ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. projects the Cleveland Browns to prioritize their defensive front seven in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
In his Mock Draft 2.0, Kiper projected the Browns to select Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins with the No. 26 overall pick.
Collins, 21, is listed at 6’4” and 260 pounds, has the ability to play defensive end and won the 2020 Nagurski Award.
The Nagurski Award is voted by the Football Writers Association of America and given to the best defensive player in the nation.
“If he falls, it will be tough to pass him up,” Kiper said in a Monday conference call with reporters. “He can play inside or outside. He wasn’t a sack artist, but he’s a range-y guy.
“Taller linebackers with length are very difficult to deal with for a quarterback, and you don’t find many of them. I think the fact that he brings a skill set you don’t necessarily see and that he can play inside or outside makes Zaven Collins an attractive guy at 26.”
Several other mock drafts have projected for the Browns to draft Collins.
Who specifically the Browns select at No. 26 could come down to which players are selected with the 25 picks prior.
Kiper projects the Indianapolis Colts to select Miami defensive end Gregory Rousseau with the No. 21 pick, the Tennessee Titans to select Miami defensive end Jaelan Phillips with the No. 22 pick and the New York Jets to select Michigan defensive end Kwity Payne with the No. 23 pick.
“All of those guys will be pushed into the latter portion of Round 1,” Kiper said. “I’m not as high on Rousseau as some people are. I actually like Phillips better, but Rousseau might go ahead of him.
“That’ll be intriguing there to see how that goes. I think any of the pass rushers you look at come with some concern that gives you some boom-or-bust there.”
The likeliness of the selections is also dependent on where free-agent players decide to sign when the legal negotiating window begins on March 15 and free agency officially starts on March 17.
The 2021 NFL Draft is scheduled for April 29 – May 1.
One potential free-agent target the Browns can cross off their list is J.J. Watt.
Watt, who turns 32 later this month, agreed to a two-year contract with the Arizona Cardinals.
On Monday, an unnamed source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that Watt’s deal is worth $31 million with $23 million guaranteed.
OverTheCap.com shows the Browns have about $20.15 million in salary-cap space.
General manager Andrew Berry and the Browns front office still have plenty of free-agent defensive ends they could look to sign.