearly prioritized speed across their defense. They already have quick linebackers in Sione Takitaki, Mack Wilson and Jacob Phillips, all players who were selected in the last two drafts. Free-agent acquisition Anthony Walker fits that genre, too.

But Davis has the potential to be another speedy asset to the group.

"He's a guy that has great range," Kiper said. "He tested out really well and he's very instinctive. Davis skyrocketed up into the first round, and I thought he could go as early as No. 17 at one point. He can fly to the football like a safety and is a very good open-field tackler."

Don't completely rule out the possibility of the Browns taking a defensive end in the first round, though. 

Cleveland is in a fortunate draft position after the Clowney signing. With multiple starting-caliber players arranged at each defensive spot already, the Browns can afford to take a "best player available" approach to their draft pick. Their focus may remain on the defense, where they've spent nearly all of their resources this offseason, and their first pick could simply be decided by selecting the player at the top of their draft board when they're on the clock.

And that could still be a defensive end. Azeez Ojulari, Kwity Paye, Jaelan Phillips, Jayson Oweh and Gregory Rousseau, among other prospects, could still be options the Browns are attracted to in the first round. The draft class is full of promising cornerbacks and linebackers with first-round grades, too, while the defensive tackle and safety groups have names worth monitoring in Round 1.

All defensive positions are still on the table, which has been the case for all of the mock draft season so far.

The 2021 NFL Draft is coming to Cleveland, and you can be a part of the action at the NFL Draft Experience. The free, three-day football festival celebrates all 32 clubs and attracts fans who want to feel connected the NFL, its history and future. Click to get your tickets now._

Check out photos of Jadeveon Clowney