Underrated Prospects Browns Must Prioritize in 2021 NFL Draft
Cleveland Browns general manager Andrew Berry is putting together quite the track record for making smart offseason moves. The latest opportunity for him to continue building that reputation is the 2021 NFL draft.
Berry put together a nice draft class in his first season at the helm. Last year's selections included Jedrick Wills, who highlighted the class, but Berry showed an ability to find contributors in the later rounds as well. Jordan Elliott and Jacob Phillips saw the field as a pair of third-round picks on defense.
Harrison Bryant and Donovan Peoples-Jones each played roles on the offense as Day 3 picks.
To make the playoffs an every year kind of thing in Cleveland, Berry is going to have to continue to find players who can contribute beyond the first two rounds.
The Browns are once again armed with two third-round picks as well as two fourth-rounders, a fifth, a sixth and a seventh. Here's a look at some undervalued guys who would be strong additions with those picks.
Payton Turner, Edge-Rusher, Houston
The Browns pass-rush has to get better. The free-agent signings of John Johnson III and Troy Hill should aid in healing the secondary's woes. Meanwhile, the addition of Takkarist McKinley is little more than a lottery ticket based on his first-round pedigree and production thus far in the league.
The Browns' lack of activity in adding an edge-rushing threat on the free-agent market would indicate they plan on addressing it in the draft.
Using their first-round pick to address the need wouldn't be surprising, but if they opt to go another route, Payton Turner would be a great backup plan.
At 6'5" and 270 pounds, Turner has the prototypical size of a 4-3 defensive end, but he actually played out of a two-point stance a lot at Houston. He may have been miscast in the Cougars' defensive system, but he showed plenty of bend and good hand usage coming off the edge.
Turner plays with enough power that he could be a traditional defensive end on early downs and even shift inside on passing downs.
Lance Zeirlein of NFL.com noted Turner's tape "shows a player who is beginning to understand his own strength and athletic potential."
Joining a defense in which he can play opposite Myles Garrett as part of a rotation with a good chance to win more snaps seems like a mutually beneficial relationship with the Browns.
Israel Mukuamu, CB/S, South Carolina
Israel Mukuamu has become a forgotten man in the 2021 draft class. If you looked at mock drafts several months ago, it wasn't surprising to see him in the first round.
Now his projections have him going somewhere in the fourth round.
At some point, a player gets called overrated long enough they are actually underrated. That appears to be the case for Mukuamu. At 6'4" and 212 pounds with 34-inch arms, he's massive for a cornerback and provides a unique counterbalance to Denzel Ward's general lack of size.
Mukuamu's short-area agility and change of direction are legitimate knocks. But a cornerback who can play press-man coverage with those physical traits is well worth a mid-round flier.
Even if Mukuamu doesn't work out as a corner, there's the potential that he transitions to safety. He doesn't have the range to play as a single-high safety, but he has the size and athleticism to cover tight ends on the inside.
In today's league, that's an invaluable skill set and one the Browns will continue to need in the AFC North.
Jaelon Darden, Wide Receiver, North Texas
Jaelon Darden is going to have all the classic questions. He's not big (5'8", 174 pounds) and played lesser competition at North Texas. He doesn't have blazing straight-line speed, either. He ran an unofficial 4.45 40-yard dash, which is fast but not the kind of speed you'd expect from that diminutive frame.
But Darden's short-area burst and quickness are incredible, and he has shown he can translate that to the field. He was a yards-after-catch monster for the Eagles and racked up 31 touchdowns over his final two seasons in Denton, including 19 on 74 catches in nine games in his final campaign.
Darden is an ideal weapon in the slot. Jarvis Landry has been an incredibly useful weapon for Baker Mayfield, but he's a prime candidate to be a cap casualty next season. The then-30-year-old will be due a $16.6 million cap hit that is nearly completely voidable.
Throw in a huge cap hit for Odell Beckham Jr. and it's clear the Browns could be down one if not both of their LSU products in the near future.
Taking Darden on Day 3 would be a step toward a future receiving corps that may be ready to move on from the veterans as the Browns eye cap space for Baker Mayfield's second contract.