Browns' Top 2021 NFL Draft Targets

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistApril 26, 2021

Browns' Top 2021 NFL Draft Targets

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    The Cleveland Browns had their best season since 1994 in 2020, winning 11 regular-season games and beating the rival Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs. What's truly impressive is that Cleveland—long one of the league's worst-drafting teams—largely built its playoff roster through the draft.

    The Browns will look to continue their recent draft success in 2021 and for the first time in a long time will be selecting near the end of the first round. At No. 26, the Browns won't have a shot at some of the class' top prospects.

    The good news is that for the first time in a long time, Cleveland doesn't necessarily need a prospect who can make an instant impact.

    "It's less about filling a need or some level of instant gratification on the roster and more about a longer-term focus on the team," general manager Andrew Berry said, per The Athletic's Zac Jackson.

    Here, we'll examine three prospects the Browns should target early in the 2021 draft.

Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley is the rare top prospect who could slide to the Browns at No. 26. He carries a couple of areas of concern that may already have his draft stock on the decline.

    In Bleacher Report's first big board, for example, he was the 18th-ranked prospect. In its latest iteration, he is ranked 26th-best.

    The first concern with Farley is the fact he opted out of the 2020 season. He recently underwent back surgery as well, though he's expected to be ready for training camp. With Farley unable to work out for teams early in the predraft process, many may pass on him.

    The Browns, though, have a recent history of scooping up defensive backs who have started to slide. They grabbed LSU safety Grant Delpit last year after he fell into Round 2. They did the same with cornerback Greedy Williams two years ago.

    Farley has the upside of a longtime NFL starter, and the Browns could even be inclined to trade up a few spots if he does tumble down the draft ladder.

Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    Alabama defensive tackle Christian Barmore is expected to be one of the first defensive linemen off the board. However, his stock does appear to be taking a hit just before the draft. According to Bob McGinn of The Athletic, teams have concerns about Barmore's approach.

    "Several teams expressed concerns about what they say is his resistance to coaching and structure at Alabama," McGinn wrote.

    Whether these concerns are legitimate or part of an attempt to get Barmore to slide remains to be seen. However, drafting a defensive tackle would make sense for Cleveland after it released Sheldon Richardson earlier this offseason.

    If teams are that concerned about Barmore, he could be a potential trade-down target if the Browns trade out of the first round. If it's all part of a smokescreen to make the Crimson Tide standout fall, Cleveland could be happy to stop his slide at No. 26.

Kwity Paye, Edge, Michigan

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Shortly before releasing Richardson, Cleveland added pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney. It also added Takkarist McKinley this offseason to help the pass-rushing rotation. However, it would be unwise to assume that the Browns aren't in on a pass-rusher in the draft too.

    "Every head coach and general manager in the NFL will tell you they would love to have as many pass-rushers as possible," Berry said, per Jackson.

    Whether the Browns could actually land Michigan's Kwity Paye at No. 26 is unknown. He's an unpolished prospect but has enough upside that teams could be inclined to draft him fairly early.

    "Paye's traits and potential should not be discounted, as he'll continue to be skilled up in technique and fundamentals," NFL Media's Lance Zierlein wrote.

    If Cleveland senses that Paye won't fall to No. 26, it could be inclined to trade up for Paye. As Berry stated, drafting this year is more about the long term. With Clowney, McKinley and Myles Garrett on the roster, the Browns could afford to develop Paye for a year before sliding him into a prominent role.