Browns 2021 draft: A pass rusher for every round

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Jeff Risdon
·5 min read
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One of the biggest remaining holes on the Cleveland Browns roster after the first couple of weeks of free agency is the starting DE/EDGE spot opposite Myles Garrett. The team signed Takk McKinley and Malik Jackson as veteran additions, but neither should prevent GM Andrew Berry and the Browns from finding a more permanent solution to replace Olivier Vernon in the starting defensive lineup.

The 2021 NFL draft offers scores of different options. It’s not a top-heavy class, but with the Browns not picking anywhere near the top of the draft, that’s just fine.

Here is a pass rushing prospect for the Browns draft spot (before trades) for each of the draft’s seven rounds, with an eye for fit in Cleveland and how we expect Joe Woods’ defense to operate.

First round: Azeez Ojulari, Georgia

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Ojulari has been a frequent projection for the Browns at No. 26 overall. His first step and explosive speed around the edge are calling cards, and very impressive ones at that. Ojulari has the ability to embarrass slow-footed tackles, and he improved his overall moves and ability to shed blocks in 2020. At least early in his career, Ojulari is probably just a pass rush specialist. At 240 pounds and lacking anchor strength, he's not adept at run defense other than chasing down plays. It's a tradeoff for a dynamic threat who can consistently live in the opposing backfield on passing plays.

Second round: Joseph Ossai, Texas

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After his impressive pro day testing, it might be a stretch to have Ossai available when the Browns pick in the second round at No. 58 overall. His speed, ability to snake inside and nonstop effort on every snap are all eminently desirable traits. He began his Longhorns career playing more off-ball LB, and that can still be seen in his limited pass-rushing repertoire. Ossai still relies heavily on winning with speed and quickness, though the hand usage did improve with more reps. The anchor strength and vision to play tighter to the formation still need work. If Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods is looking more for a hybrid OLB, Ossai is a great choice.

Third round: Carlos Basham, Wake Forest

(AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Basham goes by "Boogie" and he has the potential to hot step all over the defensive front. At 6-foot-6 and 285 pounds, he can be like Sheldon Richardson and play either inside or as a powerful base end. Sometimes it worked great for Basham, who can fire out the arms and jolt blockers upright effectively. But he doesn't always follow up the initial move quick enough, and Basham is guilty of playing too much one-on-one instead of within the context of the team defense. That's a coachable issue and Basham has the athletic profile that a coach like Browns DL coach Chris Kiffin will want to work with. When he was fresh and fired up, Basham was one of the best and most positionally versatile pass rushers in this class.

Fourth round: Dayo Odeyingbo, Vanderbilt

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Drafting Odeyingbo is an exercise in patience. He's a hulking presence capable of sliding inside at times and handling his business. The length is there at 6-foot-6 and he's quicker than expected for a guy who plays in the 270-pound range. https://twitter.com/Jordan_Reid/status/1336418632210010117?s=20 Alas, he's likely to miss at least a significant portion of the 2021 season. Odeyingbo tore his Achilles in January. Prior to the unfortunate injury, he was generally projected as a second/third-round pick.

Fifth round: Tarron Jackson, Coastal Carolina

(AP Photo/Rusty Costanza)

Jackson is built like a tank for a defensive end and his style of play befits his build. At 6-2 and 254 with 32-inch arms, he looks more like an undersized tackle, but he flashes the burst off the snap and the closing speed to play as an end. How he translates from playing against non-Power 5 competition with his playing style is a big question. He has the strength and the barrage of power-centric moves to be effective, but it will need to get proven. Jackson's Senior Bowl week playing more as an exclusive EDGE showed flashes of effectiveness but some work to be done as well.

Sixth round: Joshua Kaindoh, Florida State

(AP Photo/Gary McCullough)

Kaidoh absolutely looks the part of a fearsome edge presence. At 6-foot-5 and 260 muscular pounds, with long arms and well-developed legs, it's easy to get excited about the potential in Kaidoh. Unfortunately, it didn't translate into actual football results often enough for the Seminoles. He's got moves and can dip under the tackle nicely, but everything seems like it moves a count too fast for him. When he was the aggressor, Kaidoh had some impressive reps at creating pressure and collapsing the pocket from the outside. But he had just one sack in the last two seasons. At this point in the draft, a player with physical traits like Kaidoh is worth the investment in the lottery ticket for a team like the Browns.

Seventh round: Malcolm Koonce, Buffalo

(AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)

One of the most consistently disruptive players in college football, Koonce is an impressive athlete. He's got good hands and an effective jab/rip combination move that worked against all comers. Koonce doesn't offer much in the way of run defense, and he does get overpowered when blockers win the initial combat off the snap. If he can develop some countermoves and show a little more play strength, Koonce can stick as a pass rush specialist who can play standing up or from a Wide-9 alignment.

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