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 linebackers, a group many analysts believe the Browns could tap into with their first-round pick.
Why the position matters for the Browns: The linebackers room is already full of young talent. Mack Wilson, Sione Takitaki and Jacob Phillips — all three of whom were drafted in the last two offseasons — represent the mold of players the Browns seek at the position: fast and sound at tackling. Cleveland added Anthony Walker, who recorded 92 tackles for the Indianapolis Colts last season, as a free agent and re-signed Malcolm Smith, a top veteran with the Browns in 2020. Elijah Lee and Montrel Meander round out the group, which could benefit from another young prospect with starting caliber — a trait that's prevalent with a few prospects in this class.
The top dog in this year's class: That label belongs to Micah Parsons, who opted out of the 2020 season at Penn State but recorded 192 tackles in his first two years. He's not only the top linebacker of the draft class, but also arguably one of the best players available. He could fall anywhere between picks No. 8-12 and could be out of reach for the Browns. The linebackers behind Parsons, however, are very much in play.
Rounding out the top five: We've seen mock drafts every week that predict the Browns to draft Notre Dame's Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, the 2020 Dick Butkus Award winner for the best linebacker in the nation. He's been heralded as the fastest linebacker of the class and displayed tremendous abilities in pass coverage against tight ends and slot receivers, a task the Browns frequently placed on their linebackers last season. Zaven Collins (Tulsa) is a likely first-round option, too, after winning the 2020 Bronko Nagurski Award, given by the Football Writers Association of America to the best defensive collegiate player. Jamin Davis (Kentucky) has risen up draft boards after a stunning pro day, while Nick Bolton (Missouri) projects as a quality linebacker potentially available in the second round.
How many first-rounders?: Four seems to be a safe bet. Parsons and Owusu-Koramoah appear to be locks to be Round 1 draftees, while Collins and Davis are favored to fall within the last few picks of Day 1. If Collins or Davis are still on the board for Round 2, expect them to be selected rather quickly.
A sleeper or two?: The Browns have selected three LSU prospects within the first three rounds of the last two drafts. Jabril Cox could be the fourth — he's a likely Round 2 pick, and he could fall to the Browns, who have a young LSU-built core on their defense already with Greedy Williams, Grant Delpit and Jacob Phillips. Cox recorded 58 tackles and three interceptions as the captain of the Tigers' defense last season. Baron Browning, who emerged as a starter with Ohio State last season, is also worth monitoring as a potential mid-round selection.
Quote to note: "You see explosive hits game after game after game. He's so twitched up and explosive. Get him detached in space, makes plays. He's 220 pounds and played a little bit lighter than that, so instead of taking on, he's going to try and dip and slip underneath blocks, which he does outstandingly." - NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah on Owusu-Koramoah
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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.