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If the Browns select a wide receiver early in the 2021 NFL Draft, who should GM Andrew Berry target?

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Guilty, again.

I did this last year around draft time too. The Browns were in need of safeties and receivers. I suggested GM Andrew Berry select University of Minnesota prospects Antoine Winfield Jr. or Tyler Johnson. Instead, Tampa Bay picked both.

Windfield made All-Rookie teams and impactful postseason plays at safety. He’ll have a long and successful NFL career, just like his daddy. Johnson sat behind Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown. His time will come.

The Browns passed on Winfield in favor of Grant Delpit. It is still far too early to declare that a mistake. Backup center Nick Harris went a selection before Johnson. I have no issues with that either.

The unknown aside, Minnesota and P.J. Fleck are sending quality talent to the NFL. My eyes tell me that sentiment rings true once again. Similarly, there are two Gophers I hope the Browns target. The first is receiver Rashod Bateman.

Landing him will cost a first-round pick. In 10 simulations via The Draft Network’s Mock Draft machine, an average of four receivers went before No. 26. Sometimes five went. Twice I landed Bateman at the Browns’ spot. Most often he was gone before pick 20. On average, 18 receivers went in the first 92 selections.

Berry has four picks in the first three rounds (26, 59, 90, 92).

Cleveland selecting a receiver early in the 2021 draft makes sense. Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry won’t both be here much longer. Plan for their departure by selecting a promising prospect, like Bateman.

I understand the Browns don’t need (with a capital N) a backup to their LSU duo. But the Cowboys didn’t need CeeDee Lamb either and few would reverse that decision. Therefore, let’s start with Bateman and then highlight two other receivers the Browns can target in rounds 2 and 3.

Round 1: Rashod Bateman, Minnesota, junior, 6-foot-1, 210 pounds

Bateman could be the best route runner in his class. If he’s not No. 1, then he is no lower than second. His understanding of pacing his stems is veteran-like. He plays with the speeds of his releases and breaks to keep defensive backs guessing.

Versus press-man, he plays physical. He doesn’t mind chucking corners off or using brush-by techniques to win. But he doesn’t need to. His bag of releases wins at the line without contact.

Kevin Stefanski could align Bateman inside or out. He thrives in the slot but no receiver averaged more yards per route ran than Bateman outside. At his pro day on Thursday, Bateman ran an unofficial 4.39. My goodness. I’m starting to worry there isn’t a chance he’s available at No. 26 but that could be my Minnesota bias speaking. One slight concern? He weighed in at 190 pounds.

I purposely kept his weight at 210 pounds because that’s the humor of draft season. I don’t really care what receivers weigh or bench press. How they move and catch matters most and Bateman does both so well.

Other 1st round prospects to watch: Kadarius Toney, Terrace Marshall Jr.

Round 2: Elijah Moore, Ole Miss, junior, 5-foot-9, 184 pounds

Ole Miss receiver Elijah Moore deserves an early second-round selection. He appears cut from the same genetic pool of former teammates D.K. Metcalf and A.J. Brown. In 2020, he led all pass catchers with 149 yards per game. Yes, that was his average.

Pro Football Focus rated Moore’s junior campaign at 91.2 overall. He totaled 1,200 yards in just eight games. Much of his production stems from speed. At his pro day last week, he ran 4.32. That likely will be the fastest time of any receiver in his class.

With such athletic traits, he’s capable of playing inside and out, as was the case at Ole Miss. His size isn’t ideal. It’ll forever limit his catching radius. But I’m seeing a complete package that would instantly bring explosiveness to Cleveland.

Other 2nd round prospects to watch: Rondale Moore, D’Wayne Eskridge, Dyami Brown

Round 3: Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma St., senior, 5-foot-11, 193 pounds

During my mock draft simulations, Wallace was the only third-rounder consistently falling to the Browns at either No. 89 or 91. He’s a talented outside threat. His hands are strong. He consistently wins at the catch point and knows how to secure high balls.

Like all these guys, the college production was impressive. Wallace averaged 100 yards per game his senior season in the Big 12.

Wallace controls his body in the air well. Think Donovan Peoples-Jones versus Cincinnati. It’s impressive. However, I’m unsure how game-changing his play is. Can he win consistently outside, one-on-one versus an NFL press corner? I have my doubts.

Other Round 3 prospects to watch: Nico Collins, Amon-Ra St. Brown

What we learned

I understand why anyone reading this would be opposed to drafting a wide receiver. But consider this. Regardless of how many more defensive pieces the Browns add, the strength of this team is the offense.

Thus, making an already talented unit more explosive sounds advantageous. But landing a difference-maker in the early rounds will cost Cleveland. A Day 2 move up for an athlete like Elijah Moore would be unlike this front office, but it’s the going rate for A1 pass-catching talent.

Or land a Minnesota kid. That strategy paid off for cleveland.com.

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