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Rufio’s 2021 Big Board: Intro and Top 10

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

It feels weird, doesn’t it?

The 2021 draft starts Thursday, and we don’t have 15 gaping holes on our roster. We aren’t looking for a franchise savior™, we trust our head coach, and we already seem to be an above average NFL team.

If you’re anything like me, that means this has been a bit of an odd “draft season.” We don’t really have to reach for any specific position, and we don’t know who will be available when we are on the clock. In my mind, our situation means that an exercise like a big board is even more important than in most years.

If you are familiar with our community big board, I’m basically going to do a personal version of that in this space. I’m going to try to rank the top players in the 2021 draft with this Browns team in mind. I’m just one guy (studies show that draft rankings are more accurate when viewed collectively vs. adhering to any one draft analyst or scout), and I have certainly been wrong before. Very, very, very wrong. But any time the Browns have an opportunity to improve I find it fun to think about and I hope you do too.

Criteria

Before we get to prospects, here are a few things that I’m going to fold into the rankings, in no particular order:

  • I know I just said “in no particular order”, but first and foremost this board is going to be heavily influenced by who I think is the best player available. This should be by far the most influential factor when drafting in my opinion
  • On that note, pro day testing this year should be taken with a massive grain of salt. In particular, I do not trust 40 times. I do trust bench press numbers and broad/vert jumps, for what those are worth. Film usually matters more, and this year it matters much more.
  • Need–this is a minor factor. Both long-term and short-term need should be considered a little.
  • Positional value–quarterbacks hold value, even ones who don’t start for you, and you can Garropolo them into future picks. Fullbacks, not so much.
  • I’m also going to consider “rarity of prospect” here. “How many human beings like this walk the earth?” Think: supply and demand.
  • Scheme fit is going to play a very minor role as well. If we draft the next JJ Watt or Orlando Pace, they can play in any scheme and we can scheme around them. Given two players of equal value, though, this might be a tiebreaker.
  • Lastly, character is one thing that I am in no position to evaluate, but that is extremely important. I won’t consider it here unless there are objective, verified concerns (arrests, suspensions, etc.) But I wish I could consider it more.

Prospects

10. Azeez Ojulari, DE/OLB, Georgia

I’ll be honest, I struggled with this spot. If you have someone else here I’d be willing to listen. Ojulari is the highest-ranked guy on this board who I view as somewhat of a project. But Azeez is ready right now as an edge rusher, though I still think he has some work to do against the run. He’s “twitched up” and knows how to work the edges of blockers, flashing the ability to also post up bigger linemen by getting under their pads with power. I think Ojulari’s floor is a pass-rushing specialist, and his ceiling is very very high due to his athleticism and build. He looks like a video game character.

I think Ojulari could play linebacker in our scheme, especially if Joe Woods wants to build this defense in more of the Wade Phillips mold. It is kind of a waste to drop him into coverage at this point, but he can do it, and he can rush from a 3-4 OLB type of spot. In terms of our current team makeup, it might help Ojulari to learn from Myles as well as guys like Takkarist McKinley and Jadeveon Clowney. He wouldn’t have to play every down right away while still being able to make an impact for our 2021 team. That would seem to give him a chance to show his value immediately, stick on the roster, grow, and develop over time.

9. Rashawn Slater, OL, Northwestern

I simply think Slater is the best offensive linemen in this year’s draft. I don’t think that he’s physically elite, but he is plenty talented enough. Where he really shines is that he’s polished, tough, and smart. Other linemen in this draft have better physical tools, but Slater is the better player.

We don’t need a lineman, but Slater is good enough that I’d take him now and figure out how to fit him in later. We have a lot of picks and money invested in our line, and if we want it to continue to perform we’re going to have to keep investing in it.

8. DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama

This guy is just silky smooth. He’s thin, and isn’t going to be a dominant blocker, but I think his ability in the passing game more than makes up for his slight stature. I’m not sure how fast he really is, but I also know that pure track speed isn’t his game. Smith is simply good at getting open, catching the ball, and gaining yards.

My only concern with Smith as a player is that NFL DBs are bigger and more physical on average, and I wonder how he will deal with the physicality of the NFL game. And while we don’t need another receiver, I don’t think I could pass up on this guy at this spot.

7. Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina

Horn is what you’d want in a CB in the top half of the first round. He’s big and plays bigger than his size, and he can cover man to man. Imagine Denzel Ward matching up with smaller speed receivers and Horn matching up with the bigger targets...it would be really nice.

Horn can get a little “grabby”, so he will need to refine his technique down the field to avoid flags. But he’s a dangerous defender and has elite ability if he is able to progress his game. I’d trust him in man coverage on day 1.

6. Kwitty Paye, DE/OLB

Paye is very, very impressive in the run game. He knows how to attack blockers, and though he doesn’t look like he has elite length or size, he is sturdy enough to set edges and work up under blockers’ pads. His broad jump doesn’t demonstrate elite explosiveness, but to me Paye’s game relies more on power, which doesn’t come through in the testing numbers. He still appears to have plenty of speed and burst to close on quarterbacks at the NFL level. Paye honestly reminds me of a lower middle class man’s Nick Bosa, which is not a bad thing at all. With a little more polish to his pass rushing he’d be even higher on my list–and I believe he can improve upon this in the pros.

