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If the Browns select an edge rusher early in the 2021 NFL Draft, who should GM Andrew Berry target?

CLEVELAND, Ohio — It’s that time of year where overthinking reigns.

Back in February when I started diving into 2021 NFL Draft prospects, defensive end Greg Rousseau fit what Cleveland needed. He’s tall, long and notched 15.5 sacks in 2019 at Miami. He opted out of the 2020 season but it didn’t seem to matter.

Until his pro day last week.

Then reports of a stiff and less athletic Rousseau began circulating. He jumped 30 inches in the vertical, a half-inch shorter than quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick leaped at his pro day. That places him in just the 16 percentile for ends. His 21 reps on bench press was disappointing considering Myles Garrett repped 225 pounds 33 times.

Those numbers combined with only one season of true production places Rousseau firmly in “I don’t know when he’ll go” territory. As of Tuesday night, some popular mock drafts have him as a Day 2 pick. Others like NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah still believe Rousseau goes Round 1.

Similar to my wide receiver story from last week, I simulated 10 Draft Network mock drafts. This time with an eye for edge rushers at either No. 26, 59, 89 and 91.

In those 10 simulations, an average of two ends went before No. 26. Sometimes three were gone and twice only one (Miami’s Jaelan Phillips) went. Most often, Phillips and Michigan’s Kwity Paye weren’t available for Cleveland. On average, 10 end rushers went in the first 89 selections.

Which provides little clarity on Rousseau, but we’ll revisit him later (my view on him is worth waiting for). But let’s start with an edge rusher I’m becoming bullish on. Georgia’s Azeez Ojulari is a player GM Andrew Berry should target early if the Browns select an edge rusher in Round 1.

Round 1: Azeez Ojulari, Georgia, sophomore, 6-foot-3, 240 pounds

When dissecting these prospects every little detail matters, even when they shouldn’t. Ojulari weighs 240 pounds. Always assume a player is shorter and lighter than listed. With that logic in mind, I crossed Ojulari off my Browns big board. “Too small,” I thought.

Wrong. The tape never lies and what I see isn’t small. Instead, he’s thick and long. The below play highlights his stable and power-generating base. Then his long arms (34.3 inches) help him keep distance before ripping under the opposition.

Ojulari’s 40-yard dash times (4.62 and 4.66) are 82nd percentile while his impressively long arms for his below ideal height are 81st percentile. More importantly, I’m impressed with how he parlays his traits into on-field production.

He’s got one professional pass rush move but it’s excellent. He’s already a “stab, punch and rip” specialist. That means he creates contact first (stab). Then he punches away any hands he feels and rips through any remaining arms to break free.

It’s fast and effective. He combines that with excellent get-off speed and above-average run defense. If the Browns select him at No. 26, they are landing a longer Yannick Ngakoue.

Other 1st round prospects to watch: Jaelan Phillips, Jayson Oweh

Round 2: Gregory Rousseau, Miami, sophomore, 6-foot-7, 265 pounds

To be clear, I’d be surprised if Rousseau fell out of the top 40. His raw size will convince a GM he’s worth it. But I wouldn’t select him. Rousseau should’ve fallen down mock drafts prior to his disappointing pro day.

Because when I watched his tape, I saw Kevin Durant playing defensive line. That’s dramatic but I’m confident he’s too slim to start an NFL Week 1. I’m sure he can add weight but he hasn’t yet.

Then his pro day highlights dropped and it confirmed what I thought. He’s still tall. But there is too much stiffness combined with limited athletic ability. Watch his starts/stops. Where is the explosion? He doesn’t have it. His feet are choppy and he attacks too upright.

Rousseau would dominate inside playing a three-technique. Watch enough tape and you’ll see Miami deploy him against slower guards and centers. He cleans up there, which means he’ll add plenty of value to an NFL roster. But he shouldn’t be a Day 1 selection.

Other 2nd round prospects to watch: Ronnie Perkins, Joe Tryon

Round 3: Carlos Basham Jr, Wake Forest, junior, 6-foot-3, 280 pounds

Basham Jr. could be selected anywhere between rounds 2 and 4. If he goes top 50, it’ll be because he reminds a GM of Malik Jackson. He’ll be productive inside or out. Lining up against tackles, his combination of size (second heaviest edge in class) and first step makes him formidable on any down.

Falling out of the top 50 means few teams think he can excel in any one area. Role players aren’t Round 2 selections. Watching Basham, I see a lot of above-average. He rushes with a combination of moves. I trust him in a hand fight. He’s technical, mixing in chops with spins.

But I also don’t see enough explosiveness. Can he blow a play up if it doesn’t go perfectly for him? I have my doubts. The draft is all about value. As a late Round 3 selection, Basham works.

Other 3rd round prospects to watch: Rashad Weaver, Jordan Smith

What we learned

Prior to free agency, I thought the Browns would invest decent capital into defensive end. Berry hasn’t done that, yet. Until Jadeveon Clowney signs elsewhere, he’ll remain tied to Cleveland. Regardless of what happens with Clowney, the Browns can let the board fall to them.

With five quarterbacks and four receivers likely going in the first 10 to 12 picks, quality defensive ends should fall. If things shake out in an unpredictable manner then perhaps Ojulari, Payne or Phillips are there.

Cleveland sits luxuriously compared to last year. Let everyone else overthink while Berry executes.

Browns playoffs shirts, hats for sale: Here’s where Cleveland Browns fans can order shirts and hats celebrating the team qualifying for the 2020 NFL playoffs.

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