Over the next few weeks, as the 2021 NFL Draft gets closer and closer, we're spotlighting a different position group or draft storyline at ClevelandBrowns.com.
In our Road to the Draft series, we've taken a deep dive into the top prospects available at each position group. Now, we're focusing on the teams ahead of the Browns and how their draft decisions might affect what Cleveland does with the 26th overall pick.
The Browns are in uncharted territory.
With the 26th overall pick, Cleveland is holding its latest first-round selection since 1995, when it was also pegged 26th in the draft order. The Browns will have numerous options and plenty of time once the draft starts to decide how they spend their pick, and much of the reasoning behind that decision will likely be based on what occurs with the 25 decisions other NFL teams will make before them.
When might selections begin to impact their plans? For this exercise, we're going to start at pick No. 15 — that's when some of the top defensive prospects, many of whom have been mocked to the Browns, might start to come off the board. We'll use mock drafts from ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay, The Athletic's Dane Brugler, NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah and NBC Sports' Peter King.
Kiper/McShay: (Lions trade up from pick No. 7) LB Micah Parsons (Penn State)
Brugler: LB Zaven Collins (Tulsa)
King: WR DeVonta Smith (Alabama)
Summary: Parsons, as well as cornerback Patrick Surtain II, are widely projected to be the top two defensive players off the board. Any slide past No. 10 for either prospect likely means good news for the Browns if they're looking for top defensive prospects in the first round. Collins' selection at No. 15 proves just how scattered the mock predictions are for many of the top defenders — he's been selected as a potential second-rounder in other mock drafts.
Kiper/McShay: CB Jaycee Horn (South Carolina)
Brugler: WR DeVonta Smith (Alabama)
Jeremiah: WR Jaylen Waddle (Alabama)
King: CB Greg Newsome II (Northwestern)
Summary: The Cardinals need to replace All-Pro CB Patrick Peterson, who's now with the Vikings, and could target a trusted young receiver to pair with WR DeAndre Hopkins. Top options for both of those needs likely will be on the table for Arizona.
Kiper/McShay: S Trevon Moehrig (TCU)
Brugler: OT Christian Darrisaw (Virginia Tech)
Jeremiah: LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (Notre Dame)
King: CB Caleb Farley (Virginia Tech)
Summary: The Raiders need starting caliber players and depth across several positions, so this pick very much falls in the "best player available" range. With three defensive positions as a possibility, this pick could also determine how other dominoes fall among defensive prospects.
Kiper/McShay: LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (Notre Dame)
Brugler: LB Micah Parsons (Penn State)
Jeremiah: EDGE Gregory Rousseau (Miami)
King: EDGE Jaelan Phillips (Miami)
Summary: The Dolphins will probably address an offensive position with their first pick of the draft at No. 6, which leaves No. 18 available for the defense. A slide to No. 18 from Parsons would be a surprise, while the three other prospects are candidates the Browns could consider for their pick.
Kiper/McShay: LB Jamin Davis (Kentucky)
Brugler: LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (Notre Dame)
Jeremiah: OL Alijah Vera-Tucker (USC)
King: OT Christian Darrisaw (Virginia Tech)
Summary: Linebacker, guard and tackle are among the top needs for Washington. Owusu-Koramoah is arguably the most athletic and versatile linebacker of the class, while Davis has gained much traction recently due to an attractive pro day.
Kiper/McShay: CB Caleb Farley (Virginia Tech)
Brugler: OT Teven Jenkins (Oklahoma State)
Jeremiah: CB Greg Newsome II (Northwestern)
King: WR Rashod Bateman (Minnesota)
Summary: The Bears are one of a few teams rumored to be interested in trading up for one of the top quarterbacks. If they stay put, they have several positions on both sides of the ball that need help with a first-rounder.
Kiper/McShay: EDGE Jaelan Phillips (Miami)
Jeremiah: OT Christian Darrisaw (Virginia Tech)
King: (Browns trade up from pick No. 26) LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (Notre Dame)
Summary: King's trade prediction would move the Browns up to selecting one of the most athletically gifted linebackers of the class. He compared Owusu-Koramoah to Devin White, whose sideline-to-sideline speed helped the Buccaneers win Super Bowl LV. If the Colts stay pat, they've been largely projected to take an edge rusher.
Kiper/McShay: WR Elijah Moore (Ole Miss)
Brugler: DT Christian Barmore (Alabama)
Jeremiah: CB Caleb Farley (Virginia Tech)
King: (Ravens trade up from pick No. 27) EDGE Kwity Paye (Michigan)
Summary: The Titans have several defensive positions to fill in the draft and could also use a replacement for departed free agent WR Corey Davis. Brugler's selection of Barmore is the earliest a DT has come off the board in any of the four mock drafts.
Kiper/McShay: CB Greg Newsome II (Northwestern)
Brugler: EDGE Azeez Ojulari (Georgia)
King: EDGE Gregory Rousseau (Miami)
Summary: The Jets will grab their quarterback with their first selection at No. 2, so No. 23 is a prime position for a defensive addition. Their pick could be the final defensive player drafted before the Browns three picks later.
Kiper/McShay: RB Najee Harris (Alabama)
Jeremiah: OT Teven Jenkins (Oklahoma State)
Summary: RB James Conner is now with the Cardinals, so the Steelers, who averaged a paltry 3.6 yards per carry last season, are heavy favorites to take the first running back of the draft. Harris is considered by most to be the top prospect at the position.
Kiper/McShay: WR Kadarius Toney (Florida)
Brugler: WR Elijah Moore (Ole Miss)
Jeremiah: S Trevon Moehrig (TCU)
King: EDGE Jayson Oweh (Penn State)
Summary: The Jags already have WRs DJ Chark, Marvin Jones and Laviska Shenault but could opt to give Trevor Lawrence a fourth quality receiving weapon. They have lots of areas to fill on the defense, too.
What did we learn?
- Good luck predicting the order in which the DEs will fall. Paye, Ojulari, Phillips and Rousseau are all candidates to be the first off the board, but each of them are also candidates to be the last edge rusher taken in all of Round 1.
- Owusu-Koramoah appears to be unlikely to still be on the board at No. 26. That's why King predicted the Browns to trade up and get him.
- The top linebackers to fall after Parsons and Owusu-Koramoah in all the mock drafts were Davis and Collins. Brugler had Collins as the first linebacker selected in the draft, which would be a big surprise to many others.
- Farley and Newsome have a much greater chance of being available at No. 26 than initially thought one month ago. Both CBs were still on the board when the Browns were up in Brugler's mock draft, while Newsome was only three picks away from them in the Kiper/McShay mock.
- It appears likely that at least one receiver from the group of Rashod Bateman, Kadarius Toney or Elijah Moore will be available at pick No. 26. The Browns might not be interested at all in taking a receiver, but they should have promising options should they consider adding to the position.
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Over the next few weeks, as the 2021 NFL Draft gets closer and closer, we're spotlighting a different position group each day at ClevelandBrowns.com.
Our Road to the Draft series will dive deep into the top players available at each position group. In this series, we'll be analyzing what the Browns have on hand and how that may affect the team's decision making with its nine selections.