I see people projecting to play inside at 3-tech in some places because he lined up there some in college. But to me he fits more as a DE/OLB who should spend most of his time as a down lineman but might be able to drop into coverage at times. Again, given Wood’s coaching resume and last year’s scheme (especially late in the year) I think he could really use this kind of guy.

5. Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU

I don’t think Chase is a generational WR prospect, but I think he is the best in the draft and the best fit for our team. Though our current roster doesn’t reflect this, I believe that Kevin Stefanski would prefer bigger WRs. Chase isn’t huge, but he is big enough to block functionally at the NFL level. And you’re not drafting him to block: this guy is explosive, gets open regularly, and can make contested catches when he isn’t open. He’ll make yards after the catch, he’ll work the middle of the field, and he can go deep. He’s got multiple ways to beat you.

One of the things that impresses me most about Chase is his field awareness. Many of LSU’s offensive concepts involved RPOs where he had to understand what was happening in front of him in a very short period of time after the snap. He understands space, which I think bodes really well for him at the next level.

4. Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama

Surtain seems very similar to Horn, but a touch bigger, a touch less explosive in a straight line, and a touch more fluid in his hips. I think he’s also a touch more polished, which gives him the edge here.

3. Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State

Parsons is a freak athlete and his speed and power show up on tape. It is very, very easy to imagine this guy wrecking things for offenses behind Myles Garrett and company, and I think his addition to our team could make the biggest immediate impact out of anyone in the draft.

The only reason Parsons isn’t higher on this list is that I’m not quite sure how he fits in our scheme or whether Joe Woods would be able to really unlock what he can do. Parsons’ body probably fits best as a traditional linebacker, but his skill set is most complete when knifing through the interior OL. He played DE in high school, but he looks a little compact to play there in the NFL. Is he better on the edge? Inside? Outside? I’m not sure. But I’d be willing to draft him now and figure it out.

Parsons doesn’t have the Luke Kuechly/Patrick Willis/Devin White 6th sense that you’d want in a Mike linebacker in the top 5: he doesn’t seem to know the offense’s play before it unfolds. But he does seem to beat blocks, and close on the ball in a hurry. We need some of that.

2. Jeramiah Owusu-Koramoah

There are only two question marks that I can stretch to bring up when it comes to JOK. The first is his size. He partially answered that concern by showing up at 221 lbs at his pro day, heavier than expected. And he might grow a little more but honestly I’m not sure if I care.

The second question for me is how do you deploy this guy to unlock his potential in the pros? In college he played essentially a slot cornerback position where he had to play like a corner at times, a safety at others, a linebacker at others, and a DE at other times. And similar to how the NFL slowly has incorporated “college spread” ideas on offense over the last decade, I think we are going to see more of this type of defender and defensive scheme in the NFL moving forward. But if you draft this guy, you kind of have to lead that innovation. Is Woods ready for that? I hope so but I’m not sure.

I think we’re going to see about 1-2 of these guys every year, and either the NFL is going to adapt, or they are going to lose out to some smart team that exploits a market inefficiency. He reminds me of smaller/more DBish version of Isaiah Simmons (last year’s version of this guy), only with much better instincts.

With those concerns aside, Owusu-Koramoah is disgustingly good at football. He is ev-er-y-where on tape, and I just absolutely love this kid’s game. I don’t care how you draw up the scheme or where you play him, but if it involves covering any skill player outside of tiny guys who run 4.3s, closing on the ballcarrier, making tackles, or just ruining an offense’s day, this cat is up for it. He has that “6th sense” for just showing up everywhere around the ball that you saw in players like Troy Polamalu in college.

1. Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama

Barmore is at the top of my list because I think he will make big impact against the run and the pass, he has elite physical tools, and he has an elite skill (being able to defeat blocks). He’s got motor, he’s explosive, he’s quick, he’s powerful, he’s aggressive, and he’s disruptive.

The worst thing I can say about Barmore is that he doesn’t really fit a 2-gapping scheme. Nick Saban asks his linemen to both 2-gap and 1-gap, and Barmore is a much better fit as a 1-gapper in my opinion. Thankfully there is a role for that type of player in almost every contemporary NFL scheme, including ours.

To me, Barmore is simply one of the best players in the draft this year and he happens to play a position of need, can make a huge impact on the game from his position, and he happens to be a good scheme fit. That combination of ceiling, floor, and fit make him my top prospect.

That’s my top 10

Feel free to disagree, as I am sure many will. And if you disagree, let me know why in the comments below. I love to talk about the draft and even though we have to wait until the 26th pick this year, I think the draft will be even more fun knowing that our team already appears to be pretty good.

Stay tuned for prospects 11-20 tomorrow!