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'll take a deep dive into the top prospects available at each position group. We're continuing with the defensive tackles, a position that will have new starters for the Browns in 2021.
Why the position matters for the Browns: Cleveland likely will have two new starters for its defensive interior, which currently has only four guys on the roster. Andrew Billings, a 2020 free-agent acquisition who opted out of last season, and 10-year veteran Malik Jackson are two of the top players in the room. 2021 third-round pick Jordan Elliott is also set to earn a larger role after playing in all 16 games in 2020, while Sheldon Day, a six-year veteran who was signed to the practice squad near the end of last season, rounds out the group. The Browns recently released veteran DT Sheldon Richardson, who started all but one game and appeared in every game over the past two seasons.
The top dog in this year's class: At 6-foot-4 and 310 pounds, Christian Barmore enters the draft with one of the biggest bodies and raw talent available from any defensive prospect. He registered 37 tackles, eight sacks and three forced fumbles for Alabama last season, when he was named a SecondTeam All-American, voted to First Team All-SEC and won Defensive MVP honors in the National Championship. Barmore was a starter for just one year under Nick Saban. His inexperience can be viewed as a potential red flag or a possible avenue for even more explosiveness and refinement to his game.
Rounding out the top five: Levi Onwuzurike (Washington) is a possible first- or second-round selection and joins Barmore at the top of the position group. Although he's not nearly as highly graded as Barmore, Onwuzurike, who won First Team All-Pac 12 honors in 2019 but opted out of the 2020 season, possesses the speed and physicality to become a quality NFL starter. Marlon Tuipulotu (USC), Daviyon Nixon (Iowa) and Milton Williams (Louisiana Tech) are all likely to be among the best tackles available after Day 1.
How many first-rounders?: At most, two. Barmore and Onwuzurike are possible candidates for late first-round picks. Any other defensive tackle selected in the first round would be considered a surprise. Barmore and Onwuzurike have generated plenty of first-round hype, but it wouldn't be a total shock if both players slipped to Day 2.
A sleeper or two?: Jay Tufele (USC) is considered by some analysts to be a top five defensive tackle of the class after recording 7.5 sacks and 11 tackles for a loss in his two seasons with the Trojans before opting out of 2020. Tommy Togiai (Ohio State) is a familiar name for many Browns fans and would be an intriguing option near the end of Day 2 after tallying three sacks in seven games last season.
Quote to note: "Barmore tends to be in the lead and take control of a majority of reps. His hands and feet sing in harmony and allow him to stay active and free from attempts to sustain blocks against him. His hands are heavy and powerful but also sudden and efficient, which creates early win opportunities for him in the run game and as a pass rusher. Barmore can be his own worst enemy when he freestyles his run fits and prematurely gives away positioning when posting up in read-and-react mode. While he has similar size and skill set, it doesn't feel like he's as long at the point of attack as past Alabama defensive tackles now in the pros. Barmore's explosive first step, violent hands and upper-body power are the ingredients of a three-down defender with the versatility to play a number of positions in an even or odd front as an impactful rookie starter." - NFL.com's Lance Zierlein, who compared Barmore to Marcell Dareus
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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.