Road to the Draft

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Road to the Draft: Where can Browns capitalize on this year's safety class?

The days are winding down until the 2020 NFL Draft. As we get oh so near to our final destination, we'll be breaking down a position group that matters for the Browns when they're on the clock with one of their seven picks.

Our second of eight stops looks at a safety class that features a handful of players who could make sense for Cleveland.

Why the position matters for the Browns: It's hard to find a position group on the roster that will look more different in 2020 than this one. Gone is nearly everyone who played significant snaps in 2019, including two-year starter Damarious Randall and veteran Morgan Burnett. The Browns entered the new league year with just two safeties on the roster -- second-year players Sheldrick Redwine, who shined late in his rookie season, and J.T. Hassell, who spent most of 2019 on the practice squad. Cleveland added two veterans to the mix with the signings of Karl Joseph and Andrew Sendejo, both of whom bring years of NFL starting experience to the group. Still, there's room for more, and next week's draft appears to be the most logical option to add a new face or two.

The top dog in this year's class: Most analysts like Alabama's Xavier McKinney as the first safety to be selected in this year's draft. When they have him going, though, remains a bigger point of contention. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. pegged McKinney to go 17th to the Cowboys in his latest mock draft. Meanwhile, NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah and The Athletic's Dane Brugler both have McKinney falling to the second round. McKinney comes from a deep line of Crimson Tide safeties, many of whom are starters today in the NFL. At 6-foot and 201 pounds, McKinney likely will find his niche in the league as a free safety who can cover well enough to be thrown into the slot on occasion. That's a valuable skill set to have in today's NFL, and it's one of the biggest reasons why most believe McKinney will be first off the board.

Check out photos of the top safeties in the 2020 NFL Draft

Rounding out the top five: This is where the debate really starts. Just a few months ago, LSU's Grant Delpit was projected as high as a top-10 selection. Now, after a junior season in which he regressed a bit from his standout sophomore campaign and was slowed by nagging injuries, Delpit could very well be available when the Browns are on the clock at No. 41. A number of others are closely ranked in Delpit's area, including Minnesota's Antoine Winfield Jr., Cal's Ashtyn Davis and small-school stars Jeremy Chinn (Southern Illinois) and Kyle Dugger (Lenoir-Rhyne). In his latest mock, Brugler projects the Browns to select Chinn over Delpit. All five of these players could give Cleveland some immediate help on the back end of its defense if the Browns opt to use their second pick on a safety. If they wait until the third round or later, the odds are strong that none of the above will be available.

How many first-rounders?: Based on projections from Jeremiah and Brugler, there could be none. Based on Kiper's, there could be two, as he includes Winfield along with McKinney in his latest mock of the first round. Kiper has three more going in the second round, including Delpit to the Browns, whom he considers to be a "first-round talent" and has the potential to be an All-Pro safety in the NFL.

A sleeper or two?: Dugger and Chinn are the definition of sleepers considering neither played on college football's big stage. Dugger brings a little bit of everything to the table, including dynamic return skills on special teams. NFL.com's Lance Zierlein compares him to Gerald Sensabaugh, who appeared in more than 100 games over nine years in the league with the Cowboys and Jaguars. Chinn, meanwhile, has drawn comparisons by Zierlein to Harrison Smith, who has starred for the Vikings since entering the league in 2012. Both players have drawn enough attention in the pre-draft process to no longer qualify as diamonds in the rough. They're just proof that good players can be found beyond the big programs.

Quote to note: "I think I'm a very versatile player. I think that's probably my biggest strength on the defensive side. I'll play anywhere in the secondary. This year I played more free safety because that's what the team needed, so I played a lot of percent of my snaps in the middle of the field. We went 15-0, so I could never complain. But watch my sophomore tape, freshman tape, I played all over the box. So I think I can do it all." -- Delpit

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