CLEVELAND, Ohio — Last week I highlighted five linebackers the Browns should target in the upcoming draft. Hopefully, that piece served as an appetizer to the 2021 backer class. Up next in what I’m labeling a “priming sampler” ahead of April’s draft, I’ll detail five defensive ends that fans should get to know.
Like linebacker, this position features several intriguing prospects whose promising length, athleticism and resume align exactly with what the Browns are looking for. Picking at No. 26, Cleveland has no shot at stud Michigan edge rusher Kwity Payne. He projects as a top 10 selection.
However, after Payne it’s unclear how many pass rushers are picked between him and the Browns’ choice. It could be none. Leaving Cleveland a satisfying tray of options. Or perhaps two or three ends go, leaving the Browns reaching or looking elsewhere.
With so much unknown swirling around the 2021 draft, I doubt a consensus emerges after Payne. That’s because there are plenty of options. Let’s start there and then conclude with three later-round options the Browns could select to help Myles Garrett.
Gregory Rousseau, 6 foot 6, 260 pounds, sophomore, Miami — (1st round pick, possible trade up)
While researching NFL draft prospects, I sometimes scroll upon random corners of Twitter dedicated to college football. Recently I found this tweet. It really made me take a second and third look at Miami end Greg Rousseau.
At +1800, Rousseau had no shot at gaining No. 1 pick buzz. He eventually opted out of the 2020 season, killing that bet. But that tweet went out in May, naming Rousseau the fourth-best college football player. That’s impressive.
Which is why I included the suggestion that the Browns may have to trade up for him. If he isn’t considered a top 20 pick yet, I’m confident he will be soon. At 6 foot 6 and 260 pounds, someone of his size usually resides on basketball courts. His athleticism matches too.
He can rip under offensive lineman or use his speed to wrap around them. His 16 sacks in 2019 as a redshirt freshman prove that. He juked guards and swallowed quarterbacks, proving more deadly against interior linemen.
Carlos Basham Jr., 6 foot 5, 285 pounds, senior, Wake First (1st round pick, possible trade up)
Like Rousseau, Wake Forest edge rusher Carlos Basham Jr. could be a top 20 pick as well. As draft day nears, I wouldn’t be surprised if both Rousseau and Basham are selected before No. 26. Meaning, if GM Andrew Berry and his scouts fell strongly about one of these two ends, the Browns should seriously consider trading up to secure them.
Cleveland holds nine picks in the 2021 draft, including extra third and fourth-round selections. If Berry deems it, the Browns have enough ammo to jump several spots. From what I’m reading and hearing, Basham sounds worth it.
Weighing nearly 300, Basham moves like an end carrying 40 pounds less. There are some reports he may have been slightly too heavy this season. He didn’t look as explosive as his 2019 self. But a pro team will identify his ideal playing weight.
He also doesn’t play with as much power as someone his size should. Because he can shake like a much lighter player, sometimes he competes that way too. Though that sounds negative, I anticipate an NFL staff highlighting his pass-rushing strengths and demanding he focus on them rather than “getting cute” as one report read.
He’s more proven against tackles than Rousseau and equally effective inside, as shown below.
Jordan Smith, 6 foot 6, 255 pounds, junior, UAB — (Day 2 selection)
Jordan Smith took a few detours before finally playing college ball in 2019. His results were dominant. By relying on his long arms and quick hands, Smith earned a 93 defensive grade from PFF. Over 21 games played in two seasons, he totaled 89 tackles, 23.5 of those for a loss, 12.5 sacks and three forced fumbles.
His blend of size and speed make him an interesting pro prospect. If he projects better as an outside linebacker in a traditional 3-4 defense then the Browns won’t select him. His size makes him a tweener who may be leaning more toward outside backer because he hasn’t put on much weight over the past two seasons.
However, if a front office thinks they can bulk up the 23-year-old project, then he could grow into a traditional defensive end and a compliment to Garrett. Check out this below rep at the Senior Bowl. He’s playing right defensive end. His disruptive style and blinding length are both on display.
Patrick Jones, 6 foot 5, 264 pounds, senior, Pittsburgh — (3rd or 4th round pick)
Up next, a pair of talented Pittsburgh defensive ends. First, senior Patrick Jones. There are plenty of favorable write-ups on Jones and his game tape shows a steady rusher and smart run defender. In 22 games, he racked up 24 tackles for loss and 17.5 sacks. Again, he’s consistent.
Pro Football Focus rated him a 77 overall against the pass. Physically his average length doesn’t impress but his production should make up for that. He has an opportunity to contribute right away as an even front end, which is exactly what the Browns need.
One of the fun parts about searching for film on these prospects is finding things you don’t expect. That’s what happened to me after watching the below clip. Jones is lined up against a Division III prospect. Considering I played college football against Wisconsin Whitewater, I figured this clip would make for a nice Jones highlight. Wow, was I wrong.
It’s ludicrous to judge a player off one rep but that’s a very impressive effort from Quinn Meinerz against a Power 5 stud.
Rashad Weaver, 6 foot, 4 265 pounds, senior, Pittsburgh — (3rd or 4th round pick)
Rashad Weaver on the other hand hasn’t had a losing rep show up yet. From the same drill as Jones, Weaver dominates this one-on-one using a beautiful double move. He sets the opposing tackle up with an outside speed-to-power rush, which forces the tackle to punch.
Once Weaver notices an overextension, he exploits it by leaning heavily on the tackle’s outside shoulder and spinning inside for a sack. Dwight Freeney fans, rejoice.
There is a lot to like about Weaver. He’s dense but still has room to add bulk. He lacks some speed but makes up for it with his power rushes and combinations. He’ll be able to set an edge and defend the run right away.
Weaver is one of five names that caught my early attention. There are plenty more edge rushers to research as we built toward the draft. Later this week, I’ll highlight five defensive backs the Browns should target. Once we work through the Browns’ positions of need, we’ll begin studying these prospects more closely.
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