Road to the Draft

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Road to the Draft: Which WRs with early-round projections are worth monitoring for the Browns?

The 2021 receiver class is deep, which provides even more reason for the Browns to consider picking a wideout at some point in the draft

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 wide receivers, a position group full of players with Day 1 and early Day 2 draft grades that the Browns could target early in the draft.

Why the position matters for the Browns: The Browns retained nearly every offensive player from last season and are fortunate to enter the draft with no glaring holes to fill on offense. If there were one offensive position to monitor in the early rounds, however, it'd be wide receiver. The Browns have two veteran receivers with Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, while Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and KhaDarel Hodge — three players who made heavy contributions last season — are set to return. JoJo Natson, another receiver who started the year as the primary kick and punt returner, is back as well. Drafting a receiver early isn't a clear necessity, but the Browns could certainly look to bolster the position with more youth from a draft class with many promising prospects.

The top dogs in this year's class: Ja'Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith are all strong candidates to fall within the top 12 picks. Chase, the top receiver in the class, is a potential candidate to be selected by the Cincinnati Bengals at No. 5 — so his status will be worth a watch. Waddle and Smith, however, currently have no shot of coming anywhere within reach of the Browns, so who's next?

Rounding out the top of the class: Kadarius Toney (Florida), Rashod Bateman (Minnesota), Elijah Moore (Ole Miss) and Terrace Marshall Jr. (LSU) are all possibilities for receiver-needy teams in the first round. Toney, who projects to be a quality gadget player after scoring 11 touchdowns last season at Florida, and Bateman, who caught 19 touchdowns across three collegiate seasons, could be intriguing options if they're still on the board. Moore and Marshall also hold promise, although they appear to be ranked from some analysts on a slightly lower tier than Toney and Bateman.

Who to watch in Rounds 2 and 3: OK, here's the group the Browns could be much more interested in after potentially addressing a defensive position in Round 1. Rondale Moore (Purdue), Dyami Brown (North Carolina), Amari Rodgers (Clemson) and Amon-Ra St. Brown (USC) could all be quality Day 2 options for the Browns, who are slated to make the 27th pick of the round at No. 59 overall. D'Wayne Eskridge, who caught eight touchdowns in six games with Western Michigan last season, was also mocked to the Browns as a second-round selection by ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. The Athletic's Dane Brugler has 12 other players with Day 2 grades in his 2021 edition of The Beast, which goes to show the strength of this receiving class.

Quote to note: "What can't Eskridge do? He played wide receiver and corner and returned punts and kicks at Western Michigan. He averaged 23.1 yards per catch and had eight receiving touchdowns last season. The Browns brought back Rashard Higgins and have Donovan Peoples-Jones waiting in the wings, but they have to get more consistent production out of their No. 3 receiver. And if they take Eskridge, they'll get a boost in the return game." - Kiper

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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.

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